Chemistry Time – TriJam #184

This weekend I took part in my second TriJam, TriJam 184. The theme for this one was “The Fifth Element”. I immediately felt I wanted to do a game based on the periodic table. I settled on an idea about a time traveller who accidentally erases the final form of the periodic table. They have several years to recreate Mendeleev’s work and save the timeline.

As a quick reminder, TriJam is the three hour game jam. Over a period of about 3 days you can plan a game based on the theme before attempting to actually create the game in just 3 hours. Creation time only includes programming and art/sound creation, building and submitting the project don’t count.

The game is quite simple, you are presented with a table and a nearly finished page with the periodic table on it. Some elements are in the wrong place or missing and can be found by looking around the table. Pages of notes are scattered across the table, covering parts of the periodic table. The player must move them in order to find all the errors.

This weekend I didn’t manage to plan the game in as much detail as I would have liked and this caused some issues when I went to actually attempt the 3 hour challenge. I spent a lot of time trying to find problems and fix them and ultimately I JUST missed the 3 hour target. Having missed the deadline I decided to keep going, adding a little more polish such as sound effects, music and generally finishing some of the features I had intended. The only thing that didn’t get implemented was the original end goal. My original plan was to have the player only win if Boron (the fifth element) was the last to be placed. This would have taken quite a while to work out how to implement and I think it would have just been confusing to play. Given the challenges in getting the elements to move on the board and the HUGE time it took to create them all, I just didn’t feel I had time or that it was worth doing.

The original idea called for 7-8 items to be made: The game, the table, the element(s), the areas that show where elements go (part of the table), snippets, pages and the UI. The table ended up taking a LOT longer to create than I expected as I had to manually create each area with the correct row/column and elemental abbreviation. It could have taken even longer if I had put the full name and elemental number on each element which I had anticipated but I omitted those for speed. My original idea had been to create the table using JSON or XML but I thought that doing this programmatically may have resulted in more bug hunting. I may attempt this in the future and see if I could have saved myself significant time.

Control nodes in Godot are both a blessing and a curse. One of the issues I came across was that the Area2Ds I used to make the moveable elements wouldn’t register the mouse and this took many precious minutes to work out. The first reason was that the UI, made of Control nodes by default stops the mouse. By default the UI will also cover the entire screen, blocking the mouse inputs for any item behind the UI. Once I solved this I found the element areas were still a little glitchy. It took me a few more minutes to work out this was because I had used Label Control nodes to create the dynamic information on each element. When I rearranged them into a container node to get a better layout flow, this started stealing the mouse input events again and I once again had to set the container to ignore the mouse. This is an issue that always crops up but it almost always catches me out.

I am a little sad that I didn’t make the deadline, however it just proves to me that the micromanaged planning stage is truly key. I am quite pleased with the game, it’s functional, a little educational and entertaining enough for a few minutes, if a little glitchy. It may be interesting to see if I could make it part of a larger time travelling puzzle game but for now I think it stands on its own as a short single mechanic game.

I wouldn’t mind fixing some of the glitches. The way pages, snippets and elements are moved will result in them snapping together sometimes. This can mean players accidentally move elements that they didn’t know were there and can be a little frustrating. I would also like to update the font used, it’s not the most clear and some elements such as Br and Ba look a little too similar but I’ll wait until after the ratings period to see if it’s worth doing.

Overall, it was a fun experience, if a little frustrating and stressful and I like the concept of the game. Feel free to try it.

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