On fun, vision, and growth
The GMTK Game Jam has been growing in size every year, and while I haven't personally been able to take part each time, it's become a fun (if not exhausting) event I regularly look forward to. For me, game jams have hit a balance point between acting as a test of my skills, and being opportunities to expose myself to new challenges, whether that's exploring a new mechanic, development style, or game genre.
This year, I built DRIFTWORLD, which balanced between some of my existing knowledge of 2D game dev while still exploring a genre of game I'd never made before: real time strategy. Having never worked on this kind of game before, and since time management is so important in a jam, I went into the project with cautious expectations -- but was still surprised at how it went.
For the most part, the game was playable and relatively complete, if a bit visually bland, by the end of the jam. I had been most nervous about implementing a reasonably fun AI for the enemy units, and this aspect was by far the most time-consuming, but by the end I had something that I was quite happy with. The controls worked fairly well and the AI was fun to compete against, so the project felt whole enough.
And yet, while the game was fun, it felt like something was missing. The theme of the jam was "Out of Control", so the idea behind DRIFTWORLD was to create a mechanic where some of your units can rebel against you (become "drifters", as it were). My goal was not only to make this mechanic integral to the gameplay, but to incorporate it into some subtle storytelling as well. Unfortunately, the game didn't really reach this vision: the player can't just naively attack, but if they take their time then the mechanic doesn't really become very relevant -- and it's even likely that the player will miss it entirely.
So in the end, I built a game that was somewhat fun but ultimately failed to meet the project vision that I had been aiming for. In a small-scale game like this, it wouldn't be too difficult to spend some more time tweaking the drifter mechanic in an effort to get closer to the original vision, or tightening the gameplay in an effort to make it more interesting and fun. But for larger games, it begs the question: what path should you take if "fun" and "vision" begin diverging? If both cannot be simultaneously optimized, should you sacrifice the original vision if you find a more interesting path forward? Or should you follow your vision and make something you consider more meaningful? I don't know the answer, but perhaps with more skill as a game designer, the two paths will converge.
Finishing projects is important, but so is managing scope, and for DRIFTWORLD I've decided to limit the scope to what it was during the jam. As of the latest update, I've added a bit more polish, tweaked the levels, and hopefully improved the game feel, all of which were fun to implement in its own right.
And so to that end, in order to continue building and growing, I call this project done!
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