Hello everyone. For the Pico8 Advent Calender Jam 2019, I actually released a game. Yes, you read this sentence correctly, I brought myself to start, plan and finish a game in time and make it pretty. If you don’t know me, that’s quite impressive for my level of laziness.

Introducing Wrap’a’Gift, a small rhythm game where you have to not only reproduce the pattern your helper shows you but do it in the same rhythm as the small elf does to wrap the gift like a pro!

The game's title screen.

If you want to give it a try, try this link to play it on Pico8’s official BBS forum or this other to play it on Itch.io.

The controls are quite simple: just use the arrow keys to reproduce what your helper does when it’s your turn. You have to press X to select an option in the menu and that’s all.

Getting a perfect to finish the game is not needed, but you have a small bonus to get through the 20 levels! So do your best, but don’t worry, any present still counts!

Post mortem.

First thought that come to me : damn. I started a game, I planned it, I released it. It doesn’t happen very often, mind you. My actual goal for the jam wasn’t really to make a game but to finish it. Making prototypes is fine and dandy until you have to convert that energy into making everything but the kitchen sink to convert the prototype into a decent game. Of course, I had high and lows with that project, both in the first 80% and the last 80%. Let’s split that section in three parts so I can dissecate the thing while it’s still hot.

What went wrong?

The first thing that is going to come to me is time budgeting. I started the project a few weeks ago, almost a month and a half and a good chunk of it was very slow. I progressively get more and more involved as soon as the deadline started to poke its nose out. I quickly got the main mechanic (the “metronome”) to make sure that the rhythm part would work, but I still had to “draw the rest of the damned owl”, you know?

Another part where I feel like I have to work is game balancing. The difficulty is varying over the playthrough and I wonder if I didn’t made it just silly. I tried to balance it to let the player breathe, giving even a break time halfway to encourage and let the player catch a break (and eventually hit the start button). But in the end, the game itself feels not deep enough for a real sense of originality on the levels and it was really visible when making the patterns.

Actually, after a few reviews or feedbacks, turns out that the game is damn hard. I planned to make a v2 later this year to tone down the difficulty (like showing a second time what to input, having a metronome to show the timing, slowing down the game on will or keeping the input displayed). I need to get that done to make it more approachable for everyone.

The last optional thing I wonder if I shouldn’t have done is at least a music for the menu. In game, it’s not possible, the tempo of the music would have been too different to not trip off the player and the menu really feels empty.

What went well

Once I got the idea, pretty much clicked into the concept itself. I mocked up quite early a fake game capture to place stuff in a sensible location and somehow, that’s how the game looks now, except a few differences here and there. I also had a blast using the then-newly discovered extra colors, it gave me an extra brown color to play with.

I didn’t expected to have the elf chain gift ready on time either. This is a pile of hacks, like many games coming from a jam but somehow, it works pretty well, at least, on my side.

The first level of the game.

Getting the rhythm done was easier than expected, it was actually the first thing I programed in the project. I wanted to have a “metronome” splitting the game time in beats and sub-beats to properly time stuff on the exact frame. I quikly found that I couldn’t make use of a music as it’d desync quite easily, there is no seting that allows an “easy” sync between game logic, video and audio, so I only used thr sound for feedback.

Programing-wise, I got to make stuff work quite smoothly. The gift wrap graphics was the trickiest part and making the pattern display properly with clipping was done with a little bit of blind testing to optimize the result as much as possible.

Anyway, that was a neat game I could wrap up for the game jam in a shiny package. The difficulty bites a little bit strong, but that’s now some field to improve the game over the original version. Have fun!