Week 2 Topic: “A Day at the Zoo”

For week 2, I thought I would try to work in an unfamiliar game engine. I’ve tried using Gamemaker once before many years ago for a very simple game and it has changed radically since then.

I imagined that my game would be a top-down action game with a couple of mini games. I’d follow a tutorial by Shaun Spalding to get the player movement and basic interactions and then strike out on my own to try to prototype at least one mini-game.

My idea for the theme was a child wandering the zoo alone, convinced that they can free the “rare pokemon” (using some animal sprites from itch.io creator DeepDiveStudio) in the zoo cages by “powering them up” with stolen energy drink/beer/mango smoothie/??? concoctions made in a particle physics minigame. I had seen a demo of liquidfun/box2d particle physics done in Gamemaker before so I scoped my week to prototyping that, and if that worked, I’d move on to a penny smashing machine minigame, which I didn’t have a research entry point to.

The top-down action rpg tutorial that I followed was thorough, but I found myself skipping around to save time since there were a lot of features that I didn’t need to implement. I skipped making a player state machine and most of the player animations. I did expand a little on the 4 direction animation in the tutorial and instead did an 8-direction animation, using a sprite I got off itch.io from creator BossNelNel. I also used tilesets from itch.io creator LimeZu. If anything this was a good introduction to making a tile-based game in Gamemaker, and I might return to the engine since a lot of the work I’ve been doing lately has involved tile painting. Possibly due to my skipping around in the tutorial, my exit objects never behaved correctly. On first use, the player snaps back to the start position of the room they are already in, then on second use they go to the new room.

Where I really hit a wall was with the physics particle minigame. I found that the liquidfun Gamemaker tutorials I found were thin and there were only a few. The example project on the Gamemaker tutorials page didn’t work when I tried to run it. I posted a question on the forums, but it didn’t get traction fast enough for me to get a working prototype. Instead I left placeholder particle systems that didn’t use physics and couldn’t be collected in a cup.

This week was a good illustration of how important it is to have some basic fluency in a tool before trying to prototype effectively in it. It’s very difficult to scope complexity of a new mechanic if the tool itself is also new. This week was useful since I learned a lot about gamemaker and how its projects are structured, but I didn’t successfully get a prototype worth testing.

If I had proficiency with gamemaker I would have probably immediately tried prototyping the liquid game, realized it was too tricky and changed my idea on the first day, because I spent a lot of time onboarding, I didn’t manage my time as effectively, so the game was overscoped, and I didn’t prototype the novel interaction that was the most important.