This reflection is long overdue! I wish I could say “recently,” but a few months ago the hard work leading up to PTBO Game Jam 02 paid off and the event was a great success. The 32-hour jam itself was livestreamed non-stop August 4th-6th. Everyone involved was very proud, and I’m happy to say all the jammers, including staff/jammer hybrids like myself, had a great time! The #RetroFlashback theme seemed to connect with jammers young and old and led to some really interesting games, please check out all the jam submissions here!
I’m proud to say I both finished my project and kept up with my volunteer staff responsibilities. Most of my efforts were in connecting with the community leading up to the event so at the jam itself I helped out the occasional stuck jammer and playtested other jammer’s projects and offered feedback. I find having external problems to help solve that get me away from my own desk refreshes my perspective, so whenever something came up I was happy to find I’d return to my desk totally re-energized. RetrOrienteering is actually my first publicly available Unity game, and I’m quite proud of it. That being said here is the game I made, and what I learned by making it!
My concept for the game wasn’t far from the finished product. It was missing a few features I’d planned to add if I had time, but the core design loop remained intact. Once I got started it was easy to see which goals needed to be cut almost immediately into production. Perhaps the best way to describe the game and it’s design is to explain how the concept came about…
A friend was telling me all about his experience playing Etrian Odyssey, a series which utilizes the DS touch screen and stylus by having players draw in order to map out the dungeon as they explore. It’s such a straightforward use of the touch screen, but so admirable and suitable. He told me, knowing I enjoy the tension of exploration in games, that a large part of the satisfaction when playing was filling out the map as opposed to the combat. Exploring a hostile, unknown territory and the experience of relief when successfully mapping out an entire area cleared of threats and fully looted was the standout experience, not the (albeit supposedly excellent) RPG combat. I had been trying out some DOS games earlier this year, and tried Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord having become fascinated with the use of household items as an essential gameplay tool in the age of DOS: graph paper and a pencil. Classic first-person dungeon crawlers had no such luxuries as a DS screen and stylus.
It took a while to get used to it, but once I got the hang of moving, observing, and drawing I quickly understood why these games were so exciting at the time. The limited graphics couldn’t provide a true sense of 3D space, but being set in a dark dungeon it made perfect sense to map out what was immediately visible. With a bit of work I suddenly I had a complete picture of my surroundings, a true sense of space, a reward for my work. The sense of adventure was magical. Most importantly, I now had the ability to plot my perfect escape route!
Wizardry’s first floor has some kind of elaborate logic trap involving doors and teleportation, most likely a finite state machine. I’m somewhat ashamed to say I escaped by pure luck rather than utilizing my background in computer science. I’ve yet to crack the puzzle and generally just avoid the whole Eastern section of that floor when playing.
Without discovering where my navigational path became a physical impossibility and marking it as a note on my map I would have been doomed to repeat the same mistake again and again. Filing the sheets away after a play session I knew if I lost those maps somehow I would be helpless when loading my save.
At this time I’d also gone back to play Demon’s Souls. I had rented it for a weekend as a kid and I never even made it to the first boss. Having finally completed Dark Souls a few weeks earlier I felt I had a solid understanding of the mindset for success in Souls games and ready to enjoy analyzing the new experience. I wanted to see the interesting design choices made in this early innovator which may have been left behind when the spiritual sequels were being developed.
Souls games. Dungeon crawlers. Exploration, tension, and punishing consequences for player deaths…
PTBO Game Jam 03: #RetroFlashback
I was brainstorming after the founder revealed the theme to everyone and it hit me: what if upon death in a dungeon crawler you lost your map as well as your character? Wizardry isn’t forgiving of full party failures, and more than a few of my adventuring parties never returned once they entered the maze. What if I could find my previous party’s map, and let their failure be my new character’s salvation?
In Souls games your most common material resource is souls and it is the easiest to lose, but still possible to recover. In dungeon crawlers your most common resource is your mapping information, so what if I purposefully made it possible to lose such a vital survival resource? What if I made a dungeon crawler where death cost you your character and your map, but your map was recoverable?
I had made up my mind. I’d take the plunge into 3D and try to make my idea into a reality. Thanks to the months of self-driven developer activity leading up to the jam I felt more than comfortable in the Unity editor, more so than I had felt with Gamemaker Studio in my last game jam. The high amount of “butt-in-chair” time I clocked before the jam greatly assisted the design and development process for what was effectively my first 3D game.
Retroactive Dungeon Exploration via Scavenging and Death
RetrOrienteering is simple: you explore a 3D dungeon, space by space, with an automap. Finding gems, fighting monsters, and picking up gear to improve your attack and defense stats as you explore in an effort to find all the gems. Die and your map is dropped where you were killed, the dungeon is reset, and now it’s up to the next adventurer to somehow make it back to where you were without kicking the bucket and causing the process to repeat itself.
Players told me about the mixed sense of relief and fear upon seeing a dropped map, happy to see they had made it back to where they were and desperate to obtain the mapping data, but afraid of the threat got them into this mess in the first place. Seeing the looks on player’s faces of concern, determination, and joy upon accomplishing their goals was immensely satisfying.
There was still some graph paper involved in development though! I designed the game’s world meticulously, and specifically approached the foundation of the project with the intention of making construction and editing of the level geometry as easy as possible by using some handy RunInEditMode scripts, and focusing on modular design and development to ensure it was remotely achievable as a one man project.
Spoilers, here is the final paper draft of the map of the game!
PTBO Game Jam 03 was a great experience. I occasionally grab RetrOrienteering from it’s repository and play around with it, or tidy up code in the hopes of making it into a richer experience. Right now though, my efforts are entirely focused on finishing my current project before December!
Want to try the game as it was upon jam completion? Play below!