Our new game: “Let There Be Life”

Last year Edge Online hosted a contest for games built in the free version of Unity, based upon a theme of their choice. We weren’t using Unity last year, but since we’ve moved to it as our game development engine, we decided to give the contest a shot this year, hoping to earn thousands of dollars worth of software licenses and also some publicity.

The bragging rights wouldn’t hurt, either. :)

So we waited with baited breath for the announcement of this year’s theme on March 4th. It’s impossible not to imagine potential themes and design game ideas in response to them, but we were committed to the principle of following the eventual theme as best we could, and not kid ourselves by squeezing an existing game idea to whatever theme was presented to us.

March 4th finally came, and with it the competition’s theme: “Do no harm”.

Immediately we began brainstorming. Naturally, a medical game was brought up, but quickly was ┬ádiscarded as being too predictable. Naturally, a zombie game was brought up, but….well, anyway.

Then my wife Sasha had the idea of “growing” a tree such that plants on the ground below it “weren’t deprived of light.”

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I thought she was crazy. I said, “Are you crazy? I don’t know how to do any of that!” I’m pretty sure my arms were waving up-and-down as I said this.

<Let’s be clear on something: I’ve only been programming seriously for a couple years now, and had only been using Unity/C# for about four months.>

This concept scared the crap out of me. We discussed several other ideas for awhile, but none of them stood out as anything that interested us. Dammit. Okay, I then submitted to spending a few hours writing out ideas for how we could actually make this game happen.

Right away we settled on a 2D game, because 3D would get too involved. Then I realized I could set up colliders for each branch, then cast rays to test for valid connections. It started to sound doable (for better or worse). But how would I know how much light/shadow is falling on a plant? Hmm, more rays and colliders…uh, oh…looks like I ran out of excuses!

Prototyping began. After one week we could attach a rectangular branch to a rectangular stump of a tree. Ugly, but promising. Weeks two and three introduced being able to attach one branch to another, and to track the amount of shadow falling on a plant on the ground. Wow…it actually worked, and even better – it was kind of fun!

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And a good thing too – we only had until April 15th to finish our entry, and we had used up three of our six weeks of development getting to this point.

The following weeks went by quickly, but I’m proud of what we accomplished. Sasha painted art assets for the game while I improved the branch generation and connection tech. We collaborated well on the designs of the game play and interface. In the end we had a fun, innovative game with a pretty tight presentation package.

We were happy to find that our parents were able to sit down and quickly pick up the game. Not only that, but they were still playing it days later without us even asking them to, which just warmed my heart.

We won’t know for another few weeks how we fared in the contest (which is driving me nuts), but we’ve already begun marching ahead to make the game a standalone, full screen application that we will make available on pretty much every digital download service that will have us. For now, please enjoy some screenshots taken from the competition entry build of our new game:

“Let There Be Life”

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– Jason