Posts Tagged ‘game design tips’

When Genres Collide: an Invadazoid Post-Mortem

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

I had so much fun writing the Trials of Werlin post-mortem that I decided to do one for Invadazoid as well.  For those of you that have never played Invadazoid, be sure to purchase a copy after you’re done reading this post ;) (or just download the free demo).  I remember sleeping in one Saturday after a week or so of debating over what game project I would work on next, when it hit me… A mix between Space Invaders and Arkanoid!  And just as quickly, the name jumped out.  Invadazoid!  The idea was so profound (at least I thought so), that I rushed to my computer and started whipping up a prototype.  Within a couple days I had something ‘playable’ (surely not by your definition), and I knew I was on to something.  The more I added to the game, the more fun it was!  “This was surely going to be the hit I was looking for”, I thought.  It wasn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, compared to the abysmal sales of ToW, Invadazoid was a huge success, but why wasn’t it the next Tetris or Snood?  I must have done some things right because it was more successful than Trials of Werlin by a mile, but what was preventing this game from being a smash hit?  I can’t say for sure, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

The Good:

  • It was a unique idea.  Mixing genres has always been a great way to bring new life to two stagnating genres.  I remember one reviewer made a funny Reese’s comparison to the effect of, “You got your Arkanoid in my Space Invaders!”… “No, you got your Space Invaders in my Arkanoid!”  It makes me chuckle every time I think about it.
  • It was instantly fun.  There weren’t long instructions to read or training levels to muddle through.  You hit Play and you were dropped right into the action like a virgin at the prom :shock:   Even if it wasn’t immediately obvious what to do, after a few successful bumps it became almost instict (…talking about the game, not the prom).
  • Graphics… Although I decided to do my own artwork again, I really spent alot of time getting it right this time and overall I was pretty happy with the outcome. I upped the resolution from 640×480 (for ToW) to 800×600, added some particle effects and better alpha blending.  I also created most of the objects in a 3D modeling program and then rendered them to 2D… this helped a lot!  Programmers that don’t have much art background (and no cash) could benefit from this technique; mainly because the 3D models just have to look decent so you don’t have to worry about keeping the poly count to ridiculously low levels.
  • The Portals… some indies would argue with me here (and with good reason lately), but I used most of the big-name online portals (Real Arcade, Big Fish, Reflexive, etc) to get the game out to the masses.  For a casual action game from a company with hardly any of its own traffic, this was the best way I could think of at the time.  Through these publishers I sold thousands of copies where I probably would have only sold a couple hundred on my own.
  • Marketing… I learned my lesson from last time and decided to do a press release.  This alone put Invadazoid into the hands of publishers and editors that would have never even heard of it otherwise.  I was contacted shortly after the press release went out by PC Zone (UK) to do a spot on Invadazoid.  I can’t even tell you how good it feels to see your game covered in a big gaming mag!

The Bad:

  • Marketing… I definitely did more this time, but not even close to the amount that I should have done.  I put too many eggs in the Portal basket and didn’t do enough of my own marketing.  I’m still kicking myself over this one.
  • Too many game play modes.  Invadazoid has 4 modes, but when you play for the first time, its not really obvious which one you should start with.  Alot of players ended up clicking ‘Classic’ mode first (I guess because it sounded the most like ‘Normal’) which was nothing more than a Space Invaders clone and not nearly as exciting as the other modes.  I should have provided at least a visual cue as to which mode to start with or locked the other modes until certain progress was made.
  • Too much time spent in the engine.  I used most of the same ‘engine’ code from ToW (C++ and DirectX 6) and despite not having to start from scratch, I spent alot of time fixing engine bugs and adding things like particle effects instead of working on GAME DEVELOPMENT.  I think I spent the most time trying to get the ball to move smoothly without jittering (if you’ve made a breakout game then you know what I’m talking about).  I said this last time, but I can’t state it enough, “Don’t reinvent the wheel!”  Your customers aren’t going to care that it took you 100 hours to add anti-aliasing to your graphics engine!  They just care how good the finished product looks.  Unless you want to write game engines for a living, go find some tools that already do what you need.
  • Too late on the second revision.  I added some cool features like an online high-score board in the second revision, but unfortunately this was after the big spike of sales from the portals and most of them didn’t republish the new version because the game had dropped in sales at that point.
  • Flash Version.  I contracted out help to create a flash version of Invadazoid to help convert web site visits to downloads (and then sales).  The problem was that I should have done this as soon as the game launched instead of many months later.  The other downside was that its hard to reproduce the fun of a REALLY fast paced action game in Flash (v7 at the time).  The flash version definitely lost something in translation and in that respect may have even prevented some sales… not to mention it cost a good chunk of change.  Hmmmmm… I’m not really sure why I still have this up on my website.

