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December 12, 2018, 11:51:08 AM

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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogs♥ Reunited ♥ - RELEASED
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rarelikeaunicorn
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« on: December 26, 2017, 07:05:46 PM »


What?
Reunited is a grid-based puzzle game where the player controls both halves of a broken heart, trying to put themselves back together over and over again. Alternate control of Lefty and Righty after each step to reunite the two and complete the level. The full version will include approximately 45 levels spanning 5 worlds, each with a distinct theme and introducing new mechanics to keep the gameplay fresh and diverse.

Why?
I've had different versions of this idea rolling around in my head for quite a while and this feels like a project that's within my capacity to complete. I made a very simple microgame version of Reunited in Bitsy to test out that software and have wanted to move forward into a more fleshed-out iteration ever since.

How?
I'm doing this one by myself and in Pico-8. I was previously working on STRGZR, which also ended up in Pico-8, but have set that aside to get the ball rolling on this project. STRGZR was fun, and I learned a few good programming fundamentals on it, but it wasn't the most exciting prospect for me to keep going on.

When?
The final version will be out in 2018 but I don't have any strict deadlines for it above and beyond that. The possibility of a demo is there (and would be easy enough to pull off at this point) but I'd like to make sure it includes well-designed puzzles and not just my first drafts.


The icon at the top shows which half is currently ready to move.
Getting Lefty and Right in proximity isn't enough to complete a level: they have to be facing each other directly to count as a solution.

I began coding Reunited a little less than a week ago. It's now at the point where states function properly, levels change correctly on completion, collision for characters/walls/pushblocks are all good, and players can skip a level (for testing/debug only) or reset a level if they mess up the solution. In doing the project by myself I have a bunch of different tasks to handle but I'm learning this is an aspect of the process I really like. If I get bored/tired/frustrated with coding I can switch to level/puzzle design or art or audio and they all help me continue making progress (at this point, at least).

Currently my primary focus is in creating and testing new levels. I want the the first world to introduce the main mechanic of alternating movement between the two halves as well as simple block-pushing, with ensuing worlds each introducing 1-2 more mechanics while increasing the complexity and difficulty. Currently I have about 20 unique levels using the core mechanics of the first world which I'm iterating on and will parse down to about half that total after consulting with playtesters on difficulty/fun/intuitiveness. For the next four worlds I have a list of about a dozen different design space directions to try out but again, I only expect about half of them to make it into the final game. This could definitely increase/decrease based on feedback about overall difficulty curve and variety.

I really appreciate what games like Opus Magnum and Human Resource Machine have done in encouraging a player to solve a problem but also showcasing how efficient their solution was with data. This feels to me like it gives some scalability to the difficulty of many of their puzzles, allowing the player to reach a solution more easily than they may otherwise through a less elegant/more brute force-y path if they become stuck. In the vein of this and traditional sokobans I plan on doing a step counter on per-level, per-world, and total game completion to encourage replayability and competition among anyone that gives it a shot!

When I need breaks from level design and testing I'll move forward on polishing the game visually. Retro arcade aesthetics will be a big inspiration. New gameplay mechanics will pop up here as I start testing them in-game and I'll be using this as a space to follow now just the progress of Reunited but also talk about my design process for various aspects of the game.


« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 08:43:49 AM by rarelikeaunicorn » Logged

rarelikeaunicorn
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« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2017, 02:20:15 PM »

In the first post I introduced the basic concept of the game, including the alternating movement and the traditional pushblock mechanic. This will encompass the entirety of the first world of the game, made up of 9 levels. I audited my first batch puzzles and discarded most of them while tweaking/refining the rest to make World 1 feel like a good introduction to the gameplay that shouldn't really prevent any players from proceeding farther. In the second world I will increase the complexity of the pushblock levels slightly and then introduce the next element: loveblocks (WIP name that won't appear in-game anyway), which are linked to one another and move in unison.


