Wednesday, October 16, 2013

TAG#3 Results!

Alright, no blathering introduction here: let's get straight to the games! For each entry, I've written a short summary of the game, and then laid out some general feedback I wanted to give to the creators. As a second opinion, I also had my buddy Eduardo Cavalcanti write up his impressions of the games, which you can find here.

 If you want to follow along with the blog, you can download all the entries here, and play each submission as I talk about it. Anyway, here we go!

Aquamarine Gravatino
-by Andrew Boreham-

Summary: Players have to defend their planet from oncoming scarlet meteorites by launching "gravity ships," which can be manipulated to slingshot the deadly rocks away from your home. But be careful; while the impact of a meteorite will devastate your planet's biodiversity, the gravity ships also come at a cost.

Feedback: Aquamarine Gravatino is really, really freakin' cool. The gravity mechanic is a hit: just like in real life, each mass is attracted to other masses, and so players are faced with the decision between colliding their ships with the meteors (destroying both), or using the G-fields of their ships to sling the meteors away. The latter option saves you a ship (and making new ships costs biodiversity), but also holds an element of risk: if the slingshot is unsuccessful, then the meteor hits your planet, and does far worse to your biodiversity meter.

When I first started playing, I found Aquamarine Gravatino tedious, because I didn't know I could do anything except send my gravity ships straight into the meteors. But once I figured out the depth of the mechanic, I started having a lot more fun. The music is also pretty cool; it's the slow chanting of a chorus (maybe of monks?), which gives the game a cosmic feel.

With that said, there are a few small problems with Aquamarine Gravatino. Once I get a meteor off-course, there's a lot of "dead time" while I wait for it to leave the game's boundaries, spawning a new one. The game also seems to lack a win state, and the connection to the Biodiversity theme doesn't stretch very far beyond lip service. In the end, though, Aquamarine Gravatino is interesting, well-polished, and absolutely original; I couldn't ask for more in this jam.
Run Like Hell
-by Let-Off Studios-

Summary: You're a soldier who's been stranded from his army, and is desperately fleeing the opposition. But stretching between you and your home is a desert, containing many deadly things. If you're going to survive, you'll have to... 



Uh, I mean, RUN LIKE HELL!

Feedback: This is game is simple, but also pretty fun. You're moving down this strip of desert, and there are a lot of things in your way-- scorpions, condors, spikey rocks, and archers. The music is fun and fast-paced, and combined with the large number of hazards to keep track of, the trek down the desert feels exciting and desperate. There's also mechanics for thirst and poison, which both cause damage over time and add to the excitement with Zelda-style "danger bleeps." It's something of an achievement Run Like Hell is able to integrate so many systems without the convoluting the core gameplay.

Now, there are a few problems: like many of the other entries, the game is very short. There are some achievements to earn at the end, which might motivate some to come back for additional playthroughs, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to earn any of them. There's a murky line between being too hand-holdy and too cryptic, but this part of the game feels pretty entrenched in the latter camp.

The artwork is mspaint-ey, but it's actually consistent enough with itself that the effect is more charming than jarring. In the end, while the game doesn't venture very far past the simple "gather good things and avoid bad things" genre, that's not necessarily to its discredit: it's good at being what it is, and it's pretty fun at that.

The Wyoming trail
-by Jonathon Prehn, Kevin Prehn, and Starbuck Johnson-

Summary: Players are put in charge of a brave band of Llamas, Giraffes, and Lions, who are travelling together on a quest to reach the land of Wyoming. Along the way, they have to deal with hunters, disease, and the dwindling supplies of food and water.

Feedback: First of all, this is awesome. Like, giraffes, llamas, and lions? Freakin' sweet. I really enjoyed the game's sense of humor, which actually turns the mspaint-ness of the animals into a positive feature. Some of the other visual elements actually look pretty nice, too: the menu screen is bright and attractive, as is the parallaxed background. 

The game falls short, though, in explaining its own mechanics: I still haven't figured out what morale does (or how I can improve it), and my animals seem to get sick even before I collect the shady resources. The hunters confused me for a long time: I thought I had to close their dialogue box before mashing the spacebar, which led to my dying on the spot. And while some of the decisions made sense, like when lions offer to join my party in exchange for eating half my llamas, many others felt either cryptic or arbitrary.

