Gaming Your Way

May contain nuts.

Outpost:Swarm postmortem

It may seem a little strange doing a postmortem for Swarm without yet doing the Haven one, but it's up on Kong now so it felt right to give it a pimp shot in the arm, plus it should be a lot shorter for me to write as I'm just going to cover the specifics in this game rather than the whole thing.

What went right:

1) The huge advantage we had over Haven was the insane amount of feedback we had banked when making this one. Filtering out the noise with feedback is always tricky, but with so much and so many detailed ideas it was a lot easier. Because of that Swarm is a lot tighter in many respects than Haven. The movement is better, the indicator showing the direction of damage, just so many little almost unnoticeable things got tweaked that even though we finished this only a couple of months after Haven, it makes a lot of things in the first game feel dated to me.

2) The AI co-op is the most obvious stand out feature. I'm not sure how this came about, I mean it's an obvious thing to do, but I remember Lux and I talking at the start of the project and agreeing that we had to make the game stand up on it's on, it wasn't meant to be Haven lite, but a good game in of itself.
From memory I just spent a day seeing how it would play out, if it worked and worked as well as we would have liked then sweet, if not then we'd just drop it and write that day off. More by luck than judgement it did play so much better that it set the mood for the rest of the game. I'd say having Jameson as your wing man in this game makes it what it is as much as the aliens.
One last thing to tie a bow on this one, having the different colour schemes for the main sprites made a huge difference, something we really should have done in Haven. 

3) The new tilesets / locations worked so well. We managed to re-use a fair few assets without hopefully feeling like we'd just lifted them wholesale ( I think we only added one new visual effect though, the smoke flares on the planet side levels. In our defence, we did make a lot of one shot visuals effects for Haven ).
From that basis Lux really came up with some beautiful stuff, the sewer level is great ( Unfortunately a bit of a CPU hog ) and the planet side levels used the terrain splatting which we developed for Knight's Quest at last. The out doors levels are just stunning, we're going back to visit that planet again in O2.

4) The game flow, from pressing Play to actually playing the first level, was tweaked a lot thanks to feedback from Miniclip. Normally amends just 'cause a groan in all coders ( And these did too to be honest ) but they removed a lot of clicks and helped you get into the game much quicker. Amends which actually improve a game ? Anyone who does just adver-games will think that impossible. It did have one downside though, but lets save that for the next section.

5) I really like the "pop-ups". Popcap nailed giving awards to players, and I've always been a fan of that, and the COD titles have just taken it and put it in an arcade / shooting context, which I really like, so we embraced that a lot more this game, and I'm really pleased with it. We're always flashing up some update ( The mode in the recent Halo games whose name escapes me right now also inspired me with this a lot ).
It helps ground the game I think, shows we're not playing a survival horror, but a shoot'em up with terror aspects. 

What went wrong:

1) Time. We just ran out of time and budget to do all the things we wanted. We had hoped to add a new baddie type ( A flying bug type thing. I had a vision of them being like a swarm of gnats ) and I wanted to add the sentry weapon ( Which is something I think everyone wants ). I think the AI just ate into the time to do those things and it was a worth while trade off, as it brought more to the game than anything else we could have added.
I can't remember how much we over-ran the deadline by, 16 days or so, not a great deal, but there are always lose edges which need tidying up and adding major things like a new baddie would just have blown the deadline completely. As soon as you're past that deadline you're working for free and you can only do that for so long no matter how much you love the project.

2) After the whole Owlmen story running throughout Haven there was a lack of context in this. We did have a briefing in there, which we removed to improve the flow, but we had no story at all, no reason for this to be happening. I assume people who played the first game got it, but that's not really valid as it's meant to be a title which can stand up on it's own. I was toying with having info-cards really hidden in levels which would progress the story, but they would only have been relevant to players of Haven as we didn't have enough scope to explain the whole thing.
I regret that we didn't explain Swarm mode more. In my head it was always like a TV show being shown back on earth, Lee and Jameson are basically dead men walking at this point, there's no escape, so they'd go out fighting and all the money they earned from the bug hunt would go back to their families on earth ( These aren't stupidly brave men, they're just two guys caught up in a shit storm which they have to tackle head on ). Even at one stage I thought of having crowd cheers if you did something really cool, like you were watching this in a bar back on earth on a TV, but without any sort of context it would just have been mental.

