"A Winner is You"
Pro Wrestling Series
I decided to write a postmortem a little out of the traditional way, perhaps because of my close relationship with developers, bloggers, players and even youtubers during all the time I spent developing this game.
So, I wrote this article/postmortem about the creative process and the cool and not-so-cool stuff I got involved with on my project. For all the time (560 hours to be more precise) I've spent on coding, designing levels, making ANSI and other small development details for ASCDungeon, I managed to crawl all the way back up with some good experiences.
Without further ado, let's go straight to the point and talk about what happened...
How was the idea born?
Talking to my wife about BBS, dialed internet and other old things, I started to remember the old BBS games, with visual ANSI/ASC.
Trade Wars 2002 - One of my Inspirations...
I was struck but a wave of nostalgia while digging into those memories. I had spent a few days cherishing those thoughts until, in a conversation with my friend Carlos Monteiro, I decided to give wings to a project about a minimalist platformer, with an ANSI look and a very high difficulty level.
Once I was almost done putting together my 2D framework, I initially released two levels to see what kind of feedback I would get.
During that same time, I kept in touch with folks from Blocktronics, an ANSI art collective who served as my inspiration to work. Within a week, I had a little demo that I released on ICTH.IO and Newgrounds. To my surprise, there was a very high acceptance from the players, even with extremely simple graphics and without any great audio resources. An itch.io user even donated a contribution to the game.
Blocktronics - Fantastic ANSI Images
I got excited about all of that and my initial idea was to make a collective platform game where people could create new levels and contribute to its development. This was the first thing (and one of the few) that went wrong. No one has collaborated. But on the bright side, I received many messages asking for more levels. I split the game into chapters, with five levels, five chapters total (In the Abyss, Halls of Fire, Nightmare, Anvil of Souls and Oblivion) and twenty-five levels of play. I set that as goal for all of my development work.
Tools and Processes
Construct 2 was my main tool, along with a 2D framework developed made by myself (see my previous article). The "graphics" were made on Pablo Draw, totally ANSI, and the audio effects were created on Audacity with a royalty free set of PC beeps.
I also used Piskel, and Construct 2's image editor to fix some images. Everything was developed on a PC environment (an I7 processor,16 Gbytes of Ram, Nvidia Geforce670 3D Card, and my notebook, an I5 processor with 8 Gbytes of ram and a Geforce 540M), in 560 hours of work (about 3 months). All the level design work was done in real time, that is, I built the levels directly in C2 using my framework and while also running the necessary tests.
Another strategy that I started to adopt was to work by "closing" the levels of each chapter. In the first month of work, I was still kind of slow, creating 2 to 3 levels a week. In the end of the project, I was working on 2 to 3 levels a day, fast and furious. It was a pretty quick and incredible evolution as it may seem. When I was done, I had implemented support like gamepad and touch in my framework, features that didn't exist before. During the whole process, I sent several tweets, I posted on the main game sites and got a review from Youtuber Mr. Big T Anderson (thanks a lot!) and from the guys at Indie Retro News, which wrote an article and made a mini review for it.
I got a number of great page hits on Newgrounds, and the game started to gather a small community of players. One thing I discovered in the process is that through Twitter I could achieve a much bigger audience than through Facebook. I have had contact with more developers, websites, players, through retweets than by communities in FB.
In the final week, my main job was to build the boss mechanics. I had worked with previous bosses in other games, but in AscDungeon, I wanted to do something different, that reminded me a little of the bosses of the Megaman, with a greater touch of difficulty. I made a version that is the current one of the game (but I'm still thinking about some changes) and I liked it. I worked with a simple state machine and the result I got pleased me at first, although I think I'm going to change a few things in an upcoming update.
In regard to sounds, I ended up getting help from my friend Carlos Monteiro from Gigoia Studios. He composed some really nice chiptunes and some cool loops, which were a huge upgrade for the game, overall. All the art I made at ANSI were based on the levels and I even put a hermetic touch to it, willing to achieve a mystical atmosphere for certain phases. You can play the final result here.
I believe AscDungeon had a series of very positive outcomes that served as the basis for future projects. I will list below the ones that stood out for me:
- Validation of the 2D framework - I was able to use the framework I developed in its full potential. It was great to see in practice that the concepts I developed work satisfactorily.
Implementation and testing of new features during development - the framework received a series of upgrades during the development of the game such as support for the gamepad, touch, new mobs, weapons and game objects.
Contact with the retro gaming community - it was very interesting to connect with an audience that enjoys retro games (websites, players, youtubers) and that gave excellent feedbacks regarding gameplay and level design. It was a great experience without which the project wouldn't have followed the direction it did.
Development of a methodology of communication and dissemination with the public, using Twitter, not getting dependent on Facebook. In addition, I received lots of feedback via sites like Newgrounds.
What didn't work
This project had one thing that didn't work out, and I see it was totally my fault. The initial idea was to play a game with the community, or that people would contribute to levels that I could implement. I think the proposal was not well understood, or probably not very well seen by all. I thought about doing something like art collectives, where several artists could do a joint work, but I think I didn't explain it very well. This was frustrating for me, but it was a lesson learned. Another thing is that I had to "nerf" the game. AscDungeon is a difficult game with permadeath. I had to create the possibility (obviously thinking about my player) to allow access to all phases with a cheat code, this rendered in a greater number of people playing.
My Junior Level Designer, Mary Sausage, working with me on some levels...
ASCDungeon was an excellent testbed for validating a number of important concepts I've been working on. The first one was my 2D framework. That was a victory for me because it was the result of two projects that failed and that I was very frustrated about. Everything that I developed for those two games was implemented on ASCDungeon, and they really ran very well!
Another noteworthy thing is that I have been able to improve my level design and, above all, my skills for game balancing and gameplay design. AscDungeon is a difficult but very challenging game, about which I have received very nice comments from the players. In fact, such feedback was very important for me because I had some very good suggestions, which played a good deal in some adjustments I had to make.
And what now?
When I closed the game my feeling of satisfaction was enormous. I felt good, with a sense of accomplishment. But at the same time, I got desperate and asked myself: what to do next?
Well, I want to give some polish to ASCDungeon (nothing too complex since the game is finished) and move on to the Orc leader that is in the final development phase. I already have a project after Orc leader (obviously involving Orcs), but this will only be done when I finish it.
I wanted to share my saga with you in this brief report. I hope you enjoyed it. I invite you to play ASCdungeon and give me your feedback so I can keep on improving it.