The Dreamerz

The Dreamerz is another collaboration with my artist friend robotJAM. It’s another point-and-click game but there’s not a Panda in sight this time. The concept for this game was actually dreamed up (see what I did there) before we made Panda’s BIGGER Adventure. I came across a game that I really liked, The Blue Beanie, and got in touch with its creator, asking if she’d like to do a collaboration.

I put together an idea for a game that I thought would go well with her style of art. Unfortunately it didn’t work out because she was unable to commit enough time to the project but I didn’t want to just ditch it completely because I really liked the concept of the game. I considered attempting to do the art myself but luckily I decided to see if Rob wanted to get on board first. He did a far better job than I ever could have done on the art and helped shape the game into what it is now.

I think we got the formula near enough spot on with this one with a lot people saying that they thought it was the perfect length and difficulty for a Flash game which is always nice to hear. It’s not too challenging but there is enough of a challenge to keep it engaging throughout and the puzzles are all (more or less) logical. We were also lucky enough to get a great sound designer, Reade McCardell, to work on the game. He put together all the sounds which add a lot of atmosphere to the planets. Check out his band here: Fresh Cut Salads.

It has been the highest rated game I’ve made to date, getting scores over 4 stars on Kongregate and Newgrounds, a really great result. It was also reviewed very favourably by JayIsGames, a site that reviews Flash games and that has reviewed several of my games in the past.

But it’s the great comments that players leave that make the business of making Flash games so rewarding. Several players likened the game to Myst and Samorost which was just fantastic since those are great games.

There were of course a few negative comments (you can’t please everyone!), most of them being about the fact that the sound puzzle was too challenging. That was probably the bit that I was least confident about before release since I was worried that people would find it tricky but I still like it and am glad that it stayed in the game.

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Panda’s BIGGER Adventure

The second half of Panda’s BIG Adventure sees our favourite back-talking Panda catapulted forward in time to a future where Elvis, the true owner of the time-machine, is being held captive in a robot prison. Ok so the plot gets a little ridiculous in this one but it’s all good fun.

This part of the game wraps up the adventure and features 5 new time zones; the future prison, Leonardo Da Vinci’s pad, Al Copop’s secret moonshine production facility, a World War II trench and the not so wild west. As an extra bonus, for the first time ever you get a glimpse of Panda’s swanky HQ when you face up against the final terminator-pirate boss.

We’ve enjoyed making the Panda games a lot, especially coming up with crazy plots and weaving the film references into the games, but we’ve decided to hang up our Panda shaped hats (for the immediate future at any rate). As much as we enjoy the genre we want to branch out into other areas and make different kinds of games.

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September 23rd, 2010 Games Tags: , , , , 5 Comments

GearCopter

This game was made as a challenge to see if I could make a game in a single day. Several other developers were doing the same thing at the time and I decided to jump on the bandwagon. Long game projects can take some of the fun out of developing after a while so it was refreshing to be making something that I could take from concept to completion in about 10 hours.

The gameplay is understandably simple but it’s actually a game that I enjoyed playing during testing, trying to get better at it and improve on my score. Writing that made me want to check if I still held the high score. As it turns out I didn’t, but it didn’t take me too long to set one again!

I probably wouldn’t have been able to make this in 10 hours if I hadn’t had some of the artwork already lying around from other unfinished projects. It was a fun challenge though and makes me think I should do it again some time although it’s not particularly rewarding releasing a game that is below par in terms of the standard of the average Flash game these days.

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September 23rd, 2010 Games Tags: , , , , , 1 Comment

Popopop 2

I had wanted to make a sequel to Popopop for a while before I finally got around to it. I wanted to take on board some of the criticisms from the first game and listen to some of the fans’ suggestions to try and improve on it. I totally reworked the graphics and, I hope you’ll agree, they are a huge improvement on the first one.

I also reworked the level editor system, improving it so that it didn’t struggle with downloading the data. In the first one I had no experience of saving and loading data in Flash and so the level editor simply loaded all the levels in one go. This wasn’t a problem at first but with more and more levels it became more and more of an issue. I worked out how to deal with this for Popopop 2 so that it only loaded the levels 10 at a time. Having done that I went back and updated the first Popopop so that people could continue using the level editor there.