3) Some of the levels aren't great, level 2 is too hard as it's so small and restrictive. Also we had to re-use a [ Tweaked ] level from the swarm mode in Haven as again we'd run out of time. Level design doesn't come easy to me, it's something you need to iterate over to get just right, and with that clock ticking I didn't really have the time.
Plus making an interesting level which is basically just a loop is tricky, with no clear objective, no going from point A>B, it's hard to make it interesting, and I failed on a couple of levels, with the medical lab being the stand out mis-step ( And it really doesn't help that it's only the 2nd level ).

4) We'd reduced the difficulty of the challenges due to the feedback in Haven, but like in the first game we struggled to come up with the unlockable awards. They're ok-ish, but we didn't do ourselves any favours by having such a limited pool to draw from, and they were very last minute and of course with that the panic of "Shit, we haven't got enough stuff".
Not a major failing, but something we need to think about more for the next game. 

I'm sure more things went wrong, but they escape me now, but those things annoy me enough for 5 issues.

 

When it went on Kong the other day I thought I should really give it a go ( After voting 5 for it, it felt like the right thing to do ) and I'd forgotten I'd used the "They're here" sample on the intro which made me jump. Then I gave the first level a play, kinda half hearted as I have played it once or twice before, and I really loved it. There's a bit in Aliens after the sentry guns have run out and they're all in a room as the aliens are closing in, and then they all fall through the ceiling and it really kicks off. It felt like that. Fucking felt great to be honest.

So I think that's this about done. Not many regrets, lots of things to be pleased with. I wish in a way we could have done this one first before Haven, but things like that are impossible to second guess.
As always it was a pleasure working with Lux, and Rob and Theresa at Miniclip were a joy too.

We can't wait for the Owlmen to return, and it's going to be soon...

Squize.

Stage3D stats for DN8:Pulse

That's quite a bland title for us isn't it, sometimes I guess we've got to be a bit literal.

Anyway DN8:Pulse has been out for 23 days now, so we've got some figures to share.

Thats some nice pie

No exact figures I'm afraid, more on that later. So, out of everyone who loaded it 81% had the best time ever, shit they loved it, they likened it to seeing the birth of their child.

14% were stuck with software mode, 2.7% were playing it on a site where wmode="direct" wasn't set ( I assume that for the most part that was shovelware sites who just blindly put up any game, I mean who cares if it works or not, they still get the ad rev, and if a games broken it's not the portals fault, it's those lame devs not checking their own work. And it seems after writing that I'm a lot more bitter about it than I thought ). Coming in last place is players without FP11 even installed, with 1.9%, which is much higher than I would have thought.

This is what we're looking at with stage3D right now then, only 80% of your target audience is going to be able to play it as intended ( Software mode is just poo and not worth entertaining ). Factor in that we all pretty much live and die by our ratings on portals, that's 20% of people thinking you suck so hard 'cause their machine can play WoW but not some shitty free Flash game ? Wow, that must have been coded badly, 1/5 for you. Now I mentioned above how 81% loved it so much they were willing to kill Helter Skelter style for you, but that's not true is it. At best you're looking at 80% of people who actually play a game really liking it ( And that's on a big fat hit, not a niche bullet hell shooter set in space ), so that of course is reflected in your overall rating.

It's like doing a AAA game for Kinect, you're reducing your audience before you even start and then you've got to hope everyone who does get to play it love it. DN8:Pulse is a good little shooter, but it's far from the best thing ever, I'm aware enough to understand that.

Ok, I don't want to give out exact figures for the number of players, as that's TurboNukes information to do what they like with, not for me to hand over ( That's like saying how much a game got sponsored for ), but even picking up a daily first on NG, and sitting on the front page ( And getting a great review on JIG ), it's done woefully badly. I mean really badly. It's had a lot of plays, and the average play time is 12mins, which I think is pretty good ( over 34 million baddies have been turned to pixel dust ), so people who have played it seem to like it, just no one has played it. It's currently on 98 sites but the traffic is just dire, and it's taken a while to spread to that many sites.

In terms of selling it, we couldn't have had less interest if we'd made a game about kitten genocide. Not one single site lock sold ( And only a couple of approaches for them, neither panned out ). We could say that a bullet hell in space is always going to be a hard sell anyway and it may not purely be because of stage3D, and I think to some extent that is true, but stage3D really hasn't helped it.

