Sep 11, 2017

Food Eater - AGBIC 2017 entry

7:36 PM Posted by Lucas Izumi , , , , , , No comments
A Game by its Cover is an annual game jam where participants pick a famicase design and turn it into a game! Last time I joined this jam was in 2015, with SHE. This year I'm going with Food Eater!

Komida-chan can't control herself during her trip to FoodIsland. Please, stop her before it's too late!

Food Eater is a casual arcade game created during "A Game By Its Cover 2017" game jam. It was based on the Food Eater famicase by Ezequiel Nietoš.

Picking a Famicase
From the famicase exhibition page, I first picked my favorites. I really really wanted to create games for all of them, but I knew I wouldn't have enough time. Each famicase has a small synopsis of the game (which the dev may or may not follow). Based on these synopsis, I created an idea for each of them.
A game of skill, strategy and wits.

Idea: The idea here was to make the Rock-Paper-Scissors game more dynamic and unforeseen. Each player would have a whole scenario at their disposal and would choose Rock, Paper or Scissors to interact with an object of that scenario. A player's interaction would trigger something that would affect the other player. For instance: Player 1 chooses Rock on a Hydant. Player 2 chooses Rock on a Manhole Cover. The hydrant fires water at Player 2, but Player 2 covers her/himself with the manhole cover, so nothing happens. Trying different combinations and guessing their results could be very fun.
Chop ‘n Click is a point and click game where you play as a detective trying to unravel a series of murders. Every crime scene shares a common element - each victim has had their pointing finger cut off. Will justice be fulfilled? Will our hero fall into the trap of madness? Play and see for yourself!

Idea: In this game I would follow its synopsis. The player would investigate crime scenes in a static screen, interacting with the objects. Between a scene and other, there would be dialogues (visual novel like). The main catch here would be that, the finger that was cut off would be pointing to the most important clue of each crime scene. By realizing this the player would be able to put everything together and solve the mistery.
Thunders, a strong wind, the storm is approaching ... Raijin and Fuujin have arrived! They are Storm Brothers! Sound the drums and ride the strong wind to get to the top of the sky!

Idea: A rhythm game. Raijin would play the drums and Fuujin would fly up to the sky. Each note you don't miss makes Fuujin go higher. Each note you miss makes Fuujin go down. If you miss enough, Fuujin would touch the ground and you would fail the song. By playing perfectly, Fuujin would reach the stars. This one, actually, was going to be my first choice. I even gathered some resources to study how to detect the beats of a music, but as I digged deep into it I realized I wouldn't be able to finish in time. I want to return to this, though, when I have more time.
Komida-chan can't control herself during his trip to FoodIsland. Please! stop her before it's too late!

Idea: My choice for this jam! I really liked the famicase and the synopsis was fun. I had trouble thinking on what to do with this one. First I thought of a platformer where you were supposed to destroy all the foods so Komida-chan woudn't eat anything, and from time to time she would try to eat you and there would be a boss fight, etc. I discarded this idea, in parts, to make it playable on mobile devices (and to try something different). I usually have trouble thinking of small arcade games, but some concepts of the earlier idea led me to this: use different tools (controlled by mouse or touch) to destroy the foods and make Komida-chan snap out of whatever is making her lose control. The idea is very simple and would lead to a very simple game, exactly what I wanted!

Designing the Game
I started designing this game by thinking of its screen. I then made a mockup of it (in MS Paint because I didn't have any paper with me atm)

In this screen I'm trying to balance the visual elements. The conveyor belts are placed at each side of the screen, Komida-chan is at the top center and the Saciety Bar (which diplays your progress towards winning or losing) is placed ate the central point of the screen - where the eyes of the player usually rest. This way the player knows, most of the time, if he/she is winning or losing. The lower area of the screen was reserved for the tools the player would use.

The next step was to define which tools I wanted in the game. I was trying to think of something kitchen-related, but decided it would be more fun if the tools were something different. I then thought of a Torch and a Fan - putting fire and blowing food off seems a good way of making someone stop eating. A hammer to 'destroy' food and a vacuum to suck it also seems pretty good.

With all the elements defined, I started designing a prettier mockup. I would use the objects on it as the backgrounds and sprites for the game later.

For each tool I chose a 'matching' food. Lettuce for the Torch, Fries for the Fan, Cake for the Hammer and a Flan for the Vacuum. By interacting with each of theses foods with the correspondent tool would make it inedible, decreasing Komida-chan's Saciety Bar.

Making the game more interesting
Managing the tools in order to destroy the food before it reaches Komida-chan was pretty fun, but it didn't have any replay element. Once the player wins once, there is absolutely no reason for them to replay the game. To try to fix this I added 2 very common elements: different dificulties and a combo system.

I divided the game into 3 different dificulties: Easy, Medium and Hard. Each of them impacts on the speed of the conveyor belt and how full the Saciety Bar starts. Since it's a reflex based game, the player can try different modes until they find one that suits them. Once that is set, they can try another mode to challenge themselves.

The combo system walks side by side with the different modes. Combos intuitively leads the player to aim for the highest possible value. If they break the combo somehow, some may be motivated to try again and keep the combo going. Mixing this with harder modes creates challenges that increase the game's replayability (like trying to beat Hard Mode with a full combo).

Porting to Winnitron
Winnitron is an open source platform for indie arcade machines and games. This year's AGBIC suggested the devs to make the games created during the jam compatible with Winnitron machines.

Food Eater was primarily designed to be played with mouse or touch controls. Porting the game to an arcade system like Winnitron was quite a challenge. The core of the game would have to change for this to work and at the same time, the changes couldn't be so dramatic to the point of making the game lose in gameplay.

The solution I found to this was to divide the gameplay mechanics in two groups:
- Choosing the tool
- Using the tool
Since Winnitron only uses 2 buttons and a stick, each mechanic has to be simple enough to fit it.

Choosing the tool
A player can choose which tool he/she wants to use at the moment by simply pressing Button 1 or Button 2. Button 1 will select the next tool on the left and Button 2 will select the next tool on the right. This will cycle through all the tools available, meaning that if you have the last tool on the right selected and press Button 2, it will return to the first tool on the left. With this system players can pick tools with more ease during the flow of the game.

Using the tool
Using the tool is the most important part of the game, since it's your winning condition: use the right tools on the right foods. To use a tool a player simply needs to press either LEFT or RIGHT in the stick. Different from the original version, in the Winnitron port you will be aiming ALWAYS at the first plate that contains food in the conveyor belt. This way, if the first plate contains a cake, when pressing the stick in that plate's direction, you will be aiming at it (you will know at all times at which plate you will be aiming because it will have a arrow above it). If a plate contains nothing or inedible food, you will aim in the next plate that contains food of that conveyor belt.

I made several tests using a keyboard, but it will never replace the feeling of playing in a arcade machine. If you end up playing Food Eater in a Winnitron, let me know how was the experience!