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PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 7:33 am 
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This competition has been a really humbling experience. I knew I wasn't going to win or even get third, but I thought I could for sure get 5th or 6th and be able to snag a devcart. I've been doing gamedev for quite a while so apparently the getting better with time isn't real. I quite enjoy doing this, however, it puts a huge damper on it if others don't enjoy the games I create. Having it score so lowly, I'm kind of embarrassed that it could go on a multicart. I'm asking in sincerity for those that would, could you rip my game to shreds(metaphorically) and tell me places that I can do better. Like is it just the ideas behind the game? The graphics? The music? The enemys? I have a history of scoring pretty low on every gaming compo I enter, and its been going on quite a few years and I would've hoped to improve rather than feel embarrassed that I even participated.

So, maybe it's time to finally ask, should I just move on to the next thing? I have faith that you guys and the judges made the right decisions, however, next go around should I save myself the embarrassment and not participate?


Last edited by zkip on Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:09 am 
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First piece of advice: the devil is in the details. Polish is all about working on tiny little things that end up having a huge effect on gameplay. For example, play The Legend of Zelda again, and pay attention to Link's movement with respect to the grid. Even if he's not horizontally aligned to a half-block, pressing up or down will nudge him so that he's aligned. This makes it really difficult to get stuck on blocks, and just feels great.

As another example, Zelda's enemies have quite subtle and complex movement. Try playing the game, focus on what precisely is happening, and think about how you would code something similar. Then try to do so, see what works and what doesn't. Dynamic and unexpected behavior is exciting! No need to go overboard, though; generally speaking, an enemy needs ~3 rules to control it, 1 or 2 probably isn't enough.

One big sticking point I noticed right away with Paths was that holding B and a direction would make the character stammer, walking and stabbing. This feels really unpolished, and reduces the fun a lot. Holding B with no direction just makes them stick their sword out repeatedly, with no animation. Also a problem, and it makes things like fighting spiders a real chore, because there's nothing happening, I just have to wait there sticking my sword out, there's no dynamism.

Most games don't use a constant one-pixel per frame either. Very slight acceleration can make a huge difference in feel. Step counters and 16-bit math are your friend.

Secondly, for aesthetics, contrast is hugely important. (This is something I still need to improve, myself) Avoid using too much repetition in graphics, and pick colors that work well together. Study existing games with great graphics, use a screen capture to extract their palettes and really study how they exploit contrast. Try to avoid ever having a screen that looks entirely mono-colored. Details stand out better when they are very different from what's around them, otherwise they just look muddy and messy. A lot of this applies to music as well, though I am not a composer.

Finally, nesdev is hard. Game development is difficult enough as it is, and the technical challenges intrinsic in coding for 8-bit just make it tougher. But you've completed steps 1 & 2: being able to build a proof of concept, and wanting to improve. You can improve, but you must study what works well in the games you enjoy, and really understand deeply why those things work.


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:40 am 
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My personal advice is (and this probably won't be helpful, since you want to know how to improve, so feel free to ignore): Don't compare yourself to others. If you find you're particularly sensitive to negative feelings when doing this, don't get involved in competitions. Just be happy you're making things. I just think about when I was a 12 year old kid playing NES games, totally unaware there were even other programmers in the world (except mysterious geniuses in Japan with black magic). If I could go back in time and tell that 12 year old kid he's going to make NES games someday, that knowledge alone would make him shoot through the roof. Add in competing with all the best programmers in the world and, there's potential for a lot of disappointment, if your goal morphs from "internal joy in creating something" to "winning."


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:40 am 
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I already posted what I found lacking in the game thread. In addition, you should get new sets of eyes on it early, as you tend to become blind to your own creations. Early playtesting, and especially with people not used to things like that can point out where things are unintuitive.


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:26 pm 
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Quote:
This competition has been a really humbling experience. I knew I wasn't going to win or even get third, but I thought I could for sure get 5th or 6th


I know exactly how you feel.

Before I knew the top 2 people were in, I actually thought I would get maybe 2nd or 3rd. When I saw those 2, I figured I might come in around 5th or 6th (with Flappy Jack). 8th place? WTF? You would not believe how much play testing I put into that. I had neighbor kids over to play it. I had my brother and his kids play it. I rewrote the music several times. I wrote a more advanced version of famitone just for this game. Super disappointed.