Anyway, time to wrap up this tale of woe. It's far from all bad, I'm really pleased with the game and I got to work with some really cool people to get it out of the door, so that's a major win right there. We've got the Android version 95% done and I got to take a crash course in ND2D and Away3D. In terms of performance, yeah it's blown, but quite a lot of players have really enjoyed it, and that's what it's all about.

Squize.

PS. Look out for some info about our next stage3D game soon. Yep, we started it whilst DN8:P was under bidding. I'm never going to be a business man am I.

Outpost:Haven, an arty postmortem

I've been meaning to write up a postmortem for Outpost for months now, just never have the time.

Lux has been the same, but cracked and found some time today. If you're interested in how the look & feel and overall design came about shoot on over to Lux's blog here. It's a great read, even I got new insights ( Even though we work really closely together we don't go through thought processes all the time, so there's always lots of "Ah, that's why you did that" moments ).

You'd think this would be spur me on to write mine wouldn't you...

Squize.

DN8: Post mortem

I've been meaning to write this up for ages, but all my energy has been going into Outpost. Shall we start ? Yes, why not.

What went right:

Procedural baddies:

I think it took a day or two to knock this code up, and it was so worth it. It saved an insane amount of time and additional cost, and it enabled me to make a game on my own. I love working with artists, but sometimes you just need to do all your own thing.
My only worry was that it's fairly standard to have specific looking baddies that behave in set ways, ah there's the blue-ish metal guy, he shoots in a diagonal pattern, and I was concerned that would be lost, but no one seemed to mind ( And I didn't either to be honest ).
I think they're random nature tied in nicely with the whole...

Evolution:

This was a double edged sword. Balancing it was a mare, as a combination had to work without breaking any level by being too powerful. I opted to have the top path more aggressive with the bottom geared more towards defense. The rational being that it would almost work like a difficulty setting, plus it was the only way to keep my sanity whilst doing it.

Whoring it early / beta testing:

The beta testing some of you guys did was pure gold and helped so much, even to the point of it adding features such as the grazing. Also I put the game up for sale on FGL before it was finished, which helped in a roundabout way that is going to make me sound very cynical, but stick with me.
The bidding wasn't going as great as I hoped ( Does it ever ? ) which made me re-evaluate how much content was going in the game. The original evolution tree looked like this,

dn8_grab2.png

Look at that! It would have killed me to come up with that many power-ups. Once I realised that it wasn't going to make me a millionaire then it made sense to lower my expectations.

It meant I could focus on what was left a lot better, and make it tighter. No one screamed about being short changed, so it worked out well. As a final note with this, it wasn't an easy decision, I didn't want to let my baby be less than it could be, and I didn't want money getting in the way, but with hindsight it was the common sense thing to do and saved so much work.

Music:

It sounds great and using random loops to mix things up worked better than I could ever have hoped. It creates the impression there's a lot more music in the game than there actually is, and we've not killed the filesize with it.
A happy experiment that actually worked. Nice.

Challenges:

Not as detailed as I would have liked ( Outpost will more than make up for that ) but they were a fairly painless way to reward the player, plus we also had the advantage of going with Newgrounds for the sponsorship ( Which was a joy ) and could use their achievements API, so we could have both challenges and 'cheevos.


What went wrong:

Keyboard controls:

This is an odd one. I still don't think it needs them, or would be better with them ( In fact I think it would be worse ) but so many people commented about it that it was obviously an issue.
For me the learning point is how to cater for situations like that so we can offer keyboard support in games that don't really need it, and how we can coax the player into using the control method of choice.

RedRum, RedRum!:

One thing I'm annoyed about is the Redrum indicator. I should have removed it after the player had used it as it was dead space, and in an area players seemed to like controlling their ship in. I didn't notice it as I didn't leave my ship there. Sloppy UX design on my behalf, not the end of the world, but something to take away from this game.

