“I wanted to give the player a feeling of, ‘Oh… Oh, I see now!’ with each new level and mechanic introduced.”
My Role(s): Design, Art, Sound Effects
Team Size: 2 (Remote)
Duration: 30 Days
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Moon Jump is a 2D Puzzle Platformer developed in Unity to be submitted as part of Game Off 2020 game jam. My friend and I completed the game in around 30 days in our spare time as a hobby project. I was solely responsible for all aspects of the Design, Art, and Sound Effects for the game, while my friend did the programming. We both worked from our homes and we used Unity’s Collaborate feature for version control. Playtesting was done by me, the programmer, and friends and family.
The game stars Nick, an ambitious, husky little boy with a big heart and even bigger imagination. With his lucky ball cap and fishbowl space helmet, he is able to launch himself to the moon and back, in addition to his standard jump, in order to traverse through over a dozen levels. His skills remain the same throughout the game, requiring
him to overcome obstacles using his wits and reflexes. The levels get progressively more challenging as he progresses, and each new game mechanic introduced forces him to view the environments in entirely new ways than what first meets the eye.
When my friend and I first learned the theme of “moonshot,” we were a bit disheartened. Neither of us really knew what it meant, and we didn’t really have a good idea as to how to create a game with a concept that matched it. We spent some time chatting back and forth, drawing notes and concepts to each other on Miro, a shared digital whiteboard. I decided to take the word far too literally, I came up with the absurd concept of the most complicated path to get the mail in history. You leave your house, and in order to step over a rock, you have to shoot up to the moon, walk a little ways, and shoot back down on the other side of the rock. The spark caught, and he and I thought a puzzle platformer would fit that idea very well, so I got to work on creating the character and designing the systems.
With the concept and genre and place, I needed to flesh out the idea into a compelling gameplay experience — one that could be conceivably be created by two busy people in a short amount of time. The idea of seeing your goal but being unable to reach it appealed to me, because you could start each level with a preview of some what was required of you, but you weren’t exactly sure to what extent. I wanted to give the player a feeling of, “Oh… Oh, I see now!” with each new level and mechanic introduced. Something that looks as simple as jumping up to a ledge might actually require you to shoot up to the moon in order to reach it. Once you do that for a couple of levels, a new mechanic is introduced to the level that makes that different or more complex. By introducing a new obstacle — such as the One-Way Toy Bricks or the Sticky Goo — I was able to get a lot of mileage out of the basic moves of the character. Once a new mechanic was introduced, they could build on each other in multiple ways, which gave the game a good pacing and variety. This is compounded by the fact that each level is made up of two scenes. Having the moon environment essentially be another part of the level added another layer of complexity that I was able to build upon increase the challenge and add even more variety. From a logical point of view, a fishbowl wouldn’t help you breathe in space, so I added the concept of “breath” while on the moon — a timer that ticks down that kills the player when it reaches zero — to add a sense of urgency.
Since the level design was the star of the show, I made the decision early on to keep the levels locked to a single screen. Doing this saved us time by preventing us from needing to make sure a camera worked, and it also made sure that when a player launched to the moon and back, we would know exactly where they would end up. It also had the very cool benefit of allowing me to design levels during my breaks at work using a dry-erase board I got from the dollar store (one board = one screen). I built the levels using Unity’s tile map system. So the player didn’t get disoriented and prevent cheap deaths, I made the decision to include an arrow indicating where the player last entered the screen. The results of all of these made Moon Jump very well received from a design perspective.
To me, developing a connection to the character you’re controlling goes a long way to making a game more enjoyable. Since the programming duties were left to my friend, I wanted to make sure I spent a fair amount of time designing a compelling character. I used the free web app Piskel to draw the character (and the rest of the art). The design of the player was part autobiographical — I was a chubby, ambitious kid myself — and partly inspired by ’90s Nickelodeon cartoons. Big, expressive, and kind of gross, with a body/face that is malleable enough to convey emotions or physicality in a comically exaggerated way. I also wanted to make him an “astronaut” to fit with the theme. Taking inspirations of the “silhouette” character design philosophy, I gave him a lot of circles, and added a hat to break things up and add a little personality to him.
For animation, I took inspiration from Super Mario World. Mario is a very fun playable character, but he has very limited frames of animation. Instead of having a full walking cycle, Mario only has two walking frames — one for standing, and one for kicking his feet. With the speed, and a clever trick of raising his sprite up slightly on the walk, he looks as though he’s walking. I knew if I did it similarly for Moon Jump, I could spend the necessary time on the personality of the character and only need to copy a few frames to get the desired effect.