When Minecarts Crash: A Postmortem on "Bombs n' Mines"
When Minecarts Crash
A Postmortem on “Bombs n’ Mines”
Bombs n’ Mines was intended to be released as a 1st person rails puzzler for the Extra Credits Game Jam #3, whose theme was “cycles”. The idea was that the player would play the perspective of a kidnapped man, who was trapped riding in a minecart loaded with primed TNT and must find a way to stop the minecart and put out the TNT. Though I caught wind that it had started six hours after the event started, I had already been in two other Extra Credits Jams, and wasn’t going to miss this one too!
I was the sole developer on the project and used Unity as the engine of choice as I knew it well. I would also use GIMP for 2D work, as well as Cakewalk for audio editing. One unique tool to the belt was a beta version of Blender 2.8, as it had recently become my choice editor for 3D modeling. It was based on the same modeling software I had used for years, and it was better in UX/UI in an incalculable number of ways. It was all done on a MacBook Pro with an Element TV serving as a secondary monitor.
While many of the mechanics did work out in the creation of “Bombs n’ Mines” board game experience, there were several things that ultimately lead to the pivot from the initial proposed design, going from a video game into a battle to the finish board game.
What Went Right:
1. The Idea
It was a unique concept that had not been utilized very frequently in the game industry. A few notable examples would include very certain levels in the Lego Indiana Jones games and Temple Run (though puzzles are not as deeply connected to the rails sections.)
It gave me the advantage to differentiate from most other games, itself being a hybrid of action and puzzle.
2. Asset Management
One of the things I had learned from previous Jams is that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my own art and sound creation, which means I spend a lot of time that I don’t have if I attempt to create everything myself. I decided for this game that I would not create any of my own art/music/sound assets, and source them from the internet (saving time in the process!) This gave me a lot more time to create and design the codebase.
3. Early Prototypes
I was anxious about creating a rails system, as it was something I had never done before. However, with careful thinking and very tight specifications, I was able to create a system that worked out very well! I did put up the prototypes for early testers, and there was a very positive reaction to the design.
4. The Community
From previous Jams, I was very hands-off from the community, and many times I didn’t go for help when I could have. I decided to do things differently and play a very active role in the community. This turned out to be extremely beneficial, resulting in great conversations and even an entire code-base for saving that I would otherwise learn and build myself!
5. Early Codebase
I was proud of my earliest codebase for the game. Many, many of the systems were self-contained, and were following a lot of the recommended design principles for OOP and DRY. This lead to an increase in completed milestones and everything seemed to be going right for the first half of the Jam.
6. A Fast Pivot
When I realized that I could not make it in the final 8 hours of the Jam, I had a revelation moment where I realized I could stop. I took a moment to breathe, then ultimately dropped the game. I switched to a board game adaptation, and as a result, had a completed board game as opposed to a tech demo that’s half baked and completely broken.
What Went Wrong:
1. A Late Start
I lost a total of 6 Hours from not realizing the Jam had started. As such, I had taken part in many Extra Credits Jams for some time and did not want to miss out. As a result, I started late.
2. Ambitious Design Challenges
The game I envisioned had a lot of intricate and moving parts, and not surprising, it had a lot of design issues to work through. This took time in thinking and occasionally using time in reading unnecessary documentation. Though the discord community helped remove some of the burden of shared knowledge, it still took a time toll of a few hours.
3. Unfocused Attention
I like shiny objects. Whether it’s the latest update to my favorite software or a new technology article, I love flashy graphics. But I don’t like when it doesn’t work. I had a particle system that grabbed my attention on many accounts of not working right (turned out to be an odd behavior in the Unity particle system.) Instead of cutting the particle system as I should have, I kept working on it wasting countless hours (why did I work on “polish” as early as the 30th hour?)
4. Beta Software
One of the new shiny objects I’ve been into lately was the new Blender 2.8 Beta (with 2.79 being stable release.) This was the first game Jam using Blender 2.8. While in many ways it did speed up productivity (with a much better UX/UI experience), it did cause a lot of problems in development, from learning new controls to a crash that made me lose a level worth of progress. Save often and know your tools!
5. Going Solo
While it’s been fun doing games solo, it also means that I can’t build nearly as big of projects as I could doing it with even one more person. I feel that this project was just out of my scope, but would have worked great with one more person, or even a team working on the game.
6. The Final Straw (Everything Broke!)
With the unfocused attention grabbing me at every turn and the time counting down quickly, I had to begin rapidly developing to keep up. As a result, I began cutting corners. This quickly lead to systems breaking and having no reason why. What exact setup would work perfectly in one scene would be completely broken in the next. With 8 hours left, I knew that the game could not be completed. However, I knew that a board game could be designed very rapidly. Thus, I pivoted and created the board game “Bombs n’ Mines”.
I hope this postmortem was an interesting look into the creation of “Bombs n’ Mines”, and that you take away a few lessons I learned in making a board game. It was interesting cycling from making a video game like before and turning it into my very first board game! If you want to check it out, go ahead, read the manual on the Itch.io page from Bombs n' Mines, and download the physical printout pieces below!
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