Background effects:

I ran out of ideas. As simple as that. As usual I didn't really plan the game, and just thought I'd stumble along and get inspiration before I got to that stage. I didn't. It means some of those effects were a bit cheap and poor. Also the plasma effect and RGB tunnel were a little too CPU heavy for comfort.

dn8_grab8.jpg


That "Bug":

There is a boss that if you position yourself just right you can graze the hell out of it's bullets and really rack up the lives. I noticed this, and kinda liked it. If figured it would take some balls to try it, and I like games where the player can twist the rules to their advantage ( A lot of classic arcade games have glitches like this, Centipede being a great example, although these weren't on purpose ).
I think for everyone who was pleased with themselves for discovering it, 5 more just saw it as a bug. I'd like to do something like that again, if I stumble across it, but I don't think it's worth the negative comments.

Bullet patterns:

Not too many people moaned about this, I think it's just me being annoyed with myself. They should have been better, I just ran out of steam with the project ( Which tied in with the point above about the bidding affecting the overall depth of the game ).


Overall I'm pleased with it, it's a nice little shooter. It's not going to set the world on fire, but it was never meant to, it was just a huge break after both Knights Quest and Championsheep, a self indulgent project, which are always the best kind.
It did much better than I could ever have hoped for on Newgrounds, and with one or two exceptions the feedback was fantastic. Less so on Kong, but I'd expect that as it's not an RPG about zombies. When it came to selling it, we finally got to work with people we'd wanted to for a long time, all of whom were really excellent.

If you fancy playing it after reading all this, clicking this link will make all your DN8 dreams come true.

Squize.

FAQ You ( Very Much )

The response to DN8 seems to have exploded, and I've tried to reply to all the comments where I can, but some common questions keep coming up, so I figured I'd try and answer them here.

"is there any possibility of updating it with arrow key or even better WASD controls?"

Nope. Firstly you'd lose a lot of speed, and accuracy. To stop the movement feeling clunky I'd have to ease the ships movement, and I think that would adversely affect the gameplay. Having it as an option would just lead to a lot of people selecting that over the mouse, hating it, and never playing the game again. Sometimes less is more.

"It's too hard / it's too easy."

Not even worth trying to deal with, and I don't mean that nastily. Game balance is never going to be perfect for everyone, the best we can ever hope for is the middle ground. If anything we've made the game easier, the power-ups are always more powerful than you actually need. We want people to complete the game, creating an awesome last level that only a tiny hardcore ever get to see if just pointless.
We could have difficulty levels, but if the easy level still has people struggling ( Which it would ) and others just piss through the hard levels ( Which they would ) then we'd get exactly the same feedback and have spent time adding a feature which isn't really needed.

"My one big problem is that the shield is just too powerful, it really does make the top path worthless."

The shield does help a hell of a lot, get that with the side pods and you're really heavily protected. Conversely, the weapons on the lower path are shooting a lot less bullets than the top path, plus grazing is made harder as the side pods protect you from so many bullets. Again it goes back to balance. The game code is set up so each level can have different attack waves, so in theory I could have tailored baddies to match the player upgrades ( eg, got the shield ? Ok, the baddies are going to fire more bullets to make up for it ), but that's self defeating.
Many shooters give you a really powerful laser, but to balance that and keep the challenge high they just make the baddies take more hits. So in effect you haven't really upgraded, you've just got a different graphic to look at ( A trick is to give the player a kick ass weapon and send some of the lower powered baddies in so you can get a clear sense of how powerful it is ). We've done that to some extent, it's very hard not to, but by keeping the waves the same for every possible branch we've avoided the worst of that ( I think ).

"First but S-U-C-K-S!!!"

Yeah, like your momma. The only difference being my game sucks for free.
( To be fair we've had very few prick comments like that, the feedback on newgrounds especially has been excellent )

"For this being advertised as a "bullet hell", I lose the vast majority of my lives to being rammed."

There have been quite a few "Bullet hell ? Not really" comments. It's all relative kids. Play a "Real" bullet hell game. What's that ? It's too hard and you gave up because bullet hells are only really fun when you're watching them on youTube ? What's that ? You only stuck at it 'cause you paid money for it, and we'll suffer any old crap to get our money's worth and not feel stupid about buying something we don't really like ?
Bullet hell games are niche, I didn't want to make a niche game ( This time ), I wanted to make a casual bullet hell inspired shooter.

"Also once you get the the boss in the third to last level (the one that shoots 3 lasers essentially) you can get extra lives like crazy. I ended the game with 20 some odd lives."

