Copulus is a 2D God Game in which you have to help your subjects populate their little world. In order to achieve this you need to balance their need for social interaction (and copulation) with the need to survive. I decided to try and stream line the "god game" mechanics and let the player focus on only a few tasks, as opposed to regular god games where you have to manage many different needs (housing, hunger, peril, happiness, loyalty, security, etc). In order for your population to survive and expand you only need to make sure they are feed, safe and can interact with each other. I even took this approach a bit further and merged survival/peril with hunger satisfaction. Before I go into the, regular, What went Right, What went Wrong topic I would like to present my approach for this entry.
Limitations breed creativity
Before the theme was announced I already established how far I can stretch things. I know from previous experiences how hard it is to stay on track of the initial design and how many features end up being thrown away in order to finish "something" before the time runs out. So for this edition of Ludumdare, I'd like to say I came prepared. Here are my, self-imposed, limitations:
- 256x384 resolution (upscaled to 512x768)
- must involve some kind of an AI
- must be tile based.
Three rules in total. Three rules that, once the theme was announced, helped me establish a clear goal. For example, the small resolution and tile-based approach helped me establish the art style, level and user interface design. Working on a 256x384 screen I could only fit 8 / 12 tiles (32x32) on the screen, or 16/24 tiles at 16x16 pixels each. The AI requirement weighted in favor of the strategy genre and, it's subclass, the god game genre.
From here on, I went with the entire map being confined to a single screen (in order to have a good view of your population, and not have to hunt for them everywhere). This also affected my User Interface Design and Experience, since It had to take as little screen space as possible. Little screen space for UI implied having only a handful of buttons during game play which, combined with the god-game thematic, had me limit what tasks the player could focus on. A small amount of tasks for the player to perform required me to streamline the entire "god game" approach and make it as minimalistic as possible (the soul experience as I like to refer to it). You can see how things developed further on.
What went right
- Using a WIKI to plan ahead. Features, classes, how the AI should perform, etc [click here for a screenshot of the wiki].
- Not stretching further than I can and imposing strict limits.
- Making fake-screenshots(mockups) before beginning development so I can plan my interaction approach.
- Using tools and frameworks that I was familiar with.
- Selecting a limited color palette to work with.
- The UI only interaction means that I can also port the game to tablets.
- Using "procedural" generation to save time (from level design) and focus on other areas.
- Nailed the risk-reward motif due to Wolves acting as a source of food but also damage to the units.
What went wrong
- My innate lack of knowledge when it comes to composing and/or generating appropriate sound effects.
- Having to remove the "convergence" scene. After winning a level, the player was supposed to reach a new world with his highest level followers and watch them fight off the inhabitants. I regret removing because it would have had a better tie in with this jam's theme. Further more, I had a system which allowed the player to revisit worlds that have been previously populated, to see how they are doing.
- The game's balance is a bit off. Level progression of your followers vs level progression of the wolves is tipped in favor of your followers for the first few levels. A few wolf summons in and you can only take them on if you have a high level character that survived.
- Social interactions are only represented by heart animations on individuals, but it's hard to tell who "copulated" with whom. More so, a death of a birth of an individual is represented by their respective sprite disappearing from the game.
- Health, hunger and level indicators are way to small and crammed into a unit's sprite.
- The tutorial is just a image and does not convey all the information needed.
I feel that with each Ludumdare event I partake in I can quantify my progress as a Designer. My first entry required the player to quit the game in order to restart the level and featured only mechanics but no clear goal (also no Ui of any kind). In my last LD (7DRTS) attempt I finally had a entry with no missing UI options and a clear navigation path. You can see where I'm going with this. But all in all, I'm glad that with each submission I end up acquiring new knowledge. As far as limitations go I believe that it's better to know what you should not do as opposed to not knowing what to do. Hopefully my next LD submission will blow this one out of the water.
You can play and rate the game here. Linux, Mac and, hopefully, Android coming tonight. I've also uploaded it to itch.io and, in the weekend, will release a post-compo version that has sound and the features that were cut off.