Hi, I'm Blake. My first game was '89 Doors', a rage game where you escape mazes whilst being pursued by an insatiable creature of hunger, and now I'm working on a tower defence game called 'Forgive Me My Henchman', where you play as a typical head 'bad guy', deploying henchman and sabotaging a building in an effort to stop a one man army action hero.
If you have read this blog over the last year – thank you. May you live long and prosper, and your internet be free of lag.
I wanted to write about what changes I have made in each area, why I made them, and what effect I think it will have on my game overall.
1) Improving the HUD
It is important to get the balance right between too many and too few items on the HUD.
On one hand, in a tower defence game, a busy HUD distracts from the action on screen. On the other hand, it is essential to ensure that the player always has the necessary information and button shortcuts available so that the player can make the right decisions and execute commands quickly - a HUD is often the best way to do that.
Since the game I am designing is for mobile devices, I have also placed all the clickable buttons on either the left hand or right hand extreme of the screen.
Why I did that is because of how people hold their mobile devices: I noticed that when I had my clickable buttons on top of the screen, my hand would partially cover the screen whenever my hand reached across the screen to tap on them – distracting from the action.
Keeping clickable buttons on the extreme left and extreme right on the screen has made the game easier to use, and also means that you don’t have to block your eyes from the action in order to execute commands.
*I think this is the reason that in Plants vs Zombies 2 they decided to have the plant buttons on the left extreme of the screen, instead of the top of the screen like they did in the original.
2) Scaling back on the use of randomness
Although this was fun to watch, it wasn’t fun to play because the random and unpredictable outcomes of each NPC interaction made the player feel as if they had a lack of control over the outcome.
This doesn’t work well in a tower defence game, in which a player should always feel that the outcome is within their control.
What I have therefore done is make the damage rate constant between different fight animations, but kept the fight animations set to random. What that means is that the battles between NPCs are still really fun to watch, but the outcome of an NPC fight is predictable, making players focus on strategy instead of relying on chance.
Through these constant revisions, the game keeps on getting better and better. Soon I think it will be good enough to showcase :)
Have a great week everybody!
This is the second time I have tried to design a tutorial for my game.
I knew I needed to correct these issues during my second attempt at developing a tutorial. That is why I started doing research and playing many different games, attempting to find out what made a tutorial effective. What I discovered is that - amongst other things - the best tutorials are engaging, and embrace ‘teaching without teaching’.
Thanks to both Extra Credits and Game Maker's Toolkit, both of whom have made great videos on how to design a good tutorial. The Extra Credits video can be found by clicking here, and the Game Maker's Toolkit video can be found by clicking here.
K, I better get back to work
A petition was started to remove this game from the app store – I was one of the 60,000 people who quickly signed it. Yesterday evening, I saw on the news that the game had been removed from the app store. Yay!
So what was it about this game in particular that offended me so much? Why did I draw the line there? I wanted to blog to clarify my feelings.
I have spent time in countries where you have to guard what you say, because if you say something that disrupts the powers that be, or offends the general population, there can be real and dangerous consequences for it. To give some examples (from several Countries I haven’t been to), if I went to Dubai, and made an Allah joke, then it would have been smart for me to sort out my will first. If I went to Thailand, and said something against the monarchy, then my time there would likely not be spent on a beach. Even body language isn’t safe - if I went to the Philippines, and I did the beckoning gesture at someone, that gesture could land me in jail.
Even though I would not do any of these things (I have no desire to offend/provoke people for no reason), I find it uncomfortable that there would be such serious consequences for doing so. I am not sure I could ever feel completely comfortable in a country placing such strict limitations on what I say, because I feel that the role of a government is to allow its citizens to be as free as possible. What I love about being in Australia is that to a large extent I can say what I want without fear of jail, or even death. Even though I don’t use that privilege to be an asshole, it is a nice comfort to know that I could be an asshole if I choose to be (I don’t know why that is important to me, haha).
The thing is, I actually don’t have COMPLETE freedom of speech in Australia, there are limits to what I can legally say. The legal limit on my freedom of speech is that I can’t use my freedom of speech to incite hatred against a particular people or group.
This made me reflect on is how every government has limited freedom of speech in order to protect the order of its nation. Whether this is used justifiably or unjustifiably depends on the country. Whether this order is worth protecting or not also depends on the country. I believe that the limit Australia placed on freedom of speech – in this case* – still allow people to voice justified dissent, but also prevents people from acting like a bunch of Hitlers. That is why I am okay drawing the line at this point.
Contrast this to Survival Island 3 – it is not far removed from reality. The events that this game is based on actually happened, in a real country, to a real population, and it was tragic. Survival Island 3 attempts to make that very real tragedy entertaining, inconsequential and fun, and that is deeply offensive, especially since the tragedy of all those years ago (in addition to others caused by colonisation) has had repercussions that negatively effect the aboriginal population today as well.
