Archive for Development Blog

Who doesn’t love a tutorial?

Recently I was playing a demo of a major Nintendo Switch game that was part of an established series. After about 30 minutes I was bored stiff of tutorials. More time was spent telling me things than actually in control. This is not good design.On the same day I played a demo of a re-release of a classic arcade game. Within a minute of launching the game I was enjoying myself and quickly picking up the controls. This is very familiar for traditional retro / arcade games.

Given that Paint It Jack is a relatively simple game, I certainly don’t want to be dragging the user through a long, boring tutorial process. That said, the game is one that I hope will appeal to children and casual players. When looking at mobile games, the typical platform for casual games, it is clear that tutorials are a must. Players might want their hand held a little.

My plan of action for this is to create a series of tutorial screens that will be displayed in between levels. First of all you get given the absolute basics (controls & objective) then before the next level the player is introduced to the cleaners with a simple text screen. Following that there will be screens introducing the pickups, more advanced controls and story. I also plan to throw in a few tips in among the “Fun Facts” to inform the player of techniques.

The “tutorial” screens will be kept relatively simple. All I’d want to convey is the most basic information so that the user is made aware, can absorb the concept and then get back to playing. This would be accompanied by a large bit of artwork, trying to bring some character into the game.

Generally this approach should be relatively hands off, just a click here and there once you’ve read the page. This should allow the player to just play without having to get dragged through a tedious section learning the rather simple gameplay. The player is informed of core mechanics to avoid being sat there pondering “what on earth is going on?” but to be really good at the game, albeit one with a low skill level, players will learn and develop as they play.

My biggest challenge with this is that it is a rather art intensive approach with large images and then a little bit of information. My art skills have always left something to be desired and have previously been a core reason as to why I’ve minimized the amount of story and tutorials in my other games! However rather than being afraid of this challenge, I’ll embrace it. Even if it looks a bit rubbish, hopefully forcing myself to have a go will help in improving my skillset!

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Telling a tall tale

I’ve been making some decent progress with Paint It Jack, with some art improvements and additional gameplay elements. It is a pleasing, easy going experience and I’m looking forward to building upon it.

One thing I’m hoping to do is include some story.

Jack: “Who am I?”

So who is Jack? I’m still working it out but I’m liking the idea of him being a little dorky. He’s never been accepted or liked but he still has a very positive outlook and has a cheerful spirit about him. He wants to help other people, although perhaps no one has really wanted his help, or even his presence in their lives. But still he’s happy to do his thing.

With the whole paint and colour thing, I’m thinking that a bit like nature, being bold and colourful is hugely important for his kind. Both the world and creatures are very bland. As a result the creatures would absorb colour (paint) to make themselves attractive and interesting. In fact one of the largest industries involves mining for resources to make “paint” to absorb.

Sadly poor old Jack has never been able to retain colour leaving him plain and grey. This is why he is shunned by his kind. He’s a sub standard weirdo. However he has a realisation that rather than being a curse, it means he can “spread” the colour to the world around him. His mission then is rather than focusing on bringing colour to himself, like everyone else does, he is bringing to the world. Awww. How terrible and cheesey.

So how exactly do I convey this? I’m not going to be making long animated videos because my artistic skills are terrible so I’ve no chance of creating a cool video, but perhaps a few storyboard screens? Well as a player I’d be spamming “NEXT”, “NEXT”, “NEXT” so why inflict that on others?

Instead I’m thinking of sharing the story and background on the world, creatures and Jack through short little bursts as you play. Before starting I’ll give a bit of context, with a quick one page storyboard, just so you know that Jack is on a mission to bring colour to the world. Then the level complete screen would give you a little bit of information about the creatures and Jack. Most would be irrelevant to the storyline but would help paint a picture of the “world”. On top of that I can have the odd screen here and there which fills in more story.

Hopefully this way I can share the story and provide some personality to the game but in a much more casual way. Afterall, the story won’t be integral to the gameplay, nor will it be the most exciting, riveting tale (the initial release can be probably played through in ~30 minutes).

Placeholder level complete to play about with Fun Facts.

p.s. I’ve not got a decent name for the creatures yet. Both my placeholder of Squeebles and current name “Takogaki” are kinda rubbish. Weird octopus like creatures that exist on land, have one eye and are a relatively advanced species…

Gameplay changes for Paint It Jack

The original Paint It Jack prototype involved completing an objective whilst dodging the cleaners. Beyond having a couple of different objective types, there was no variety in the game.

One thing that I’m keen to improve with Paint It Jack is to have a greater variety in the gameplay with multiple types of cleaners, objectives and also pick up items.

