It’s been a long time since we talked about Pullfrog. The main reason being that we paused the development to work on another game called Don Salmon, you can read more about it on the previous devlog.
But now we are back working on Pullfrog, with our main goal of finishing it, we haven’t yet, but we are close! It’s at the stage where we are comfortable with what the game is and what it isn’t.
So buckle up because this is going to be a long one.
When we started working on Pullfrog for Playdate, the plan was to work on it for a month, three months tops. The plan was to port the PICO-8 version and improve some things on the way. It took us a year to have the basic version of the game we wanted to do. By the end we were a little tired, so when we heard Panic! was looking for games to publish, we saw it as an opportunity to spend some time on a proper pitch and take a break from developing the game.
While we waited to hear from Panic! we started working on Don Salmon. We wanted to apply everything we had learned making Pullfrog, on a game where the limitations were different. We wanted to experiment with new platforming mechanics, like wall-jumping, air jumping, dashing etc.
One day we got a tweet from @Guv_Bubbs and @TYMplaydateshow asking us on the status of the project. At that point we were deep on the development of Don Salmon, and we hadn’t heard anything from Panic! So we replied that the project was on indefinite hiatus while we finished Don Salmon. Panic! saw this and emailed us asking us if we were still interested in publishing the game but cutting the scope of it.
Who would have thought that lowering the scope saved the game.
Before Panic! approached us, we looked at the amount of work we had yet to finish, and it was frankly a lot! In trying to make a different enough game from the PICO-8 version, we put a lot of pressure on changes. So when Panic! contacted us after not working on the game for a year and asked us if we were interested in reducing the scope and finishing the game, we got excited, Ideas started coming through.
The first thing was to stop trying to make a different game. We scrapped all the ideas to make it more like a dungeon crawler with enemies and a final boss and focused on closing the loop of the game, to make it play more like the PICO-8 version which we knew worked, but with the learnings from the past year applied towards making it better.
Make everything bigger
One of the first things Jp did was to completely re-do all the game assets to make all the sprites larger. After playing other Playdate games, we came to the conclusion that the game would read better by changing the size of the character and the pieces, though at the slight cost of losing some vertical space for the game screen.
The second part was removing the shop logic of the game. The initial plan was to have a shop like the one in Downwell, and allow you to step out of the game and use the eyes as currency to get new power ups.
As you can see, we had everything working already, but we decided it was something that the game didn’t need and added a lot of complexity to the project. The way we did it in the PICO-8 version was that every time you cleared 3 lines, the shop would pop-up in a little window and pause the gameplay while you browsed, and you could choose an item for free. So we decided to go with this as well.
The thought of deleting all that code and focusing on the important parts of the game felt good. After that it took us about two weeks to get back up to speed, but once we did, we where closing tickets left to right.
One consequence of changing the shop was that we had all these systems based on getting eyes, but now they didn’t hold any value anymore.
In the PICO-8 version you could also collect eyes, by choosing five of them on the shop instead of a useful upgrade, a secret door would appear. Something we like from the new version, is that to collect an eye, it needs to be inside of a cleared line. If you use your tongue to destroy a block piece that contains an eye piece, you loose the eye. This makes the game a little more like a puzzle and forces you to think more about which pieces you destroy.
Now that you don’t collect the eyes in the shop, we had more space left for power-ups.
One thing we discovered while working on this new version is that having an extra life can be nice, but too many and the game is less fun. Getting squished by a piece but being able to get a second chance and go back to the game felt great.
So we came up with the power up of a 1UP, there will only be one each run, so it is precious but gives you that second chance.
So yeah! We are almost done, we are excited to see what people think of the game, and happy with the progress we have made in the last couple of months. As of writing this we’ve finished the first beta build, there are still a couple of months left of work, but we are getting close!