Chaos Tomb Post-Mortem
Time for a post-mortem of Chaos Tomb.
The game does report some basic progress stats to me, and I’ve been checking up on how well you guys are doing. It’s a bit humbling, to be honest! It seems like my game is hard… even too hard… unless, like me, you were playing it and tweaking it for 72 hours straight. Not even one player from the Ludum Dare website has visited all 14 levels in the game, although a couple players have come close.
Went worse than expected
It’s not obvious what to do. To be clear, you get in, pick up weapons, and get out. You don’t need to clear the levels. The “exit” signs may be a bit ambiguous, too.
It’s not obvious that you can (sometimes) just run past the monsters. The first area with monsters also holds the first weapon. If I had put another area early on with monsters but no weapons, players would have been forced to run past the monsters without killing them, so they would realize that you don’t have to fight them. This is also a good strategy to use if you have the shield generator.
The game is completely non-linear. It’s based around a hub, and players can explore as much as they wanted. But this meant that players often missed some items when they went on to play harder levels. I saw someone playing one of the later levels without picking up any extra hearts first—while certainly doable, they were having a rough time. I should have put more treasure in the player’s path early on. Especially hearts, which are more often in difficult-to-reach locations. In fact, now that I think about it, there is only one heart in the game that you can just pick up… the others require tricky jumps or other special techniques. If that one “easy” heart is hard to get because you get a bad weapon load-out, the game’s not going to get any easier.
The brick breaker is a garbage weapon. It wasn’t supposed to be quite so garbage. Unfortunately, I was unable to get it to bounce correctly off of the boundaries of the world. It could only bounce off of level tiles. Instead of putting ceilings on all of the levels, I let the brick breaker become a much too situational weapon. It also only bounces a couple times before exploding. Ideally, it should be able to bounce all over the place before hitting its target.
You can get two garbage weapons right at the start. I’m talking about the potato and the brick breaker. If you pick those two up, just go ahead and start a new game (unless you like the challenge). The game should only give you the potato once you already have a couple good weapons.
There’s no good opportunity to use the “ultimate weapon”, which is the gun. Once you’ve collected everything, there should be a final gauntlet to play through with all of the weapons and plenty of hearts. Instead, you just head back to the starting area and out the exit.
Went better than expected
Technology and assets. Somehow, the framework (Phaser), the artwork, the sound effects, and the music all came together in the right proportion.
Enough save points. You’re never more than a couple screens away from one. This really dialed down the frustration when I’d play a level a few times to beat it.
Distinct and unusual weapons. I wrote ideas for sixteen, but I’m pretty happy about the six weapons. Four of the weapons seem to be pretty useful, too, with their advantages and drawbacks. No, the potato does not do anything. The random order of the weapons means that each playthrough might be substantially different.
One monster type is enough. I wanted more, but this one monster stands out against the levels and has good behavior. The eyeball patrols back and forth, periodically shoots two shots at the player, and never intentionally walks off ledges. You can’t interrupt the eyeball’s shooting patterns by teleporting it, which might be a mistake, or it might be part of the teleporter’s balance.
Real difficulty ramp. Early parts seem sufficiently easy, and later parts are sufficiently hard. There’s one level which is just evil, but the nonlinear design means you can not only go somewhere else, but skip the level entirely. You are unlikely to find something that will stop you from progressing any further.
Good enough for a post-jam version?
For me? Definitely. I would be very happy with a game that’s maybe 50% larger and a lot more polished.