The different cleaners will ultimately behave the same way, wandering around the level soaking up your paint. Unlike before they won’t harm the player and instead just slow down your progress. The different cleaners will have different speeds and capacities so one type will trundle along, soaking up loads of your paint on paths and objectives whilst another will move around quickly but won’t completely clean the path. One difference to the prototype (I think) is that they will have their own capacity so once they’ve soaked up a load of paint, they will need a rest.

Perhaps in a later release I might introduce more clever and complex cleaners. A new AI character that hurts the player would be an interesting addition too! That will have to wait until my unannounced game is complete though.

My current progress includes only one objective type where the player has to paint special parts of the path. I’m very keen to expand on this with levels involving picking up items, triggering switches etc and potentially being more specific on which objective needs to be certain colours. We’ll see whether that makes it into the initial release though.

One thing that I’m definitely doing is adding pickup items. Currently I have a few items planned:

  • Paint Bomb: Deploy this and it will explode after 5 seconds, leaving a paint pickup for you. However if the cleaners hit it before it explodes it depletes their paint capacity, possibly killing them.
  • Helper Brush: Sends a brush flying forward that paints the path & objectives, disappearing when it runs out of paint.
  • Speed Up: Pretty self explanatory. This would have an immediate effect then wear out.
  • Maximum Capacity Up: Increases your maximum capacity. Still unsure about whether I’ll make it permanent or a temporary effect.
  • Glue: A trap that you can place which will stop the cleaners moving for a set period.
  • Paint Mine: Still unsure on this but it would be a trap that works very much like the Paint Bomb but without the timer.
  • Paint Bucket: Another that I’m unsure on whether to include it but you can use this to fill up on paint without having to go to a blob. It would be handy as you could fill up before painting an objective.
  • Paint Spawner: Not a pickup but a button that you can hit which spawns a blob of paint in the level. It would have a recharge timer to prevent the player using it over and over.

Not all of these will be included in the initial release but I hope at least half of them will. It should add some nice variety to the game!

On top of these there will also be an option to dump your current paint. Why you might ask? Well to slow down cleaners. If you have one coming and want to stop it from soaking your objective, dump your paint in its path and it will be out of action for a short while.

The one thing missing from the above design is risk. There’s no way that you can “lose”. To address this I am planning a second mode. Rather than changing the main mode, which I want to be relatively relaxing, chilled and accessible to kids, there will be a “challenge” mode that has a time limit as you try to paint the room as quickly as possible – of course with cleaners trying to stop you! My grand plan for this is for it to unlock new characters or customisation as you progress, plus potentially including online high scores (depending on whether downloads are in the region of 10 or 1000). There would also be characters that introduce the challenges, one per “tier” of difficulty. However I doubt I’ll get this done for the initial release.

I’ll maybe talk a little bit more about each of the gameplay features in due course, but hopefully that gives an idea of how I’m hoping that the game will have a little bit of complexity to it.

A new look for Paint It Jack

Paint It Jack was originally designed to look like an old school arcade game with Pac Man being a major influence. Of course with my limited art skills and low effort for the prototype, it didn’t look great but I did like the style. However I somewhat suspect that I was alone in that.

With the new project I’ve decided to use multiple worlds with very different art styles. One will have similarities with the previous game using neon colours on a black background. It will be full of bold colours and whilst arguably a little gharish, it will keep faith the original design.

However with the other two worlds that I am planning for the initial release, I hope to have a much higher quality of visuals. My initial work, with the help of my wife, is leading me to think this will be the best looking game (excluding Invertical Touch as Hunted Cow provided the art for that!), although the bar I’ve set is pretty low

I’m hoping it will be quite fun to play with shaders rather than having eye bleeding colour. I also want to have the whole environment gains colour as you paint more of the level, rather than just the path.

The characters and items will all be getting a revamp. Sticking to a top down view makes this a little more challenging but I won’t leave assets as “job done” once I’ve completed my first go. I hope to rework them, try again and give myself a range of options.

I also hope to create a range of unique and interesting characters, although perhaps not for the first phase..

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Wetting my appetite with Paint It Jack

clipartfest.com

For some time I have been working on an unannounced project, whilst also dealing with a big personal event (Achievement Unlocked: Got Married) and a not entirely enjoyable day job. On top of that I’ve got new consoles to play and the desire to have a life away from my desk.

This has meant that sitting down to struggle through some rather challenging areas of code & design has been less and less appealing. Progress has been slow and this has affected my hunger and desire to work in my spare time.

