Monday, 11 May 2009

Trapped By The Dead Retrospective

Around 8 months ago (September 08) I began work on a new game, which I was determined would be my first full release. This game was to be a vertical gallery shooter, involving shooting and blowing up lots of zombies. Throughout development the game changed quite significantly, and I was often reminded of a mistake I made very early on: starting development before planning the game.

Originally the game was intended to have a greater degree of depth to the gameplay, with the vague idea of placing traps and repairing the barricade in order to give more of a survival theme to the game. I also hadn't settled on the storyline or overall structure of the gameflow, I had visions of switching to a different mode in which you could place explosive barrels and such whenever you felt like it, as well asrunning around to construct and repair the barricades that separate you from the zombies. As you can see, these never got implemented, as I couldn't figure a way of blending it effectively with the basic gameplay structure I had down.

On the subject of the basic gameplay structure, the original concept was to create something a bit like space invaders (as in easy to program and learn to play) but with zombies (because I like zombies). Looking back, this was a very poor design concept, as I hadn't really considered how this would work with any of the other stuff I wanted to do, and things were further complicated by my insistence on using scaling and perspective to show the zombies.

After I managed to get the basic gameplay of the zombies approaching and scaling appropriately, and me shooting them, I considered how to work in the deployment mechanic, and how to add in the backup mechanic. I eventually decided that as I'd used perspective it would be very difficult to efectively place traps and such, because it would have all sorts of depth and collision issues, and therefore scrapped the mechanic. Eventually I managed to come up with an ally that made some sense, and was able to start writing the story.

The story wasn't too much of an issue, I had some basic ideas I wanted to work with such as Jon and Jeff getting to know each other a bit, and a sudden change in circumstances at the end, with hints throughout at what was to come. Although spreading this across nine conversations was tiresome, I feel that the storyline was a vital aspect of the game, and that without it the game would be significantly less interesting.

Graphically, the game was challenging, as I'd never had to create such a large amount of visuals before (especially if you look at Cave Full of Spiders!), but I felt it taught me a few things about animation and general spriting, and I feel that the graphics were a success for the game, at least insofar as they were quite good for my first release that had some proper visuals.

The different zombie types, and the presence of that lovely projectile vomit were more a matter of necessity rather than something I'd planned all along. The variety in zombies (normal, fast, strong) was intended to give the player a little variety in the proceedings, even if it was largely superficial. I personally feel the game could have worked with nothing but fast zombies if some adjustments were made, but perhaps not.
Projectile vomit was created after I realised that until the zombies reached the barricade, there was absolutely nothing to do apart from hover the cursor over the horde and hold the left mouse button. It was boring! (Perhaps, in hindsight, this should have given me some indication or a more fundamental problem with the game I was working on). I added the projectile vomiting in order to give them something to do rather than pointing at zombies, and occaisionally blowing shit up.

Lets summarise shall we-

What went right with Trapped By The Dead

The game looks relatively good, especially when compared to my previous release, Cave Full Of Spiders, and I like the music JCB Man composed for me. I used plenty of colour and the scaling effect went perfectly. The only problem I feel really was the animation, which has always been an issue for me, but I felt I improved significantly over the course of the project.

In my opinion the project's main success, I feel I managed to deliver a storyline and script that while not amazing, certainly elevated the quality level of the game far beyond what it would have been without it.

What could have been better

Shooting them dead
The bulk of the gameplay in Trapped By The Dead is quite shallow, something I'm not too pleased about. Mostly you just have to move left and right to dodge vomit, and continuously fire at the front of a big line of zombies, occaisionally calling in backup and blowing some of them up. In my original idea, I wanted things to be a lot more tactical, but now I realise it would have needed a dramatically different setup. The scaling and perspective would have needed to be removed and a much simpler method used, as well as allowing for a much wider play area (it's astonishing how much of the game is just the background when you think about it).

Lengthly development cycle
When I first started working on Trapped By The Dead, I was planning on a Halloween release. This was some rather unrealistic optimism from me, as I ended up releasing in early May the following year. It eventually ended up that I'd spent so much time working on the damn thing I just wanted to be rid of it and thus ended up cutting some features which I'd wanted to include, on the grounds that having any more work to do would just end up with me never releasing it. The main thing I had to cut was a bonus game called Trapped By The Bread, in which the zombies were replaced by Bread, and you shot them instead. Thinking about it now, it probably wouldn't have been that much fun, but I suppose it would have been a nice novelty.


I'm not that pleased with how Trapped By The Dead ended up. I find the gameplay to be shallow and repetetive, and it took so long to make I can't help being fed up with it. I am however, still quite proud of it, as it is still more professional that Cave Full of Spiders, on the surface at least, and despite all the mean thing I've said about it I'm sure for somebody who hasn't been working on it for the past eight months it's probably quite enjoyable, and would encourage you to at least give it a go.

Trapped By The Dead

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