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It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

April 12, 2010

Sometimes, you just have to let it go. What am I talking about? Well, I’ve had an interesting experience working with Starlight today, and I thought I’d share. Often in game development, certain features planned in early versions of the game fail to make it into the final version, due sometimes to time constraints, or maybe because the concept just didn’t pan out like the developer had hoped. I was “lucky” enough to experience this with my game, Starlight. Twice, actually.

Level 103

No, there are not over a hundred levels in Starlight. There’s twelve. But one unfortunate level was cast aside during play testing. Here’s the story: I created three levels during the first stages of the game. Level 1 was based off of the prototype level that proved the concept, level 2 implemented some of the new features I had thought up during programming the engine, and level 3 was impossibly difficult. One of these things does not belong. Most people who played level 3 couldn’t get past the first puzzle, which was a problem considering how early it was in the game. So, not knowing how many levels I would put into the game at that point, I dubbed it “Level 103” and thought about putting it in a later level, where the difficulty would make sense. Well, the way things worked out (mainly the way the gameplay mechanics changed with each passing world), it didn’t make much sense to include the level in the final game. It’s in the programming, sure, but it wont be accessible in the final build. It hurt watching this level fade away; I put hours and hours into it. Pushed my brain to the very limits to conceive those puzzles. I was very fond of it, actually. But there comes a time when you, as the developer, have to take a step back and ask yourself if it really fits in the final product. As it turns out, it didn’t fit. You will be missed, level 103.

Blowin’ in the Wind

Level 103 wasn’t the only thing to be kicked from Starlight. When I was first programming all of the objects into the game (enemies, razors, platforms, springs, etc.) I thought it would be cool to include a “Fan” object, which, when stood over, blew the character high into the air. I thought it was pretty neat. In fact, I was a pretty big fan of it. You could say that this feature blew me away. Alright, I’m done. I promise. So, like I was saying, I thought up some cool puzzles that used the fan, and began implementing it as early as level 2. The problem was… well there were a couple problems.

  1. The way the fan blew you into the air was unpredictable. It often lead to danger because of it’s random nature.
  2. I hardly used it. Seriously, I only actually used the thing three times in the whole game.

The Latter reason ended up being the deciding factor in pitching it. It was more trouble than it was worth to try to polish and fine-tune it. Also, I thought that it was pretty useless to teach the player about these new and strange objects, that, after they maybe understood, never had to use again. It was a waste of the players time and effort, and mine as well. Do the spinning blades hurt you? Is there a limit to how hight they blow you? These are questions that would have been a pain to answer through design, so I took out the fans and the game is better for it.

Fan Sprite-sheet

RIP fans, you wont be missed

No More Puns. I’m Serious, guys

All in all, it was a very smart decision to cut these elements from the game. A large developments studio might not have any issues with this, considering they are on a tight schedule, and “higher-upps” make most of these choices in the end. However, for the indie developer, it might be hard to understand that something needs to be cut, especially if they’ve spent so much time into creating these elements. Really, all it takes is a step away from the game, to view it in it’s entirety. Does the element fit, and more importantly, what does it add to the experience. If your answer is “nothing”, then that specific section of the game really has no business being there. It’s hard to do, but can drastically improve the quality of the game, as seen with level 103. it’s kind of weird to do an entire post about taking things away from the game, and not adding anything, but cutting bad features can often open up the door for better ones, so come on, developers; make the right choice.

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