If any of the blocks are unable to move due to a wall/a pushblock/a character in the destination tile then none of them can move. The puzzle design space for this gets opened up really well by the dual-character system, letting you approach a problematic cluster from either side and shuffle around blocks that might otherwise be stuck in a corner or just inaccessible. All loveblocks on the same level will be linked together so later variants will have 3/4/more blocks that must all be navigated simultaneously. It'll be really interesting to see how players respond to levels combining loveblocks with regular pushblocks.

Once I get about a dozen puzzles designed with loveblocks incorporated I'll start getting playtesters involved and start getting feedback. The biggest difficulty I feel myself running into at this point is my initial target of 45 levels may end up not being enough for the variety of mechanics I'm considering, so I may end up cutting down the mechanical scope or figuring out some workaround to fit more levels into the Pico-8 map system.

Yesterday I also took some time to make a little logo screen for myself to pop up before the main title. I'm pretty darn happy with this and I'll likely use it for foreseeable future on my projects.


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« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2017, 06:30:20 PM »

I love the concept of a broken heart trying to put itself back together! Graphics look clean and tight!
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rarelikeaunicorn
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2018, 12:58:52 AM »

I love the concept of a broken heart trying to put itself back together! Graphics look clean and tight!

Thank you! It's kind of silly conceptually but also hits a balance between cute and sad that I really like.

Today's updates: I took the weekend mostly off and went to the beach for New Year's celebrations. I couldn't help doing a bit of design work as time went by on graph paper but I deliberately left my laptop at home to avoid the temptation of grinding stuff out all night.

Coming back today feels great! Right before I left I'd started some graphical updates which I continued on, in particular adding a bit of an edge/lining between the border and the playfield (as well as adding a similar section for the level name area). When I got home I shipped out the first real playtest alpha to my core group of gamedev folks, asking mostly for feedback on intuitiveness/overall difficulty/difficulty curve/any particular thoughts they had on any specific levels. I also included a timer and step counter so I could see how quickly the gameplay went for them; all three have experience speedrunning games (as do I) but I asked them to play at their regular, casual-play pace and not try to race through. Playtimes were between 4-10 minutes for roughly 1/3rd of the final game's size (and without including time for level transitions, cutscenes, and other such stuff I'll try to squeeze in). Given that the levels should continue increasing in complexity I'm hoping that the latter 2/3rds of the game can take a bit longer, pushing gameplay sessions into the 30-45 minute range for first playthroughs.

Feedback was overall positive Smiley Players seemed to enjoy the core idea of the gameplay and appreciated the increase in complexity on the curve I had offered. The loveblocks and their codependent movement restrictions got across to players very cleanly in their introduction level and the mixture of loveblocks and pushblocks on the same level seemingly created some interesting tension. The two most consistent critical comments were that (1) the game was a slight bit on the easy side and (2) it could become hard to tell which half was supposed to move next. While the icon at the top shows you whether it's Lefty or Righty's turn, it was sometimes difficult for players to know which one was which on the actual playfield given the identical-but-mirrored nature of the sprites. This can get compounded because I've also reversed the sides of the screen they start on in some levels, with Lefty being on the right and Righty being on the left. The first comment will be addressed pretty naturally; this playtest was about teaching the initial mechanics and seeing how grokkable they felt to others. Future builds will be cutting a couple more levels out of what I sent out today that are a bit redundant and/or don't offer anything interesting enough to justify their inclusion. For the second comment I decide to add some more visual distinction between the two halves, focusing on distinguishing the active half from the inactive half:


WIP but helps distinguish who you're moving next from who is waiting.

Over the course of continued testing I'll keep an eye on whether the relative starting positions for the two halves being reversed to unintuitive positions contributes too much confusion for players. The goal is for this to be used in level design occasionally but it's not worth keeping it in the game if it leads to more frustration than satisfaction. Through the rest of the game I want there to be some dualities in this regard: intuitive vs unintuitive, symmetry vs asymmetry, harmony vs discord. These won't be mechanics per se but elements of mood and design that I hope bleed into the players' psyche without them consciously thinking about it. I put some additional visual tweaks in here as well: the basic sprite for Lefty and Righty has been changed a bit, the heart at the top of the screen was updated, and I added a new game logo to the otherwise-placeholder title screen.

