Leader of Mans Postmortem

Andy KorthOct 16, 2011

uDevGames 2011 Entry

  • 2nd place Overall

Overview

Leader of Mans was my uDevGames 2011 entry. I wanted to create something that felt a bit unique- LOM is a construction based rts-like game that is a bit difficult to place squarely in a single genre. Gameplay focuses around developing resources and constructing settlements, but Leader of Mans also directs you to explore your varied surroundings and overcome challenges.

Leader of Mans was sort of an experiment for me; When I started, I didn’t have a really specific picture of how the game would play. The goals of a score based arcade style game have some pretty direct goals, and I wanted to try something a little different. I think a driving force was to make unique challenges on each island, and to make advancing to each island feel like a new experience, while retaining what you’ve lovingly constructed on previous islands. I have a lot more ideas and plot I could add, but I think what I’ve got is pretty satisfying as a complete experience.

Original Design

One reason I struggled initially with gameplay, is because I wanted to make the game multiplayer. I used my knowledge from my previous uDevGames entry, Reclaimed to write a fully networked game, featuring fancy stuff like client side prediction and latency reduction code. That was working pretty well, until I realized interacting with other players within the context of the gameplay didn’t really make a lot of sense. I was hoping for a cooperative environment, but exploring and unlocking content wasn’t really suited to multiple players sharing a world.

So I figured I’d save some time and I dropped multiplayer support, and instead focused on plot and progression elements.

What Went Right

Tool Choice

I used tools I was familiar with, and I leveraged my codebase from my previous contest game, using the networking code, the UI library I wrote, and enhancing the rendering engine. I used some neat new techniques to dynamically generate terrain and plugged in code for a non-tile based engine. I was able to work much faster in my own code, even though I am familiar with tools like Unity, which Scott and I use in our day job. It’s nice to use the contest as an opportunity to get away from ‘work’ games.

No menus or crazy UI

While I slowly figured out how the game was supposed to work, I constantly examined how the user interface would work for the game. As I considered how constructing a building worked, I was very conscious of implementing it in a way that was fun on it’s own, and unobtrusive. Reclaimed approached this problem with large sets of menus. Constructing an item in Reclaimed meant scrolling through a list of 80 possible items. Adding filtering makes it easier, but further complicates the UI. I wanted all interactions in Leader of Mans to happen without opening a menu or an in-game window.

I think keeping a simple UI kept the game approachable and fun. Working out the gameplay like this surprisingly difficult, but it feel it was a big success. When you see a simple detail implemented in game, it seems obvious and trivial, but it often took a lot of thought and iteration to get that point.

Friends!

Since I didn’t really have a clear picture of the game when I started, it was easy to get myself stuck in a rut. At that point, I turned to my friends in iDevGames and asked for some ideas. A huge thanks to Scott, Seth, Alex, Keith, Neil, and everyone else in the channel for sending me ideas! And thanks to those who send feedback to the Leader of Mans forum thread. The unique use of the word ‘mans’ came out of a IRC discussion, and Seth produced the excellent bear artwork. My wife, Beth, was very supportive. On night before submission she stayed up late and drew the dead trees used on the last island. Thanks hun!

Getting feedback and ideas really energized me. Those were the nights I stayed up late, plowing through features without realizing how quickly the time was passing!

What Went Wrong

Oops, I forgot to blog!

We’ve got a blog at Howling Moon Software… and if you read it, you would think we only did one interesting thing every 3 months! Unfortunately, when we’re doing something exciting, sharing it on our blog isn’t a high priority. When we do think about making a post, we’re usually working on a client project that’s covered under NDA.

What Went Okay

I’m actually pretty happy with how things worked out despite not having a clear idea of what I wanted. It took extra time, but I’m happy with how iterating the gameplay turned out. I figured this could be a recipe for disaster, but it worked out alright.

My first few weeks of programming all ensured a working multiplayer experience. I dropped this when I realized I had no idea how the game would play in a multiple player environment. Although it did add up to some lost time, I made the decision early enough to still be able to pull together a finished game.

Development time

Scott and I actually set aside some time for working on our uDevGames contest entries. Since many of my evenings are scheduled with my wife and our new house, it’s difficult to find time (and energy!) for programming in the evening after a full day of game programming. So I got a week or so of work done early in the contest, but then additional important work showed up from clients. I managed to eek out most of the last week to really throw the game together. It could have been worse, but it’s always hard to schedule time exactly.

Conclusions

I learned a lot since my entry in uDevGames 2008. I had a better idea of what would work well in the contest, and I’m very happy to be awarded the second place overall award. I think Leader of Mans pulled together nicely- I did manage to get some of the important polish in, like nice sounds, music, and some graphical effects. I spent a lot of time improving the interface and controls, although there’s still a few more things I would have liked to get to. Leader of Mans was very very close to several other awards, so next time I’ll need to give it a little extra oomph to get it up into third place in each category!


Developer Andy Korth
Title Leader of Mans
Team Size 1
Hardware Mac Pro, Macbook
Critical Software Eclipse IDE, Photoshop, Amadeus Pro, Pedegree particle dohicky, Heiro font thingy
SDKS & APIs Slick library, OpenGL, homegrown code

uDevGames 2011

Convergence — Best Gameplay
Kung Fu Killforce — Best Overall Game, Best Audio, Best Presentation
Flying Sweeden — Best Graphics, Most Original
Time Goat — Best Story