The theme for this year’s game jam was this image (of the Ouroboros):
I was working alone (again :/) since I wasn’t able to attend for any real length of time (but I could work at home on my laptop).
My initial game idea was a sort of “serpent rocket” game in which the player had to launch a rocket in such a way that it would eventually hit it’s own tail (launch point). While interesting, the feat of aligning the rocket’s path turned out to be horrendously difficult for a player (me) to achieve.
The game design then proceeded in more of an abstract direction. The serpent “tail” was visually distracting, so I just left it out (changing the serpent to an “Orbitorus”). I still wanted to communicate the feeling of return, but didn’t want to burden the player with the onerous task of a perfectly aligned return flight. So I changed the goal to activation of nodes (attractors) and made the return automatic after the goal was complete.
These changes made the game feel much better, but it had little replay value. Inspired by cyclical level sets (prevalent in early 80s games such as Gorf), I figured that I could further reinforce the feeling of “infinity” by creating a looping set of levels which would be classically easy (ish) to complete, but difficult to master. A simple way to encourage this was to record the player’s score when they first complete the level, and to later require them to beat that score the next time they encountered that level.
The beat-your-last-score mechanic worked surprisingly well. It introduced a fair amount of replay value because it created another consideration and challenge. Players realise that they should progress incrementally (beating the existing high score by as little as possible) in order to progress further and further into the game. Over time, I found that I could not only pass every level, but also pass them in different ways with a relatively controlled path and score.
The theme of incremental progress resonates strongly with me. It seems that people often want to wildly proceed in large bounds, but often burn themselves out and fail to achieve their larger goals. So I’m happy to have created a game that encourages and rewards measured actions, practice, experience, and thoughtfulness.
When I started playing the game, I didn’t think that I would make it past level 11. However, my current high-score is level 39 and I’m already thinking of strategies to get even further:
Overall, I’m very happy with this game. Unlike my previous Global Game Jam games, I focused more on gameplay (rather than story or message) and I feel that Orbitorus is much more enjoyable as a result (which isn’t always the end goal, but was important to me on this occasion). Moreover, the game conveys a stronger message as a result of greater gameplay depth. So I feel that it’s a success in that regard as well.