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Time Fcuk - A Postmortem

by Edmund McMillen on 11/22/09 04:05:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
Hello there fellow game people!, im Edmund McMillen and i make games.
 
I was writing a postmortem for my recent game Time Fcuk, and decided i try my luck  and post it on here in hopes you guys might find it interesting.
 
Those of you who haven't played Time Fcuk please play it first before reading.
 
-------------
 
Time Fcuk Postmortem:

Time Fcuk was a game i took on as a "weekend" project while working on Super Meat Boy and No Quarter. William Good was a fan of the original Meat Boy and had been working on a platformer in flash about a "bat man" who could kinda fly around a tile based world. It was a cool prototype but the thing that really grabbed me was this weird switching layers mechanic he had added to it. I instantly saw potential in that mechanic and asked if this was something he would want to collaborate on.

I started to think more about multi dimensional themes in games, light world, dark world and perspective changes. The idea has been done a million times over but never seems to have any real subtext to the theme or message.. usually simply just a mechanic that's neato. I'd been thinking a lot about perspective recently and how important it is to be able to see things from different sides. You cant learn anything in life if you believe there's always only one solution or one right answer, if you do you will eventually find yourself stuck in a situation and break as a person.

I had recently attended my high school reunion, it was a very strange and depressing event. Lots of drinking, crying and sadness mostly from people who never seemed to progress past that high school mind set, most complaining about how they felt stuck in a situation they weren't happy with. The reunion was actually quite disturbing to me and i drew a lot from it in Time Fcuk (especially the intro animation).

I wanted to write about a man who was at war with himself over his future, one side of him wanted "enlightenment" the other wanted "comfort". and that's is essentially what Time Fcuk is all about. Every bit of text throughout the game has substance and meaning to me, even down to the description.
William and I made Time Fcuk in about 9 weeks, i kept the art very simple because i knew i didn't have much time to work on it, but i also wanted to see if i could make a compelling game without using my artistic skills as a crutch. It was a labor of love, and a very fun project to work on. If i release another flash game before SMB it will be with William :).

there were small things about development that i feel really helped the mood of the game, namely the radio frequency theme. the theme came from buying new speakers for my pc that picked up a local radio station very faintly in the background. For the 1st month of development i believe i was actually hearing voices, and i think that really added to the insanity factor of the theme. I was also able to pull from the radio theme and play around with the idea of tapping into realities that are all happening at once, different existences that are parallel but can be tapped into by changing your frequency or perspective.
 
 

What went right:

1. Mood. Im very happy with how the theme and mood came together. i wanted TF to have a major feeling of panic, claustrophobia, confusion and insanity. i think most people who play through it will leave with at least one or more of these feelings.

The feel of Time Fcuk isnt something that i can easily sum up and going into development i was a bit worried about how id be able to execute something with the weird high and low duality of self destruction and enlightenment. I wanted the game to be very bleak, but also hopeful where one minute you were smiling and the next totally creeped out. in the end i think the games ups and downs mirrored the feeling of a mans inward fight against his own thoughts, a panicked war for his future where the only thing holding him back from what he wants is himself.

2. Tech. William did an amazing job with all the online database stuff. the online level submission was seamless and the editor very user friendly. it was a breeze to make levels with and i think the customization of the editor give the player almost endless ways to be creative with their levels.

3. The End. The game ends with you having 2 options, take a pill you end your life and stay in the box forever or find a way out. The best part about this ending is seeing how people end it, there are the people who "get it" and right away attempt to find a way out of the final level not listening to your future self telling you to take the pill. but then there are the rest who simply do what they are told, take the pill like steven tells them and end the game. I thought this was a cool way to end the game and i think it went over really well.

4. Music. Ive mentioned above why i thought Justin was the perfect fit for TF when it comes to music, but really the music in TF was beyond perfect for the game. Justin did an amazing job at understanding the theme and totally nailing down a musical score that complemented it perfectly. i still get this weird sinking feeling in my stomach when i hear the intro music start.

5. The Unknown. Enter the known was a feature in TF that would allow a full game to be generated using only user made content arranged by difficulty. William also added a feature that would only have levels that had a "fun factor" of 2.5 or better to be chosen. The result was awesome, not only did it give players an endless game, but also made it so levels that might have been buried in the database a chance to get rated and work their way up the ranks.

What went wrong:

1. Reflex levels. My biggest complaint about TF was a few of the levels i designed. The game was a puzzle game, but i still felt compelled to add reflex based levels because i thought they would add more variety, these levels became more of a nuisance in the end and possibly took away from the puzzle/logic elements of the over all game.

2. Alt levels. Half way through development i came up with this amazing idea of having alt levels, so for each level you play there's a chance you will play one of 2-3 levels, giving the game a more dynamic feel. i came up with the idea late one night where i envisioned people playing the game and then trying to look up hints on how to beat a level only to find no one had played the level they are on, in hopes that they would feel "crazy". this of course didn't have the effect i wanted, maybe a few people had a profound OMG THE LEVEL ARE DIFFERENT FO EACH PERSON realization.. but really it was just a lot more work for me that made things 2 times more confusing for us when trying to fix the difficulty curve of level progression.

3. Awarding a medal for submitting a map. This was the dumbest idea ever, within an hour we had a few hundred maps called MEDAL GET! that consisted of a single portal. we cut this feature out asap.

4. Pixels. Looking back i wish i had made Steven out of pixles and not fake vector pixel art. everything else in the game is made out of pixels so he just feels slightly out of place, but i made him before i had a set theme and didn't have the extra time to remake all his animations in the correct pixel style.

5. Flash limitations. This wasn't a huge issue, but we did run into a few areas where flash just couldn't do what we wanted it to, at least not easily. Moving platforms, turning levels and other platforming/puzzle ideas just weren't that possible with the limitations we were working with.

The positive side of this is the fact there are quite a few major mechanics and ideas we came up with that could be used in a sequel. That said, i wouldn't want to make a "sequel" to Time Fcuk, but possibly after SMB its id like to combine it with another idea and kind of revisit it with more of a "full game" theme.

In the end im very proud of Time Fcuk, like Aether its one of very few games that i feel came out exactly how i saw them in my head and actually had some personal substance to them. Time Fcuk was a transitional game that was being written in a time where i was deciding to move on from my current work situation because i realized i felt stuck and should probably take my own advise and leave the box i put myself inside of.
 

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