Tax Mage Postmortem

This was the 50th Ludum Dare, and my 5th consecutive participation to that jam. Last time I made Warhead Stroll, which was absurdly successful and with its own lessons.

Warning: lots of text!

Finding the game idea

There are two times of the year where the Ludum Dare happens: April, and October. Usually, I perform better in October, because the sunny weather isn't here to distract you. It was pretty cold this April though, so maybe that helped a bit.

As usual, 2-3 days before the theme announcement, I made a list of ideas based on the themes in the final rounds (I should really share those lists one day). In past April editions, I always ended up ditching the written idea and starting from scratch, as opposed to October editions where the game was spot-on on the written idea.

For "Delay the inevitable", which showed up almost every time among the finalists, I already had some ideas about stopping pigs taking flight, in reference to the saying "when pigs fly". You would have to shoot them down at the runway, or spot them in the cabins of commercial aircraft. Upon copying it, I realized that was more like "delay the impossible". So I ditched the idea this time too, but before the start of the jam. Its replacement was: a (group of) magician(s) facing the tax-pocalypse, in which zombies are replaced by tax collectors.


The game takes place in the Swiss Alps, because Switzerland is a tax haven of sorts, and mountains are natural fortresses (fits the "tax-pocalypse survival" idea) with very nice natural landscapes (fits the "kinda easy graphics to make" idea).

The player is a magician, because the supernatural is bureaucracy's enemy (also because there were wacky themes showing up in the slaughter round, like "you must collect tax from all the wizards", that would be cruel not to do anything with them). Its favorite color is purple, because protagonists wearing red or blue is overdone, and I already made a green one for Ace of Rope, a white mage is just God, a black mage is just a grim reaper, and a grey mage is just Gandalf. That would also leave me with orange or yellow. Don't do yellow mages, it hurts the player's eyes.

I chose taxes as the inevitability. Nothing is more certain than death and taxes, but because I already made a game about the former, I chose the latter.

Now for the gameplay. My most intense preoccupation, standing before my Saturday morning sleepy brain, was to choose a game genre. Yes, in all my idea-writing passion, I did not specify a genre for this particular idea.

  • Top-down action game? Already made twice for the Ludum Dare, and although both were top-5 winners, a third one would seem a bit stale.
  • 3D game? Very risky. My only 3D game-making experience is in racing games. Which are okay, but my page already has 2 of them. Other genres just need a lot of experience in camera placement, I'm guessing.
  • Shooter? Sure, the final game actually has shooter elements (as for basically every game I made, now that I'm thinking about it)
  • Card game? Point & click? Tower defense? Oh boy, I've never made more of a prototype of all of these.
  • Platformer? This is my childhood game genre, with over a year of not making one. Why not!

So, platformer it is. A simple, linear one (a la mario), because I can't just make a metroidvania in two days. (…can I?)

How it went

The first thing to do, as a game maker, is to make the main character.

I'm a bit bored of traditional platformer mechanics, and of the need to be on the ground to jump. Wouldn't that be cool if you could jump in the air? If you did a platformer before, you may have heard of coyote time, or jump buffering. Screw those complications! I will jump, no matter what's under my feet.

For my last platformer, Beaver Submarine, you were in, well, a submarine, so this infinite jumping wasn't game breaking (and it was actually very helpful, especially in the tricky situation of an upside-down submarine). But now, vast plains engulf the game area, mountains only in the distance. No ceiling of any kind. What to do?


See, the protagonist is quite old. Say, about 80 years old. You can't jump 3 meters high at 80. Much less jump three times in the air while changing course mid-air. While shooting a 6-kilogram spinning staff, and then cloning / teleporting said staff in your hands after three seconds. Not very realistic.

Fortunately, he's a magician! So let's add the bread and butter of playable mages: mana.

Based on a previous game project, I decided to add mana regeneration only if you are on the floor. That way, you can jump X times, shoot at will on the ground, but shooting in mid-air would be challenging.

Also, because you're evading taxes, your health is money. That game would be able to fit the "your life is currency" game jam from a few years ago. If you're broke, you die. Cue the giant prompt "YOU'RE TAXED". It was originally "GAME OVER", but that was just boring. Besides, the game isn't over! Come back here, player!

Finally, you can increase your maximum money, by finding a lottery ticket. It's never a losing ticket, because, uh… you're a magician I guess? And nobody would search for winning tickets in the middle of the Alps, so the local wild lottery ticket population remains intact. An oddly non-endangered species. Real life would be simpler if pandas were like those lottery tickets (now that's a sentence I wasn't expecting to type). Anyway, yes, the game.

Other collectables include coins (to restore your money), and gems (to break the restriction of mana regeneration on the ground only, allows for more freedom, and interesting movement strategies if you want to preserve your gem mana buffer for later).


Ah, enemies. My greatest enemy! (sorry about that.) I'm not good at programming enemies in games.

So, the Tax Mook (that is their name), is a kind of Goomba, that can detect you if you're slightly above them, and then they jump. Tricky boys! Because that would give us free variation, I added a variable "is_a_jumper" that simply makes some of them jump constantly. Helps give a sense of liveliness and wonder to the game.

Also I put small walls everywhere because otherwise they would just fall off and die.

Next, the camera turret thingy! Let's call it "drone". It's a hovering enemy, shooting lasers at you. Nothing too unusual. Oh, yes, lasers go through walls, I know, that's unfair. Let's say they are infrared lasers, that's why they can do that, makes perfect sense (note: this will be fixed in the post-jam version). As you defeat some of them, you end the first level and go into the second one… Hell Bureau.

Now it's the real challenge! Tax Mooks have 3 hit points instead of one, and sometimes there are two drones on the screen simultaneously. The beginning of that level was extremely hard the first time I designed it, which would be unfortunate for play-testing, so I spaced the drones a bit.

As you stroll though Hell, you meet the Final Boss of the game: the minister of Finances. As I planned only two hours for making this boss, it is a floating head that shoots the same lasers as the drones, and has three attacks defined by his trajectories and shooting patterns. You'll notice Mr. Minister does not repeat an attack twice in a row, as is the case for all of my animation-based bosses since Snail Ragnarök.

Also, there's a second phase where Mr. Minister is angry, his glasses broken, and his projectiles are slightly faster. I really like the shaking effect on the head, it looks like he drank too much coffee.

As you destroy him, you win the game, you read the credits, and you are given the option to restart. I didn't do very elaborate transitions or even a decent ending, because I had two days. The only exception is the intro: not everyone finishes a game, but everyone has to encounter the intro.


This game did pretty good overall (there are 805 compo participants in total), especially for art-oriented categories such as audio and graphics. Innovation was pretty low (probably because of the "boring old platformer" part), and the Theme wasn't brought in the game very explicitly. Does not compare with my LD47 and LD49 results (both in the top five overall), but a pretty good result nonetheless!

The main area of improvement here is finding a creative use of the theme, and innovating a bit more. While my games may be technically mature now, there's always this lack of "hook", what makes a game special and unique.

I plan to release a post-jam version very soon, only fixing the obvious (such as lasers going through walls). With that, I hope you enjoyed reading this postmortem. See you on the next game!

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Apr 03, 2022 Play in browser
Apr 03, 2022

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