What I learnt making 'Time Heist'

I did a lot of stuff with Time Heist that I've never done before. For that reason, I'd consider this one of my most ambitious projects, to date. So, with the jam coming to a close, I figured I'd talk about where I succeed, where I failed, and what I've learnt from this whole experience.

As I said before, I tried a lot of new things with this game. Time travel and stealth, the two core pillars of the game, being some of them. On the one hand, I'm extraordinarily proud of how I managed to get it all working in the end, and I'd consider Time Heist to be an overall solid, finished product.

But... The fact that I was working with so many new, and to be frank foreign elements (I've never actually played a stealth game before :P) really showed, especially in the difficulty of the game. This game is extremely difficult, but not in a good way. Not 'Cuphead' or 'Super Meat Boy' difficult, but more like 'I Wanna be the Guy' difficult, where the difficulty comes from unpredictable levels and enemy behaviors, as opposed to challenging level design.

Basically, what I'm saying is that by trying to both learn and execute all these new ideas, none of them really landed as well as they could have, and the game suffered as a result. There are levels in here that are downright agonizing, but only because it's not clear how they're meant to be played, and how they react to you as the player. The camera angle also doesn't help - something I realized more later in development.

A good example of all these problems is probably level 5. The goal of this level was to combine things that the player learnt in the previous 4 - interacting with the environment, enemies, and cooperating with your past self. The objective was to have your past self stand on a pressure plate, while you press a button. When both conditions were met, the door would open. All the while, you had to avoid enemies paroling the environment. A solid concept, but the execution had some issues. It wasn't possible to see the entire level at once, so you might not have realized you needed to trigger both the button and pressure plate to open the door. And, the enemies made it difficult to explore the level and learn this through trial and error.

Another big issue is that the time travel mechanic inherently makes things slower. You basically need to play each level twice in order to beat it, and if you end up dying a lot that just compounds how long you spend on any given level. It ended up making things frustrating. Also, another minor problem I learnt about after release was that it wasn't immediately clear that you had bullets at a certain point, since I never really pointed that out.

But not everything here was bad, either, of course! Some levels really worked well, like level 12, where you need to go in a loop avoiding guards, and then follow your past self through that same loop. It communicated it's goals much clearer to the player through it's design, and though it was still frustrating due to the often unpredictable enemies, it felt better to me.

The visuals, though simplistic, I thought were pretty alright. They got the job done - and, it was interesting experimenting with a rigged player model, something I'd never attempted before.

Finally, the music was excellent. I can't take credit for that, though, that goes to @plexidotorg, who made all the music for the game. Big props to him for making arguably one of the best parts of this entire project.

tl;dr - While the game was overall decent, it suffered from a lack of communication with the player, partially due to the fact that a lot of the stuff I was doing was new to me, but it still worked out ok in the end.

Thanks for reading, and here's to a fantastic game jam!

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