There is a loop hole with grazing. You can really build up the lives really quickly if you're aware of it. As a developer what are my solutions ?
* Change the baddie shooting patterns and hope that no one figures another way around it.
* Cap the max number of lives and then award points instead.
* Leave it.
I opted to leave it, not through laziness, but as part of the reward mechanism. I know, that sounds like I've been caught out with a bug and I'm trying to lie my way out of it. I'm really not. As a player learning how to beat the system is a good feeling. Not just beating the game, but finding a way around what the game designer has done, to break through it, and take advantage of it.
When I've tried my best to make sure as many people as possible can complete the game having a known loop hole to make that even easier isn't the end of the world.
Actually it's not a case of completing the game, or abusing grazing to rack up the lives, the question is did you have fun ? If you had fun even if you made it easier for yourself by having 20 lives queued up, well I've done my job then.

Hmm, still sounds like I'm lying to cover for a bug doesn't it.

"there should have been like a shop so you can buy upgrades"

Fuck off. Honestly, just fuck off with that shop shit.

I think that's most of the common ones ticked off, along with a couple I just wanted to swear about as they annoyed me.

Just to stoke my ego a little, I'm going to link to an excellent review over on the Guidology blog ( Which is a really great blog, well worth having a look around there ), review.

Squize.

Ionic: Post Mortem

More looking at the past as a filler whilst we wait for the future to become the present.

ionic_logoGrab.jpg

Ionic, our first ( And quite possibly last ) crack at a Tower Defense game.

What went right:

Visually I think it's very strong. It's a good looking game. That was helped a lot by Lux jumping on board really late in the development and giving everything a lot more love, as well as designing the baddies.

juggernaut.png
It's not a typical tower defense, which was the objective all along. I played a lot [ Of TD's ] when developing Ionic and I was amazed by the number that allowed you to fast forward during the actual "Combat" part. That to me defeated the object totally. I'm placing my towers so I can see them shoot the crap out of the baddies, it's the money shot and that's what I want to see, the pay off for saving up for a nice new tower.
Any game which allows you to bypass that just strikes me as strange, you may as well just reduce it to a text response, "2 creeps got through, 12 were killed, next wave in 3,2,1...".

The game feels arcadey, which was the one design philosophy that ran through it's dna from the very start. I could see the appeal in TD games, but couldn't really enjoy them. The plan was to make it feel like a strategic R-Type, it needed to feel like a real battle as part of a much bigger on-going war. Every shot, every explosion counts.

Adding in the management and repair aspects, although I see those as a plus, I think we're going to touch on them again in the negative pile.

There's a lot of love in there, I really like the empty shells coming off the cannons or the blue flame in the flame thrower or the 10 or so frames of animation when the coin collecting droid is launched or the wolf growl that's mixed into the cannon shooting sample to create that guttural raw feeling.

ionic_mtb4.jpg

The ADD blendmode. It's a thing of beauty and even though it has a performance cost it's worth every cycle it steals. Using pixel bender for the RGB split worked really well too, much quicker than the one in cronusX, allowing us to use it real time rather than just for transitions.
Two pluses for Adobe there then, rather me.

I got the word bitches into the end credits. Rock 'n roll baby.

What went wrong:

The asset management was done early in the development. I got it working, it felt nice, with the idea being that if people wanted more depth they could tweak things to their liking and get more out of the game.
If you just wanted a pick up and play, then you didn't need to touch it and still be able to complete the game.
With doing it early on it was counted as done and dusted. I never touched it once after that. That was quite a mistake as it transpires that just be setting one of the sliders to max straight way ( I can't recall which one, I'm guessing R&D ) you can unlock all the cool weapons really early and basically skew the difficulty level in your favour.

Bollocks.

The coin collecting droids. Although I love this feature, it was a headache to code. Every week or so I would notice that the previous fix hadn't fixed it. They were literally the worst bug throughout the entire development.
So I did what all coders should do, I put a nasty kludge in there. If a coin wasn't collected after a certain amount of time I assumed that the droid was going to ignore it, so I just killed the coin and added it to the players credits.
What a mistake. Even though it was explained in the docs, people still noticed it and wouldn't have it that they hadn't lost out. Also people assumed that if a coin went off screen by the player scrolling they would lose it as well.
Players like to see something happening to confirm it's happened, implication doesn't work well in games. Another lesson learned ( cronusX had a similar issue, with baddies teleporting in on the player. Even though a shield appeared and the player was never ever punished for that, as that would just be really poor design, because it wasn't communicated well enough people still thought they were being punished unfairly, i.e. poor design ).

