Jupiter Lander

Jupiter Lander is my very first game developed for a game jam, created for Ludum Dare 29 competition, who’s theme was “Beneath the Surface.” The competition is a solo one, with the theme being revealed on Friday night, and all submissions due 48 hours later. You can read about the rules here. I was quite proud of the game which was rated 113 for fun and 135 overall out of 1492 entries. I liked it so much I decided to clean up the art some more, put more than 48 hours into it, and put it out on mobile devices. If you want to get the game yourself, here are the stores its currently on.  (And FYI, it works amazingly well on an Nvidia Shield, and supports bluetooth controller input.)

Download on the App Store         Get it on Google Play        Available at Amazon        Get it for OUYA

Here is my description from the Ludum Dare page:

The theme of “Beneath the Surface” immediately made me think of the first episode of the new Cosmos. There is an amazing shot of Jupiter, and the significance of how big its cloud forms are, and we know what the surface of Jupiter looks like, but can only speculate as to what is beneath its surface; I often wonder if we will ever see under the surface of Jupiter’s massive clouds in my lifetime.

This game is a take on the classic “Lunar Lander”, whereas landing on the Moon is a ‘simple’ task of fighting gravity, Jupiter would be a bit more difficult. I wanted to play with the idea that beneath the surface of what we see on Jupiter, the storming clouds would shear in different directions at different speeds, creating significant turbulence and an impossible scenario for trying to get a lander on the surface, especially compared with recent successes on Mars.

My original goal was to put particle clouds and dust flying through the mid sections, and asteroid-like boulders being tossed around in the gale force winds, but those were considered more “wishlist” and had to remain out as I did normal husband/dad duties for the weekend of the competition.

In my head I had imagined making the landing area tumultuous and rocky, with only a single safe spot to land (much like the original Lunar Lander), but figured it was hard enough as it was I wanted people to be able to play it (and included a picture of the victory screen to show that it is possible, albeit difficult). Even in the updated directors cut, the gravity is much stronger near the surface, and the unpredictable winds are random so topping it off with uneven terrain seems unfair. But I also like to justify it (and imagine a sort of back-story) by assuming a space agency such as NASA would pick out a relatively flat and safe location for landing, though weather conditions would be more unknown and need more reaction and decision making during the experience.

I hope everyone can check it out!

All in all I think I spent closer to 12 hours (not 48) developing the entire game between audio creation, art creation, programming, and testing. I did a little bit of work on the Saturday, but also went grocery shopping with the family and spent a lot of time with the kids. Sunday was mostly clear, and I believe I submitted the game fairly early. After submitting I realized I wanted a little more challenge to the game, so I submitted an update with some rocks which whiz by with the depth layers, and some clouds to obscure the view of the ship a bit more and give it more sense of life.

After submitting the game it really need some touchups in other areas. The original design of the ship had no character to it. I had tried to put in boosters which felt like the ones you see on the bottom of the space shuttles, initially my first sketch felt way too much like a UFO, and the ship in the competition now reminds me of a Cylon face. Ultimately, despite my awful pixel modeling abilities, I was able to come up with a design I am proud of. It is reminiscent of the lunar lander modules, with the golden legs, thrusters for all the directions of thrust, bounce light on the body of the object, and even a tiny flag!


The next major element was the ground, which started off as a solid brown square at the bottom of the stage. I am not a particularly good pixel artist, but I diligently focused on creating a flat rock surface (to make a visually distinct landing surface and not have the player wrongly determine their cause for failure.)  I even put a little highlight at the dead center of stage, illustrated to the player without the need of HUD or unnecessary descriptors.


I was concerned that the touch controls wouldn’t work as well as the keyboard, and they don’t, but still behave much better than I could have expected. But because I wanted tight controls in the game I decided to support bluetooth controllers as well, which was so easy to implement in Game Maker. Sadly though I was unable to get tilt controls to work without turning sound effects playing constantly when the device was tilting, but it’s probably OK because while you might think that is the most natural control choice, I found it nearly impossible to play.


The last thing to really get in there was a clean HUD and menu system. Because there are fail states for speed and rotation, I felt the player needed to know when they were in for trouble when landing, so I simply turn the corresponding HUD element red to indicate danger, and it comes across quite nicely. Originally I only changed the color of the HUD when the players was below 20% of landing distance, but upon playtesting found it jarring to suddenly see speed and rotation pop to a red color for seemingly no reason. And for the Hard difficulty I disable the HUD until you land or crash, which I find quite fun.

Well that is Jupiter Lander in a nutshell. It’s a fun little game and I hope you get a chance to play.


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