Hey there. It’s week 9, and that means Dare to be Digital 2012 is almost over. Development comes to a stop on Thursday morning. This blog post works as a brief post-mortem or summary of sorts.
We started working on Starcrossed back in April when we heard about Dare to be Digital thanks to a Dare Nordic representative giving a presentation at our school. Concepting ensued, and we soon had a core game idea in mind: a 2D space platformer where the player would move around using a rocket launcher to blast himself from one asteroid to another. The player’s goal would be to reach a lush home planet as quickly as he could.
The first time we thought about the appearance, mood and possible backstory for the game, we wanted to aim at something like “The Little Prince”: a lonely, mystical atmosphere. Later in the development we found out that people enjoyed a rather crazy and whimsical style a lot more, so as we reached the crossroads graphics-wise and were forced to make the final decisions, we decided to go for that style.
Initially we chose PC as our platform of choice, mainly because we were in a mad hurry and didn’t have time to deliberate. We had to get something done – quickly. We sent a four-minute pitch video to the Dare judges where we explained Starcrossed in detail. To our surprise, we received an invitation to the Dare Nordic qualifiers in Oslo, Norway. Above you can see one of our concept images.
We quickly realized PC as a platform wasn’t going to cut it. In Dare we would have a very limited schedule, we were making a 2D game – with only one artist in the team – and our game was a one-button game. This meant that there was absolutely no reason to develop for PC, so we changed our plans and chose Windows Phone 7 instead. Prior experience with the platform gave us some confidence, and prior contacts came in handy: Nokia was glad to sponsor us with five Lumia handsets.
For the qualifier pitch session in Norway, we brought in a functional playable version of Starcrossed that looked like the image above. During the development of the prototype, we experimented with many types of control options for the main character. First, the player was able to control the characters movement by touching either side of the screen. Since the game was all about moving from asteroid to asteroid and jumping was more essential in terms of progression than walking on the surface, we decided to concentrate just on making aiming and timing precise and fun. We emerged victorious in the qualifiers and proceeded to Scotland for the real deal.
After the first two weeks of competition or so, we’d implemented many of our features on a basic level. You see the scoring mechanic having taken shape in the form of small spheres around the planets; the thermometer, representing how close the player character is to burning, can be seen on the left; and the circle and arrow in the middle are the early version of the compass that guides the player to the home planet.
One of the biggest benefits during Dare were the industry professionals who mentored the teams. They gave us some excellent advice, and that enabled us to make some fantastic decisions regarding our game. One of the biggest features we dropped was multiplayer (Wi-Fi) functionality. This eventually turned out to be the right decision, since we would’ve never been able to add features and polish the game as much as we wanted. By week 4 we’d also added many important additions such as the momentum. This meant the player could retain his speed if he landed on a planet in a parallel angle, making the gameplay a whole lot more intuitive.
However, one of the things you’ll notice is that the player character – even by the halfway mark – was nothing but a sphere. We knew all along he’d be an astronaut, but many people didn’t quite picture him that way. That affected our playtesting results, and turning the sphere into an astronaut proved to be a multifaceted challenge. Changing the code affected the gameplay, the gameplay the levels, and so on. We were lucky not to be wrecked by this oversight.
Windows Phone 7 also proved to be a tricky platform regarding sound design. The speakers on our Lumia 800 models were subpar, and XNA restricted some crucial workarounds. For example, having background music during gameplay made almost all sound effects crackle and fade out on the Lumia speakers.
Because Lumia was our main development handset and we couldn’t ensure the same quality on all the other handsets, we needed to go for the safest option and decide whether to have solely either sound effects or the music during gameplay. Luckily nobody particularly missed the music since we use a lot of complementary little tunes.
We were also sure to add in the major graphics before the playtesting focus groups on week 6. By this time the game was almost finished, and the vast majority of placeholder art and sound was replaced by the good stuff. The final weeks have then been spent on insane polish. Especially in mobile games, god is in the detail.
And here we are at week 9. Protoplay this weekend ties up the experience – and the best three teams will leave with BAFTA nominations in tow.
As for our game, this is the result:
Thank you for reading! Expect a final recap of Protoplay next week – so stay tuned for one more round.