I also added a feature that allowed you to view the levels by rating so that the more popular levels could be shown first and hopefully the poor ones would be buried.

In terms of level design I tried to make it a bit easier than the first Popopop. I would say that some levels are probably still needlessly difficult but in general I think it’s an improvement on the first game. I also included a new type of bubble, the cannon bubble, which added an extra element to the level design as well as being good fun to pop.

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September 23rd, 2010 Games Tags: , , , , 2 Comments

My Thoughts on Micro-Transactions

Planet Basher 2 was my first foray into the world of micro-transactions. For the uninitiated micro-transactions means selling in game content to the players, usually for a low price. This is a concept that is becoming more and more commonplace in the world of video games with even major titles jumping on the bandwagon. It’s the same idea as buying a downloadable map pack for Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, just on a slightly smaller scale (in general).

In Flash games the one problem for developers such as myself who are trying to make a living from it is that the content is free for anyone to play. I think it’s absolutely fantastic that we have all these great games that we can play for free and we take it for granted that we can. I wouldn’t ever want to change that (besides, I couldn’t even if I wanted to) but I do think that there is something in this micro-transaction idea.

In theory what it means is that as developers we can spend longer and put more effort into adding features to our games that we think our fans would like to see. Under normal circumstances this content wouldn’t exist but by charging a small amount to players it makes it more worth our while to spend the extra time developing.

So the end user gets bonus content (if they want it) and we get a bit of profit. A win win situation. Of course not everyone sees it that way and there is plenty of opposition to the concept. A lot of people are very against paying for content in Flash games and I can certainly sympathise with that view, but what they don’t seem to realise is that we are not trying to charge them to play the game, we’re offering additional content for those that are willing to pay for it. The game is still free and it’s not just a demo.

Of course, in Planet Basher 2 I made just about every mistake I could have in trying to implement micro-transactions. I tried to add them into a game that hadn’t been designed for them from the start (not a good idea) and I also made the decision to publish the game before I had been given clearance to go ahead with micro-transactions (as I recall it was just before going on holiday and I was in a hurry to publish). As a result the micro-transactions only got added to the game once it had been released by which time the non-micro-transaction version was already widely distributed.

In spite of these errors, it enabled me to see the potential for success using the micro-transactions model and I took away some valuable lessons from the experience. I look forward to trialling micro-transactions properly in the future.

Planet Basher 2

Planet Basher 2 got made because I received a lot of positive feedback on the first one and I wanted to build on it to make an even better game. I corrected the mistakes that I made in the first one and added some extra features to, hopefully, make the experience more fun. You can no longer get trapped between planets because each spaceship has health and so will be destroyed if it hits too many planets. You can also buy armour upgrades in the game shop.

I improved the graphics from the first one by quite a lot and was really pleased with the overall level of polish on the game once I was finished with it. I also added more upgrades to add an extra element of strategy, and achievements to give players more to aim for and rewards for their endeavours.

All in all I felt that it was a big improvement on the first game… so of course it got (slightly) lower ratings! Perhaps people were just a bit bored of the concept after the first one (it’s a fairly similar game in all honesty, just with some improvements).

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September 23rd, 2010 Games Tags: , , , , , 20 Comments

Panda’s BIG Adventure

I took on board some of the comments about how people were frustrated by the fact that you couldn’t kill things in the Panda Sniper games. Rob (robotJAM) and I decided that perhaps we should go for a different style of game for the next in the Panda series and since we were both fans of point-and-click adventure games, that seemed like a logical direction to go in.

I grew up playing games like the fantastic Myst series and the Discworld point-and-click games and so was naturally inspired by these when I came to make my own games. The humour in the Panda games is quite similar to that of the Discworld games and there is at least one direct reference to them in this particular game.

The plot for this one took us quite a while to properly nail down. We liked the idea of including film references as we had started to do on the previous Panda game so for a while we considered setting it in a film studio and having Panda wander through different sets. I can’t remember why exactly we ditched that idea but we decided that we could achieve all that and more if Panda discovered a time machine. We came up with a plot that saw Panda stumbling across a time machine, promptly breaking it, and then spending the rest of the game trying to fix it so that he could get home.

