Postmortem: Slavery Simulator 2015 (LDJAM)

Here is my postmortem for the 33th edition of LudumDare. Theme was « You are the monster ».

Synopsis

My game is a basic tycoon game where you have to organize the « triangular trade » : get soldiers in Europe to capture slaves in Africa and produce new world’s goods to send them to Europe.

Slavery Simulator 2015

Final game

Idea finding

When doing LudumDare, I try to be original in the theme interpretation. I’m a little disappointed because my game doesn’t reflect what I planned initially to match the theme. I was thinking about moral choices for the player (« Pay 100 for a medic or 10 slaves died », …) and I wanted to have an authority in the game trying to fight slavery, with some navy tracking your ships, and laws passing like Habeas Corpus. The goal was to create frustration for the player so he could say « Oh, fuck, humans right bill passed ». The idea was that « YOU are the monster » don’t designate the game character but the player himself.
I love tycoon games and was very happy to create one for LudumDare (I usually create character centered games).

Technically

I used HaxeFlixel. It’s my 4th ludum dare game using that fantastic game engine. For the first time, I used it fluently (I praticed a lot last months). That was awesome.

The HTML5 export had never worked for me, so I planned to create a flash game. I live in France, so the end of the jam is at 3AM. Midnight, I said to myself « Hey, it could be a good idea to test if the game works with flash ! ». Spoil: it didn’t. It was VERY slow and buttons was all the same color (the button’s color is an important thing, I will speak about it later). I spend some minutes to optimize the game but it was still too slow and buggy. So I tried the HTML5 export. I didn’t belived. It worked. That was awesome (let’s be honest, I don’t like flash).

I still use a proven and reliable IDE : vim, tmux and my personnal configuration ;-). If you are interested, here is my vimrc.

Graphics

I used Krita… and tried to do something. I spent one hour to draw the map (saturday night, 1AM, before bed). Probably something like one hour more to create all buildings and the boat. No animation, no different images when buildings upgrade, … That pretty sucks and lead to a static game. But I consider that graphics are not very important in a tycoon game, and I hate those business simulation games where graphics go AGAINST the game (think about Railroad Tycoon 3 where the 3D hype leads to unreadable informations).

Yes, this is a Mapmonde.

Yes, this is a Mapmonde. This was my game before assets creation.

Music

It was the last thing I did. It was probably midnight past thirty, I plugged a MIDI keyboard, opened LMMS, then Pixitracker, tried to do something audible … Nothing came. So I used Abundant music, it generates music procedurally. In less than one hour I had one music that correctly fits my games. Really happy about it, the game without music would be boring. The main problem, there is only one music, no sound effects and the music don’t transparently loop (you can hear the transition).
Next step, learn how to tweak the generated midi to humanly customize it.

Gameplay

Honestly, I was very lucky, my game system pretty works. I created the concepts and tested them individually but I only tested to play a complete game once. I changed things after that and never tested again before submit.
After submit I saw some issues :
When harbour storage is full, it displays hundred same messages every seconds. Logger window become useless and it may hides informations (like events).
The soldier price is not updated when you upgrade barracks, so I suppose many persons didn’t understood why upgrade barracks. In fact, the soldier price raise each time you buy one. When you upgrade barracks, you divide by 4 the soldier price.
When a boat is in USA, it loads tobacco first, then sugar if space left. Unfortunately, you can have big reserve of sugar in America but you can’t sell it. As you don’t sell it, price raise. But you can’t sell it, so it’s very frustrating. (And the sugar price raise too fast).

My saturday afternoon fuel : carrots and sun.

My saturday afternoon fuel : carrots and sun.

Intuitivity

LudumDare games are usually played in something like less than five minutes and you have one minute to convince the player to continue his game session.
The best I could do would be an interactive tutorial, or at least, a visual help. I absolutly did nothing like that. The only help was a special screen with boring text.
To let people understand the game, I made color changing button depending of actions availables. With that, even if you don’t understand anything to the game, you just have to click green buttons and something good will happens.
The only exception is the boat parts which is always green but is not always a good choice to make.
My theory is that if the player randomly play by clicking on available actions, he will progessively understand what happens and the meaning of the actions (and of the game). After some time of random play, he will be able to do more intelligent actions because he saw what happened with his choices.
At the begining of the game development, the buttons which can’t be used (not enough gold, …) was hidden. This solution seems bad for me because the player is not aware of all actions available in the game and what to do to unlock them.

Theorically, there is a loose condition : if you don’t amass 5000 Gold until Jan 1700. There is an ending with a fucking awesome sentence, but nobody will see it because you can’t really loose. During my tests developements, I was able to do bad investments which leads to a situation where you can’t do anything (not enough money).
I didn’t want to frustrate the player which don’t know the game by letting him loose in the ten first seconds without telling him before 20 minutes of play. So I changed some part : now, all essentials first investments are done automatically : there is a village, a plantation and a slave. The first soldier is free. Even by doing whatever stupid, you will be able to slowly earn money to make better investments.

Conclusion

I’m very happy with this game. I hope you will enjoy playing it as much as me developing it. I wan’t to participate to october challenge, maybe I will reuse Slavery Simulator and continue the development, it depends on the users feedback, ideas to enhance the concept (already got some) and my motivation. Follow me on Twitter if it may interest you.

Here is my compo page : Slave Simulator 2015 . To play the game, it’s here.
Ps: don’t forget to look at Am I the monster?, game made by a friend who invited me in his appartment to do LudumDare and prepared me good tasting coffee.

Leave a Reply