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  • Postmortem: Survive Another Night

    - James Rowbotham
  • I'm James, an indie game dev (@cbGameDev). I work on larger scale projects with my friends, in a company that we built from the ground up and I make more compact games on my own in my spare time. I took part in the December 2020 Epic MegaJam and I wanted to write up a postmortem as I thought it could be interesting to others and useful for myself to reflect on the experience.


    The game I made for the Epic MegaJam 2020 is free to play on my here!

    I'd wanted to do a game jam this year but hadn't made time for one yet, so when I saw the Epic jam was coming up I thought I'd get involved. It was a 7-day jam and the theme ended up being: "It's been a long time, but we're not done yet."

    I'm a big fan of zombie stuff so I decided to make a game about a zombie apocalypse. You play a character trying to protect their family for one last night before help arrives. I wanted it to be a top-down game with two main stages: prepare and fight. I also wanted to make it multiplayer (more on that later) and thought adding procedural elements could add replayability. Before I started any actual deving I wrote down the core of my idea into a single sentence which I wanted to guide the development direction over the jam.


    As this was a slightly longer jam I thought I should have a go at making the game multiplayer. Not any multiplayer mind you, cross PC non LAN multiplayer... that was a mistake.

    I burnt a bunch of time following networking tutorials and trying to get stuff working only to realise that it wasn't going to work/be practical. It made me laugh when I realised that I'd spent the first day and a half making a game that wasn't actually a game. I hadn't made any gameplay mechanics. Instead, over that time I'd managed to get multiple players joining into a lobby then joining into a match but the further I was getting the more problems it was looking like I was going to have with ports and tunnelling. In the end, I decided a game jam probably wasn't the right time to try and work all this out so I decided to cut scope and keep it a single-player game instead. 

    In hindsight, if I had spent that beginning period making the actual game, I probably would have found more free time to add polish/juice and even to try a simple local multiplayer (Spawning a second local player who could control using a gamepad) instead of the more elaborate one I tried for.


    For planning, I used good old pen and paper, Google Sheets and Trello. They each served a different purpose. I didn't use any version control, I just made sure to back things up every day.

    Pen and Paper: Mainly used for quickly capturing ideas, sketching designs etc. I really like to have an analogue way to plan.

    Google Sheets: Always super useful, I used it for a few different things. Firstly making an overarching plan for how I wanted the week to go on a day to day basis. Secondly for any more permanent notes (aka non-development tasks) that I wanted to keep e.g. jam deadline, premade assets I'd used etc. Lastly to roughly track my progress, by writing quick, short-hand notes about how each day went. This was predominantly for writing this postmortem and looking back at how the jam went as a whole.

    Trello: For task organisation I normally use HackNplan but I thought it would be interesting to try Trello for a change. As I was making the game by myself I wrote very loose and shorthand task titles. My board started off nice and clean and got progressively more messy toward the end as I kept adding more lists. I'm 50/50 on Trello. It did the job (although the website went down for me on Monday) but I'm not a super fan of its layout. I think it's probably okay for short projects but in the future I think I'll stick with HackNplan or try something new again. 


    Saturday was my only full free day as we were busy in the office. I split making my game into two chunks per day: before work and after work. Interestingly this gave me time to passively think about my games progress while at work. I tried to cook builds off often, cooking one at the end of each session of work (e.g. in the morning/in the evening). To make enough time to make my game I ended up getting up early, going to bed late and drinking a bit too much coffee.


    I didn't do anything on kick-off Friday. I knew the jam had started but I needed to finish off some work and thought I would take a first look at the theme Saturday morning when I was feeling fresh.


    I sat down Saturday morning with some coffee, looked up the theme and started scribbling ideas down until I got to my zombie idea. I started a project from the Top Down Template, made a Trello board and started following a tutorial series for setting up a multiplayer framework. By the end of the day, I had a main menu leading to a lobby which then led into a map. I'd made good progress and learnt a lot but it had taken me the whole day and I technically spent the day not actually making the game.


    Morning: I finished off the multiplayer tutorials I was following then had a think and realised that it was all getting a bit out of hand. Here is when I decided to cut scope and just focus on making a single-player game instead.

    Evening: I went to work for a bit and when I came home I started work on the single-player version. I fleshed out the basic game loop (pre-mode, build mode, fight mode and win/lose states) and got creating a bunch of the base mechanics: family spawning, AI spawning, Ai movement, AI attacking, HUD menus, escape actor, simple barricade you build/interact with and player movement. I felt like I made so much progress in a short period of time.


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