I've found game jams to be the perfect opportunity for a trial-by-fire learning experience to get to grips with a new engine/code-base/platform/whatever. There's no better way to learn how to do something than to actually do it, and super-tight jam deadlines are pretty much do or die. I do basic tutorials beforehand so that I don't waste too much time, but generally I'm flying blind and loving it. In my first jam I learnt GameMaker: Studio, in my second jam I got to grips with Unity and for this jam I dived into Lexaloffle's PICO-8 fantasy console. It's ace, you should check it out.
No screen clear?!
This actually directly inspired the lawnmowers. When I was thinking about the themes I came up with the idea for steering a vine and not clearing the screen, but that was all I had when I started. I had that working less than an hour into the jam and had no idea what to do next. I thought about doing a minigame collection but ultimately decided to just add tonnes of features and polish to this one simple mechanic, which I think worked out really well and seems like a solid plan for future jams. So I added flowers, fertilizer, the bee phase and lawnmowers. I really like how the core game loop works: you steer vines till you run out of seeds, then steer a bee towards where you put the flowers. There's a nice risk-reward system in that by grouping lots of flowers tightly you can potentially get loads of seeds, but one well-placed lawnmower will annihilate everything.
This loop did work well but a lot of the feedback I got was about the high degree of randomness. You were trying to grow a garden but you couldn't plan, only react. I fixed these problems with my post-compo version by adding beehives and seed markers so you knew where you'd spawn, as well as a flashing warning ahead of a lawnmower. I think this helped a lot.
Pixel art and sound effects
The last graphical effect was the particle systems. I've done particle effects several times before but this was a new challenge because the screen wasn't being cleared but I didn't want to leave trails. I faced a similar problem with the bee. The solution was to store the color of the screen before rendering over it, then redraw that pixel before moving to a new position. The way the lawnmower works is simply by drawing a black rectangle behind itself so as to erase everything it passes over.
I studied music and music technology in school but that was ~5 years ago and 'rusty' doesn't quite describe it, so I didn't get around to adding music to Need For Seed: Undergrowth. But after some trial-and-error I did manage to make quite a few nice little sound effects for the game. When the game was silent it was fine but when there was only a few sound effects it was awkwardly quiet. Thankfully I eventually had enough sound effects and enough going on that the sounds came together and improved the game rather than detracted.
- Lifenodes nearly made me cry. It was made by a woman for her 5-month-old son and was originally called simply"A game for my son". You make simple activity choices at several stages of a young boy's life (rendered in cute pixel art) then look at how those choices manifest in later life. I'm in my final year of university, trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to do next. I have a big life choice to make and I've had to make a lot just to get here. It's such a heartfelt little game about hope for the future. It hit home pretty hard. I think it's really lovely.
- 33 grams is a totally gorgeous pixel art game about controlling a group of silk moths.
- Milgram has a clever twist on the 'Two Button Controls' theme with a strong The Stanley Parable vibe.
- Eldritch Trance is a cool rhythm-based Cthulu-summoning game.
- Get to the Points is a nice puzzle concept.
- Legacy of Flower is a fellow PICO-8 game with an interesting mechanic and really great feel/feedback.
- Reap is an extremely pretty and technically ambitious survival game by Daniel Linssen.
- 99 Steps is a simple but very effective isometric climbing game.
- Hybris is another PICO-8 game, this time a shooter with a hugely impressive amount of content for a 48 hour game.
- Back on Earth is an exceedingly pretty pixel art adventure.