A decade long streak of not making computer games gets broken.
If you haven’t already, you may want to play the game here before reading this.
Too Hot Too Cold was the first computer game I’ve made in ten years. I’ve always been interested in game design. When I was five years old I made numerous board games, mostly being variations of Chutes and Ladders, but Winnie the Pooh or Power Rangers themed. Between the ages of 11 and 13, I started learning how to make computer games with Gamemaker. When I entered high school I got into speech and debate, and my video game development ground to a halt. I continued to develop tabletop RPGs and board games, but didn’t return to computer games until the fall of 2012. I had read about the growing number of game jams and couldn’t resist a chance to try my hand at something that exciting.
I found out about the jams through this great article on Gamasutra about rapid prototyping. The idea of rapid prototyping and game jams really appealed to me because I have a hard time sticking with things. I have a lot of ideas, and a project rarely sees completion because I get a new, more exciting idea and move on. Creating a complete project in a week or 48 hours helped me get around this personal limitation. I decided to enter in the Experimental Gameplay Project’s November/December game design competition.
The theme was “temperature,” and I quickly decided that I wanted two things out of the project. First, I wanted the game to be simple enough so that I could really focus on the design elements rather than the engine. Second, I wanted it to be expressive. I believe in games as an art form, and I wanted my game to say something about life. I was greatly aided in my first goal in that I had decided to use Stencyl to make my game, which handled a lot of things for me. Being a veteran of Gamemaker, the visual programming of Stencyl really appealed to me, especially since I still have no formal training in coding.
I worked on Too Hot Too Cold from Monday, November 19th until Sunday, November 25th. Over that week I clocked about 24 hours working on the game.
What Went Right
Too Hot Too Cold is a game about life. It may not be a particularly subtle or engaging game, but I think I succeeded in creating some meaning through gameplay. The power-ups in Too Hot Too Cold represent polarized emotional states.
Being “on fire” represents extreme anger or passion. Being “on ice” represents extreme depression or objectivity. The heart power-up allows you to return to a balanced emotional state. The level design also attempts to be evocative, the gameplay obstacles mirroring what is happening in the narrative.
Player-driven final scene
This is a longer discussion for a different blog post, but I’ll say for now that I was excited to make a game where the last narrative action is carried out by the player instead of the designer. Instead of beating the game and being forced to sit through a non-interactive cutscene or final slide of narration, the player has complete control over the last decision in the game, with no interpretation or reaction by me, as the designer.
Exploration of the utility of extreme emotions
Too Hot Too Cold helped me explore what the utility of extreme emotions might be. The weeks prior to the development to Too Hot Too Cold had been very rough for me. I felt like I was swinging between polarized emotional states without being able to find a healthy middle ground. I wondered why this was happening and how I might be able to utilize it in some productive way.
As you might guess from the game, I decided that even though feeling burning passion for a project all the time is probably a quick way to burn out, it can help you to reach new heights. You just need to make sure that you don’t let it take you over. Similarly, being depressed or distant isn’t a great way to live your whole life, but it can help you get through tough times to turn inwards sometimes.
What Went Wrong
Balancing difficulty curves
Too Hot Too Cold helped me realize that games can, and typically do, have multiple difficulty curves. That is because most games require more than one skill in order to complete. In Too Hot Too Cold there is a massive disconnect between the difficulty of the platforming and the puzzle solving. That is, a player will often be able to see the logical solution to a puzzle long before they have developed the dexterity to carry out that solution through platforming. This can cause players to give up, because it often feels tedious to know the solution to something but simply be unable to execute the solution.
In general, Too Hot Too Cold is also just too difficult. When I developed this game, I didn’t realize how talented my playtesters were, and didn’t account for that in my design. I think that difficulty is pretty at-odds with expressive game design anyway. Difficulty is only really good for conveying one emotion: fiero, the emotion associated with agonistic victory. We have plenty of games that help people feel that, I’m not sure I have to design more.
My visual art skills are extremely limited. If you play A Reason for Vengeance, you can already see them getting better. It’s going to be a long road, but I hope to develop a style that is aesthetically pleasing and at the very least doesn’t drive anyone away for being so low quality.
Too Hot Too Cold across the globe
I love that Too Hot Too Cold can be played on the web. One of the things that made me give up on game design ten years ago was distribution. A lot of my friends had Macs. No one could enjoy my Gamemaker .exe files, because back then dual booting wasn’t a thing. I decided that if I were to ever design games, they would have to be on the web. Stencyl is such a great product because it helps people like me make games that can be played by anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s amazing, and I think it will really help with the diversity of voices that we hear in the game development world.
You can see the official page of Too Hot Too Cold here.