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Dashing Jerry - and the importance of Goals and Gifs

August 9, 2016

 

Dashing Jerry is a local dashing party with emotional squares for up to four players. Each player uses simple controls to dash their own square into other players, making them fly out of the screen. It’s easily accessible and quickly turns into a tense AHHH-almost-lost-but-fought-my-way-back-in-and-now-I’ve-almost-got-you-AHHHHHHHHHH-shouting-fest.

 

Grab some friends and controllers and dash here!

 

Goals and Gifs

 

After deciding on the basic idea for the game, we set a few goals for ourselves:

 

  • As simple gameplay as possible, so that anyone can pick up a controller and start having fun after only a short introduction

 

  • Evolution of skill, so that experienced players consistently beat new players

 

  • High speed! Quick rounds, lightning fast restarts, no down-time, so losing doesn’t hurt as bad

 

  • Lots of on-the-edge tense moments and loads of awesome, decisive moves.

 

  • Satisfying gameplay. Vague, intangible goal, but perhaps the most important.

 

So did we achieve these mightily pretty goals? Well, go play the game to decide for yourself!

 

But in case you want a second opinion, I’ll go through them step by step and supply a satisfying gif from the game for each one I check off. Here’s one to get us started:

 

 

Because of the first goal, we tested the game on a bunch of people who didn’t necessarily play a lot of video games.* Doing this not only forced us to make the game more accessible for them but also resulted in the game being easier to understand for everyone else.

 

Testing it for inexperienced gamers might have been the single most rewarding part of making this game. We asked people who had never even held an Xbox controller before to play the game, and after 5-10 minutes they were having intense deathmatches while shouting at each other. They were actually the ones who reacted the strongest to the game and watching them was a fantastic experience.

 

The game doesn’t have any instructions or tutorial yet, so it requires a teacher for inexperienced gamers. But with that reservation, I’d say that we accomplished the first goal:

 

 

A fascinating aspect of the mechanic is that a slice of mastering comes naturally from another part of life. If you play Scrabble, you don’t only become better by playing Scrabble, you also improve by building a larger vocabulary. Playing Tetris, a good spatial awareness helps you imagine where the blocks will fit. In Operation, having steady hands is the main skill that decides who wins.

 

Likewise, in Dashing Jerry, because it is physics-based, you have to be able to ‘calculate’ the path through the air an object will fly, when you launch it at a certain strength. Almost like shooting with a slingshot - or more closely, playing Angry Birds!

 

Because of this resemblance to something real, I think you can train yourself in the mechanic more naturally than many other mechanics. Training lets practiced players make accurate dashes, giving a great advantage over new players.

 

A layer of skill on top of being able to predict your shots, is being able to predict other players’ actions and react on them. There are plenty of moments in the game where you can trick your opponents if you know what they are going to do. These psychological battles are my favorite part of the game, and they create a completely natural high skill ceiling!

 

Now, we are far from where we would want to be skill-wise, if we worked with this game to its natural conclusion (and didn’t stop at our 1-month deadline). We could add skill-based power-ups, levels affording more high-level strategies and lots of other small and big features. It’s no Towerfall: Ascension yet, but I still think we got a bit of the way there.

 

So:

 

What was the next? High speed? HIGH SPEED? DID I LOSE THIS ROUND OH WAIT I DON’T CARE, NEXT ROUND HAS STARTED ALREADY! MORE MORE MORE!

 

 

 

Sometimes there’ll be an audience watching the game. In that situation, whenever someone is close to the edge of the screen, or about to fall down a hole, a low murmur starts somewhere among the watchers. If another player moves closer to the one in danger, the murmur grows to a rumble.

 

Once the attacking player starts charging, the rumble becomes a roar and the players clench their sweaty hands tightly around their controllers. As the players make their final decisions, feints and counter-feints, the conflict reaches its conclusion and the roar of anticipation becomes wails of despair and cheers of celebration.

 

This is where the game shines the brightest. And these moments are not as rare as you might think. The fourth goal is what I think we achieved in the strongest sense.

 

A well-deserved gif then:

 

 

 

When developing the gameplay, we used a relatively long period of time in the beginning of development without any nice visual or sound effects. This forced us to design the gameplay to be satisfying to play with on its own.

 

Almost every day, we would all sit down and play the game for a while, noting down what should be tweaked. The constant tweaking and adjusting made the gameplay feel so nice on its own, that I would sometimes zone out when testing a feature, and just start playing around with the game.

 

Particle effects, screen-shake, the slow-motion effect and sound effects all boost the satisfaction of the gameplay. The result is awesome and dashing full force into your opponents, catapulting them out of the screen, feels great.

 

I mean, just look at all these gifs!

 

 

 

There is still so much that could be done for this game. Some of the art could be improved, the music and sounds rethought, the mechanics tweaked even more and heaps of features, levels and effects could be added. We would do all that if we were to return to the game but it won’t happen right now, since the team has been spread in all directions.

 

But I think the game as we’re releasing it now is pretty great. It does a lot of things right. Following our concrete design goals helped in keeping it coherent.

 

Like many of my favorite local multiplayer games (Videoball, Hokra, Super Pole Riders, etc.) it gets out of the way of the players, letting the competition between them be the real core of entertainment.

 

It’s satisfying, inclusive and fun.

 

And you get to dash a lot. What more could you wish for?

 

 

 

*I hesitate to use the term “non-gamer”, because it is essentially a lie. Everyone plays, and these days in the western world, almost everyone even plays some kind of video game.

 

Credits:

Sigurd Bengtson: level design, art, original idea. Frederik Goth: sound and music. Thomas Halborg: art. Me: programming. All four of us: game design. Mikkel Ravnholt: good ideas and a script for trail effects.

Made in one month at our school, Vallekilde Højskole.

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