Postmortem: Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party in Hell

Little over month ago I released a small done-in-under-24-hours game called Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party in Hell. This is a little summary of what I learned from the development of the game.
Mr. Cacodemon
There are two ways you can prototype a game. Either you have a very clear goal (and possibly a written design) of what your doing or you have a very vague idea and you pretty much make the game as you go along. Cacodemon was of the later kind.

A year ago I played around with an example from a physics tutorial. In the example I could bounce and nudge blue cubes with my mouse cursor. I remember that it was awful lot of fun trying to balance a box on top of the mouse cursor. I ended up wasting hours playing around with that physics tutorial example.

Two months ago (one week before the turn of the month) I was wondering what game should I create for December. I remembered my experiences from the physics tutorial so I decided to design a game around balancing things with mouse cursor. Before I started the implementation of the game I came up with using Cacodemon as the main character, mostly because he was round (the physics model only supports cubes and balls) and because he could float (so moving him around with mouse cursor would be logical). The goal of the game I was to implement would be to sort souls (would fall from the sky) into different compartments. My design document

With this initial design I launched into production. As soon as I got the basic implementation together I found out that spinning the “souls” was way more fun than sorting them out. So I knew I had to make that the primary gameplay mechanism. The reasoning behind this being that the more fun the primary mechanism of a game is, the funnier the game. So I kept a small design break (washing the dishes) and came up with the “spin the kittens to get their fur off” -design.

The plan at this point was to make a game where Mr. Cacodemon was working at the eternal soul burning unit. And everybody knows that kitten fur is the number one cause of pollution in hell. So kitten and their furs would have to be burned in their dedicated ovens.

It was very late in the development that I came up with the barbecue theme and decided to go with it.

Kitty So Cacodemon was definitely a game born out during the development of the prototype. The original idea was way crappier than the final game. And I don’t think I would have thought of the design unless I had stumbled through all these steps in the development (with an open mind to tweak the game design as I went along).

So the #1 thing that went right was to let the game its own course, not restricting it to the initial idea.

The #2 thing that went right was the momentum of the project. Ever since I finished Jimmy’s Lost His Marbles I don’t think I have really pushed myself to work on these prototypes as fast as I could. And that is usually a good thing, but most of the I just end up wasting the development time in the parts of the game where it matters the least: graphics. This time around I set myself to create the game in one day. This goal gave the development a very nice speed which meant that I focused on the stuff that matters: gameplay.

As happy as I am about the development smoothness of Cacodemon, there’s always the other side of the coin. The very tight schedule and rapid design changes also introduced some problems. The biggest being the very low gameplay meaning of the oven. The oven was a little bit of a left over from the initial soul sorting design.

The oven has a great potential for a nice simple risk/reward game mechanism. The player could decide to bounce around with the kitten to get a better a score (risk being they could drop the kitten) or they could throw them into the oven and get a even better score. The problem was that if I punished the player too heavily on not getting the kitten into the oven (not allowing her to get the score for that kitten unless she tossed kitten into the oven) I made the game too difficult for the beginners. If I didn’t punish the players heavily for not getting the kitten into the oven the reward you get for doing so seems very lite. I mentally wrestled with the problem for a while and decided to go with the beginner friendlier version.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the way Cacodemon turned out to be, the only thing that really pisses me off is that I didn’t think of naming the game as “Pussy Shavers from Hell” as Joystick suggested.

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