Archive for Avatar Runner

Avatar Runner… oh well

Avatar Runner was the game that I was hoping would be pretty fun to play, obviously not setting the world alight but fun to play and also actually get enough sales to meet the minimum level of revenue for Microsoft to actually pay you. It would have been wonderful to at least make back some of my game dev costs. Alas it hasn’t quite panned out.

I’ve been mulling over whether I can salvage it and of course reflecting on some of the main issues that people may be having. As part of that I took myself back into my mindset for coming up with the game.

You’ve had a long and stressful day at work with an infuriating demand. After being stuck in traffic on your way home and burning your dinner you just want to relax and play a game. Been there before? I have. The only problem is on days like that I more often than not die a lot or fail to spot the part of a puzzle to progress. I just want to relax, brain off and do something chilled. This is why I made Avatar Runner.

The core gameplay is of course based on HexStackIt, which is a reasonably twitch based game. With Avatar Runner I wanted to create something a bit more chilled. Something with mellow and relaxing gameplay that you can whistle to (well if, unlike me, you can actually whistle) and play without sweaty palms or rage quitting. Something that even with a hangover you won’t get beat. It does the job quite well in my opinion. Okay, it isn’t a pretty game but when I just want to slump on the sofa and play a game that doesn’t require focus, it is great. I enjoy it and it mellows me out a little. I also enjoy playing the intense difficulty runs that are bloody hard, especially with the songs Sports Shop and Dirty Blonde (i.e. songs not by me >_<).

Unfortunately by creating a game that intentionally allows everyone to get through a run pretty much intact, it has given a very poor impression for people expecting something with a bit more intensity from their gaming. There’s plenty runs in there if pace is your thing, but that first run is easy.

In total there are 30 runs with 7 available at the beginning. It makes sense that if you’re unlocking runs then the more intense and difficult ones should be the ones that you need to play a few times to unlock. Also they should go from easy to hard. It would be odd finding a random ordering of difficulties!  This however has meant that on your first couple of plays, you will be playing easy levels. These are kind of boring. Well mellow is what I’d rather think of them as but if you’re expecting something exciting and intense… these first levels are boring.

In hindsight I should have kept the initial runs down, just providing a small selection of runs to give players a taste for the difficulties and also meaning that the many players who’ll want the hard or insane difficulty runs have one to play straight away! Perhaps more people playing the trial would have bough the game if they were readily exposed to the more challenging gameplay.

Going forward my code is going to make this a tough one to fix as I can’t touch the order of the runs. The plan now is to make the first runs more challenging and engaging by increasing the spawn rate between items, making you react that little bit quicker. The player is already running a speed that would make Usain Bolt jealous so I won’t be touching the speed!

There’s one more big issue with Avatar Runner that needs addressing. When you skip the instructions and don’t read the game description, it isn’t entirely obvious that you’re meant to build a combo. I’ll be brash and honest… if the gameplay video commentators were playing someone else’s game, I’d be having a giggle at them. Alas it is my game that they are (in my biased opinion) giving unfair abuse so I kind of need to do something about it. I can’t quiz the player to test that they read the instructions and it is an incredibly simple game so a tutorial is pointless. I feel dirty but in the next release I am adding pop up messages to guide the player when they are being dumb.

Ah well. One day I might meet the minimum revenue to get my monies from Microsoft. Doubt it though.

I know I probably should be more professional but in truth I bet that just like my games, this ramble / moan / self-harm of word vomit will get no hits.

Avatar Runner: Coding to the beat

I won’t hide the fact that I love Audiosurf and it is no doubt one of the major influences in why I wanted to create Avatar Runner. The look, vibe and scoring are all of course very different with Avatar Runner having a (hopefully!) cheerful feel to it but at the heart of it, the game is about playing along to music.

Audiosurf works by analysing the entire song and building up the track. Whilst the XNA framework does provide analysis of audio, it requires the song to be playing. Unfortunately for in order to know what is coming next and create a nice and exciting run I would need to play through the entire song first. That is some loading time!

With the songs currently in the game I was able to analyse the music myself and plot turns of pace, increased spawning and colour of items. However that isn’t possible for the Custom Mode where you can play any track from your music library. I would imagine many people would find this mode an attractive option therefore I still wanted to have some way of slowing down the player when there’s a lull in the song as well as providing pace for the more exciting parts. To achieve this I’ve done a few calculations based on the visualisation data provided by XNA and have been able to tweak the player’s pace and spawn rate to match the song. It ain’t the perfect solution but it still provides a great gameplay experience, unlike anything currently on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Checkout this video of me playing along to two great tracks on my personal Xbox Music Library!

Avatar Runner picks up the pace

avatarrunner-boxWith Avatar Runner I always wanted to create a game that you can play whilst chilled and relaxed. However at the same time there needed to be some more intense levels for twitch players and those that love speed and the “rush”, with myself being one of those. The spread of gameplay styles and difficulty was done through different runs. In total Avatar Runner has around 30 runs, mixing difficulty, background, music and also to some extent gameplay (some levels encourage switching colours more than others).

However to unlock more of the harder, intense levels you did need to play some of the easier levels, or the same harder difficulty one over and over. Similarly if you’re doing a tournament with someone of a different skill level, finding runs to be enjoyable to all may be a challenge. As such I added the ability to speed up / slow down via the trigger buttons. This led to pretty much three things:

  1. Players don’t like letting go of the trigger to go faster because that is what you do in racing games, which have similar controls.
  2. If you provide the option to go faster, players will take it – regardless of whether their skill level is up to it.
  3. The turns of pace based on the music may become unbalanced or not be felt.

As such I’ve removed this feature and have been working to create the game more challenging. There will still be plenty chilled gameplay but with an easier progression system than before (i.e. new runs are cheaper and rewards increased from better designed runs) to provide quicker access to the more intense runs, which will be balanced and feel a lot more solid. As I (as the designer) have got full control of the player’s speed again, it allows me to really push them when the music picks up pace, without worrying about “what if they are already going very fast?!”.

I’m nearly there on releasing the game. Hopefully soon I’ll demo a custom run, which has also had some changes of late. The hard part is finding a song that I can use in the video for free without you know… getting sued.