Next on the list is auditing current levels, going from 20ish to exactly 18 for the first two worlds to be "complete". I'm slowly improving my pixel art as well and trying to create environments for each world that are distinctive from one another; more on that next time. Then I can step into the third world and its mechanics.

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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2018, 08:22:27 AM »

I really like the reunited screen! It's so bittersweet with the crack down the middle.

Does the timer need that many numbers (decimals?)?

Keep it up!  Hand Any Key
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rarelikeaunicorn
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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2018, 12:06:10 AM »

I really like the reunited screen! It's so bittersweet with the crack down the middle.

Does the timer need that many numbers (decimals?)?

Keep it up!  Hand Any Key

Thanks! The title is mostly placeholder but I'm really happy with the heart, at least. The current timer is purely for testing purposes and I'll be doing a refined timer for actual release Smiley

Explicit progress this week has been a little slower as I've audited down levels more, trying to remove the ones that felt redundant/like "filler" to make more space for introducing interesting mechanics or applications. I went from 20 levels down as low as 16, including deletions and revisions. In continuing the progress I'm realizing that a full-blown version might be beyond the capacity of Pico-8 in regards to the total number of levels and mechanics in the long term, so I'm re-evaluating how many elements I want to introduce in the P8 version's 45 levels. The pushblocks and loveblocks are core components and will not be removed in any way but my list of extended mechanics may have to wait for another iteration. I'll be introducing at least one more mechanic at the minimum in this version but after that it's less certain.

As I mentioned last time, players didn't always feel great about the two heart halves starting on the "reversed" sides. It looks like the visual changes I've made to the active and passive sprites have mitigated the majority of that complaint, which is great! I can mix up the design space more and still make the game visually intuitive enough with the highlight/lowlight system.

Understanding my scope is helping me to focus more on amping up the complexity of my levels with the primary mechanics. I've begun to explore denser level design, such as Ventricle:


This level has received really positive feedback from playtesters as the first one which forces them to hesitate in their process of reaching a solution. My first collection of levels feel like puzzles but many of them are semi-linear in approach so a second set of revisions may be in order, even if just to add a few extra tiles here and there to imply extra options for the player without actually changing solution paths. This has been my first real puzzle game and I'm enjoying the process of learning how to balance necessary complexity with implied complexity. I've found some good inspiration for understanding how to look at level design in puzzle games but it still feels like a field which lacks more direct instruction in approach.

Beyond level design, I'm finally approaching the point of needing to add the audio into the game for music and sfx. I've been excited about this part for a while but also avoiding it, trying my best to focus my energy on the puzzles themselves and the actual ludic experience. I also threw a few more small details into the title screen for shits and giggles:


I'm sort of in love with the slow desync and resync of the title over time but I'd love to hear opinions on whether this is actually appealing to look at or not.

With less than half the puzzles "completed" I shouldn't be focusing too far forward on polish but I see the allure of taking what I already have done and wrapping it in the prettiest bow I can muster. There are so many details still missing; mini-cutscenes, tweening for character and block movement, audiovisual sync, as well as what little narrative I intend to include. Nevertheless I keep thinking about a lot of different elements as I work forward.

Additionally, if anybody is interested in playtesting what I have so far feel free to reply here or DM me! I'm tracking the time and step count totals of players across each playtest to try and see how quickly/slowly different sections are solved and would totally appreciate more feedback.

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« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2018, 01:52:10 PM »

We're back! I took a little time off for the start of my university term and to play around with some spritework for another project which I really got excited about. Now I'm focused on Reunited and feeling stoked about it again.

This week I implemented a new mechanic: Arrhythmia! The concept behind this is that it's mimicking the idea of an irregular heartbeat. When you touch the Arrhythmia pickup with either half it gets to go again without alternating to the opposite half.


The sprites for the pickups will likely change to better reflect the idea of an irregular heartbeat.


Arrhythmia makes some levels look more complex than they actually are. Players will need to be more mindful as they plan their routes through these puzzles. I started testing out screen shake here in minimal doses, moving the screen just 1 pixel on 1 axis for each movement. Does it feel too extreme?