I liked your game. It was a bit too short. I think I finished it in about 7-8 minutes. Dungeon graphics seemed a bit too Zelda derivative.

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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 4:00 pm 
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Quote:
....was that holding B and a direction would make the character stammer, walking and stabbing. This feels really unpolished, and reduces the fun a lot.

What would be a good way to handle that? Also, a fun fact(sort of) about the sword animation is that early in the process I couldn't figure out a good way to draw the animation, so it was just left out intending to fix it once I read up on some pixel art animation techniques, but later forgot and just got used to the stiff "sword appears from nowhere" idea. About the color choices, I think I really need to improve there as well. I origially had grey walls and yellow dirt, but got tired of looking at it and thought I could "Think outside the box" and make it look cool by having it appear as if your in a gloomy blue setting. Guess not... lol

The movement is also something I couldn't get right. One pixel per frame seemed OK to me. Subpixel movement (2.5px/frame) make things to fast paced. I guess I just needed acceleration and friction?

GradualGames: While I do agree that one should be making games for fun, and not for others. I think that there comes a point where you need someone else to experience it and you get enjoyment from their enjoyment. And in my case, when you see that other don't enjoy it. It complicates things and messes with your own creative enjoyment. (Think: "Why am I even doing this if it's just a bad game and only I enjoy it.")

dougeff: It's nice to know that I'm not alone. I really think that most people knew what games would take 1, 2, and 3rd place. Once it passes those, it was completely unexpected. (For me anyway.) I really liked Flappy Jack by the way, it's actually the only game I bothered playing on real hardware.

Thanks for the feedback everyone. Any more would be greatly appreciated.


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 4:49 pm 
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zkip wrote:
What would be a good way to handle that?

Only swing the sword at the moment the button is pressed, not while it is held, by looking for a rising edge. Keep track of the buttons from the last frame, then do this:

Code:
lda buttons_last
eor #$ff
and buttons_curr
sta buttons_press


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 7:56 pm 
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In a way I'd advise both the opposite and the same as what GradualGames suggested. ;)


1. Compare your game to the best games, constantly.

The best way to learn art is by copying good art. Find something good to use as a model and study it. Learn about all its components, and learn how to recreate each of them.

Take a sprite you like from a game, erase its head, try to draw a new one that fits the style. Take some music you like from a game and completely recreate it in Famitracker, then erase the melody and write a new one. Study how a character jumps and runs and stops and slides, and recreate them.

Focus on learning each little part by itself until you're comfortable with them all. Compare yourself to the best, and you should quickly find things you can improve whenever you want to. Don't worry about being "original", all good art is just a synthesis of elements borrowed from prior art. You'll be able to do original things once you have enough experience with the details, when you no longer have to suffer so much for every little thing.

Don't feel the need to stick with something just because you worked hard for it. If you did something once, you can do it again. Don't make one sprite, make ten and only keep the best one. This doesn't just improve your output, but it also builds experience. Get into the mindset that everything can be replaced. “All poets write bad poetry. Bad poets publish them, good poets burn them.” -- Umberto Eco


2. The other thing that's really important, and calima said stuff about this, but finish things and share them to get feedback. This also means picking small projects so that you can manage to finish them. In that respect I'm probably suggesting the same as GradualGames. You can always keep improving your game, but you need to stop that and just finish it if you want to get it out there.

Finishing stuff is a difficult skill of its own, and requires practice. You have to balance the desire to improve, and the need to finish things. Pick a point to stop trying to make it better, and instead focus just on making it feel complete.

You also don't have to finish a whole game to share it. You can share little pieces of it. ...and you don't need to do every part of it yourself. Most of the entries in this compo were not made by one person. If you want to develop all of the different skills involved, that's great, but your personal progress will probably feel slow if you compare yourself to other people who are doing just one thing.

(I think you actually did a good job of picking a good scope here and making something that felt complete with this game.)