One could make the argument, though, that this task of discovery is itself a feature: I'm sure that If I had more time to spend with the game, I'd be able to experiment and figure out some of these systems, and that actually sounds like quite a bit of fun.

While a little rough around the edges, Wyoming Trail was pretty entertaining, and I enjoyed testing out a bunch of different strategies.

Leukocyte Disaster
-by Nick Udell, Ben Gemmel, Luke Schnabel, and Leanne Taylor-

Summary: In the not-so-distant future, antibiotics have totally lost their potency against disease agents, and the world population is crippled. You're tasked with designing the most powerful and efficient Leukocytes possible to defeat the revived scarlet fever. After suiting up your leukocytes with little knives, guns, and chainguns, you send them into battle against the deadly disease

Feedback: This game takes the theme of Scarlatina and totally runs with it. The game opens with dark, foreboding music, and the story frame that follows it is properly shiver-worthy. Out of all of the submissions, this is the only one that decided to tell a serious narrative: the story is introduced in a simple timeline at the beginning, and then continued in a series of short, first-person statements in the bottom of the store window. There are some totally chilling lines, like when the unnamed character is searching for a new strain of Penicilin, and speculates "There's something green in the water, some kind of Algae. Any sort of mold will do, right?"

The gameplay is pretty interesting as well. In the 'shop' screen, players can attach the weapons of their choice to each of the four endpoints on the Leukocyte cell. In addition, the player can have two different cell layouts spawn in the level, and can even manage the relative proportions of each. After you make your decisions, the actual gameplay is totally autonomous: you watch your little Leukocytes duke it out with the Scarlatina cells, and get to see how well your battle plans translate to the fight.

The game does have a few rough spots. The main menu screen opens with the two options "Save the Children," and "Leave the children," but the latter option doesn't seem to have been implemented. A bit of a shame, but hey: in 72 hours, I'm blown away that y'all have as much as you do already. There are a few other clunky parts: it took me a while to grok that my mouse controlled the scrolling in the fight sequences, and it wasn't until a few attempts that I was able to get a solid grasp of the mechanics. In addition, spawning too many Leukocytes (20 or so) crashed the game for me.

Ultimately, though, I'm not going to be one to complain here. The gameplay is crazy original, the graphics are polished and finished-looking, and it's rare that a gamejam game attempts, let alone succeeds in telling a serious story.

Aliens in Ze Jungle
-By Zyx Fin and Taistis-

Summary: Your friend has a case of the scarlet fever, and so whip and daggers in hand, you rush off into the jungle in search of a cure! But what's in the jungle? Aliens, my friend. Freakin' aliens.

Feedback: On one hand, the story is cute, and the graphics have their own hand-drawn, jungley charm. I liked the music as well. The combat, though, feels a little funky. Compared to the size of the player sprite, the whip is thin and noodle-like, and most battles consist of whipping in place, walking a little backwards, and whipping some more (you can't whip while running). It was also little disappointing that the boss didn't do anything, but with just 72 hours to work with, I get that there wasn't time.

On the other hand, the game definitely has its moments. Having the daggers makes things more interesting, and I felt an exciting feeling of tension whenever I ran out, and had to hold off waves of the larger enemies with just the whip. Also, as I understand, the project was coded straight in Java with few shortcuts taken, and so I have to give you guys serious props for that

Overall, while a little clunky, this was still a pretty nice first entry to TAG. I'm lookin' forward to seeing what you guys come up with in the future.
Game of Lifes
-by Isaac James, Austin Quick, Mike O'Malley, and Tim Adam-

Summary: Game of Lifes is a straight-up biodiversity simulation, with each rectangle representing either an organism, or an inanimate feature of the ecosystem. Creatures feed on either the grass or on other creatures, and move and breed according to their level of nutrition. By designing each creature's characteristics and predispositions, players are tasked with getting multiple species to thrive at sustainable levels.

Feedback: There are a lot of things about Game of Lifes that I like. On the surface, I just think the idea is cool: the simulation of a dynamic environment is perfect for the theme of biodiversity, and for featureless squares, the organisms have quite a bit of personality: some erupt across the landscape like locusts, some quietly thrive in solitude, and others struggle to exist in the presence of more aggressive species.

