Ludum Dare Postmortem: Changeling Infiltration Simulator

Last weekend I completed my third Ludum Dare game, Changeling Infiltration Simulator! I know, it’s a terrible name. Despite that, I think it’s actually my strongest entry so far.

Changeling Infiltration Simulator Screenshot
A step up from my last Ludum game!

The theme for this Ludum Dare was Shapeshift. I chose to do something I haven’t done before and make a puzzle game. The goal of the game is simply to get to the objective on each level by taking the form of various enemies to sneak into secure areas and disable security measures.

Mechanically the game is very simple; you can click on someone to store their form, and press a button to shapeshift into it. There are four ways to fail a level:

  1. Walking through a laser.
  2. Being seen by anyone in an area your form doesn’t have access to.
  3. Shapeshifting in front of someone.
  4. Being seen by someone while you are using their form.

The challenge comes from figuring out where you can and can’t be seen, which forms you need to take and store, and from time to time a bit of stealth so you aren’t seen where you shouldn’t be. That’s the idea at least! Whether or not it holds up in practice is still up for debate. I’m really looking forward to seeing the game’s final score in two weeks though!

Panic!

During this Ludum Dare, I found myself getting a little more stressed than normal towards the end, though I am used to a little stress during these competitions. I’ve always tried to make the most out of every hour of the competition, but this time I was aiming to be done several hours before the deadline so I wouldn’t be rushing to submit with just minutes left on the clock.

Unfortunately, creating the game’s six levels took longer than I thought. The game is tile based like Telemage, but I put a little more effort into making the tiles look better this time around. As a result I had more tiles I needed to lay out to make the walls look right. There were also interactable objects, enemies that had to be configured, and navigation paths to set up for each level.

Level 3 Screenshot
Unity messed up the positioning of some sprites here, wasting time while I figured out why the mouse had stopped working.

Each level probably took around 20 to 30 minutes to make. With 48 hours this might not seem like a lot, but taking over 2 hours to create the levels with only 5 or so hours left had me working furiously until about an hour before the deadline. Then my UI broke because it turned out it wasn’t scaling properly with different screen sizes!

I usually try to avoid submitting during submission hour in case things like this happen, but this time I actually did wind up submitting about 15 minutes into the submission hour. After that, it turned out that the web version was missing a bunch of assets, so I had to rebuild and upload again after the hour was up. Fortunately, this new build didn’t have real changes – Unity just messed up the export process, and the rules do allow for fixing critical bugs. In this case you wouldn’t be able to tell enemies apart from one another if I left it as is, which would have left it unplayable.

Worth It

Despite the stress, I don’t think I’m really going to change my strategy up much for the next Ludum Dare. I aimed to finish a few hours early, ended up needing those hours, and wound up with a game that I’m really happy with. It was stressful, but I’ll put together some notes on the pitfalls I ran into with Unity this time so I can save a little time not dealing with Unity’s crap next time around.

I’ll aim to be done a few hours early next time, but odds are I’ll be working right up to the deadline again. I think I’d much rather have a little stress and an awesome game than be done early and feel like I could have done better.

If the feedback I’ve received so far is any indication, it was worth the stress too. I’ve had a few people suggest small improvements like less floaty controls and background music, but other than that it’s been very positive. I’ve even received some positive feedback on the art! That’s a first for me after Chaintanks and Telemage wound up looking rather mediocre.

One thing I think I will do in the future is enable anonymous comments. The Ludum Dare community is very positive overall, but I am curious if I’d get a little more constructive criticism if I allowed anonymous comments. I think it’ll be an interesting experiment to try out next time!

Still no music…

The one piece of feedback that’s been bothering me the most is that there is no music. I still haven’t taken the time to learn to compose chiptunes or any other sort of music. Since the compo rules are for single person teams and everything has to be from scratch, music has been totally impossible for me with no prior experience.

I’d really like to spend some time sometime soon putting effort into learning to compose chiptunes so I can finally get music into my Ludum games. I have no intention of becoming an amazing composer. I’d just like to gain the skills to be able to put out a decent short track in an hour or less for a game jam.

One thing that I’m was surprised by in this jam was that one of my friends who played it said he actually got stuck on one of the puzzles for a bit and came back later to finish. After designing all the puzzles myself, I knew all the solutions to them and had absolutely no idea whether they’d actually be challenging to players or not. I’ve never made a puzzle game before, so hearing that it actually offered a good challenge was a pleasant surprise!

 

Level 4 screenshot
Is this level hard? I really have no idea. All I know is how to beat it really fast.

Before I’d settled on what game I wanted to make, I had one other idea. This idea was to make a more combat focused game where the level and all the enemies inside shapeshifted every so often. I was really unsure about which idea to go for since I’d never done a puzzle before, but the combat oriented game felt like the weaker of the two ideas.

I decided that since it’s just two days, I might as well experiment with something new. In the worst case the game might turn out to be crap and I could stop working on it partway through, or I could finish it and get bad reviews. In the end I’d have only spent one weekend making a bad game, and that would have been a valuable experience.

The end result was better than I’d hoped for though, so I’m glad I took the riskier path. If you end up participating in Ludum Dare or another jam in the future, don’t be afraid to take a risk! It isn’t a big investment of time, you can learn something new, and you might just surprise yourself!

The Future

Right now I don’t plan to take Changeling Infiltration Simulator any further. I want to stay focused on finishing up Chaintanks. Whether or not Chaintanks will actually turn out to be a better game is impossible to say, but I need to focus on actually finishing a long term project rather than jumping on the latest new and shiny idea.

In the future though, I can still return to CIS. It may have the potential to make a good mobile game if I expand the mechanics.

I’m also not sure if I’ll participate in Ludum Dare 36 or not yet. I really want to be able to make music, but I also want to finish Chaintanks. Fitting in time to compose music will be tough! I’ll decide closer to the date whether or not I’ll join in on 36, but if I do skip it I’ll certainly participate in 37.

In the meantime, it’s back to work on Chaintanks!

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