It’s been a joyful experience to watch people play Jumpsmith. Sometimes, I am quite surprised at which features pull comments out of the player. Small, easy-to-implement details that have little or nothing to do with the mechanics of the game can make a big impression.
When I was creating a platformer engine back around February of 2014, I made a function that renders a little floating message on the screen. The message slowly floats upward, and erases itself after a couple seconds. I think I set it up originally for error messages, or for debugging, I don’t remember. At one point though, I got an idea: “What if I made the game display a random wise-ass comment every time the player dies?”
My friend, William Kinrade, and I used the engine to create a thumb-melting platformer of insane difficulty called “Meet Meat on the Street” for a cyberpunk game jam. Needless to say, anyone who played the game would get to see plenty of death messages. We had a blast coming up with a big list of snarky discouragement. We mined a thesaurus, movie quotes, song lyrics, and even TV episode names to populate our list of death idioms and taunts. Some of my favorites were “Should have had life insurance”, “Always look on the bright side”, “Try a Different Strategy”, and “Again, with feeling”.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but those messages happened to be a favorite feature for everyone who tried the game.
When I rewrote and polished the game engine for my upcoming game, Jumpsmith, I was sure to keep the taunt messages. I’ve given myself very specific guidelines of what is required for a taunt. I decided that it has to be a phrase that has a word that rhymes with or has alliteration with “fail” or “lose”, with the appropriate substitutions. Some of my personal favorites in this incarnation are “Ahab and the White Fail”, “The Moody Lose”, and “Encounter at Failpoint”.
Also, this time around, the taunts are read from a text file. Players who pick up Jumpsmith can make their own lists of taunts. This goes along with the philosophy of the rest of the game: I want people to be able to customize their experience as much as they’d like. It’s super easy to make levels, add custom tilesets, and add custom characters. My goal is to encourage players to be creative, and to give them as many tools as possible to have an amazing gaming experience.
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