The walkthrough. Our mate RobotJam warned me about doing one, saying they're a waste of time. At the time we weren't getting the interest in selling it that we expected, so producing a walkthrough was a final role of the dice, a way to give extra value to the sponsor.
Rob was totally right. A complete waste of time, and painfully boring to make.

Balancing a TD is a complete bitch. It is so so hard to do. I looked at so many TD's to see how they did it, and very very few do it well. A lot just extend the game by adding far too many levels compared to the actual content. I think we had 25 levels in this as any more would just be grinding and slow the whole progress of the game down.
I think we got the balance quite good in the end ( If you ignore the bug mentioned above ), and it's here in the negatives as it impacted badly on the development time. It's one of those things you know are going to be tricky to do well, but it's far harder when you actually try and do it.

ionic_dogsOfWar.jpg

Similar to the balance was the whole GUI. I think we did a good job, but trying to please everyone is impossible. The best example is scrolling the dreadnought. I added 3 methods, arrow keys, clicking the radar and a drag bar. In total there was 7 suggestions on how it should be done, including some borderline venomous comments about it not supported A/D, as if by omitting those I was somehow spitting in the players face.
Getting a large amount of information to the player without forcing them to sit through pages and pages of text is very difficult, and something we spent so much time on.

Crisis of confidence. This is a tricky one for a developer to admit to, you very rarely see it. I have certain comfort zones with development, some genres I can piss all over without a thought Not that I'm especially good, just some genres click better than others. Ionic was well outside my comfort zone, so I found myself taking on board what everyone said which created a lot more work, and the more I listened the more I felt I was missing the mark and going out of my way to compensate.
When you have a lot of peers you really admire giving you suggestions, and your image for the game isn't a 100% clear, then it's very difficult to just shut down and pick the most relevant ones, they all seem relevant.

The attack waves, something I should have been strong at doing, were average. By that point I was getting sick of the whole thing, so I rushed through them to get them done. They're ok, but they should have been a lot better.

We're nearly at the point where I wrap this up with a "I couldn't give a fuck if no one likes it, I still think it's the best thing I've ever done" type comment.
Firstly I want to express how much I dislike devs who feel like they have to defend their games too strongly, you create entertainment and put it out there for people to enjoy. Not everyone will, like not everyone you meet in life will like you, no matter how cheeky your grin or funny your words. It's part and parcel of putting something out for public consumption, if you want the praise you've got to silently and with dignity swallow the crap that comes with it.
All that build up is of course there to explain that I'm going to break that rule, I'm going to be a whingy little bitch. Our blog, our rules. I'll regain my dignity tomorrow.

"we can't imagine why the developers neglected to offer the [A] and [D] keys to pan from left to right—it would have made a substantial difference in accessibility".

"Substantial" ? Really ?

"this is turning into a clickfest"

Yeah, it's murder isn't it, having to click things, in a game of all places!

"flamethrower in space void?!"

Fuck off.

I thought I'd feel better for that, but I don't really.

Let's finish this off now. Never do a game with a complex GUI. Everyone has their own favourite way of interacting with things, as I've mentioned there were in total 7 ideas for something as simple as scrolling the dreadnought. Let me clarify that slightly, do it, but expect people not to be happy so have a thick skin ready.
Conveying lots and lots of information is extremely hard to do in an non-obtrusive way, it has to be filtered out gradually and you've then got to take into account a lot of people will still just ignore it. Nothing can be implied, everything has to be spelt out ( Thanks Nintendo for creating a generation of gamers who don't want to fill the gaps ).
In terms of how the games performed, it's had 944,316
plays, which is poor. It received so-so reviews most places, 3.72 on NG, which isn't great.

Overall I'm disappointed with it's performance, I really do think it's the best thing I've ever done. It has faults, in amongst the feedback which pissed me off there was some really good points which I've taken on board.
Like cronusX I can still enjoy playing it even now, it has an almost emergent game play which as a developer is great, it makes it very hard to get sick of which helps development a lot.
I think it's great, it's fun to play and I learned a lot from it. I think that's as good as it gets.

