Postmortem Part 1: A (Bad) Idea

So, another year (plus or minus a few months) and another SBIG Jam. It was a ton of fun, albeit also stressful as any game jam is for me, but now the submissions are in, the votes are being cast, and it’s time for me to sit down and reflect.

So Bad It’s Good Jam is one of the few jams I try my damndest to do every year. This year things have worked out generally horribly for all involved but it’s been a great year to stay locked inside and make games. I did BC Game Jam 2020 about a month before the pandemic hit, which is one of my two usual jams. But I had little to do so in April I did two online jams: Old Games Remaster (which was largely a flop) and Magical Girl Game Jam (which was a huge success).

You can go check out my entries Heavy Metal Slug and Shattered: Why Not Me. The former was largely an unsuccessful experiment but I might do a sequel to the latter someday. Both are kinda SBIG and maybe worth a play (please?). Really that’s  a story for another time, though.

I’m one of those people who has tons of ideas but too little time. I could go on for hours about the various unimplemented game ideas I’ve had, but I’ll focus on the ones that are relevant here.

One of the ideas I’d been toying with for a while is the idea of a big game built out of multiple sections built with disparate technologies, unified through a launcher and some way of exchanging data between them. I’ve thought about this mainly in the context of a hypothetical collaborative project where each creator would be free to use their favoured tools, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Another more specific idea was to build a GZDoom/RPG Maker hybrid where all the battles were in the first-person shooter.

When I started thinking about SBIG Jam this year, I came back to this idea. It could certainly create a game that’s so bad it’s good, but was it doable? I did some proof of concept experiments, and determined that it had about a 90 percent chance of working. Good enough for SBIG Jam! I did make some decisions that limited scope and sidestepped some of the more difficult technical problems, but I’ll get into that in the next installment.

Last year I made a retro wave shooter with a (horrible) modern twist, Beach Defend 2000. While it did better than my 2018 entry, Tactical Weapons And Tactics, I felt the latter was a stronger contender and a better game, and I wanted to recapture some of its magic again this year. Of course at the same time I wanted to carry forward what Beach Defend 2000 had done well and apply some of the lessons I’d learned elsewhere.

So I had a few goals in mind this year going into it:

  • Build a big or seemingly big game that gives the player an epic sense of adventure (even if you end up ruining that)
  • Set the player up for something amazing, then disappoint them
  • Don’t finish the game. Make an unfinished game

The last one is probably unusual but hear me out. I don’t mean to brag, but most of my games are very smoothly executed. Sure, things have to be dropped here and there, and things don’t always work out, but I can plan things pretty well and execute them consistently enough that the final product is going to be more or less complete and reasonably polished. I wanted to kinda “go crazy” and break the mold, I guess. I really ended up dancing around that point in the end but oh well.

I brainstormed ideas and wrote down a huge list of tidbits in the weeks leading up to SBIG Jam 2020, but waited until the modifier was announced before locking down the concept. I was pretty set on the multi-chapter, multi-engine adventure by that point, and there were a few modifiers I was hoping for because I knew I could make them work while others I had far fewer ideas for. I had some flexibility with the structure since I could pick and choose which chapters to actually do, but some I had much more solid ideas for others. Luckily “impossible” was one of the ones I had a pretty good plan for.

I wrote a brief blurb for each chapter separate from my actual list of modifier-related ideas. Each of the 19 chapters, some of which are implemented and some of which are not, is based on one of the modifier suggestions:

  1. Mile High Club – excessively non-violent
  2. C’est La Vie – educational
  3. An Impossible Project – impossible
  4. We Are The Others – turn based
  5. Poisoned Pill – helping but not
  6. Поспешишь - людей насмешишь (When you rush, you make people laugh) – Russian
  7. Pandora Unboxed – Time Travel
  8. Beneath The Surface – AI
  9. Hot Iron, Hot Lead – noir
  10. Pierce The Sky – cheating
  11. Uberwaffengiftdoppelkrief – bad translation
  12. Beyond The Matrix – 4x4 pixels
  13. An Eye For An Eye – black and white
  14. Hook, Line, and Sinker – not one button
  15. Behind The Veil – collect things
  16. Divide And Conquer – discord bots (test modifier suggestion)
  17. The Final Countdown – one button
  18. Apex/Aпекс – all text in russian
  19. Unending – multiple endings

I named and wrote up blurbs for the prologue (The Unseen Dream) and epilogue (What We Carry, What We Leave Behind) but neither of those match up with the modifier suggestions and the prologue never made it in at all. My original list of possible chapters didn’t correlate to the modifier suggestions but when we started getting 12+ modifier suggestions I decided to go this route as a little easter egg. Mostly I kept the chapter titles I had, added some new ones, and tweaked a lot of the synopses.

Of the three chapters I ended up doing, two of them were the ideas I came up for potential modifiers. The first part on the airplane with the malfunctioning MCAS system is based on the modifier suggestion excessively non-violent. I interpreted that in kind of a Zeroth Law Rebellion “kill all humans to save all humans” way. I went with a negotiation game approach because I figured I could do it relatively quickly while still offering some gameplay (though it ended up kinda broken and weird).

The second part- the open RPG Maker segment- is based on my best idea of several for the modifier suggestion impossible which ended up being the chosen one. Other ideas included the player character ending up with some eldritch power and exclaiming “it’s impossible!”, a main quest regarded as impossible (but actually doable), or a parody of Mission Impossible. Doing something based on the song Impossible- or, in this case, every song called Impossible- was an idea I had later on, very shortly before the jam started, but I quickly latched onto it as the most weird and creative idea.

