Detour Prologue: The Biggest Gourmet

Earlier this year, Ben Anderson hosted the Heart Jam 2018

Our entry was The Biggest Gourmet.

The theme was “scarcity”, so the first idea I had was that you would be a blob creature running around in an underground area, trying to gobble up food before you starved. The character was going to start out in the biggest state and shrink down to the smallest state. The character’s face was going to indicate how long you had until the next time it shrunk down: happy meant the blob was full and didn’t need to eat for a while, and a frown meant you needed to find food fast. There was even a face with “x x” for eyes that would represent a character that starved to death, but this wasn’t used in the final version.

After I made the character graphics (the same sprites you see for the characters in the final game), and implemented the “blobby” animation, I realized there were a couple problems. First of all, the gameplay would be difficult to balance properly in the short time allotted for the jam. But more importantly: the premise was too grim for my mood at the time. So I flipped it around: instead of an avoiding-starving game, it would be an eating contest. But then what about the theme?

So instead of food being scarce, items you can trade for food would be scarce. It would be a scavenger hunt as well as an eating contest. One character would be offering a trophy to whoever could eat as much as they could, but eating that much would require scouring the level for food and trade items. (It’s left somewhat vague whether the other characters are even trying to get the trophy, or whether they’re just not as good at exploring and trading as the main character.)

The dialog and inventory systems took worryingly longer than I was hoping, but I think they were worth it. There are games where you wander around and trade items with characters, but not a lot where it’s the sole focus of the game.

Work on the final celebration scene started with just three hours to go before the deadline. I really like how it turned out. Good thing GMS2 has built-in firework effects.

At one point I was considering having the difficulty of a trade be indicated by the characters’ faces. A happy blob would be happy to trade, but an unhappy blob would be far less likely to trade, or would need more items, or would need specific items. This mechanic was scrapped for time, but if I was doing a semi-serious expanded version, this would probably be the first thing I add in after more randomization. In the final version, just one character wants one specific item.

Another thing we were considering was randomizing the locations and types of items. This was actually implemented for a while, then taken out. Without trade difficulty or more involved exploration, there was no point in distinguishing between most items except cosmetically. In the final version, there’s exactly one of each kind of item and food with only a couple of unused sprites. The appearance of most of the characters is randomized each playthrough.

With more time, there would have been a larger playing area (or multiple areas) and more exploration mechanics. You would be able to get clues from certain characters about how to get items you didn’t get yet. Instead, we left in one “illusion wall” that no one comments on, and otherwise everything can be seen clearly.

We found out too late that not having a controller plugged in crashed the original version. It’s fixed now, but according to comments on the jam page, this cost us a lot of votes during the voting period.

Probably the best part was how quickly the sprites, animation system, movement, and AI came together in the first few hours. I decided early on that the main character would be a blob that changed it’s xscale and yscale to simulate squash and stretch. (The secret sauce is: “image_xscale / stretch, image_yscale * stretch”.) Then I implemented a movement script that turned out to be simple enough that I could use it for both the players and NPCs, so that saved some time.

Working on The Biggest Gourmet was a lot of fun, but my frustration with how Game Blocks Alpha was progressing led to a detour that lasted months. More on that next time.

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