Survival Island 3, on the other hand, only targeted the aboriginal population, and portrayed them as violent and dangerous. In contrast, there are no judgments made against the main character you play as: the white man. This negative judgment of aboriginals, coupled with the neutral judgment of the protagonist, shows that satire was not intended. Rather, this unbalanced portrayal of characters serves as a horrid reminder of the apathy and racism of the colonisers. Therefore, making this game was a reminder that - at least in a small percentage of the population - that attitude still exists today. Overall, the effect this has is that it makes the player feel that they are participating in and reenacting one of the most (if not the most) tragic events in Australian history and that it isn’t even being recognized as a tragedy. This – simply put – is wrong.
I don't believe that games should shy away from controversial issues. As a matter of fact, I believe that games have a unique opportunity to explore controversial issues because of the interactivity of the medium. However, Survival Island 3 has been an important reminder that delicate subjects and controversial issues should be treated with tact, or approached through satire. Otherwise, a game can cause a lot of harm, and propagate some really negative attitudes. It has also been a reminder that if you are lucky enough to live in a place that has freedom of expression - use it responsibly.
K, that is the end of this week's blog entry. I think there is a lot more to explore about where the line is (and indeed if there is one), but for now, I will stop writing and get back to programming for my upcoming game - kitten punching simulator
*Australia also has placed a limit on the freedom of speech on those who want to speak out about the horrible conditions at Manu Island (which is where Australia sends its Asylum seekers). Speaking about this can get you jail time. In this case, I am NOT okay with my freedom of speech being limited. What makes these cases different is that in the game example, limiting free speech prevents the aggravation and propagation of violence. In the Manu Island case, limiting free speech allows violence perpetrated by the government to continue.
Today, I wanted to continue writing about Tower Defence Level Design. This is my third blog entry on this topic. I am still learning a lot about effective level design for this genre, so am happy to share what I'm learning and how it is impacting my game.
Not long ago, I was struggling with the concept of progression - how do you make a player feel that they are progressing at the correct rate? This is an important concept to understand because if a player is progressing too slowly, they will get bored. On the other hand, if a player progresses too quickly, they will feel overwhelmed. How do you hit that progression sweet spot so that players can experience flow?
To help with this, there is a fantastic GamaSutra article by Mike Lopez that breaks down the key elements of gameplay progression. They are:
To get a deep understanding of these elements, I suggest looking at the original article. What I will be writing about is what I have done to ensure that my game progresses along these elements.
1) Introduction of an ‘area’ system – Just like Plants vs Zombies 2 has different worlds, I decided to split my game into three different areas. Each area will consist of around 20 different levels.
2) Each level slightly bigger - As just mentioned, each area will consist of around 20 levels. Every one of those levels will be slightly longer than the one before it; therefore, each level will (in general) take slightly longer for the player to complete. Why this was important to do was because – even if I introduced new elements – nothing impacted the feeling of progression like having to put in more time to complete a level. All in all, what effect increasingly level length will have is that the player will always feel like they are facing slightly bigger challenges, and thus always progressing.
3) New Game Mode and Practical Rewards linked – My game is going to have a ‘time trial mode’ that can be unlocked. In this mode, players will get to see how long they can last against an unrelenting wave of enemies. However, (and I think this is genius), the units available to you in this mode will completely depend on how many of them you have unlocked in the main game. This gives an added incentive to unlock practical awards, and will also lead to greater joy when they are unlocked.
To conclude, thanks to Mike Lopez for writing that amazing Gamasutra article. It really helped me to understand the progression process a lot better, and my game will be better as a result.
I think this will be my last blog entry on level design for a while because I want to start blogging about other topics. Is there something in particular you would like me to blog about? let me know in the comments.
Hope you have had a successful start to 2016, and will write again next week.
The advice I took and changes I consequently made are what I wanted to write about today.
First piece of Advice - have ‘No Scrolling’. They said that scrolling maps reduce the ability for the player to focus on what’s important, and also increase the stress of the player because the player spends mental energy worrying what is happening off screen. Many Tower Defence games can simply overcome this issue by having the entire room size match the view size, meaning that there is no need for scrolling whatsoever.
For my game, however, scrolling will be inevitable simply because of the game’s design, and changing these fundamentals would simply cause more harm than good. Regardless, this advice did get me thinking – even if scrolling is inevitable, are there ways that I can reduce the need for it?
Turns out there are. I discovered ways that I could automate certain processes, reducing the need to micromanage mundane tasks. I also added a ‘zoom out’ control, allowing players to see more of the screen at once. The effect of these changes has been that the game is now more fun to play, because people can spend more time focusing on what’s important and engaging, and less time navigating around the screen.
Second Piece of Advice - provide ‘Total Information’. The writers suggest that providing total information (i.e. precise numbers about hit rate, damage, range, etc) creates a game that tests thinking, as opposed to the player’s success relying on guesswork, or simply luck. They mention that developers can add challenge by intentionally withholding information, but that often unintentionally frustrates the player.