Now If you want specific feedback on your game... I could give you individual bits of feedback on various details which I think could be improved, but I think it might be more helpful to think about what's missing from your game. Most importantly I would think about what would make a person want to keep playing your game. I'll try to give comparative examples with other games here:

  • A game doesn't have to have great music, but if it does, it gives me a reason to want to play the game. Nebs & Debs has a fantastic soundtrack, and it's something that I would listen to just by itself. I want to keep playing to hear the music on the next level. I want to play again just to hear the first level music again.
  • A game doesn't have to have a story, or cutscenes, but if it's there and you like it, it's a reason to keep going. Lala the Magical opens with a simple but well drawn story page, and it sets me up to think there's going to be more as I keep playing. It makes me want to see what comes next.
  • Your game seems to take a lot of cues from Zelda. One of those things is unlocking abilities that allow you to progress... but think about the way that Zelda does that compared to your game. Zelda lets you explore many different paths without needing those abilities. It shows you places you can't go yet, and opens questions in your mind, making it interesting when you finally find an item like the ladder. All of a sudden places you've already been are changed, and you want to go back and try them. -- Your game, though, is very linear. You pass a chest, then you go forward until you find a key, then you backtrack to the chest, then you go back again to proceed past whatever wall the ability in the chest was for. You end up travelling the same space 3 times, but it's the same each time. The new ability only lets you go forwards, it doesn't add anything new to places you've already been.
  • There also seems to be some elements that remind me of Chip's Challenge. There's the boulders that you can push, which immediately made me think there would be transport puzzle challenges using them, but instead they just kind of make walking through that particular room slowly. There's no clever way to push them to gain an item. There's not really even a wrong way to push them? They set up some expectations but are never really made good use of.
  • The ice also reminded me of Chip's Challenge, and that game used a similar ice mechanic to construct mazes and made you look around and think about how to proceed. Your game did a small bit of this, but ultimately the only thing that felt like much of a "puzzle" was figuring out how to backtrack to get back to the chest, and instead of that being about the ice mechanic, it was more about figuring out that the edge of the ice is slightly "sticky" and you could change direction there; it felt like I had to just learn an arbitrary special rule to proceed, rather than being able to deduce a solution from the information I already knew about how ice worked.

A game doesn't need great music, great art, puzzles etc. to be a good game, it just needs to have something compelling about it. I don't think Zelda really has good mechanical gameplay, but it does some great things with exploration and recontextualization. Chip's Challenge doesn't really have great art, but it has some very clever and interesting puzzles. Sinking Feeling had humour with its "achievements" that made me want to keep playing and try things to find them. Filthy Kitchen had some surprising novelty with the giant fly boss at the end.

So... looking at your game, I'm sorry but there isn't really any element that excites me. A lot of working components are there, and it's a functional game (you should be proud to have accomplished that much), but there's not much that wants me to keep playing, or play again. Mostly I wanted to keep playing to see what else there might be in the game, but that's about it. (Maybe the final boss was the most interesting thing that happened.) You could make the controls a little better, etc. but I don't think that's really what your game needs.

(I might suggest editing the original post's subject to add the game's name. i.e. "How can I improve? (The Paths of Bridewell)", just to make it clearer what this thread is about.)


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:43 am 
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When I got into nesdev, I didn't even know anybody would ever want to play my game, I literally thought all I'd have was a rom that I could email to family and be like: Hey look I made an NES game. I still play both of my NES games on a fairly frequent basis, and actually enjoy them quite a lot. So for me personally, it really can be a totally closed loop with absolutely no feedback from anybody required, and that'd be enough for me. (but that a few hundred people have bought and played my games on cart was a REALLY nice bonus, and totally unexpected)

THAT SAID, I totally agree with a lot of stuff said above about learning from existing games and improving and such. It's not like I didn't improve from Nomolos to Owlia and now my third game, I'm really doing a lot of things better (third time's a charm?) than I did before. Competition against oneself is the best because you have the most control over which aspects of your skill improve versus where you were before. Plus, in competition against yourself, YOU are the judge, so your own subjective reactions for things are perfectly aligned with your development, whereas in a competition, subjective reaction of a panel of judges will be much more volatile and chaotic versus your own tastes, and lots of very well made games may not wind up winning.