The Ugly:

  • Difficulty…  I did it again!  Although more fun and more attractive than ToW, the game was still too hard for the casual crowd.  When I was a kid, I used to play the same levels of Castlevania a hundred times until I beat them all, not even taking a breath in between.  These pansy-ass casual gamers obviously don’t have the same mindset.  I did allow restarting a game from a location once the previous location was completed, but I didn’t allow restarting from each individual level.  For some of the later locations this meant fighting through 8-10 intense levels with an onslaught of invaders each launching massive amounts of missiles at you, all with about 5 lives… ouch!  In hind-sight, I probably should have allowed restarting on each level.  :roll:

I hope this was helpful (or at least a good read).  After proof reading this a few times, I wish I had written it a long time ago because I think I just taught myself a few things!

How to Make Your First Game

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

This post should probably be called ‘How NOT to Make Your First Game’, because I’m going to approach the topic more like a post mortem than an actual ‘How To’ guide, but read it anyway and I’m sure you’ll find some helpful tips for when you make your first game.

My first commercial game was called Trials of Werlin.  My inspiration for this game came from seeing the successes of Steve Pavlina with his game called Dweep.  If any of you have read Steve’s articles or his book, you know how reading a few of his game’s success stories could be so motivational.  Although Steve has a new career as a motivational speaker, this specific inspiration came a bit before that.

I was a college student, I was all psyched up by Steve’s story, and I was living at home without a job… the perfect storm for a budding game developer!  Through Steve’s forums (which later became the Indie Gamer Forums), I learned about a book called Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus by Andre LaMothe.  I have to say, without this book I probably would have never gotten started in game development.  Game programming was something I tinkered with in high school, but couldn’t even figure out the basics and had since given up on it.  Thanks Andre!  Ok, on to the post mortem.

The Good:

  • I learned so much about game development because the TotWGPG book was a great mix of concept and examples.  It was also very low level so I learned alot of the hard nuts-and-bolts type stuff (like how to manually alpha blend individual pixels… ouch).  I even had a kick-ass college teacher that let me read the book and develop a game prototype for college credit!
  • It gave me hands-on experience in taking a fairly large project from design to completion and even in marketing a finished product.
  • It was FUN!  Not just the game, but seeing your vision come to life and tweaking it here and there until you are so completely proud of it.

The Bad:

  • I was so caught up in the implementation of the game that I didn’t bother to realize that the market for brain-teaser puzzle games had almost dried up.
  • The graphics were good, but not great.  I’m not an artist, but I did take art classes all through childhood and even a year of commercial art in college… even still, the game could have benefited from a makeover.  The fact that the game was 640×480 and didn’t have any anti-aliasing didn’t help either :(
  • Marketing… like I said, the game was doomed from the get-go because I chose an already saturated niche.  Hey, this was my first game; what in the world did I know about marketing games?  I didn’t do a press release.  I signed a deal with one publisher that fell through (Scholastic, you sons-a-bitches).  I really didn’t do much in the way of marketing at all and this should be a take away for any would be game developers out there.  Spend as much effort marketing your game as you put into making it!!!

The Ugly:

  • The number one reason (IMHO) that ToW was unsuccessful was the difficulty curve.  The game started out simple (if you read the popup tips), but before the player even finished the demo levels, the puzzles started getting insanely hard, plus, one mistake and you had to do the whole level over again.  Hey!  I came from the Nintendo days with games like Contra, where you had 3 lives to beat millions of baddies and bosses.  I didn’t realize that there was a new breed of gamer out there that liked to be coddled and pampered until they ‘won’ the game.  I even re-released the game to be easier (slightly), but just couldn’t bring myself to ‘dumb it down’ too much.  “If this game is too hard for you, then don’t buy it!”, I thought… and that’s exactly what happened.

How to Make Your First Game (Summary):

  1. Make sure there’s a market for your game.  A sustainable niche is the best market for an indie (from what I’ve read), but at least make sure there is a demand for the game you want to make.
  2. Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Unless you are hell bent on learning how to blend individual pixels or coding your game so that it works with every different type of graphics card or monitor, use a third party engine or better yet some kind of game builder.  I coded ToW with C++ and DirectX 6, but these days I’ve moved on to using Torque Game Builder.  Remember that one kid in your math class secretly solving quadratics with his graphing calculator (yeah, the one with the big grin on his face).  THIS ISN’T MATH CLASS!  The teacher isn’t looking over your shoulder!  Bottom line, use the best tools you have available to you.
  3. Make sure it looks nice.  The days of shareware games being able to make money on game play alone are over.  If you can’t create your own really nice artwork, find someone who can.  It can be a friend or you can hire someone if you have the dough.  There are alot of really talented artists on the forums mentioned above that can help.
  4. Make sure the game play is balanced.  Unless your audience is a bunch of hard-core gamers, don’t make the game too hard and even still, make the difficulty curve very gradual.
  5. Market your game like there’s no tomorrow.  Most indies estimate that you should be spending about 50% of your game development cycle doing marketing.  Its tough and I’ve never spent nearly that much, but then again I’m not successful either.