Squize.

cronusX: Post Mortem

A post mortem on cronusX is well over due. Even though the files aren't online right now ( The webhost the files were on got hacked, and it turns out their talk of backups was a big fat lie, so they just closed rather than restoring things. Nice one ) we did document every day of it's development.

cronusx.jpg

I will re-upload all the files when I get chance.

What went right:

The development diary, which I've already mentioned. It's something we're definitely going to be doing again on the right project ( So many are covered by NDA's, others are quite risky and there's no need to fail in public ).
It really gave us focus and allowed for really quick and great feedback from you dear reader.

The look & feel. I'm really pleased with how the game looks. The screen shake when the asteroid hits the screen during the attract mode is pretty sweet ( And if you've got a 360 joypad plugged in you get a cheeky rubble ), the rgb split transition works nicely ( There were some comments that it took a little long, some comments I just choose to ignore ), the between level tips are a nice touch too, even though one was broken that no one noticed which got hidden with a nasty 11th hour kludge.
Olli did great work with the players ship, the asteroids and the title screen animation. Funnily enough it's the closest we've worked together on a game, and it was really smooth ( I'm sure I'm looking at that with rose tinted spectacles though, I'm pretty positive I pissed Olli off untold times ).
The curved text was a pain though, as I didn't use code to curve it, so it meant using the art package for every text amend. Painful.

Code. It's a really solid game code wise, it uses our distance based broadphase collision routine which worked perfectly for this game. Also procedurally generating the background was really cool, something I'm proud of. The data mining in there is pretty good too, with Olli doing the clever server side stuff.

The game itself. I really enjoy playing it, it's a good game, and that's the best I can ever hope for.


What went wrong:

We had this really good data mining system, and just failed to use it. I did code up some widgets but they never went anywhere.

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A real waste, but there comes a point of diminishing returns.

The sponsor requirements meant that we had to rename it, which I wasn't over the moon about, and actually remove some features. This meant that the version on Candystand isn't as good as it should be, which is a real pity.
( Just for the record, Dave @CS was a joy to work with, I'm really not criticising Candystand in any way, it's just frustrating removing working features ).

We experimented adding twitter support, being all web 2.0. Total waste of time, it was badly implemented, took far too long to add and no one used it. Lesson learned there.

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Old wip grab

Survival mode. Another important learning point. I thought adding a half arsed feature to increase the "value" of the game was a good idea. It turns out that players expect things to be good, rather than just tacked on, crazy talk I know. The perception isn't that it's a bit more to the game, which is how I saw it, it was treated as integral part, and seeing how it was weak we suffered because of that.
Fair enough, it's not something I can argue against.

No one liked it. Ok, a little bit exaggerated for dramatic effect, but it did fall between two stools. Old gamers were expecting Asteroids controls, and were disappointed that we'd gone "Dual stick" with it. New gamers who didn't grow up with Asteroids felt it was lacking in other ways, such as a lack of bosses ( Amongst many other things ).
Basically we hit the middle ground perfectly, which pissed off both sides ( Spoiler alert. The Ionic post mortem is going to end the same way ).

It got an ok-ish 3.80 on Newgrounds, died it's death on Kongregate ( Naturally ). I honestly don't know what it's done traffic wise, we weren't allowed our own tracking in there, the moch-ad figures say just over 385,000 impressions, so add in the skips and the site lock plays and we're looking at a piss poor million or so hits. Nothing really.
This is why the widgets never saw the light of day, there's only so much time you can throw at a project that's not going anywhere.

Before this gets too pessimistic and ends on a low, it's a game we're proud of and it's still fun to play even now. I'm more than happy to have it as part of the GYW back catalogue, it represents us well ( A technically good, pretty game that no one likes aside from us ).
If this was the last game I'd ever written I wouldn't be upset.

Squize.

Invaders Must [ Explain The Process ]

We couldn't let a Friday the 13th pass without some sort of post.

If you've got any interest in the process of making an adver-game, the always lovely gamepoetry ( Check out the 4K comp there, there's a link under our logo above, see it ? Yeah, give that a little clickity click click ) have an exclusive post mortem from us ( As pay back for their great one for Zombieland we presented here just before Christmas ) about our recent Invaders Must Die game.

