Blind Panic is an annual competition held at Huddersfield University. You can check out a summary of the event along with details about the competitors and winners here.
Our task was to make a game in 32 hours themed “Ducks in Space” with a team of 4 or 5. We were allowed to use libraries and frameworks, but no engines. We also had to produce a trailer within the time frame, which you can watch below:
Weeks before the competition we began to discuss various ideas. Of course, we were oblivious to the theme, but we figured we could adapt our ideas to the theme when announced. Our ideas included a stealth game, a top-down split-screen tanks game, a split-screen racing game, and one of the designers introduced me to PixelJunk Shooter.
The day before the competition our team got together and we had some final discussions, looking at various indie games and past competition winners. We even started to discuss various art styles.
We narrowed down our platforms of choice to Ogre 3D, Cocos2D and XNA. Despite the fact most of my experience is with Ogre, attempting to make a complete game in 32 hours with C++, including pulling together libraries for physics, audio and GUI, would have been slightly crazy. My knowledge of Cocos2D is average, and there are a whole bunch of extra complexities involved when developing for iPhone. So I decided to play it safe and choose XNA.
As soon as the theme was announced, we began to pull together our ideas and within 15 minutes had a solid plan for our game. I asked one of our designers to outline everything we had come up with in a tidy logical design document for me to refer to:
In fact, many of the mechanics listed above did not make it into the final game.
The Final Idea
The night before the deadline I began to implement bullet collision, and in doing so left the body type as dynamic. Bullets were flying around the map colliding with the walls, and I could push them around. It reminded me of Sheep Game, and it struck me that it could work extremely well as a central mechanic. It would be easier to implement, too. The designers had to take my word for it, and a few hours later gameplay was fully functional. We connected 4 controllers, and it was instantly obvious we had nailed something fun and addictive.
We went for an old school sci-fi theme with jetpacks, weapons and bubble helmets:
Our logo reflected the old school theme:
The name of the game is controversial, but it certainly stuck in the minds of the judges. It’s all about making your game stand out from the rest.
Multiplayer & Split-Screen
After reviewing previous competitions, and watching videos of interviews with judge reactions, I came to the conclusion that the game had to be something which actively involved the judges. Since XNA has Xbox controller support, it was only natural that we introduced some form of cooperative play.
Most modern games have moved on from classic split-screen multiplayer, but that doesn’t mean it no longer works. Classic multiplayer games like Goldeneye still hold their fun factor even by today’s standards. Everyone is in the same room, laughing and ranting together. You don’t get the same experience with online gaming these days.
Left thumbstick is move and the right trigger is shoot. That is all you need to know to play our game. Anybody can pick up the controller and start playing. Not only that, but you can transverse the map and take part in the fun even if you don’t manage to get eggs, die, or even mash the buttons.
The aim of our game is simple. We were able to explain how to play our game in 2 short sentences: “Push as many eggs as possible into the nest before the time is up. Use the left thumbstick to move and right trigger to fire”. This is core to widespread success of an indie game. Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, Cut the Rope, you name it.
There is nothing worse than having broken features which hinder gameplay, and having to explain this to players. As an example, half way through development I hadn’t yet implemented collision. Not only that, but players could also travel beyond the bounds of the map and get lost; meaning I had to grab back the controller and correct it for them. I had to explain it wasn’t yet implemented and how “it would be cool if it was, honest”.
In the end, our game was idiot proof, nothing could break it – collision was perfect, you couldn’t get stuck, you couldn’t fall off, there weren’t any edge case bugs. Players could focus on enjoying the game itself without worrying about messing stuff up.
The background track of our game was essential in defining the pace of the game. The sense of fast paced action helped to keep players on their toes. Our sound guy Zak Rush met up with our team to compose the track especially.
Within the 32 hours we also had to produce a trailer for our game. Trailers are a keystone for marketing games; they give the player a taste of what your game is about and what they might expect to experience when picking up the controller for themselves. It really helped to “sell” our game to the judges.
We made extensive use of Facebook’s chat facilities. We were in contact 24/7 even when our team was not physically present. It was nice to take some time out to work on the game individually in a quiet environment; it meant we could crunch harder and faster with minimal distraction.
Last but certainly not least, every member of our team worked extremely well together. I cannot stress how important this is. Everybody had an equal sense of worth, and there was no shortage of motivation. As the only programmer, I tried to make sure everyone was well occupied and constantly turning over assets useful to anything I was currently working on. Maximising efficiency is key to achieving great things within such a short space of time.
We won Best Game Award – 1st Prize. Judges included employees from Rockstar, Revolution Software and Team 17.