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  • Postmortem: Altidudes

    [04.06.21]
    - Jonathan Ribarro
  • Altidudes is a one-button arcade infinite climber/platformer about dudes skateboarding up a mountain, avoiding obstacles, and beating your high score.  The game was released on PC and ios/Android mobile devices, with another version to come out much later maybe.

    The game was first conceived of in the 1-button game jam 2019. The resulting game was a little something I called Mountain Climber.  I was really proud of it and I showed it to my family, which was something I didn't  frequently do prior to making stuff. They all really enjoyed it, and I received my first donated dollar from them, and it was surreal that someone paid me for the work that I did, despite it coming from the family.  Having gotten some positive feedback from Reddit on the game, I got to work.  The game was pretty much made entirely by me, but with some huge help from friends new and old for audio, Trailer, QA, and legal, who I will name further below.

    The Engine

    I had used Pico-8 on another game jam prior to Mountain Climber, and it was my first brush with both the engine itself and the programming language Lua. I learned both easily enough through experience and research, and thankfully there were a lot of great posts about Pico-8 problems to peruse. For other Pico devs it goes without saying but there is a huge community of amazingly talented people working with this engine, and they are all very kind, knowledgeable folks. If you are considering Pico-8 for a game, you are in good hands.

    Gameplay

    What Went Right

    The game plays exactly how I envisioned it would back in 2019, and I am very happy with how it turned out. Luckily, the math needed for making the sliding, jumping, and falling was simple enough and, at least to me, it feels good. The gameplay was also simple enough that I could work with just that one system and not have to go any deeper, so the scope was kept in check.

    What Went Wrong

    Coming up with solutions to things like the "infinite" aspect is hard. I think one of the scariest things about Altidudes is that I left a massive, game-breaking bug in it. There's a caveat though: you'll only see it if you can make it to the 'top' of the mountain. That is, where Pico-8 can't count positive numbers any further. See, every computer has a limit, most of our modern machines have one in the trillions or something I think, but for Pico-8 it's purposefully limited in it's capacities, so ~32,000 is about the most you can get it to count. Well, if a player happens to push the position of the player or the camera to that number, then everything kind of just, breaks. I doubt any average gamer will get that far (I know I couldn't). I tried to think of solutions to it, but I just didn't know how to fix it without rewriting a fat load of code, so I left it in. By the way, this is privileged game dev knowledge, don't tell the gamers!

    Design

    What Went Right

    When I first came up with this, I thought of a frog hopping up a mountain. It sounded cool, so I made a frog which, suffice to say, would not have worked in the grand scheme of the gameplay.  I opted for a human character instead, and after I drew him and took a step back I was like, "oh yeah, this is the one" 

    So after I made my original dude all the pieces fell into place. He has a skateboard? He skateboards up the mountain. How does he avoid stuff? Either by sliding back down or jumping higher up. It all worked out quite well. From there it was just adding things to make the game feel better and polished, because I knew the jam version was cool for a jam game, but not for a full release.

    What Went Wrong

    I had gotten a lot of feedback about the game being boring, repetitive, and things like that before I added a feature I like to call *The Super Jump*.  My testers were right though, I knew the game was lacking something and there wasn't much I could do about it (This feedback came 4-5 months before I released the game).  Something needed to happen for the game to feel more exciting. People needed options in how they approached a situation. Since the players are controlling the dude, that means the dude needed some other ability or control, but the game only has one button! How was I supposed to do that?? I had to rewrite a lot of code, but I added an entirely new system to the game based on how long the player pressed the button. Two things resulted from this (Which of course created more work 1.) The Super Jump, and 2.) A menu system.

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