This is another fun way I get to expand the design space. It's now possible to make entire levels where you only move one half while the other is locked behind a wall, as well as making step management even more important in levels featuring the pickup. Once I add an audio cue and maybe a slight visual effect on the player when they grab the pickup I think it will be intuitive enough for players to understand apply pretty quickly.

Another aspect of why I'm really happy with this is because I'm not really a good programmer. I've had several ideas for design space that are honestly just beyond my skillsets at this point so I've been trying to improve as a coder while also figuring out what I can do with what I already know. This is helpful in that it's making me really be conscious about the scope of the project while it's a 1-person team and the potential value of bringing in a teammate later as lead programmer for a larger, full-fledged version.

That being said, I do want to get the Pico-8 version of Reunited to a 1.0 state and shipped in the near future. As such, I've chosen what feels like the most appropriate release date: Valentine's Day! I'm aiming for a 45 level release on Weds, Feb 14th that will include all of the mechanics seen here (and possibly one more~) and a level of polish that I can feel proud of. If you would like to playtest before then shoot me a DM on here/twitter or reply to the thread and let me know, I'd definitely appreciate opinions on the puzzle designs as I try to refine them more.

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« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2018, 10:12:54 AM »

Following!
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rarelikeaunicorn
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« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2018, 04:32:30 PM »

Following!

Thanks!  Smiley

Work continues slowly but surely. I've taken a break from focusing on puzzle designs to work on a few visual elements. Screen transitions have been implemented, character sprites have been updated to a blockier look that fits the overall aesthetic more (although they look less... hearty, sadly), slight tweaks to the sprites for moving in different directions are included now, and I've started poking around with ambient architectural elements to break up some of the empty space around the playfield of the levels.




This one gif shows off all of that thankfully, so yay for efficiency. The game is still in a pretty unpolished state and I need to fix some things related to the transitions which are a little buggy right now, but it's really coming along. Before playing with the transitions as they're done here, with fillpattern stuff, I tried to follow a tutorial about doing them via smooth camera movement. I... uh, think I did something incorrect:



Perfect, ship it~


Puzzle design has still been on my mind and I've been trying to write about the design space for each world to help me structure my design process more efficiently. The third world and its arrhythmia pickups continue to be difficult to make interesting designs for: I like that it breaks the basic movement rule you practice over the first two worlds but it's also tricky to make this important to puzzle solutions, instead of just optional/optimal, without making the puzzles overly linear. I'm still confident that this will make a fun ending for the 1.0 release but I don't know if the design space will hold up for an extended version of the game in the future (unless it ends up synthesizing with some of the other mechanics I have in mind for a 2.0 better than I currently expect.)

I'm moving this coming week so my dev time will be a bit limited but once it's done I'll have a solid 2 weeks to focus before releasing!

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« Reply #9 on: January 22, 2018, 10:56:58 AM »

This is looking really nice. The art style and premise are awesome, though I do think that the latest version of the heart halves is maybe a bit too far in terms of blockiness. You could probably keep a little more diagonal going on in the bottom left/right.
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rarelikeaunicorn
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« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2018, 08:51:48 PM »

This is looking really nice. The art style and premise are awesome, though I do think that the latest version of the heart halves is maybe a bit too far in terms of blockiness. You could probably keep a little more diagonal going on in the bottom left/right.

Thank ya! I appreciate the feedback and will likely iterate the halves one or two more times.

This past weekend was interesting. The Arrhythmia levels still feel a bit odd to me but I'm making some progress on designing them so that the mechanic is more necessary or relevant to the solutions than the early iterations where it was almost entirely optional.

I took some time to play around with Puzzlescript which is an awesome tool by Increpare that I highly recommend for anyone who hasn't tried it out yet. My initial thought was to demake the core structure of Reunited into PS and experiment there but I ended up going in a different direction after a syntax mistake and Monday night I published a small puzzler called Paint the Town Red. It's pretty simple but I'm happy with the result given the timeframe in which I got it done. This was a bit of a diversion from Reunited but it also helped me think about puzzle design from some different perspectives and time away from my main project is helping me alleviate some "puzzle blindness" which I feel like I've been experiencing.
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« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2018, 02:52:46 PM »

Updates!

