PyWeek12 SS3/NP PostMortem...ishNote: Please forgive typos and things that only sort of make sense -- this was written on a plane while being pretty seriously sleep deprived
I kind of want this to be one but I simply haven't had the energy/motivation needed to write it after talking most of these things over with my team. I'll try to hit the high points though.
General thoughts on PyWeek12:
First and foremost, to all the entrants: Good Job! The quality of the games this time around seemed pretty phenomenal. I'm not sure why but it just felt as if everything was noticeably better put together than in the previous two competitions I participated in.
My goal for this submission was to demonstrate that our team could be creative -- previously we'd basically done clones of classic games. While this meant gameplay was a known good it required no real thought outside of a new plot to frame the same old thing. This time around we experimented with (somewhat) strange plot, new gameplay mechanics, and (I thought) worked the theme in in a pretty neat manner.
Overall I'm super happy with our performance and our component scores fell as expected: Production > Innovation > Fun. I am a bit surprised we did so poorly relative to previous entries with Production as this felt like it was the most polished of any of our submissions thus far. So it goes.
We generally divide PyWeek into two phases. Phase one is pre-competition and involves a lot of brainstorming about what possible games would be for each theme. In the past we've started with "NES-style platformers styled after Wibbly Wobbly" or "Steampunkish SNES-Zelda centered around Caught." This time we started with the theme and came up with a gameplay mechanic that fit the story we wanted to tell. This was a reasonable success and our "innovation" ranking reflected that relative to previous submissions.
Phase two is the post-selection development and, honestly, not much went smoothly with it this pyweek. Morale was lagging from day one, we never had a unified mindset about the game mechanics, three of our content people were not available for significant portions of the week. On the plus side that means there was a lot to learn?
So... about those lessons?
Morale is key for us maybe as much as (or more so?) than having a solid game concept at day 1. I was having a minor nervous breakdown for the first two or three days of the competition which caused me to miss the most important phase of my development -- weekend #1. After that I was constantly behind schedule and generally less productive than I should have been until Friday of the competition (which for the most part was too late to make matter).
Fixception and I were the main drivers behind the concept for Shattered Silence and spent a good amount of time during phase 1 and the first couple of days of phase 2 trying to make sure our lead dev (Blake) had a good understanding of it. We were successful to some degree but changes were made to adapt it to what Blake was familiar with and a non-trivial amount of the mechanics just didn't make it into the game. In that regard the theme was a bit of an omen -- about 1/9th of what we wanted actually made it in. To top those problems we really didn't do a good job selling the concept to our asset team which made it difficult for them to come up with content (music and pixel art specifically). For a game to be developed in a week and do well it should have, if not buy in, at least team-wide understanding of the concept and basic gameplay.
This last bit isn't so much a new lesson but one we continuously learn: as a rule we will underestimate the difficulty of something important. For SS1 (Shoul Shenanigans) it was (non-pixel) art, in SS2 (Shackled Stones) it was level content, turn around on enemies, and map scripting integration. For SS3 we hit a bottleneck with level creation again as well as game mechanics and necessity of things like pathfinding.
My take away from this is confusion -- maybe we should try again but with more unity behind an original idea, maybe if we're going to do our own games we should be more "realistic" (but then the creative process is a bit less fun, for me at least), maybe we've reached a bottleneck on our current development style (I suspect this, if nothing else, to be the case).
While I'm not sure about it yet I suspect I won't be working with the NP team for PyWeek13 -- I'm getting a little bit burned out doing work so far removed from the actual game portions of the projects. Most of those on the team are long time friends of mine and Blake is a fantastic developer so I hate to leave them hanging... but the difference in drive during a PyWeek run between Blake and I is 1) intimidating 2) makes me super hesitant to take a role I think I would find interesting. For the most part I don't expect this to make much difference on the NP team -- Blake is one of those types that can do everything from Art to Dev to Music if he needs to and I'm no better as a second dev than ikanread so shuffling people around should mean for only a minor distraction, if any at all.
I've also been super encouraged by the feedback we got. Specifically whoever said "Wonderful intro. Fantastic immersive story. A bit lacking in the gameplay department. I don't know if I would call this game 'fun.' But it is a beautiful work of art." makes me really happy, thank you =) There were enough things of this sort I want to see Shattered Silence built as the game it is in my head so I'll probably start development for it as a long term project outside of PyWeek (probably in C++ or C#)
- Based on performance vs my personal goals for PW12 I think this was our best submission yet
- I thoroughly enjoyed the theme and our concept and will likely start development on it as a new project and build out the other 88% of the game
- I suspect I'm burned out on the team thing, depending on how the second edition (SS3mkii) is going I may not be in PW13 at all.
- This turned out a little more post-mortemy than I thought it would be. If you've made it this far you deserve a cookie.
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