As an example of subjectivity...personally I don't always like acceleration/deceleration in all instances. It looks all slick and polished and stuff but for gameplay, sometimes I like ultra crisp movement with almost no noticeable acceleration or deceleration, such as megaman or ninja gaiden (on the horizontal axis). So if that had any effect on the placement of your game, that'd be the judges' subjective opinion that acceleration/deceleration is somehow "better" than not. I guess that could win points from a purely technical perspective but from a gameplay perspective, that'd somebody's opinion, 100%.

Heck maybe I should enter the competition next year, I have an idea for a mini game that I'd been cooking up for a while...I don't even care if I get last place, it'd be fun. :beer: :D

*edit* Amusing note: I have not participated in or even viewed the entries of any nesdev compo except which showed up on the first Action53 cart, LOL. I think I'm going to start taking a greater interest in it.


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:37 am 
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Thank you, rainwarrior, for that excellent post. I really like the things you mentioned and the best part is that it makes sense. It's not harsh at all, it actually is exactly what I wanted. In my opinion when I'm playing a game, the control of the player might affect a little about how I feel, but if it's actually fun I'll keep playing. I know there is a ton of valuable information in your post and I'm hoping I can make the most out of it. Basically, you're saying the game needs to be -fun- and engaging and while I won't completely degrade my work it doesn't live up to a high fun value. Thanks again.

GradualGames, you know I was thinking about some of the things you said as well. I think part of my problem is that I took the very first NES game I finished and tried to act as if I had been doing it my whole life by rushing to get into the contest. Maybe I should have waited and worked on it longer and really taken my time.

You should definitely enter the next contest man. Next year's contest is quite a while off....
You know an NROM mini game jam would be a fun activity. Like, maybe 1-2 weeks and the theme of the game is decided on the day it starts like those other jams.

Anyways, thanks guys. Once I started NESDEV I knew I would be studying lots of information, but to sum it up, I think I missed the most important part of it.. making a game that's fun and engaging.


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 Post subject: Re: How can I improve?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:44 am 
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zkip wrote:
Anyways, thanks guys. Once I started NESDEV I knew I would be studying lots of information, but to sum it up, I think I missed the most important part of it.. making a game that's fun and engaging.


To add my feedback: I was really excited when I started playing your game. I love zelda-like action-adventure games. But like others said, there were a few issues that lowered it slightly:

- It felt a little sluggish. I'm not sure if it was the character's speed, or his speed relative to the enemies, or what, but it didn't feel fluid and polished from a play-control perspective.

- The enemies weren't fun to fight. I feel bad saying this, because I've struggled with this exact same issue in my own games. Like someone else mentioned, I always look at The Legend of Zelda for reference. How did they make the enemies there feel challenging, unique, and special? My games often do what yours did, which is have enemies that just feel like they're getting in my way, instead of being interesting to fight.

That said, I actually had more fun with your game than I did with some of the others that scored higher. They got some more points in some of the polish categories, but I didn't necessarily enjoy them more. Spend a little more time cleaning up the animations, collision detection, pacing, etc, and you'd have a pretty good game.

That all being said, the competition was stiff. You made a solid game, and there's no need to fret over your scores.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 05, 2017 3:46 am 
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zkip wrote:
This competition has been a really humbling experience. I knew I wasn't going to win or even get third, but I thought I could for sure get 5th or 6th and be able to snag a devcart. I've been doing gamedev for quite a while so apparently the getting better with time isn't real. I quite enjoy doing this, however, it puts a huge damper on it if others don't enjoy the games I create. Having it score so lowly, I'm kind of embarrassed that it could go on a multicart. I'm asking in sincerity for those that would, could you rip my game to shreds(metaphorically) and tell me places that I can do better. Like is it just the ideas behind the game? The graphics? The music? The enemys? I have a history of scoring pretty low on every gaming compo I enter, and its been going on quite a few years and I would've hoped to improve rather than feel embarrassed that I even participated.

So, maybe it's time to finally ask, should I just move on to the next thing? I have faith that you guys and the judges made the right decisions, however, next go around should I save myself the embarrassment and not participate?

So I just played shortly each game in the competition. The main problem with The Paths of Bridewell is that the graphics are awful. Enemies can't be visible at all, they're like 4 black dots which completely merges with the background. They should be made much larger so that we can see them. Also the walking speed should be increased a little. Other than that the game looks ok at first glance (I just played like the first 4 screens).


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