What I Played
Slime Rancher - I can't quite say that I enjoyed playing Slime Rancher, but for a few minutes, its loop had me. It is satisfying to check the plort stock market each day and make a plan for how to get those high value excretions. What keeps me hooked on these farming games is knowing that once I put in the time doing the tedious tasks, I am guaranteed a payoff. Then I can purchase upgrades that ease the tedium and increase profits forever and ever, amen. Unfortunately, Slime Rancher kept throwing wrenches in my plans. There was this one time I was keeping chickens in a pen to feed to my slimes with the most lucrative BMs. I bought higher walls for the pen, and in the description for this upgrade I was promised that they would keep out the garden-variety pink slimes. After an afternoon of foraging I returned to find that those adorable bastards had invaded the pen and devoured the hens. This and other events like it were an unwelcome dose of chaos in a game that presents itself as a peaceful farming simulator.
Look at this jerk
Super Bunnyhop has a video review that gives a much more complete analysis. Even if it doesn't quite nail the pastoral treadmill I'm looking for, it's impressive that this is Monomi Park's first game. I can't wait to see what they do next.
illi - illi has my favorite jump of any one button platformer I've played on the iPhone. I've included a GIF to sway you, so imagine you're doing that cool jump with your very own digits. It works just as you would expect. Tap for a short jump, hold for a higher, further one. When you land, there is a satisfying screen shake to indicate your impact. Nailing a landing after leaping across your whole phone screen is genuinely exciting.
Yes, you are a furry horned slug. No, I don't want to think about it.
The only thing you need to do in each level is get to the exit, but the game smartly challenges you to do more. There is always the chance to earn up to 3 badges for things like hitting collectables, getting some sweet hang time, and even speedrunning. Every once in a while there will be a badge for, I kid you not, rolling some rocks around. It's bizarre and feels super tacked on, but doesn't detract from the game.
What I Made
I am slowly cobbling together my first semi-original game. It's a weird top-down stealth game made in GameMaker. The concept is that you are a disgruntled office worker eating everyone's lunch and trying not to get caught. Right now, it looks like this:
The hooks are hard to see in the GIF. One is that you can only be caught when you are eating food, represented by green and yellow circles. Otherwise, the enem-uh-coworkers do nothing when they see you. The other is that the "health" bar on the food only goes down when you alternate pressing the left and right arrow keys. As rudimentary as this looks, I've already learned a lot about those ideas and game making in general. Here are two of the lot.
1. An interesting twist may not translate into good gameplay. The vision cones shown in the GIF don't affect you at all unless you are holding food. If you get caught holding food, it's an instant game over. My initial thought was that this would allow for unique ways to plan routes and breathers between hectic vision cone dodging and arrow key mashing.
What actually happened was that people avoided the vision cones at all times anyway. It seems like that mechanic is ingrained so much that it's reflexive. Even worse, it made the game too easy and boring. I have some ideas to improve on this, so hopefully some form of it can survive. This brings me to my next point.
2. I have no idea when to stop. I get now why games can get drowned in mechanics. I only have like, two, and I'm still wary of adding more. At the same time it's impossible to know if something will work without just doing it. I think about the least amount of work I could do to implement an idea and do that just to find out if it's good. But if it's bad, I worry that it's only bad because I used a half measure. Maybe if I dove in and devoted a ton of time and effort it would be good, actually?
This constant inner struggle also made me realize why I've read about so many games not being fun until they're almost finished. That sounds crazy until you try to make a game yourself. You assume the developers must be doing something wrong. How could they not have known this feature really doesn't add anything, or that this mechanic kind of breaks the game? The answer is that they probably do know but maybe they found out far too late, because estimating is hard and deadlines are a thing.
I'm going to put at least a little more time into this game (working title MMMbezzlement, which might be the best thing about it so far) and see where it goes. I'll keep updating because it feels good to share progress and gives me some small amount of accountability. Til next time.