To reinvigorate myself, a new project has been started. I’m going to work bloody hard to finish this and unlike some other projects, getting it playable and shipped won’t be enough. It needs polish. It needs depth in gameplay.

I am looking to take the concept of “Paint It Jack“, a simple game about painting the gameworld that was prototyped in 2012 but never finished. I hope to go beyond my initial plans and make a fun arcade game with a range of game modes, characters, different enemies, pickups, a well built progression and also visually attractive – or at least less MS-Paint than my other games.

Over the coming weeks I plan on writing an article each week, tracking development and looking at features that I’m planning and sharing screenshots. I hope this, even if no one reads them, proves a fun and interesting experience that also spurs me on.

Paint It Jack prototype, 2012

 

I don’t expect to implement everything for initial release but I’d love to get something in a solid shape to put on GameJolt and/or IndieDB before moving back to the unannounced project. Once that is released, or at least functionally complete (pending playtests, feedback etc), then I’ll move on to developing the next series of features.

I hope that once this first phase and initial release has been completed, I’ll be fully up to speed again and ready to really engage with the challenge of my unannounced project. If writing little articles, like what I’m planning with Paint It Jack, is valuable for myself, then I’ll look at doing the same with the unannounced project. When looking at what has been completed (and working), I’m quite proud. Hopefully in a few months I’ll be able to really build on what is done and get a pretty awesome strategy game out by the end of the year.

Note: Unannounced project is not an original IP, hence no title. Perhaps I should think of a fun code name. Like how a film called Mary Lou was being shot near my flat recently…

Here’s a video of my old Paint It Jack prototype:

Anyone want some free Xbox 360 games?

I got given loads of codes with my Xbox 360 releases, however as found the experience of contacting review sites to never hear back just depressing and not worth the effort, they have went unused.

Until now I’ve occasionally thrown them up on Facebook and Twitter but I figured that as I’m happy giving away most my games for free, why not make my Xbox games available to folk for free – especially those visiting the site.

I’ve created a new page that contains a few codes for each of my games.

Unfortunately I have no way of tracking whether codes have been used so if anyone finds themselves out of luck with codes available for their game of choice, give me a shout on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll provide you with a unique code and replace the codes on here.

If you enjoy your free game then sharing it with your friends, Facebook feed or Twitter followers would be great!

Below are my first round of codes:

X-Orbtek II: BKV3V-4PK9G-DBXDX-HFF8G-9FK7M
X-Orbtek II: R38GX-C7XQW-V8X2F-CDFRC-PBM33
X-Orbtek II: P44GX-8Q4D3-JC7HX-CRTG9-G64QT
X-Orbtek II: BGRKB-CJVV8-DDDK8-WWQRJ-PD2X8
Adventures in Text: FRMFY-Q7MWY-V2RWR-TWH2R-2HMJG
Adventures in Text: PY49G-K6WRR-94TWY-QFC6M-GYKM8
Adventures in Text: GQGJD-D9CKX-M24WD-7W33B-W844M
Adventures in Text: K33GV-HB2MR-MPV7H-GWPH3-QP38D
Mashapocolypse: PTQT6-47GTW-Q8CW2-MF6TQ-KG8M8
Mashapocolypse: BMRPQ-YFBFK-26Q3P-QQRT7-XBGWM
Mashapocolypse: RQPVW-VBJ3H-KT2YP-GYBDR-F29JD
Mashapocolypse: XHC7D-TMFGQ-4F4GX-R2GTQ-KG8M6
Avatar Runner: FJ6KY-2VB37-DTJ6Y-HR86W-3X7KW
Avatar Runner: WWWC7-XKC2X-C7TCB-CK6P9-KKKDM
Avatar Runner: FJ6KY-2VB37-DTJ6Y-HR86W-3X7KW
Avatar Runner: WWWC7-XKC2X-C7TCB-CK6P9-KKKDM

Out now on Xbox 360 & PC: Adventures in Text

AdventuresInText-BoxArtI am delighted to announce that I have released a new game on Xbox 360 and also PC called Adventures in Text!

Adventures in Text provides a series of multiple choice text adventures that can be played with friends, including quick quests and also the longer quest through the world of Aeski.

Xbox Live Indie Games

How does the multiplayer aspect work? Well get your friends together when playing through the quests and together you can vote on which answer to take although you’ll want to discuss decisions first. If you fail to agree, the game will pick for you!

Additionally there are also three quizzes included to challenge your knowledge of Halloween, games and the world.