It soon became clear that there was enough scope there to make two games so we split it in half, a sensible decision for two reasons. One, there really was far too much content for just one Flash game and two, we could get two sponsorship deals this way!

We also made a half-hearted attempt to inject a little replay value into the game. The trouble with this type of game is that it doesn’t really offer the player much of an incentive to play it again. We make a reasonable percentage of our income from adverts in our games so it’s in our interest to get as many plays as possible.

We included hidden critters in Panda’s BIG Adventure as a sort of extra bonus, some of which require solving mini puzzles to find. It’s hard to say what kind of effect this has had on how the game has performed, I suspect very little, but I still think that it’s a nice little addition to the game.

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Planet Basher

Planet Basher built on the Orbit concept, changing the focus of the game completely. In Orbit you had to aim your cannon and hope for the best. In this game, you get to buy your own planets and place them where you want in an attempt to stay in space for as long as possible.

You can also grow your planets and buy a star magnet upgrade which makes your job of collecting stars a bit easier. This game was a big step up from Orbit and seemed to go down well with players, getting some good ratings.

But it’s not without its flaws. One big problem is that it takes a long time to fill up the playing field with stars so if you want to do well you have to just sit there and wait in between shots. You can buy the Star Shower upgrade of course which brings the stars down much faster but that’s not exactly an ideal solution to this problem.

Another issue was that it is possible to get your rocket stuck in between planets meaning that you could rack up endless stardust… but the round would never end because you were stuck in limbo.

But the biggest flaw with this game was the fact that it plays completely differently on different machines. By this time I thought I was getting the hang of coding but I managed to overlook one issue; performance. I couldn’t understand how some people were setting such ridiculously good scores until I saw what was going on on a friend’s computer. On slower machines the game lags quite a bit, causing the playing field to fill up with stars. This means that on really slow computers it’s actually possible to get 200 stars in the first round and win the game straight away.

Since the game was well received I felt compelled to fix these errors and make Planet Basher 2. So I did.

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September 23rd, 2010 Games Tags: , , , , , 2 Comments

Orbit

Orbit was inspired by a similar casual pinball style game. It’s another fairly simple game, designed to appeal to the more casual gamers who like setting high scores. The trouble is, there’s not a whole lot you can do to make that happen and it seems mostly luck based.

However, I felt that there was something to be done with the concept and a lot of the comments on the game seemed to agree so I took the core ideas from Orbit and used them to make Planet Basher.

Hopefully you will be able to notice that by this time I was spending a bit more time polishing my games as I learned more about art in Flash. This game has a nice transition where the planets come in and out of view and I think the art is generally better than the other games I had made so far.

The game also features a really nice relaxing spacey sounding soundtrack which I had custom made by a fellow developer who also composes music, Oknavi. His game Cube-Race has a really great soundtrack which is what first brought his skills as a composer to my attention.

P.S. The popping sound in Orbit is the same sound that can be heard in the Popopop games. My younger brother, George, made the sound and recorded it so he will be very pleased to know that it now features in 5 games I believe.

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September 23rd, 2010 Games Tags: , , , , 1 Comment

Popopop

I came up with Popopop after thinking long and hard about what it was that made a game successful. The actual concept of Popopop does, I think, have some of the ingredients that go towards making a successful Flash game. However, in reality I made several mistakes that only became apparent later.

Firstly, I had set out to make a game that was fairly casual and didn’t get too taxing until the later levels. As it turned out I massively underestimated the difficulty of the game as I strove to make levels that offered several different kinds of challenge. This was another mistake. I was trying to incorporate skill-based puzzles in what had started out as just a puzzle game. By making levels that involved fast reflexes and difficult timing sequences I was just making the game very frustrating for people which is not at all what I set out to do. Oops.

Another area where the game is fairly lacking is in the graphics. At the time I thought they were pretty good but I don’t know why on Earth I would have thought that because I can scarcely bare to look at them now.

However, I did spend a lot of time making a level editor system which, although slightly flawed, I still believe was an impressive achievement for me at the time and a great extra feature for the game, meaning that the number of levels for it is potentially infinite.

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September 22nd, 2010 Games Tags: , , , , 2 Comments

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