Pixel Ninja Post-Mortem


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I've been wanting to share my thoughts on my first published Flash game, and now that the jam is done and the winners have been named, now seems like a great time to do so! Its a little long, of course, but I tried to keep it somewhat concise.


Well, it should come as no surprise that this originated with my original platforming idea from last fall. It also came from the fact that I wanted to re-haul that old game; I felt like I had lost sight of what I originally wanted to do, or perhaps more correctly, I had allowed myself to try and incorporate myriad elements without trying to really execute one or two really well.

That being said, the focus for Pixel Ninja was simple: fluid combat. I wanted to capture the essence of being a ninja. Sure, I can only give the player so much control; it'd be nice if there was a nice, fluid way to really string together complicated manuevers and combos. But with what I did do, I wanted the player to feel in control.

Most of that concept was built around the point-and-click star throwing. I thought it was a great idea. Certainly not totally original, but I must say I did think it was unique to go with the ninja and star combo rather than the typical gunman and rifle set up. Looking back, it's still not that horribly original, but it gets the job done.

Second, if the player has good combat skills, they need to have something worth fighting. Level design has not been my strong point (at least in my opinion), but I tried to achieve this by going with a sort of pseudo-random spawning mechanic that made stages less predictable. Enemies can spawn at different positions as opposed to the same formation coming at you each time you play. Again, not terribly original, but I liked the idea at the time.

Equipped with those two ideas, the time came to put them into action.

Making The Game

Most of it came together in the last two weeks or so of the jam when I finally settled on what I was doing, having already scrapped two other ideas. The final stage, Fireball Mines, was put together almost entirely in the last 12 hours of the jam (graphics, music, enemy code, etc.). I was definitely pushing at the end to get it done.

One of the main things I tried to do was make sure I had good enemy variety BETWEEN stages. For instance, each stage has a generic chasing enemy. But the Zolcher Factory's chaser moves in right angles, making it harder to aim at. In Fireball Mines, the two chasers are surrounded with star-absorbing fireballs. These were the little touches I felt would make a difference.

The graphics were simple enough, but music was a bit of a struggle at first. I ended up inserting one of my old tunes from the old Pixel Ninja last fall into this game to see if it would fit (now stage music for Wooden Arena). It did, so I tried to emulate that style for the other two stages. Whether or not they all sound too much alike, I'm not sure at this point. But they still sounded good.

I also wanted to implement the shop. I felt this would be one of the defining features of the game; it would be motivation to keep going, to push for that next upgrade that will put more time on your high score. Although I ended up ousting a lot of the gimmicks I had wanted to implement, I still felt I had a nice core and that the gameplay mechanics were ample up to that point. It was simple and elegant; don't break what's working (and frankly, I didn't really have time to get it running anyway because of the deadline).

So after much coding and work, I submitted the game about ten minutes before the deadline.

Pre Jam Results

I have to admit, I felt pretty good about my game. When it made the Staff Picks page within the first 24 hours, that really boosted how I felt about it. And frankly, I felt I had brought something truly unique to the table. Sure you had platformers, but a platformer survival? You didn't see that as often... right? Haha... we all want to believe our game has got it going.

Did I really stand a chance at winning? I thought so. The two people who ended up giving me feedback seemed to very much so like it. I must admit though, I was disappointed by the lack of feedback I did end up receiving on the game. Despite trying to firmly push for comments and what have you, most of the time it seemed to come up empty. This was frustrating, though I'm not saying it now to get on anyone's case about it; if anything, its shown me that beta-testing and finding dedicated beta-testers is even more important to do.

This reared its head about one week after the jam deadline. Upon doing more playtesting, I discovered a terrible bug that prevented shop upgrades from functioning properly at times. I was devastated. This game had been out for a week with this, and I felt like I had potentially blown my chances at placing in the jam. I was able to throw a quick bandage on it, but still. My game that I had held in such high regard was faulted. But it was, again, a learning experience.

Even then, I knew there was a lot of solid competition out there. I had been playing the games, and there was a lot of good stuff. Was Pixel Ninja unique and fun enough to secure its place among the elite games?

Post Jam Results

If you've looked at the results, you know Pixel Ninja didn't place. Disappointing? Of course it is for me, but I'm certainly not devastated over it.

Still, I looked at the honorable mentions and some of the other notables, and wondered something like "Why wasn't it good enough?". What did I do wrong? Well, maybe that's the wrong way of looking at it. Maybe I really didn't do anything wrong per se; the other games just knocked it out of the park.

But it really makes me wonder: what defines a game's success? I'm not talking about whether or not it is the "best game" out of x group of games, but whether or not it succeeds at being fun and engaging in its own right. Did I errorenously choose to use the overused platformer genre? No, I don't think so. Quantum Corps, the second place entry, is a platformer. Definitely has its own style to it to be sure, but a platformer nonetheless. Was my game not unique? I set out to accomplish some goals in my game (like fluid combat), and I feel I amply met them. I didn't sacrifice direction and cohesiveness at the expense of trying to invent some crazy new gimmick or plotline. So what went wrong?

Ah, let's remember one of the main reason I did this: fun. And by that, I don't just mean myself, but the person playing it. Did my game bring enjoyment to someone? I think it did. That's part of why I do this. Game design has such potential, and realizing that in one's game is a grand challenge. If I can make a difference (yes, even with a Flash game) by just making someone smile, that's a success.


So for my first published Flash game, I think it went well. I still have a lot to learn, but this was a great first experience for me. Even having done some game design before now, getting my first published game felt big. And at the end of the day, if everyone's having fun, that's part of what it's all about. As I recall Alexin saying, "Find the fun". So ultimately, did I find it? More or less, I would say. Next time, let's see if I can find even more of that.
Do NOT PM me your questions, because I likely will not respond. If I have replied to your question on the forum, keep using that topic. Thanks!


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Thanks for writing this up. I've set up a new area for StencylJam postmortems, so they can stick around for all to see in the future.

Your game was in the top 15 - very solid game for the "survival" genre and great for a first game, just not enough in the face of very stiff competition. Honorable mentions didn't go strictly by rating. Some games were interesting enough in their own right to deserve a mention.


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Thanks Jon, and let me take a moment to say thanks for taking the time to do the judging. Playing games can be fun, but playing and judging eighty-eight total games is quite the feat to be sure. And of course, you provided the engine that made these games possible. There really is a great thing going here, both with the program and the community.

Top 15, huh? I can definitely be happy with that. Thanks for mentioning it!
Do NOT PM me your questions, because I likely will not respond. If I have replied to your question on the forum, keep using that topic. Thanks!


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  • Posts: 649
cool writeup, thats the stuff i want to see more. its always nice to partially see inside the mind of the creators, when they are building their games. super inspiring to me.

Great behind the scenes post. Your attitude is perfect for an indiedev - publish, learn, move on & always have fun.

Very inspiring read Photon


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You have a knack for writing things like this.  :)

Good read, I've had some of these thoughts cross through my mind.


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Thanks everyone.

This may not be the last time you guys see Pixel Ninja either. I really like how the game turned out. I started a new idea of mine, but honestly a part of me wants to go back, take what worked from Pixel Ninja, and make a more polished game out of that. I have a gameplay idea that's different from the original and actually a little more traditional, but would seek to maintain the original fluidity I sought for in this one. We will have to see what happens I suppose...
Do NOT PM me your questions, because I likely will not respond. If I have replied to your question on the forum, keep using that topic. Thanks!