Great write up! I agree with your points about what went well and what could be improved. It is always hard to balance and playtest in a jam situation but you can be really proud of what you have pulled off. All being in the same room helps with the communication as you said but I think it also makes it a lot more enjoyable that you are going through it together which helps with the motivation. Thanks for sharing your process :)
Crafting Blastsmith — 4 Things that went right and 4 things that went wrong
To start this I have to say the response to our small game has been amazing, as this was my first game jam, I couldn't ever have expected such a warm welcome and response.
I am going to talk about the jam experience and the development details, so there might be some things that are obvious for experienced jammers, but I'd like to talk about the things I learned from this. So without further ado — let's start!
What went right 1: The Jam-Plan
I know that we are kinda lucky on this as our team consisted of 4 real-life friends who happen to live pretty closely together, so we decided to pack our computers and do the jam with a Lan-party style setting. This helped us all to have the same sleeping schedule (and I wholeheartedly recommend sleeping, we managed to get a good 7 hours of sleep per "night") and made the communication a lot faster. I know this might not be an option for all of you, but for us, this was one of the key factors that made finishing the game in the 48 hour time frame possible.
Also before the jam theme was announced we quickly talked about our goals for the jam, which we all decided on was to finish something good and "playable" - this way we all had the same mindset about the project. We also set clear roles and responsibilities for us from the start so everyone knew right away what they should- or should not do to avoid extra hassle.
What went wrong 1: The Concept
Even though we managed to pull this one off this time, on hindsight the concept of the game was pretty dangerous as a jam game. Why is that you might say? Well, the base mechanics of the game are quite simple, but most of the gameplay comes from all the small systems surrounding the simple mechanics.
This meant that when we had something that we could realistically test out and see if it even works, we would've already spent half of the jam time. This meant that if the concept didn't work out as we planned, or was not fun, we had wasted half of the jam without really "knowing" how it'd turn out.
So for any future jams, I think starting from the core mechanic, and building up from it is the safer way to go ;)
What went right 2: The Brainstorming
So as soon as the theme announcement video went live we started brainstorming ideas: Where to take this theme? Should we do something strange, or funny?
After some chaos, we decided that we need some constraints to get going, and we chose to do the game on one screen. With that in mind, we started thinking about different concepts that we could do on a single screen and after some good (and really bad) ideas we had the initial concept ready and locked in 30 minutes.
This meant that we could all start working immediately and being in the same environment meant that we could keep designing and fleshing out the concept as we all worked on the basics.
This "designing as a team" mentality went on from start to finish.
What went wrong 2: The Tutorialization
This is partly due to the time constraints and partly due dev to blindness (the fact that when you make something, it can seem self explanatory to you), but we should have dedicated a little more time planning out how to guide the player better and how to get them immediately informed on what is the point of this all.
We tried to add some guidance to the itch.io page, but most of the players go straight into the game without any reading (I'm not blaming as I do this myself, I only read when I don't understand something). So this is something that we could definitely improve upon on future jams as it really helps the game to get the player into the fun sooner.
What went right 3: The Characters
Okay so.. I was the artist on the project, so I have to talk a little about the art style and the character design process. We decided on using pixel art from the start and we also knew that we are going to need a lot of different characters (all the customers) in the game. So I decided to cheat a little...
Well, cheat in the eyes of a pixel artist. As all the characters are created from "Rayman-like" pieces so that the Head, Body, and Hands of the characters were all separate sprites. This meant that I could make all the animations inside Unity and use the same animated character template for all the characters in the game - just needed to change the main sprites.
This saved us a lot of time compared to animating everything in sprite sheets and actually made the game look kinda fun. This also made randomizing customer appearances really easy.
What went wrong 3: The Balance
So like I mentioned earlier we only had a simple mechanically playable version done when we had 24 hours left and we also had to sleep during those hours.. So balancing and testing took a big hit from it. We managed to iron out some of the things that felt "not so great" during the playtests, but some of them - we had to let stay in the final build.
Also on the balancing of the game, we had internal discussions for a while on how should we do it and in the end, we might have balanced it to be a bit too slow for the jam mindset as it takes a bit too long to pick up the pace and start up the chaos that the game is about.
What went right 4: The Polish
This is one of the points that we had the most praise on the game's comments and I am kinda amazed myself how it all turned out. We knew that making the interactions feel good was crucial for the game as otherwise, it could feel pretty boring to play.
That is why we decided to take the extra time to add small animations, particles, screen effects, and shakes. And I am happy we did, as it really makes the game what it is.
What went wrong 4: The Build
So imagine that we are 45 minutes away from the deadline, things are heating up and we start the build process.. BAM! Windows build ready and wait! no! There's a bug on it, well luckily it's a quick fix and oh- we need to have the WebGL build too.. okay phew, everything is done now and it’s time to upload to itch.io and see if it works..
So here is where it went wrong, as the itch.io servers started crashing and they had to disable the web builds, we had no way to test if the WebGL build worked on the page. Luckily it did, but the resolution was HUGE since we didn't quite know how itch.io handles the web builds and their scaling. This was something that we should have tested before even the jam started, but at least now we know!
Phew, what a wall of text! All in all, this was a really fun experience and it taught us a lot of new things, got us started on a new project that we wouldn't have otherwise even thought of and kinda got me hooked on future game jams. Thanks for the community for making the aftermath of the jam an amazing experience and I'd love to hear your stories from the jam period!
And by the way, be sure to try out Blastsmith!