The third FPS part is inspired by an incredibly frustrating experience I had with a friend trying to beat the worst levels in Halo Combat Evolved on Legendary. The Library is particularly egregious, it’s like Bungie knew it fucking sucked but decided to go with it anyway.

The joke in the secret room is also inspired by that play session. It’s “2B trails”! The level after The Library is Two Betrayals, which I kept hearing as “2B trails” because of a combination of his pronunciation and shaky voice chat.

Although it would be broken up into chapters and very different chapters at that, it was intended to be one coherent game. To tie things together, I decided to make the player character consistent and came up with Sid, some kind of super cool secret agent type (kudos to anyone who figures out her full name, it’s hinted at in the game). I also decided to give it some kind of overarching plotline that would be referenced throughout, though with only three implemented chapters that fell apart a bit.

At this point I wasn’t intending to cram any of the other chapters with joke content, they were just all going to be empty. That came later when I had some ideas I really wanted to do and a little bit of extra time.

I did intend to do the horrific singing from the beginning. Early on, when the project was under the working title The Greatest Show On Earth, I was going to put something in about not being able to have the actual song so here’s a clip of me singing Elvenpath in the shower. I ended up singing Nemo instead and there is only a passing mention of The Greatest Show On Earth in the finished product. A home-recorded tire fire is something I did for TWAT but not Beach Defend 2000 and I really wanted to get that in this year.

I also intended the fake DRM thing from the beginning, in fact, I figured that out before I’d even settled on the multi-executable chapter structure. I had a lot of fun (and I think players had a lot of “fun”) with the fake piracy thing in Beach Defend 2000, and I wanted to another metagame type thing this time around too. I’d just watched a video about Starforce and that got me thinking about some of my own experiences with DRM so…

Once I’d decided on the overall structure it gave me a convenient place to put the switching logic. I’ll get to how all that works in the second part of this series.

Where did RiftBreak- the name- come from? I came up with this after Impossible was announced as the theme. I wanted something that suggested portals or holes in reality, was suitably vague, sci-fi and cool sounding, and wasn’t already used. I’m not sure if I came up with that or the go beyond the impossible tagline first.

By the beginning of the jam I had a reasonably solid plan in place:

  • Game made of multiple segments in multiple engines entered and exited as the game progresses. Large file size is a feature, not a bug.
  • Fake DRM launcher that actually handles coordinating the segments
  • FMV cutscenes where necessary to save time or sell the illusion of quality
  • A song where I sing horribly and you all have to listen to it
  • Hype the player up with an epic storyline, nice screenshots, fancy writing and promising beginnings of chapters. Disappoint them with low quality tedious bullshit at every turn.
  • First segment: Katana engine, negotiation gameplay, defuse a rogue AI.
  • Second segment: RPG Maker MV, open RPG gameplay, make the impossible happen.
  • Third segment: Unity+CommonCore, FPS gameplay, rip off The Library from Halo
  • Segments tied together with common character and vague plotline
  • ???

That’s what I settled on. What about the rejected ideas (because if you’re anything like me you’ll have rejected ideas)?

One idea I had was to do an amazing hook or first act, and then just have the game end, possibly with a (fake?) crash. I ended up doing something kind of like this but not exactly. I think this would have been really hard and more of a troll than a so bad it’s good game.

I also really did consider doing a Wizardman game! My core tech (seen in Ascension III) is almost to the point where I could actually consider making the Wizardman sequel as planned. It would be a huge undertaking, though, and I’m not inclined toward demos so a Wizardman spinoff would have been more likely. I have some ideas floating around for one, codenamed Project Kitee, though it’s not well developed.

Ultimately I didn’t feel quite ready yet, and kinda wanted to do something that wasn’t medieval fantasy after Shattered.

Somehow- I don’t remember- the idea of EnigmaticCynic doing a Wizardman game came up. I think it might have been a joke before turning serious. I thought about this for a moment before realizing that Ja Wizardman isn’t really my IP to begin with (it’s a thin coat of paint over the works of Andrej Sapkowski interpreted by CD Projekt Red) so I said go for it.

I can’t speak to the conceptualization and development of the Ja Wizardman continuation as I had no involvement in it. But EnigmaticCynic (Enygmatic) might have some stuff on that on its project page.

I will say that I tease Wizardman every year and yet every semi-serious plan for a continuation has been derailed one way or another so the IP might be cursed.

In all seriousness, I like to tease Wizardman related content every year and I had a fairly elaborate sequence planned at one point. However, with EnigmaticCynic making an actual Wizardman game I had a different idea- tease OUT OF ORDER content. They signed off on that idea (though basically said “do whatever you want with it”) and that’s where the post-ending teaser comes from.

If you haven’t played OUT OF ORDER, go play it! It was the winner of SBIG Jam 2019 and it’s amazing.

For those of who you are confused as shit about all this Wizardman stuff, I’m talking about the game I made for the first So Bad It’s Good Jam: Ja Wíźàrdmäñ 4: Legacy of Riveiera. It’s a parody “sequel” to The Witcher 3 (which I’ve barely played), it’s seriously low-effort, really terrible, and ends on a sequel hook/cliffhanger.

I didn’t have a lot of full plans, just a very long list of disconnected ideas. A lot of those random ideas I wrote down made it into the game in one way or another, but a lot were also left out. I’m sure some of them will find a home someday; many of my rejected ideas end up recycled. In the next part of this postmortem I’ll go over the technical details of how this mess actually works, because I know some of you have been (morbidly?) curious about it. In the third and (probably) final section I’ll talk about some of the things that worked, some of the things that didn’t, and some of my plans and ideas for the future.

Get RiftBreak

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