I had the idea for Button Simulator, my LD34 entry, while watching a crappy science fiction movie. The characters sat at their space ship consoles, flicking switches and pressing buttons. There was something strangely entertaining about the experience - the link between human and machine - a sense of power, and a satisfaction in being able to control the world around you with just a flick of your fingers.
I suppose its also the same little itch that DCS A-10 and its hard-core simulator siblings scratch, or this mission control desk. But how to translate a switch flicking simulation into something that was fun to play and could be completed in a weekend?
I suppose I completed the process back to front - instead of using the theme to generate a game idea, I used the theme to flavour the game idea I already had! In the final days leading up to the theme announcement I took the 20 final themes and wrote a short paragraph - a "hook" - for as many themes as I could that set out how my game idea would fit into each theme. My hook for the "growing" theme was:
"Last year's crop wasn't that great, and unfortunately we had to let Freddy go... ...from altitude. Don't let the crop die"
This turned out to be pretty close to the final intro text. Even if my approach was back to front it meant that although I wasn't ecstatic about the themes that were announced, at least I had something ready to go.
Making the game
My last Ludum Dare entry was probably the worst thing I have ever publicly released. I wasn't happy with it at all, and I think it was because I didn't have a solid concept in mind before I started, and as such was a bit all over the place. This time I decided to do a lot more planning and so I spent the morning of the first day jotting down some thoughts and scribbling out the UI. My idea was that there was a relatively old fashioned computer terminal that controlled the growth of a crop. You had to flick switches and turn dials to manage light, food and water, and keep the crop growing.
I had decided ahead of time to make the game using React.js and Redux. I've played around with web interfaces using these technologies, but I was curious to apply the Redux/Flux methodology to a game. (If you aren't aware of React/Flux then its worth reading up on, if nothing else as another way to approach application design) As it turned out React was very well suited to the type of game I made and I felt it helped me develop very rapidly and relatively bug free. Hot reloading (i.e. when you save the source the changes get immediately injected into the browser) is a massive productivity increase, particularly when playing around with styles and layout.
I used Inkscape for the graphics and Audacity to make the sounds. The sounds effects were all bundled in a single file and I used Howler.js to treat them as a sound sprite. I think the buttons have a really nice tactile feel to them, and at least some of you agree.
How it was received
Most comments have been positive, although time will tell what people have actually rated the game!
I did wonder a bit about the difficulty level. As I made it and am aware of the logic, I can win quite easily. However for other players (although its not meant to be an easy game) a lot of the comments have been that its a bit confusing and challenging. I did put in some help tucked away in one corner which explains a lot of the mechanics (and one of the game screenshots shows the help screen), but many players didn't seem to find the option.
I'm a bit torn about this feedback - the "plot" of the game is that you have no idea what you are doing, so providing any sort of help is kind of breaking that premise. At the same time the game is meant to be fun. I think in future I'll make the help button a bit more prominent.
I'm thinking of making the game into a sort of multiplayer party game that I can play with my mates. This could probably be done in React using RethinkDB and websockets, however in this case I think I'll do it in Unity as I want to try out Forge Networking. I do want to bring a lot of the React/Flux mentality to the C# version though, where appropriate, particularly the idea of a single global state - although I think I'll discard some of the immutability Flux favours for its state.