Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The rise of roguelikes

Roguelike is a game genre featuring semi random procedural level generation, permanent death, events, often turn based gameplay, and sometimes progression between each session. They have become substantially popular in the past few years.

Some of my favorites include these:

Faster Than Light

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Dungelot 2

Don't Starve

Cardinal Quest 2

Play sessions for these tend to average about an hour. There is a strong incentive to return and play again, since doing well in a session can lead to bonuses and permanently unlocked features.

I have really gravitated towards games like these. The incredible balance of the difficulty curves, the randomness, the thrill of progress.

Come to think about it, this style of game has been around for a while, perhaps just labeled as action or adventure rather than something more specific. For example, my first exposure to roguelikes was this classic gem for Sega Genesis called ToeJam & Earl:

ToeJam & Earl (image from vg247.com)

Albeit, features lives instead of strict permanent death.

My attempts to pursue this kind of direction as a designer have only moderately succeeded at best. For example, Demons Down Under was intended to be a challenging and unforgiving roguelike; eventually it was reduced to a more casual design to conserve time and widen the appeal to the larger casual gaming crowd on the web. It was still successful, just not what I had in mind. I notice my current zombie defense project following a similar direction towards casual design.

It can be easy to neglect some aspect of game development in promotion of another. Design, tech, art. I recall a decade ago, only stressing tech and programming. My games were more tech demos than anything. Afterwards came traditional and digital art, which led me to Flash game development. Now I want to stress design later this year, prioritizing it before the other two. I picked up this book by Jesse Schell on the Art of Game Design which covers a lot of excellent material. I call it the bible of game design.

I'm going to heavily stress usage of the book for the upcoming Ludum Dare game jam in April.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Corona SDK is now FREE!

The engine I use for mobile apps just became free! At least for all the essential features, such as in-app purchases, that used to cost an annual subscription in the hundreds of dollars.

As announced at GDC, Corona Labs is planning to expand its engine by building executables for the PC and Mac desktop gaming space. Well.. it's about time..?! The simulator already runs on both operating systems, so I can't imagine it being that much of an effort to build executables for these two. If additionally it could build for HTML5, then it would be very difficult for me to justify using anything else.

This is a very competitive year for mobile engine technology. Epic recently announced that Unreal Engine 4 is now "free" for 5% gross revenues. Meanwhile the personal edition of the recently announced Unity 5 is free with fair limitations.

Most likely I will opt for Unity this year, seeing that more and more web gaming portals are supporting it. Flash will continue to be the more popular option for the web, at least for the next five years. I will continue using it for game jams and art assets.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Closer to the finish line

My latest mobile game "Zombie Situation 2" is coming along nicely! I am eagerly finishing up the last pieces, finalizing each system, and churning out all the remaining content.

It turned out to be a lot of content, from weapons, enemies, allies, equipment, etc. I am satisfied with the art and the game itself plays very smoothly.

Meanwhile Defend Your Nuts 2 will be coming to mobile as well. The game originally sponsored by Nickelodeon-Addicting Games is being transferred to Defy Media (remaining under Viacom). It will be relaunched with additional features and ported in the coming weeks.

It's going to be a busy month!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Punk Bitches vs the Army of the Undead

"What do we do now?" Those words appeared ever so slowly on the Global Game Jam theme announcement video. A group of about 40 of us at Philly Game Forge stood there eagerly absorbing each passing word that showed up on the giant projector screen. Tens of thousands around the world read it too. What do we really do now?

Well, it helped to work with someone with a similar interest in character driven games and Flash animation. One of my teammates @NG_Tyler and I agreed to borrow most of the mechanics from a particular game, adding our own touch. The characters are band members of a punk rock band battling the undead.. because why the f not?

We agreed not to use a common theme for the main characters (obviously). This kind of sub theme is what helps us to stand out. While brainstorming, I recalled scenes of the L7 female punk rock band featured in the movie Serial Mom.

@dlootie supplied audio which breathed a lot of life into the game.

Basically you control up to four characters. The singer heals, the guitarist and keyboardist fight close ranged, and the tuba player bellows notes from a distance.

@NG_Tyler did all the art, and I wrote all the code. I gain a lot of enjoyment programming small games like these. In a matter of minutes, a feature can be added and tested. My fingers flew on my keyboard as Pandora blasted through my earphones.

The actual site in downtown Philly felt very welcoming and comfortable, like a giant loft apartment decorated with modern art and relics from the gaming world. The nearby European Republic has wraps from out of this world and the best fries ever.

The experience I got out of this is the greater realization that in large projects I tend to be too focused on getting everything correct, clean, and well thought out; it leads to conservative design and less spontaneity. I need be a bit more reckless and daring.

Source code and game page.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Global Game Jam 2015

It has been a while since my previous blog entry! I am alive and well, still working on a "Zombie Situation 2" for the Apple and Google app stores. It is fairly art and content heavy. Over the past few months I continued to think:

"Just one more feature finished, then I'll write a blog entry."

"Just one more feature finished, then I'll write a blog entry."

"Just one more feature finished, then I'll write a blog entry."

I am targeting the 14th of February as a milestone to reach playable alpha status, then 21st of March for the nearly finished beta status that includes audio and all functionality.

"Progression" has continued to be a recurring signature style in the design of my games. Many of my games are fairly easy and simple to play, but are supported through a large array of features, such as weapons, gear, special abilities, and avatars. The player earns these over time, so the sense of progression contributes to the fun factor of the game. Unfortunately with large volume of features, it can be a fairly time consuming task. Eventually I get to the stage where sections of the game can be locked down and finalized, leaving just bugs to sweep up.

Anyways, I am packing my bags to go take a somewhat spontaneous trip to Philly for Global Game Jam 2015! The past couple years I had visited NYC for this event. Either way, I'm eager. I missed out on three of the past four Ludum Dare jams, so hopefully something great and innovative will come out of this one.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Last Town

After a long auction, Last Town has been primarily sponsored and released on Newgrounds.com!

This one strayed far from the original vision, starting as a strategic time-optimization game. Crafting the story was an organic process and the strategic features paired easily with the isometric board. I think Zombie Tactics has a better story than Last Town, but this one has far fewer bugs and provides a greater challenge while retaining that casual feel offered in most of my games.

This was my first license sold to Newgrounds - a site that emerged in the mid 90s, one of the first to offer Flash games. At fourteen years old in suburban America, it was my first exposure to Flash animation and movies. Even at the time, the site offered an eclectic spectrum of content ranging from genuinely artistic movies with deep ethical messages, to games on controversial topics presented uncensored and recklessly. As a teen, it was experienced as an underground oasis of digital art. The site has retained its identity and cultural spot on the net over the years. I am proud to be sponsored by them.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Zombie Tactics

Happy belated Halloween! Zombie Tactics, my turn based hexagon web game, has been released by my sponsor today! I had to be very patient, as apparently there were some issues on their end that prevented its release until now. The game already has been featured on the front page of Kongregate and reviews have been very supportive and positive at 3.9 out of 5!

Bugs have started to roll in as well. You would think making a turn-based game is easier than an action-oriented one, but the slower game play and expected numbers while executing particular strategies leads to bugs being far more noticeable. For example, the nurse was not healing the correct amount due to a slight miscalculation. Some of the scientist's skills were completely bugged too. Fortunately I have pushed out a new version quickly, which addresses the major concerns including a crash bug.