I laughed quite a bit at the randomized, real-world animal names. It was funny to witness ducks overtake humans as the dominant life-form, and to see the population of rhinoceroses devastated by an influx of predatory starfish. The music gives the game a pleasant, upbeat vibe, although I notice that it often runs out before the game is complete.

I think the coolest thing about Game of Lifes is that unlike similar titles, Game of Lifes actually has a player objective: to create species that inhabit the ecosystem in a sustainable way. This dash of player motivation really adds some spice to the simulation: if we were just left to mess around with creating creatures, we'd probably make a few with the maximum possible settings, a few with the minimal possible settings, and then we'd get bored. Once players are given the goal of sustainability, though, we're incentivized to play with the creature sliders more, to try and backwards-engineer each characteristic, and to do a lot more experimentation.

This isn't to say that Game of Lifes is without its faults. While it's fun to discover what they do, having all of the stats as black boxes gets pretty troublesome, as it can be hard to measure the consequences of each one on creatures. Also, once you get two thriving species, the game starts a countdown, to make sure that they're thriving sustainably for a little while. It makes sense that the game would need to do this, but it leads to a lot of dead time while you wait. And finally, it gets hard to keep the animal colors, which all come randomly generated, visually differentiated from each other and from the background elements. 

Overall, though, Game of Lifes really captured my imagination; I had fun playing around with it, and I hope you one day think about taking the idea even further.

Gene pool defense
-by Ivan Potski-

Summary: Your gene pool is beset by waves of scarlet plague-creatures, whose assault will homogenize your species! Spend NO2 to strategically place flower-turrets, which will defend your gene pool from the oncoming assault.

Feedback: This is a fun little tower defense game. The core gameplay is there, and it actually seems to make quite a bit of difference where you place your towers. When I first saw the game sprites, I assumed that they had been borrowed, because they were so nice-looking and detailed. It turns out, though, that they were all originally produced for the jam, so major props for that!

On the other hand, the game does suffer from its simplicity. There's only one type of tower and one type of enemy, and the whole thing takes about 40 seconds to complete. Once you figure out the optimal tower placements, there's not much more to do here.

In the end, while not much as it is, this is a nice little tower defense framework. And now that you have all the groundwork for a tower defense game done, this could be a nice blueprint for a more fleshed-out project.

Wizard Quest
-by John Waspin-

Summary: The King is sick with the Scarlet Fever, and so you, a knight of the round table, are sent off into the wilderness to find a wizard that can cure him. Making good decisions along your quest will reward you with success, but poor choices will lead to your death.

Feedback: Wizard Quest is a pretty limited game, but it definitely has its moments. I appreciated the game's silly sense of humor, like with the squashed-looking character portraits, or some of the more nonsensical happenings: you successfully buy the horse, but it steps on your foot on the way out, and so you lose 0.3 health. Why is that mentioned? Hell, why not?

And speaking of health, the fact that Wizard Quest keeps track of it is kind of interesting. Most games in this style opt out of a persistent health counter, instead expressing consequences for player actions with a branching story-tree. The health system is neat, though, in that it increases the significance of certain choices in places where they would otherwise be trivial, and encourages players to second-guess their decisions.

With that said, Wizard Quest certainly has its faults. The whole thing is over in minutes, and some of the decisions suffer from arbitrarity: do you take the unsupervised torch or not? There's no way of guessing the consequences of either choice, and so you just have to guess. Overall, the game isn't too ambitious, but certainly provides a few good laughs.

-bAndré Sicuro Scremin and Priscila Romero Dalarosa-

Summary: A basic Shmup, but with awesome clay graphics!

Feedback: André, would you consider it an affront on your masculinity if I told you your game is absolutely adorbs? With the little clay airplane, and its little clay syringe-bullets, everything in this project reeks of cute; I actually can't get enough of it.

Okay, okay-- gotta regain my composure. So anyway, Strepto-Force is a really nice-looking game: all of the visuals were sculpted out of clay, and then imported into the game as top-down photographs of these models. This gives the game a really fun aesthetic; my favorite touch is the little clay syringe that the airplane spits out. The music is a simple, happy chiptune, which contributes to the playful vibe of the game. The shooting sound effect is similarly so, although hearing it repeated a hundred times does get a little grating.