 

Xbox Live Indie Games

Available on Xbox Live Indie Games for the lowest price point (69p / $1).

 

Also available on PC for FREE!!! Xbox controller (or equivalent) still required on PC.

Aeski quest begins

Aeski quest begins

p.s. Please do not resort to violence when debating answers.

Invertical Touch out on Windows Phone 8 and Android

Invertical Touch will see you switch your colour between black and white, opening up new routes. Can you find the portal home?

Level9I’ve been very proud of my work with Invertical Touch so when friends ask if they can have a play of the game on their Android phone or whether I have it on my phone (Windows) it feels odd to say “no”. Building for Android and Windows Phone 8 is nice and easy with GameMaker so it isn’t a technical limitation, just there’s no plans for release of a paid version on these platforms.

However I’ve decided, well why not share the free version so yeah, I’ve released Invertical Touch Lite on Windows Phone 8 and Android! Whether we’ll see the paid version or not, I can’t say (not my call) but be sure to download the game and give it a go.

There’s about 15-30 minutes of gameplay, depending on how quickly you get to grips with the game with a variety of chapters to play.

WindowsPhone-68217A-175x25
Get it on Google Play

Still alive!

It has been a while since I’ve really done anything of note. So far this year has seen Invertical Touch get launched with a whimper (despite being a game that I’m very proud of) and then Invertical Touch Lite.

I’ve been primarily working on an unannounced title that has proven to be a heck of a lot more work than I planned. The game is coming along really well and I’m quite proud of it, however it is proving a little dry to work on. It isn’t easy to go “tonight I will sit down and figure out and implement this complex feature” after getting back from a day job of just that. I end up just playing games. Or blogging. Just like now, I’m avoiding work. Any pointers on keeping focused are welcome!

Battle-25July

I didn’t post this…

It is an odd one because I really want to finish. Partly because this will be arguably my best game yet and also because I’m desperate to work on new games… but I really can’t be arsed! Just very tired and looking at the mess of code gives me a headache. Perhaps one key factor is the lack of design input. Working on a port of a board game (*spoiler*) means that I’m primarily looking at turning physical rules and stuff that you count in your head, or hold to the side, into a slick UI that works across browsers is a bloody hard challenge! However it isn’t the challenge of figuring out how to make the game more fun. It will be fun because the board game is fun (and hard!). As I say, an odd one.

192To try and reignite my desire to make games I have tried working on a few side projects. I spent a couple of nights looking to make a simple game called Frown Upside Down that would be suitable for very young kids ahead of Dare to be Digital, however I lost interest in the project and don’t see it going any further. Maybe at most I’ll just stick it on Android with an apologetic description.

I’ve been keen to revisit The Really Annoying Game for a while now, in particular a mobile port. However I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d want the controls to work and as I’d want the whole level to be visible, this brings in aspect ratio issues. Due to the complexities and level of design, work on this as a “fun project” was put back onto the backlog.

Squeebles is another game that I’ve looked at revisiting, or more specifically finishing. To be honest the core gameplay was boring but I liked some of my plans for silliness, in particular Fun Facts. I’m thinking instead that I’ll build a new game that is based around very simple puzzles, primarily basic key skills (i.e. basic science, geometry, numeracy etc), with basic platform gameplay. It would be very accessible to children but also inject a little bit of my “humour” and more adult references (as in 80s culture not sex references!). This will be really fun to work on, but perhaps a bit of a more substantial side project than I plan for now.

The same can be said about my sequel to Captain Getsu, which despite being close to finished at one point I ended up canning it. Such terribly written code! Working as a software engineer in my spare time has taught me a lot and I’m confident that if I restarted the project it would be a lot better. A big change I made in the design was to move from lots of story and missions to having a “survive as long as possible” game but with stages that had a range of objectives. Seems interesting I hope! However time is running out for a new XBLIG title…

#SKSP and Dare to be Digital 2015

I recently attended the Dare to be Digital Protoplay festival in Dundee, Scotland and wanted to take a few minutes to write down my thoughts on the event.

Before I get into what I’ve learnt, I would like to mention why I was there. It was actually two fold – partly to help promote Invertical Touch but mainly to get involved with promoting a 24 hour gaming marathon called Sick Kids Save Point (or SKSP). In October I’ll be going through a relatively grueling experience of playing a variety of games as a fundraising activity for a sick kids hospital in Scotland.

