String Theory

Last edited: 7 February 2016, 5:01PM


String Theory is a platformer about guiding George the cat to catch Wang the fish. But unfortunately for George, he's a little too chubby to navigate the maps easily, so he uses a teleporting yarn ball to help him get around. Along the way he'll also have to avoid tentacle traps that'll snatch up his ball and teleport him back to the beginning of each level.

For this game jam, we did not use a formal repository and instead used Drive to handle files. As such, I've labeled above our source files as a project folder rather than a repository.


By now, it's been over a year since my last VGDC game jam. The Video Game Development Club had held game jams in the previous spring and winter quarters, but since I wanted to just spend time working on my quarter game teams and I think I was busy or something at the times, I opted out of them. The previous fall quarter had a pseudo game jam where it was mostly used to just jump start year-long projects rather than hastily make something from scratch over a few days.

To be honest, I'd say that the game concept we crafted for this jam was probably one of the favorites I've come across. The design came together easily from a number of suggestions, and all the parts seemed to gel with each other really nicely. The theme of this jam was teleportation. We started off writing down suggestions of possible ideas, which as always kind of sprawls all over the place.

Someone then randomly suggested cats, just cats, and we started thinking along that route somehow. I think it was eventually me who brought up how cats played with yarn balls and then it hit me how easily yarn balls connected with string and then string theory. And that was pretty much the idea we settled with: a platformer with a cat and his teleporting yarn ball.

On this project, I remember I did so much work that I actually overburdened the programmers and designers with assets. For example, just the cat alone had about 12 animations give or take, and understanding the logistics of sprite switching during teleportation wasn't exactly simple. Funnily enough, I even found this rather complicated diagram in our art folder trying to make sense of the cat states.

But on top of the cat and ball animations that I made, I was also pretty demanding in the way I wanted to design the menus and add special tiny effects to the game. I thought the menus would look cool if they had a particular parallax effect. And I think Steven spent maybe half a day or more trying to make dynamically moving butterflies flutter around the screen. Just small things like this added up and cut heavily into everyone's time.

The unfortunate result of this was that while the game does look very pretty and has, I would say, pretty intricate ideas behind its design, we completely lost scope of the most important part of the game: how playable it was. And to say the least, it was a lot less engaging than what we would have liked.

There were the actual bugs that we didn't fix by the end. Sometimes, the yarn ball would disappear after respawning, probably because of a bad state change. There were collision bugs where you could cheat the game by throwing the ball through walls. And we probably could have spent more time play testing and balancing as well.

What I was most sad about, however, was that we were actually unable to put in like maybe half of our designed levels into the final build. I believe the levels currently in the game were made by John, and Ben, the other designer, did not have any of his included, including my personal favorite, a complete 1 by 1 tile replica of the iconic first Mario level.

Honestly, everyone on the team did a really awesome job. Even myself, I'm not usually so engrossed in my own work, but I had so much fun making all the assets to this stupid, fun idea, which is probably why I was able to pump out so much work. I just think the chubby little cat is so cute. We even went to some lengths of implementing a jump animation for him that gives him a stationary hop that actually doesn't move him anywhere.

The programmers deserve a lot of credit for their work. I'm surprised they didn't stop me when I encouraged them to focus on (definitely) the wrong things, but what they did put in required a huge amount of effort, and I'm grateful for that. We only had 2 and half coders, Shane and Steven who had a lot of experience with Unity, and Wes trying to learn as he went. Everyone learned and did a lot in the jam.

The designers were all new to Unity, so props to them for getting used the framework and placing all the tiles by hand for us. Thanks to them for putting up with the tiles I gave them, tiles that I was pretty OCD about. I wanted to make sure that the corner pieces all had rounded edges so they appeared different from middle tiles, but to be honest, I don't even notice these small changes in the final build, so not sure if worth the effort in the end. And on top of that, these guys also had to place all the fancy hills and bushes and flowers and clouds and butterflies and tentacles to make everything look nice.

Games with tentacles are good games (✿ ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

James works on the sound. I'm pretty sure he never did it before, and I'm not a great music producer guy so I don't want to really say much here. For a first time music maker though, it's impressive to see him produce a full music track for us. I recently had the dreaded opportunity of helping make music for a game jam, and let's just say I kind of gave up and did a poor mix of some ambient sounds and music instead.

And I think the only other member I didn't mention was Eric, who was kind of stuck in an awkward place. He signed up as a producer, which is not something you can really learn how to do in a game jam. It was mostly the experienced guys Shane, Steven, and I leading the project and discussions since we've done this kind of thing before. So Eric kind of unfortunately just sat around doing nothing much. I guess he gave us rides which is cool, but I'm not really sure what he worked on, if anything at all.

I believe we placed maybe second or third in the game jam overall. I can totally understand why we didn't win, and honestly I'm a little surprised we even placed at all seeing how poor our scope management was. Unfortunately, because almost everyone on the team had either outside work or other year long project commitments, while we really liked String Theory, there was probably no feasible way to continue working on this project at least together.

A pretty big shame. We were actually approached by someone completely unrelated to the project who wanted to work on the game with us, and while I was kind of surprised and was kind of interested at the opportunity, ultimately the team decided to discontinue development due to our other commitments. Welp, I don't regret it too much, because I was busy working on my pretty big year long project, SLicense to Dye.

Oh yeah, now that I think about it, I never explained the George and Wang. Well, there's this special, kind of eccentric guy in the club named George Wang, and he just has an interesting personality. It's kind of an inside joke to somehow relate the game with him. I think this came partially from the fact that he made I think two games in two game jams based on himself, working alone if I might add.