Mechanically, the actual gameplay is straightforward shmup material: fly around, and spam the 'shoot' button. There's a little variation in the arrangement of the disease agents, and this keeps the play interesting for the first go-through, but there's not a whole lot to keep you interested beyond that.

Overall, while not quite groundbreaking on the gameplay front, the artwork of Strepto-Force and its integration into the game made it a unique, lovely experience. I hope to see more from you in the future!

Wave Defense
-by Jayden Beveridge-

Summary: You're a sassy blue lady, but your style is getting CRAMPED by the sassy red ladies trying to mess you up. They're coming at you in waves of increasing numbers, but that's not going to stop you from shootin' 'em to bits!

Feedback: When I sampled Wave Defense right after the 72 hour period was over, the player character was a green square, the enemies were red squares, and the bombs didn't have any animation. But over the grace period, developer Jayden Beveridge implemented sprites for the player, enemy, and the explosion of the bomb, and I gotta say: it really made a difference. Even though the aesthetic update didn't change anything mechanically, the gameplay actually feels more fun now.

Overall, Wave Defense boils down to this: enemies that chase you constantly spawn at random locations around the room. Aiming a projectile weapon with your mouse (as well as a bomb), you take out as many of these gals as you can.The more you defeat, the faster they spawn. It's not a new formula, but it's implemented well. In particular, I like that the gun weapon shakes the whole screen when you use it: it feels heavy and powerful.

There are some troubles, though: the bomb is a little hard to set up right, and I think the gun is usually more useful anyway. Also, I feel like the enemies are predisposed to spawning a little too close to you, and it's frustrating to die this way. Finally, after a while I do find myself wishing for a bit of enemy variety.

Overall, not a bad submission; it kept me entertained for a while, and I think it's cool that you put the time in to improve this. It really does show.

-by Charles Gbadamosi-

Summary: BacteriaSim is a simulation of bacteria evolution: starting with just a few strains, the bacteria replicate over time, with offspring that share characteristics with them. Players can manipulate the dish's temperature and PH, and accordingly, only bacteria predisposed to thrive in the new conditions will live on to reproduce.

Feedback: BacteriaSim is a well thought-out application of two of the themes: "Scarlatina," and "Biodiversity." It's cool that these little cubes evolve over time, and I have a lot of fun just sitting back and watching bacteria with certain behaviors start their own little dynasties.

In fact, I think it's the bacteria behaviors that makes watching the little guys so interesting, as opposed maybe to the strain's temperature and PH preferences. The thing is, while the behavioral differences are easily observable-- some spin in place, some jerk about, and some just chill out motionless-- the temperature and PH preferences are essentially invisible, and a dish full of bacteria thriving at 10 degrees Celsius and 12 PH looks pretty much identical to one at the neutral levels (though it's harder to set up). 

That's not to say that temperature and PH don't play an imporant role: in particular, changing the values is good for culling the dish when it becomes overcowded. Ultimately, though, I think the behaviors are just plain more interesting to observe. One other small criticism is that the bacteria, particularly the more mobile ones, are prone to cannibalism, which can stunt the spreading of some of the more interesting strains.

Anyway, I'm being critical here, but I'm only able to be so because your game was really good food for thought in the first place. It was a great application of the themes, and it killed a whole lot of my time kept me entertained for a whole while. Great work!

Without further ado, the winner of TAG #3 is...

with "Game of Lifes"

Congratulations, Isaac! Please leave a comment or send a direct message, and tell us whether you're up for hosting TAG #4!

Final Thoughts

I'm sorry if this post ended up a little long, but I really did want to do justice to each of the entries-- you all killed yourself over three days to make these, and I felt like the least I could do was to give y'all some individual recognition for your work. It sounds cliche', but choosing a winner was pretty difficult: there were a whole lot of entries that caught my attention, and I deliberated choosing the winner for quite some time.

I'd like to encourage everybody who participated to keep in touch: find each other on Twitter, subscribe to each other's blogs, that kind of thing. Feel free to dump your social media links and the like into the comments below. After all, TAG isn't just about making games: as Charles says, one of its big goals is to pull developers out from lonely isolation, and to make these folks part of a larger development community. If you saw anything described above that looked cool, don't be afraid to tell the developer you thought so!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed TAG #3. It's been a pleasure hosting, and I'm looking forward to working alongside you all in next month's event!

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