1024x1024LogoFor Invertical Touch the event was very successful. I’m not sure if I’ll get many extra downloads of the paid for or free versions of the game but money and sales isn’t my only (or main) measure of success. Knowing people have played and enjoyed the game is what I really care about and over the last weekend I’ve seen at least a hundred, possibly more (I wasn’t keeping tabs), people play Invertical Touch and really enjoy it. Some people returned for a second go, even a third or fourth. Some kids had to be practically dragged away by their folks to visit another stand.

Commercially the event is of course a loss (at best paying back for the bottled water I took along…) but I’d take getting to see one person really enjoying playing my game over 50 faceless sales earning me 30p each.

dareoa

It surprised me how many younger kids really enjoyed playing the game. The controls can be a little hard, especially for small hands having to make quick movements between jumping and inverting, but even then they failed the same bit several times the kids kept trying. We hear about dumbing down of games in terms of difficulty for the younger gamer but I saw plenty determination to beat a level!

Perhaps the argument that games are dumbing down is more that they no longer severely punish the player for failing. Playing many classic games, if I screw up I might end up restarting the WHOLE sodding game. In modern games you are if anything encouraged to try new things. Don’t worry about failing, just keep trying. Personally I much prefer this!

Hopefully my presence at the event was beneficial to the SKSP team. Obviously as a participant and someone who really believes in the cause it was easy for me to talk about the event (well as easy as it gets when you are a shy and socially inept individual) but also having the game present meant that I could introduce the kid to the game and then talk to the parents about the charity.

I’ll be posting details about my plans for SKSP 2016 in a future post, although to read more (and donate!) visit my JustGiving page.

Touching on an article I wrote on my gaming blog, it was interesting to play other people’s games but I preferred just watching. There were some very novel and fun games to play such as Johann Sebastian Joust, a great physical game, Advance and a bee game that I forget the name of (one player was a bear legging it from bees) but I’ve found that playing games at events can be a sub par experience.

With several people about you can feel a touch rushed plus you are doing the first impressions and learning the ropes with someone watching. Every time I mess up, especially if I found it tricky or didn’t fully understand the game, it felt a little embarrassing plus I feel like I’m making the game that someone has worked hard on look rubbish when its probably just me.

When playing games at home I am happy to try, die, repeat but less so with someone watching. The pressure I add on myself makes it a less enjoyable experience, therefore I would rather stick to just watching. I can understand the gameplay concept and identify what makes the game fun. Then I can go home and check out the game some more!

One thing I learnt from the event was to be more focused. As with 2013, I took along several games and if someone struggled with Invertical Touch or my tablets were in use then I’d try showing other games. Lesser quality games at that. Not only does this not show my best work, but stopping and starting things isn’t ideal.

Additionally as well as being focused with my selections of games, the posters and resources need to be focused on providing the best introduction to the game. Players are interested in the game, not the “studio” (i.e. me) therefore I shouldn’t be taking Oxygen Addict cards and resources to events – it should be “Invertical Touch”. Additionally instead of plastering the name everywhere or using different art to show off the game, posters should tell people:

  • The name of the game.
  • Very basic premise.
  • Controls.

The latter is so obvious but nearly no one does it. Telling someone about what key to press before they’ve started doesn’t help. Instead knowing they have to perform an action, looking up and seeing “Press B to do action” is desirable. (minor finding – most people hate being reminded how to play!).

I also found a very quick demonstration was very useful. For Invertical Touch I could take 5-10 seconds to visibly show the controls and the mechanism.  This was usually

  • “To start with I can jump on to the white blocks”
  • *jumps onto white blocks*
  • “but when I press this button I change colour and now walk on the black buttons”
  • *press invert*
  • “I can’t change when I’m in front of blocks”
  • *press invert* nothing happens
  • “But if I jump then I can change”
  • *jump and invert”
  • Player goes “ahhhh I get it” and away they go.
  • I bugger off and leave them to it

Before I started doing that, I blurted out the premise (you change colour and that changes what you can walk on) and watched them have a go, get a bit confused then help them out. This gave them an introduction and let them get into the game without the awkwardness of being watched.

(FYI – tips were turned off as they got annoying, particularly if they repeat what I had just said verbally)

dareoa

The final thing about Dare that I’d like to discuss is the one negative that I have. The audience was one very distinct market. 99% of people at the stands were young kids with their parents. Don’t get me wrong, they were all lovely with very polite and friendly kids and it was an absolute pleasure to share my game with them. However it would be nice to see more older teenagers, students and young professionals there. Given Dundee has a large student population for a small city and a thriving development community, it is a bit of a shame that so few of the 18-30 year old gamers made it out. Many of the games there would probably appeal more to folk from this age range and we wouldn’t want the games that go to Dare to be too focused on young kids.