1. The release of Reunited is getting pushed back to March. The beginning of the month saw me moving out of the place I'd been in for years and was immediately followed by catching the flu, before I could even finish unpacking. Reunited isn't going to be the biggest project in the world by any stretch but it's still the biggest game I'll have released and I really want to spend time on polishing some things before that point. With the way it's all worked out I could release a pretty mediocre version on 2/14 or I could give myself time to make something I'll be a little more proud of.

2. The Arrhythmia mechanic is being scrapped. It took a while but I finally reached the "kill your darlings" point with this idea. Given the other mechanics and design space explored in this version of the game, the Arrhythmia aspect just doesn't carry its weight or contribute in a meaningful way to puzzle designs. Once I decided to postpone the release because of life-stuff I felt like that gave me the time needed to replace Arrhythmia with a different mechanic. I'm testing this new option now and, if it works out well, it will be the focus of the next update post.
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« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2018, 03:39:18 PM »

New element added to the game: Jealousy!


Introduced in the third and final world of this version, you must clear all the little ugly bits of jealousy from the map before you can put your heart back together and progress. Clearing them just necessitates walking over them, which I think will grok well to the player. This immediately feels like a better fit than the scrapped mechanic as it naturally places restrictions/requirements on the player instead of just offering them more choices. Messing with Jealousy has increased the variety/styles of levels I've worked on. Here's a new level which I'm really, really happy with so far:


I'm going to ship out some playtest builds later this week to see how people feel about where the game is at; if you're interested please DM me here or on Twitter, as I'd love some more feedback Smiley One of the additional goals I have for this feature is to distort/discolor the UI hearts at the top of the screen as long as any amount of Jealousy is still on screen.

I've also been working on the tilesets and backgrounds a bit, as exampled in these gifs. I like the direction that the third world has gone in particular, but I also really need to go back and fix up my code. I'm using pget() color detection stuff for collision because I was having issues with Pico-8's flag system but it also means I have to mess with code or restrict my color options everytime I change the visuals of certain tiles.

Still no new specific release date but I'm feeling okay about that for now. With the added time I'm giving myself I'd like to start showing what I've got so far in more places than just here and Twitter. Have y'all had much suggest with interactions on any of the relevant subreddits or other means? Are things like IndieExpo and IndieDB particularly useful?
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« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2018, 12:00:20 AM »

Continuing to iterate on level aesthetics. Going for a sleeker, simpler look for the first world:


The pushblocks have been visually adjusted here as well to be more in line with the same perspective as the platforms. This version is smaller too, taking up only 7*7 pixels in a tile instead of 8*8, but I haven't decided whether this change will stay or not. I'm experimenting with the loveblock visuals in the same manner but the colors don't feel quite as right:


This also shows the color swap of a few tiles and their movement from the first world to the second world.

This progress feels nice but now the quality of the character sprites themselves look even worse in comparison, so that's moved up the priority list. Sprucing up the border area is another task on the list. Level design progress continues as I've added a few new puzzles while also complexifying some older ones. Making headway!
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« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2018, 03:27:37 PM »

Playtesters wanted! Feel free to DM me here or on Twitter, @travisakarare

It's been a busy week on Reunited! I've removed the worlds-as-chapters structure in favor of one long world. The worlds with blue and black backgrounds (and their accompanying tilesets) have been axed in favor of the the purple background world with the floating block tiles. I liked what I'd made for the other two areas, especially the sci-fi-ish vibe of the third world, but making this change just does so much for the overall game. It's more stylistically consistent/coherent,  opens up a good number of sprites indices that were locked up in tile variants, makes the border look better (particularly compared to world 2 where it was the same color as the water), and allows me to focus more time on polishing a primary set of tiles instead of doing an okay job at three sets. The more minimalist aesthetic of these floating blocks also makes the playfield more open, allowing for larger level designs when I do final audits of all the puzzles and just making the area feel less cluttered.



There will be at least a half dozen more unique tiles to make ambient elements more diverse.


