The development of Dynamite Jack was a really involved and long-term project. The project started almost exactly SEVEN YEARS AGO. I’m going to do a series of blog posts over the next few weeks leading up to the release of Dynamite Jack highlighting both the features of the game, the development of the current version of the game, and the unique history that went into the development of this game.
Seven Years Ago Today …
The first prototype I created of this game idea was during the 6th Ludum Dare game jam. This was only my second game jam I ever participated in, and it was an amazing experience. I was learning how participating in game jams stretched me as a game designer, so instead of just saying to myself, “hey, I’ll make a Mario 3 clone today!” I was given a specific theme that I had to design a game around!
Light and Darkness
The theme was light and darkness, which today I still think was one of the greatest themes ever for a game jam. It brought a ton of unique concepts out of all the developers who participated in that jam. My game was called “Escape from Anathema Mines”:
To give you an idea of the gameplay, well, you can play the game on Windows, maybe. Or using pygame, if you know how to get that working. Or, you can just watch this video of me attempting to play the game today
Some differences in the gameplay from Dynamite Jack are – in the original, the flashlight could run out of batteries. The guard could hear you when your flashlight was turned on. And if you took too long, you’d run out of time for no apparent reason.
The name “Anathema Mines” was inspired by a greek word I heard in a sermon meaning totally accursed. This seemed to match my feelings for being forced to work in salt mines, so I went with it for the name of the game. The speaker who taught me that greek word, Lyn, posed for the totally awesome title screen art of the game.
Also, the music in the game is based on a fiddle tune that I knew called “Tennpenny Bit” .. You can hear a rustic recording of a band I was in playing it about 7 years ago here listed under “Two Dinners and Sunday Brunch”.
The Post-Post Mortem
After a game jam I often write up a post-mortem of what went right and wrong in the dev of the game. I’ve posted that in verbatim below. I’ve included my “hindsight” comments highlighted in yellow, so you can see what I think of my analysis of the game seven years later
This year I spent around 2 hours planning before I actually started writing my game. I also bounced ideas around with some friends to come up with a really good game concept. I believe spending this time planning before actually creating really helped out in the fun factor this year. Last year my fun score was fairly low. My first jam game was called “Cuzco’s Goat Bloat Game” and it featured my pet goat Cuzco .. but it was crazy hard to play
I used pygame again this year to great success. I love pygame, and I still use it for jams sometimes. Python is the best. It was easy to get my game up and running and working quite nicely by the time the contest came around. I also used my own level and tile editors, which helped save a good deal of time. I also was able to use my MR-8 for recording sound effects, ModPlug and n-track for creating the music. I was quite pleased with the quality of audio I was able to create in about 2 hours. I also utilized friends to do play testing. This also helped in the fun factor, as I was able to get some good feedback on what parts of the game were fun, what levels were too hard, etc. I’ve done a ton of this for Dynamite Jack. It really helps. My wife, Nan, is the primary tester of Dynamite Jack, and if she doesn’t like a level, she won’t play the game again until I remove it from the game. I was also pleased to have enough time to create 5 levels for the contest, giving my game a fairly complete feel.
For next time, I am interested in learning a 3-D kit so that I can do fancier graphics. My game would have still been a 2-D game, but with the added light effects, I think that would have helped my production. I did just that for Dynamite Jack. Jack is written using OpenGL, but I have the game in 2-D mode all the time, so I never use any 3-D effects. I also don’t actually use the OpenGL lighting features, I pre-calculate all the lighting in my code. But being able to have vertex colors makes the nice shading in Dynamite Jack. Escape From Anathema Mines was written in PyGame which is based on SDL, and I only had simple blitting of images. The effects that I managed in this early prototype are actually doing a cool job of pushing the boundaries of what pygame was able to do.
- Prep: I made sure all my tools were installed and working before the contest
- Planning: gave me considrable direction and a better starting idea
- Tools: pygame, pgu (level and tile editors), ModPlug, n-track, Audacity
- Windows: knowing how to use py2exe
- Testing: Having lots of it. Game play came out good, and no critical bugs were in the contest edition.
- Time: Managing time from most important features to least
- Tools: wish I had 3-D tool knowledge to do my lighting effects and hi-res graphics.
- Testing and Time: wish I had more time to do more to weed out the last few non-critical bugs, but you can only do so much in 48 hours.
Glaring omission here: the horrible controls! You can see in that video how I’m barely able to control the main character. He moves like a go-cart or something. I have no idea why I designed it with “rotate left” / “rotate right” / “forward” / “reverse” controls instead of just using the arrow keys as ARROW KEYS.
Going forward, well, my game only placed about 8th place in the competition, and nobody was super into the game at that point, so I didn’t bother to do anything with it beyond doing a few post-competition tweaks to the game. Thus Anathema Mines was put aside for quite some time.
TO BE CONTINUED …
(Dynamite Jack is coming to PC / Mac in mid-May. Check out the trailer to see the difference from the original shown here.)