Skitters - Indie Game Dev Postmortem
The goal of writing this postmortem is for me to reflect on my mistakes and successes from my last game. Hopefully any indie devs reading this can also learn from it as well. I will be following the gamasutra postmortem format. Without further ado...
"Skitters in the Night" (Skitters) is a side scrolling game horror audio horror game. That's a lot of tag lines, but the idea for it was "a horror game where you have to listen to know where the enemy is".
I made Skitters for the Game Dev Field Guide podcast monthly game jam #1. The theme was "hide and seek" with an optional modifier of "audio based game". The podcast also has a wonderful community on discord, which was super supportive and a great place to bounce ideas and talk game design during the jam.
As the name implies this was a monthly jam, so we had one month to finish - which I really enjoyed, as it gave a lot more flexibility than the usual 72 or 48 hour jam. I did the jam mostly solo, and did the coding and design in Unity. However I also got some great custom assets from artistic friends, and from open source sites (more on that later).
Goals and Inspiration:
My goal for this game was to have a highly polished game with good thematic effect. I wanted to inspire tension in the player, and evoke the feeling of tingling suspense you get when you stop to listen while in the dark woods or an empty street. A lot of the sound design was inspired by my fear of spiders, and I think that fear carried through.
What went well:
- Feel : I think I nailed the feel and atmosphere I was aiming for. Friends shuddered when play testing the game, even when there were no mechanics. I think this was due to good sound design, and starting with a clear emotion to evoke (as Zackavelli so often says).
- Audio : The spatial audio in unity worked like a charm, which is great for a game jam where audio is the modifier. I struggled with this in Hyperloop, but after a few tutorials and an hour or so of reading the Unity sound source API it turned out beautiful. The key to this was reading documentation, and lots of testing.
- Assets : I planned to create all the art, but didn't. This was a great decision. Not making assets myself saved time, and let Skitters be completed by deadline. There is a sense of pride for creating all parts of a game as an indie dev, and some jams require that. I think that notion is admirable, but overrated. (Huge shout out to the amazing "Turbs" and L.Xie who helped create many of the art assets I used.)
- Tutorial : When I published the first version, many people didn't know how to play. I almost called it a day, but decided to go back in and add a one screen tutorial, and I think this was definitely worthwhile. I love minimalistic design, but I think unless the game mechanics are incredibly intuitive, you need to have some explanation to guide players.
What didn't work:
- WebGL: Ease of access is a big part of a game's success. I think the more accessible a game is the more people will play it. In my opinion a great way to do this is make browser games, which don't even need a download to play. However I found out halfway through that WebGL does not support 3D audio in the way I needed. I had to just make mac and windows builds instead. I think this lack of accessibility is a failure, especially since skitters is intended as only a 1-2 minute experience.
- Tying the world together: The elements of the game didn't interact with one another, especially visually. The stick figure didn't react when the monster was near, or move to pick up the key object. All art was very static. I think just a tiny bit more polish in this regard could have tied the world together, and really made it feel more alive.
- Polish vs mechanical complexity: Though polished well, there was a severe lack of mechanics. You can run left, run right, or stop - and thats about it. This had the effect of railroading the player, which decreased freedom and emotional investment in a game which really needed that to sell the emotion of horror. I really needed another mechanic or way the player could defend themself (as Mavvy noted).
- Stuck in the Medium : I got lost in the sauce. Stuck in the muck. For whatever reason I had the idea in my head of making a 2D game. The main mechanic of Skitters is listening for audio, which is an immersive experience. In retrospect, 2D almost matches this worst out of all game formats. If i were to make this again I would develop in 3D, or even audio only. Lesson learned - make the game format match design, not vice versa, and try to be flexible during ideation.
I definitely learned a ton from making this game. I hope you got something out of this postmortem that you can take into your own games!
Get Skitters in the Night
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