JournoDevSwap: Double Droids' double-or-nothing

JournoDevSwap: Double Droids' double-or-nothing

By Jim Griffiths

October 6th 2012 at 11:30AM

Chin and Stuart have talent and time on their side to make a great game - if they can stay awake

[For their first challenge of the second day our developers-cum-journalists were tasked with previewing one of the jam's under-construction games – You can find all the JournoDevSwap articles here.]

Keith Stuart (journalist) and Theo Chin (student programmer) are in a very interesting position for their game’s first preview; with just over 24 hours before the game jam ends, they’ve proven they have the talent and the time to bring something really special together – but is Chin going to be able to stay awake to complete it?

“Swap” is the theme for the game jam. Stuart and Chin’s interpretation is a kind of simplified Guitar-Hero-style game where you have to avoid blocks streaming from one side of the screen to the other by switching your avatar from one lane to the other – but controlling two avatars simultaneously. If either gets pushed to the far left hand side of the screen, it’s game over.

“We wanted to make a simple game that we could imagine a lot of people playing,” says Chin. “We wanted to get the basic idea together quickly and start to test and develop it.”

On this point, Chin has delivered in spades; he and Stuart have had a rock-solid build of their game up and running that’s been continuously tested for almost seven hours. Chin has literally not slept since the jam begun –he’s stayed up all night to tweak and refine the central concept - and his game shows it.

It runs flawlessly, and there are basic but hugely important features already present in the game that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see yet, such as start and finish menus to allow players to begin games and retry without needing a coder to reboot each time.

This has meant it’s been easy to get hands-on time with the game, but this time reveals as many potential areas of concern as it does moments of excitement and interest.

The idea is simple enough to pick up just from glancing at the screen (which is a huge plus), and the controls are equally easy to get to grips with; W flicks the upper avatar from one lane to the next, and S does the same for the lower. This does take some explaining the first time players see it, however, and it’s likely they will add in instructions to make this clear to players early on.

The initial experience is excellent – it’s immediate and compelling, and using one key per avatar to move it both up and down is a neat little trick that sees players crashing out early in their first tries. But the important thing is that everyone comes back for a second and third try, eager to get to grips and survive beyond the first few bars.

It’s at this point where potential issues start to rise up: once you HAVE gotten the hang of it, the game hits a glass ceiling very quickly. An alert player can stay alive for very long periods easily, and the difficulty doesn’t ramp up in any meaningful way.

A recent, and very welcome addition, however, now means that grabbing collectible will advance the avatars further to the right of the screen, staving off the game-over and slightly increasing the difficulty as there is less time to react to blocks.

“We think there’s a lot we can do with this around the scoring, and as soon as that goes in it’s going to have a really big effect,” says Stuart. “We want to get a really granular scoring system in there so that once players have mastered the basics, there’s still plenty of challenge for them to keep improving”.

The graphics at the moment are, essentially, non-existent. Chin has done an excellent job with the raw Unity assets, but there’s nothing to hint at a real theme or direction that the game might take. The game (which has no official name yet) is a curious mix of highly polished technical build, but very underdeveloped theme and mechanic.

At this point, it’s impossible to say which way it’s going to go. Speaking with the team it’s clear they have some excellent features planned – and they have the best possible base from which to build on as well as plenty of time to add around the core.

CURRENT ANTICIPATION RATING: 5/10

POTENTIAL TO BE SERIOUSLY AWESOME RATING:
9/10

Current highs:
•    Rock-solid build
•    Compelling and intuitive “get out the way!” mechanic
•    Clear ideas for future development
•    Enough time remaining to make meaningful improvements:
•    Hard-working team

Tricky areas:
•    No art direction decided on
•    Challenge diminishes quickly once basic controls are mastered
•    Chin has just fallen asleep

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