  • Tweaked the sprites for Lefty and Righty by giving them darker outlines, which helps them stand out more on the screen.
  • "Squishy" movement animations for L&R, plus dust particles (which are cute af~~).
  • Active ambient elements, including clouds and birbs.
  • New static ambient elements, like tiny bits of rebar/wire hanging beneath blocks as well as older/broken blocks.
  • The first draft of the UI element with Jealousy is now implemented, showing the heart through a veil of bubbly/firey pixels until you've cleared them all from that level.


  • There are now 40 complete levels out of 45 in the game. They all feel good enough to be in the final version but I'll almost certainly edit through some of them again once I have the last 5 puzzles completed. Reworking the order to ramp the difficulty as cleanly as possible is also going to be a need.
  • Fixed a couple of visual bugs that were bothering me in regards to the transitions for the title screen and intro/story screen.


This needs at least one more workthrough but feels so much better!

It's gotten to the point where the end is in sight even though there's a ton of stuff left to do. I'm sorta grateful I had to push back the Valentine's Day release because I'm getting to add more and more that wouldn't have been feasible in the old timeframe. Playtest builds didn't get sent out last week as planned so that's bumping up to a high priority now, as I really will need feedback about enjoyment and difficulty for pretty much all of the puzzles. Let me know what you think of the changes/new elements and feel free to reach out if you'd like to playtest!
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« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2018, 04:57:19 PM »

Howdy y'all!

Playtesting is in progress now. I've got a handful of folk on a dedicated discord server giving the game a once-over and offering a good amount of critiques. It seems like I've got a little more editing to do than I'd hoped, which isn't really a surprise, but people are into the general gameplay and just want to see it be a little more refined. The bug count hasn't been too egregious which is a nice surprise!

One of the playtesters is Caaz, who I connected with over at the Pico-8 discord server, and they ended up writing a nice little beta-review on their Pico-8 and gamedev focused blog! Give it a look! There's some very fair critiques in here and a recurring theme between testers is that they enjoy the mechanics but feel like the game lingers too long on each one before jumping forward into the next section of design. I can appreciate this; a factor would be how the previous structure of 15 levels to each mechanic was tied into having one mechanic introduced per world/chapter. Now that I've done away with that chapter-y structure I can feel more comfortable getting freeform with the frequency and density of mechanics implemented. I don't want to overburden the player just for the sake of doing it but I may try to add 1-2 more mechanics in for the next playtest.

More playtesters would certainly be welcome, and I'm excited to get a second beta build ready over the course of the next week or so.

At some point in the near future I want to put together a post discussing/dissecting some other puzzle games which cover similar mechanical territories to what I've been tinkering with here in Reunited. It'll be a fun way for me to better understand the pros and cons of different implementations while also helping folks check out a couple of neat projects they may not have experienced before. Stay tuned!
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« Reply #16 on: May 10, 2018, 06:22:12 AM »

Hello again folks! I put the devlog on pause to focus more on the game itself but decided to come back and check in now that the game is in a finished state.

You can go give it a try on Itch right now!


Following the last playtest session I decided to maintain the scope of the project as it was instead of increasing the number of mechanics any farther, using the rest of the time to focus on puzzle refinement and polish/QoL. Last month I was fortunate enough to showcase at an event with the local community in the Portland Indie Game Squad and got a ton of good feedback, plus a nice kick in the pants to get this thing finished.

With this version of the game complete I'm going to consider the project done. I'd love to do a larger, full-feature version but it might be beyond my capacity as a solo developer at the moment unless the stars align to allow me to build a bigger team.

Thank you to those who have checked out the project! I hope you enjoy ♥

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« Reply #17 on: May 31, 2018, 08:25:11 PM »

I installed PICO-8 on my new laptop tonight and was 'sploring... and guess what I stumbled onto! I'd been meaning to play this anyway so it was nice to see it pop up.

Due to the nature of the controls, I feel like speed running this would be super mind bending and awesome (you can get a feel for what I mean in the first level where it's very easy to quickly alternate directions and win fast) but as it stands I'm stuck on level 6 going at a thoughtful pace. Tongue Favorited so hopefully I'll find time to come back to it.
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