Bob (GameJam Entry)

The Turn-Based Drowning Sim (dotBrighton 2012 GameJam Entry)

"The Sea"

I couldn't help it. The first thing I thought of when 'The Sea' was mentioned was drowning. I ignored it.

I mingled (aka, talked to the people I already knew). Then I mingled freely (aka, talked to people I didn't know who happened to talk to me first). During said mingling I joked about making a game of drowning, but at that point I really was kidding.

I sat quietly and wrote down all the words I could think of to do with 'The Sea'. I sketched out some ideas ranging from a Flood Sim where you played the sea, to a Castles like game with the Piers duking it out, and something where you played seaweed. Yet I found myself drawing a man drowning. Hmmm.


Other Ideas 1

Other Ideas 2

Man Drowning

Poor state of mind, or handsome genius?

From the start I wanted to make an 'art' game. There is a bit of backstory to this decision. At Rezzed 2012 I'd attended the Day-Z talk. During the talk the lead designer said that he started to design games by thinking about how he wanted to make the player feel. In all this time I'd never once thought about how I wanted a player to feel, I'd always started with the core mechanics first. The seed of making a game that was about an emotional response was thus planted...

I was told one thing, and reminded another, by someone who shall remain Nicola.

  • That pun titles were a dead cert.
  • That I'd said I could make anything into a turn-based game.

When the word 'Bob' popped into my mind as the title for a drowning sim I knew I was now committed to an emotional response generating turn-based drowning simulator.

Drowning in Unity : A beginners guide

This was my first use of Unity. Using it for the very first time on a game jame is not something I can recommend - you don't want to be fighting the tools while trying to be creative.

First off, I made a rookie error with the camera. Instead of positioning the camera so that X and Y were X and Y, I positioned it such that X and Y were X and Z. This caused me no end of minor issues. If you're going to do 2D in Unity then position the camera such that X and Y really are X and Y.

My textures always seemed to be inside out or upside down, so I kept having to change clamping, X and Y texture coords and the texture offset in weird ways. I suspect I was making a rod for my own back somewhere, but instead of taking the time to work out why and fix my process I blundered on.

In no time at all I was as frustrated as heck and twice as angry. This is what happens when your ambition outstrips your ability. My lack of Unity experience was frustrating me. I wanted to jack it in, not go back, and forget the whole sorry thing.

One Rocky style montage later, I was good to go again. I'd decided that Saturday was basic mechanics day, and Sunday would be content and polish day. And it mostly followed that pattern.

On Artwork, and other animals

I suck at art. I mean big time. Liz ( @Pipsissiwa ) doesn't suck at art. This is the perfect combo. And, in spite of my erratic and unhelpful artistic direction ("I dunno, just something that looks good"), she produced some great artwork. Especially the seagull.

I've always found my own placeholder art to be very off-putting. Even when I 'borrow' art from the intertubes it ends up being a mash of different sources, so any overriding stylistic element is lost. To have some artwork provided was like a miracle.

My first attempt at Bob...

Initial Bob

Liz's evolution of Bob...





suit man

Not all the fish got used...


And the super cute seagull in all its glory...


Hopes, dreams, de-scoping

I fretted. Boy, did I fret. Was I going to get booed out the room? Was I going to get it finished? What was finished anyway?

Given the time restraint I decided that I'd implement each feature as basically as possible first, and only then decide if it needed more work. This worked really well. The fish and seagull AI worked nicely in its first iteration, despite the fact that I'd intended it to be way more complex. Bob's animation, as basic as it was, felt fine. The thoughts dropping into the sea felt right, even though I originally wanted artwork floating past in the clouds.

Everything was less than I had intended or imagined, and yet it worked. I expect there's a truism somewhere about the first 10% of effort giving you 90% of what you're after.

Tugging at the heart strings

The emotive aspect of Bob was intended to play out in several steps. I don't know if it achieves it, but this was the plan...

  • Initially confuse and amuse people with the concept of a turn-based drowning game.
  • Have enough turns that game-play mechanics start to emerge. Player might even get a sense of strategy.
  • Introduce generic 'go away' type speech from Bob, should be unexpected, but blandly acceptable.
  • Start displaying the snippets from Bobs life (his life flashing before his eyes...). This is the point I wanted to player to feel uncomfortable about what they are playing, and feel for Bob. Deep down the player should have realised that this isn't going to end well.
  • The infinite end-game. A chance to reflect on what just happened.

Did it work? You tell me.

You people are sick

So it turns out that all my worries were for naught. The game was well received despite the subject matter. Also, I started to feel like I fitted in. Despite the frustrations I had a great time. Better yet - Mission accomplished! Cue self satisfied grin.

Am I happy with Bob?

Yes and no. I'm very pleased with the reception it got, but all the way through development I was unsure and critical of it. Now, a few days later, I'm chuffed with the result (an emotive game), but hope that next time I enjoy the process more by putting less pressure on myself (NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: Every subsequent game jam I have failed to put less pressure on myself).

I'm not going to add, polish or bugfix Bob. Bob will stay as he is, a 48 hour game jam, forever.

And (almost) finally

I'd like to apologise to anyone who finds the subject matter distasteful. It was never my intent to offend, or to trivialise drowning.

Dissecting Bob (Spoliers!)

In case anyone is curious about the mechanics and internals of Bob, I shall detail them here. If you haven't played yet then I'd urge you to play it a bit before reading this. Once you've peeked behind the curtain there's no going back. Action Points

There are five actions available...

  • Move Head
  • Move Left Arm
  • Move Left Leg
  • Move Right Arm
  • Move Right Leg

And these are the rules that govern them...

  • Any of these actions costs you the AP cost on the button AND one of your Max AP.
  • You cannot make a move if you cannot afford the AP cost.
  • Left arm will scare gulls on the left side of the screen.
  • Right arm will scare fish on the left side of the screen.
  • Left leg will scare gulls on the right side of the screen.
  • Right leg will scare fish on the right side of the screen.
  • Moving your head achieves nothing much except give slight tilt to anything he's saying at the time.

Although ultimately futile, there are strategies of play available.

Gull AI

  • Gulls pick a random spot near Bob and move towards it. -- Over time, that random area shrinks in closer and closer to Bob. Unlike the fish, it doesn't ever reset.
  • If at the end of the move the gull is close enough to Bob to sit, it will sit on him. -- You will lose 1 Max AP per gull that is sitting on you at the start of your turn. -- The more gulls, the more you sink into the water.
  • Poor choice of tolerance in my locations and figures accidentally created the psychotic bird effect I was after.

Fish AI

  • Fish pick a random spot near Bob and move towards it. -- Over time, that random area shrinks in closer and closer to Bob (simulating hunger, or seeking behaviour). After nibbling Bob, the area is reset to full size.
  • If at the end of the move the fish is close enough to Bob to nibble him, it will, and then move to a distant random location. --You will lose 1 Max AP per nibble.


Blinking Heck

Bob blinks now and then, but only while your Max AP are above 0.


As Max AP goes down, so does Bob's limb movement. It doesn't affect the scare bounding box, it's just a visual thing.

Thought narrative

When Bob's Max AP get around fifty he starts to hallucinate conversations from his past with the seagulls. The seagulls part of the conversation then slowly drops into the water where it will bob around forever.

There are around 35 thoughts/conversational snippets that start out from when Bob was a boy, through teenager and dating, marriage and fatherhood, and redundancy. These snippets are simply indexed into by your current Max AP. So in any one game you're unlikely to see them all, but after a few plays you might see 90% of them.