There are a lot of game development contests out there, and for the longest time it's felt like we kept missing them. So when we heard about Boing Boing's Music Inspired by Games contest, we decided to derail our current game project a bit and dive in. Here's our postmortem on how that went.
The Game We Built
What Worked Well
- We are ambitious people but we did a surprisingly good job of finishing the damn thing by pushing back on features. There were excellent ideas such as 4 playable classes and multiple stages with different music, but none of it seemed feasible in the 2-3 weeks of time that we had. So that feels like the one thing that we did really well.
- GitHub and Dropbox worked out very well for organization and collaboration. These are such fantastic sharing services that you can use right now for free.
- We had a good, concrete definition of our game that we could refer to often when wondering which features to include. Our mantra was "a medieval fantasy Smash-TV", which helped the direction we went immensely.
What Didn't Work So Well
- Our Google App Engine account wasn't billing-enabled, so our game page went down almost immediately after the contest began. And that's a mistake that Matt should have learned from having "launched" Bombada just recently. Lesson learned now, twice!
- We also did not include Google Analytics. We figured App Engine had some kind of analytics-like service for free, but nope. Google Analytics is easy to setup and can provide invaluable feedback, and we hadn't installed it until recently, so we fucked up.
- We didn't make it clear that flash was required for audio. We received many comments about audio not working. Blocking flash is common, especially for savvy Internet users. And for this contest especially, music was integral. Not letting the players know that was a mistake.
- Should have made the keyboard controls easier to discover. We did include some text on the title page of how to play, but it wasn't enough; many people said they couldn't figure out how to move or fire.
- We should have been more clear in our email to Boing Boing that this was a game by Lost Decade Games. On the arcade page, it says "Matt Hackett's Onslaught!" which isn't fair because Geoff did the lion's share of the code. We were pleased to see a direct link to Joshua Morse's personal website, which we think everyone should check out because his music is so incredible.
We did not build a game that would thrive in the 30 second experience domain.
Here's what we mean: with 9 entries, people only have a minute or two at max of patience for each game.
Our game was challenging immediately: you're fighting off goblins and bats with rocks.
That's not fun. We feel that our game can get pretty compelling for fans of the genre eventually, but only after 2-3 minutes, once you've collected
better weapons and are fighting cooler enemies like cyclops or a dragon.
The 30 second experience is especially important in a contest which is based on users votes rather than of a panel of judges. Random visitors aren't going to give your game a fair shot if you don't hook them within the first 30 seconds.
For those interested, we believe we have created a better 30 second experience by removing rocks in favor of swords, providing two weapons to start with, and getting into the action quicker (goblins instead of bats in the first wave). It's now more fun to play immediately, which is great for anyone who plays.
- The URL is forever. We submitted our entry at http://lostdecadegamesapp.appspot.com/, which we intended to use for other things as well. But the game itself is in the root directory, and we've noticed that some good folks out there have embedded Onslaught! as an iframe, which is great, but now if we ever change that page we're going to be providing broken experiences for potential players and pissing some people off. That won't do! So the URL is permanent and we can never have anything there but a playable version of Onslaught!. Lesson learned.
We made some mistakes and learned some valuable lessons. And now we have something that we can (and have!) submitted to other contests. And the great thing is that, for the Free Play contest, we were able to spend most of our time tweaking gameplay for fun factor instead of building from scratch.
Also, having a hard deadline that you cannot push back can be very good for productivity. All in all, it was a great experience and we highly recommending entering a contest if you happen to come across one.