As a result of this feedback, I have started adding healthbars to all enemies. I do feel that the healthbars subtract from the game’s aesthetics, so I have made the display of healthbars optional. I think putting the choice of displaying stats or not in the player’s control is a good move, because it gives the player a chance to choose the experience that suits them best.
Third Piece of Advice – provide 'Total Time Control'. When I used to play Plants vs Zombies 2, I would often reach a point where victory was assured. From then on, there was nothing to do except wait. When a game loses that interactive component, it can become boring. However, a few updates later, PVZ2 had introduced a ‘fast forward’ button, leading to wait times being greatly reduced. Even though this was not a game changer, it was still a feature that did improve my PVZ2 gaming experience – it simply makes sense to offer the same convenience to people who play my game, so this is definitely a feature that I will include.
Final Thoughts - What I’m noticing is that my game keeps on evolving. As I am going through level design, and playing the levels, I am discovering what features add to the fun experience, and what features detract from it. As a result, I am always making constant tweaks to my game. Although these tweaks slow down the development process, it will definitely be worth it.
If you want to read more about some Tower Defence design tips, then I suggest reading the links that I did. They are:
- Optimizing a tower defence game for focus and thinking
- What makes a good tower defence game?
I wanted to end this by saying that this is my last blog entry for the year – I will be taking next Sunday off, but then will be back at it next year. I wanted to say happy holidays and thank you to those who choose to read my blog. I hope you have enjoyed it and found it useful and/or entertaining.
Next year will be a grand one, and definitely a year of big changes and growth.
See you in 2016!
The problem is I did not know exactly why the levels weren’t engaging. I could feel the effect, but I didn’t understand the cause. I didn’t know enough about what makes a good level to start creating them myself.
At that time, I could not find any definitive guide to creating a good tower defence game (my game will be this genre), so I asked myself – how does one of my favourite tower defence games (Plants vs Zombies 2) approach level design?
They follow the 'Introduce -> Practice -> Integrate' formula. First they introduce a new plant, then they give you a chance to practice using it and finally, they help you to understand how this plant works in relation to other plants. Once you fully understand how a new plant works – both in and of itself and also in relation to other plants – then they introduce a new concept/plant. Another way of saying this is that they don’t take you to the next stage until you have mastered the current one.
Applying that to myself, I realized that my levels were too rushed – I was trying to introduce too much, too quickly. Implementing this principle to my own game has made me ‘simplify’ each level to an extent. I think this has helped me to start developing better levels.
For example, when they introduce flying zombies, in that same level, they also introduce a plant that can blow away flying zombies. When you think about it, all tower defence games follow this principle: Over levels, they upgrade or introduce new enemies, while at the same time, they let you upgrade your units or make new units available for you. What effect this has is that it keeps a good balance between ability and challenge, which is one of the conditions for a flow gaming experience (which I blogged about last week).
I know these principles sound so basic and simple, but I guess I had never really thought about them before. Haha, sometimes I take awhile to catch on :) Since Wednesday, I have found a few good articles on tower defence level design, so I will likely blog about what I learned from them (and what changes I have made because of them) next week. In the meantime, I am sharing two links.
1) This link takes you to a powerpoint presentation by Popcap games which outlines the PVZ2 development process.
2) This link takes you to a proposed list of the top ten free tower defence games of 2015 (subjective).
Hope you enjoyed this blog, and have an awesome week!
I have been doing a branding course over the last three weeks. Recently, we had to do a branding exercise in which we try to arrive at the core idea of a brand. The model you use to do this is called the butterfly model.
I did this exercise, and it was really interesting – it made me reflect on my purpose and why I got into this business in the first place.
Up until 2013, my life was heading in a completely different direction. I was likely going to go into mediation, which (in case you haven’t heard about it) is a form of conflict resolution. It was that year I enrolled in my Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies degree.
Up until that point, I had a really small and amateurish understanding of what causes war, what causes peace, gender issues, social justice, human rights, etc. Doing this degree was like an awakening – my understanding of myself the world around me transformed.
This understanding – to a large extent – is what makes me unique.
What doing this exercise made me realize is that I want my games to reflect this understanding. I want them to explore delicate subjects and make relevant and important points, and I want my games to question the status quo. The outcome of this is that I want all people who play my games to be influenced for the better. Gaming should be an engaging and meaningful experience, and I want to play a big role in creating those experiences.
Have you tried this exercise? What did you learn about your purpose?
Hope you enjoyed the post and have an awesome week
What reaching this landmark means is that I can start to shift my focus from coding to level design and gameplay – this is when things start to get really fun!
Wish me luck!
PS - below is the first screenshot of my 'in development' game. It may look like an incomprehensible mess at the moment, but one day it will work like a well-oiled machine :)