And hopefully that's the last time we mention Invaders here, as it seems to be all we've spoken about in the past couple of weeks, and we're bored of it too now.

Squize.

Post Mortem ZombieLand : Bonesnap Boulevard

We're really really pleased and proud to present a guest post from our good friend Pany at the oh-so-talented UrbanSquall ( Developers of Battalion:Nemesis amongst other great games ) not to mention the words behind the always essential GamePoetry blog.

Enough of my introduction, on with the show:




Zombieland: Bonesnap Boulevard

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Intro
:

This is a really late post-mortem for Zombieland which was completed at the end of the first quarter 2007. Zombieland is an endless side scrolling shooter written in ActionScript 3.0. The game was written with the Flash IDE 9 Alpha, and was completed before Flash CS3's official release date. The game is still playable at http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/378688

Zombieland was essentially a critical flop. It didn't garner enough eyeballs to warrant a sequel, and despite some really creative ideas, and the flawlessly crafted graphics, people who played the game had a hard time coming to grips with the flawed weapon implementations, gameplay experience and jarring audio. It was a fun project that was executed in a very short time period, but a few missteps ultimately damaged the gameplay experience considerably.

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What Went Wrong:

 

1. Audio. The music in the game is at too high of a volume, and the compression was set too high. The result is that long before you ever see anything approximating a mute button you are assaulted with an overwhelming blast of scratchy static-riddled music. I suspect many potential fans of the game were lost in the onslaught of those first few obnoxious seconds. The great sadness is that the music is actually pretty good. A few minutes could have fixed these problems very easily.

2. Questionable design choices. Random is not fun. The game uses a very basic algorithm for deciding what sort of enemies to spawn and at  that frequency. I think this only barely worked. Static levels would have taken longer to produce, but would have been inherently more interesting. Combined with other design blunders, like the constantly moving forward main character, the weak default weapon, and shoddy collision detection, Zombieland scared off most players long before they could come to appreciate some of the funner aspects of the game.
I'd say our rushed development schedule was partly to blame here, but it was also partly a lack of objective oversight.

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3. Syncing gameplay and animations. In Zombieland, the majority of events are queued off animations. Firing, reloading, taking damage are three examples where I let the speed of the action be determined by animations. This could have been fine, except it clashed horribly with the fact that the character is supposed to be constantly moving forward meaning we had to do ugly tricks to maintain the illusion. The result is that most core actions in the game are very unresponsive which multiplied the negative effects of poor collision detection.
This was just a naïve misstep that was avoidable with a very simple design change.

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What Went Right:

1. Graphics. Tim Wendorf, the artist for Zombieland, nailed the visual aesthetic. The 2x look, combined with the slick character designs really make the graphics the best thing about this game. There is a distinct possibility the game got away with its crappy core gameplay mechanics during development simply because of Tim's quality graphics.

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2. Inventive zombie designs. Again, I have to credit Tim's warped sense of humor for coming up with some of the more memorable moments in the game, like going toe-to-toe with a wheel chair zombie, or having to face a stream of zombie porcupines tossed by an angry zombie cowboy. The Zamboni Wamboni was all mine, though.

3. Quick turn around. The game took less than 5 weeks of near full time development. We didn't hit any snafus along the way and we delivered the final build ahead of schedule, despite the fact that I was still coming to terms with a new programming language (ActionScript 3.0) and a new content pipeline (bitmap tilesheets). We shipped the game with gameplay flaws that only became clear after the dust had settled and it was too late to do anything about it.
Scheduling wise, though, Zombieland was about as good as they come in terms of everything just coming together right.

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Conclusion:

The hindsight of almost two years since the game's release has given me some time to reflect on why Zombieland failed to achieve the success I thought it was due.
The most valuable lessons I can take away from Zombieland, at this time, is that I should avoid integrating slick graphics early in the development pipeline, and instead focus on prototyping and nailing the core mechanic and avoid getting seduced by a pretty presentation.
A part of this is getting more feedback on the gameplay mechanic, especially in those earlier stages, which can help identify issues with a poor random level generation algorithm, or crappy engine limitations, like bad collision detection and animation-based timing dependencies.
I'm hoping fate allows me another opportunity to revisit the Zombieland setting, as I think it was under served by a few key bad decisions that spoiled an otherwise solid game.

Panayoti Haritatos / UrbanSquall