Post Mortem: Nut Grab


Here we go. A mind dump of how I see things from the tail end of My First Game Jam Winter 2017. I've included a couple of pages from my notebook and my Pages doc with my thought process (will look into this later, will have to upload elsewhere and link to it). It might be interesting to someone.

Without further adieu:

Things I'm happy about...

Risk vs reward

This came out of wanting to add some depth to the Octopus Game & Watch game. In Octopus you immediately received points for collecting treasure and got 3 bonus points for heading back up to the ship. I'm a big proponent of the risk vs reward component in gameplay. If you haven't played Nut Grab yet, how I've this is by linking the speed of falling items to acorns you've banked. So you can prevent the game from speeding up by not banking your acorns. The risk is that you get hit by a snowflake and lose all of those acorns you're holding.

It's not an incredibly complex or interesting mechanic but I'm happy with how it came out and without mentioning it to anyone people have picked up on it and said they enjoyed that element.

Core game loop

In my previous jams I've not been happy with the game loop and this time I wanted to do better in that regard. To get there I decided to severely scope down my ideas which is what lead me to the Game & Watch style of play. The simplicity of animation, sprite detail and controls were perfect for me achieving this goal.

Art

By scoping down the project I could put a little more effort into art. Once I had decided on the G&W style game, I began brainstorming a theme (or skin).  A squirrel fit perfectly with the sprite animation (or lack thereof) in G&W games;  Squirrel's are generally animated with sharp, erratic movements. Which meant the squirrel theme doubled down on the art direction. I'm also happy (in a relative-to-time sense) with the background and the game's logo.

New skills

Not only did I learn new things in terms of programming skills (my biggest focus) but I also began using Affinity Designer and GitKraken. 

Affinity Designer is a huge challenge to me because I've had over 10 years of professional experience with Photoshop. Battling muscle memory and new way to do things got very frustrating, especially under time constraints. That said, the Export Persona of AD is amazing. Continuous exports of sprites made things so quick to make quick changes. No save dialogues, no reimporting. Magic.

Being new to programming also means I'm pretty new to source control. I've been around it before but never really in the capacity of a primary user. I've always relied on a real programmer to fix things and set them up. GitKraken has a nice interface, nice shortcuts and makes things pretty simple for a numpty like me. It's only a local repo at this point, so I might come undone when I try to upload it but we'll see. 

Even with just a local repo I don't know how many times it saved me. It also got me thinking about working in chunks and enforcing good habits for when I move onto bigger projects.

Support

This is more extrinsic to the game but I'm really happy with the community around this game jam. People are always happy to help and I probably wouldn't have gotten as far as I did had I not received some help from @JimVsHumanity (a Unity mentor on Discord). I also want to thank my partner for her encouragement and giving me some alone time in the hours leading up to submission...you know, when shit starts to go pear-shaped!

Things I'm sad about...

Code

I recognised around the week mark that my code was getting very hard to handle. There were a tonne of dependencies, things being in classes they shouldn't have been in and overly verbose ways of doing things. This all made it hard to trace problems. Since then, I've done a heap of refactoring and I'm much happier with it now. It's got a long way to go, but it's a start.

What my biggest problem is that I don't have an experienced Unity programmer (AKA Mentor) at my disposal to do a code review with. I find it hard to improve when I don't know what I'm looking for or how to use it. I believe that's the single biggest obstacle in self-teaching yourself, is that peer review of your work. Bouncing things off someone and learning on the fly. 

I want to find a mentor that is both enthusiastic and patient. The My First Game Jam community is amazing and that might be a place to start. If need be I'm willing to offer whatever money if it means a more dedicated, ongoing mentoring role.

At the end of the day, I've learnt a lot again from programming in this game jam so I can't be too hard on myself but my desire to learn is more than my capability to source personalised feedback and I that's my bottleneck.

Overall

I'm very happy with my submission, it's definitely my best to date. Nut Grab is far more focused, planned and deliberate and I think it shows. I'll keep working on it because I want to get it to a stage where I'm happy for someone to (optionally) pay money for it. You can read more about that goal in my other post.  As an aside: A personal goal of mine for 2017 is to earn at least 1c on a game I make -- got any suggestions/pointers on that? 

Another small win from this project was watching my three year old enjoy playing my game. Not only was she fist pumping with a "YES!" when she banked the acorns, she kept asking to play it again. That was an unexpected bonus, a great source of motivation and it made me think that maybe I can be a legitimate game developer some day.

I can't thank the organisers of My First Game Jam enough. They've fostered an amazing community and environment for people to learn and create.

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