Saturday, December 6, 2014

Last Town

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

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.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Balloon Blitz

The 27 hour Cardinal Game Jam in Silicon Valley is over! This was one of the most intense game jams that I have ever experienced. The objective was to create a mobile arcade game that integrates cloud service technology for features such as leaderboard, common and premium currencies, theme shop, and booster shop for initial power-ups. I succeeded in the objective, as I was a finalist, so I got to present the app on a large projector screen while using a mic to explain it in front of a panel of judges.

Time was very limited, so I had to partition it. First I created the actual game in Unity, then I integrated all the cloud features; the team helped me through this process. Basically everything went smoothly despite the pressure to finish everything on time. Each minute in that final hour mattered!

This jam was 27 hours instead of a typical 48. There was no theme given, but a requirement was to develop an app for Android or Apple smartphones. All code had to be written in the duration of the jam - a "hackathon".

The first screen of my app. Tango is a social networking service.

A familiar screen, showing the components.

The lobby of the StartX facility right before the jam began.
There was catered food and drinks in the comfortable and spacious work environment on the second floor. I blasted mostly heavy trance through my headphones, getting into that feel-good programmer zone.

Technology, particularly monetization and social networking, weighed very heavily as the focus for this jam. Similarly, my Ludum Dare game Potato Gnomes, emphasized cooperative multiplayer mechanics. Normally I try to make game design as my primary concern, but I had to prioritize realistically in order to finish everything.

My app targets a casual gaming crowd and is played simply by tapping and holding the screen to fly upwards. There are two unlockable characters and three power-ups (magnet for coins, droplet shooting cloud, and rocket) that can be found or purchased before each session. The goal is to maximize your score based on distance, while avoiding orange bees and flowers. Balloons, your hitpoints, emit a colorful and visually appealing rainbow particle trail. The app is open to all ages.

Despite the exhausting continuous hours of sleep deprivation, it was an uplifting experience fueled by adrenaline and carefully spaced out intake of caffeine. The whole experience was so incredibly motivating to me as a software programmer. At any given time, most of the people around me came from familiar backgrounds; they were very focused and passionate. The sound of mechanical keyboards clicking away created this therapeutic ambiance.

I used Uber for transportation, a taxi-like service app where a nearby driver escorts you to a destination at the click of a button. One of the drivers told me 7 out of 10 of the passengers are software programmers. The whole area felt like a giant University campus that specializes in computer science, reminiscent of my times at UMBC. This was a very successful experience.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cardinal Game Jam

Stanford Alumni is hosting The Cardinal Game Jam in Silicon Valley. This one has a shortened time constraint of 26 hours compared to a traditional 48 hour jam. Thanks to, I'll be heading there to participate, all expenses paid with the reasonable condition that I use their platform technology along with something compatible like Unity or Cocos2D-x.

Unity is a rock solid engine for multiple purposes. It is very suitable for time constrained game jams because getting up and running is just so easy. Creating new object types for a project is just a matter of attaching components, including script files written in a high level language like C#. This excellent multipage tutorial demonstrates the basics.

Perhaps it will be my engine of choice in the future.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Conceptual art and playability

I like to establish the general art direction early in a project. To avoid going overboard, I limit the initial collection to just one background, a few animated characters, and some weapons and objects. Just a few polished assets can make an impact on the programming and design side of things. It can be motivating to understand the potential behind what would be a messy collection of primitive shapes and unlabeled buttons.

Normally background art is my greatest weakness, so I took my time with it by creating a dozen individual pieces that all come together as a single composition.

The foundation of my art style evolved from many sources including Monster MayhemTriniti Interative, Mika Mobile, Derek Laufman, and others.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lucky 13

My next project will be [un]lucky 13. I sense the web gaming market slowing down, so I will be returning to the mobile app stores. This time I want to release a mobile version of a game first, and then port over to the web. Despite the market, web games are still a powerful platform considering the millions of downloads a game can receive within days or even hours. It can be very effective if utilized correctly.

Currently I am working on a project similar to Zombie Situation, which is one of my better games. I want to offer a polished experience with a lot of interesting weapons and features powered by a leveling system comparable to some of the Call of Duty games. This game will be larger, both in scope and in development time.

It will not be a paid app, nor will it have excessive in-app purchases that would make it wreak of the freemium model. I would prefer to offer one bundle of premium content at a respectable price. Web gamers especially are turned off by anything more than this.

The technology side of things is straight forward. I am writing the entire game in Lua for Corona, currently using primitive shapes and placeholder interfaces for flexibility in design. It feels very lean and lite-weight. I dabbled in other cross-platform engines and frameworks, but I don't think it would have saved me time; porting to Flash from Corona is really easy (e.g. sequel Pigs Will Fly), especially when the art is built in it. The syntax is similar, so very large chunks of code can be copied and pasted. Both technologies are very optimized for their respective platform.

Now that I am renewing my Corona license, I will be patching all of my previous apps. For example, Scratch Tickets will receive four additional tickets. The King's Path will come to Google Play, will feature ads, and will be free to download. Paladin vs Demons, well, I am unsure at this point.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Demons Down Under has been primarily sponsored and released by ArmorGames! Currently it is reviewed at 89%, immediately making it one of my most successful games! I am flattered, especially by the number of downloads in a short period of time.

The experience of releasing a game is a combination of adrenaline and excitement, sprinkled with a little bit of anxiety. The entire process however, of making a game from start to finish, is an addictive cycle.

The viral version will be available on the 29th, where it will spread to all the smaller portals. Sponsors, feel free to contact me for a site-locked license deal!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Black and blue

I recall being such a fan of Dell keyboards years ago. You know, the mass produced ones that came with every Dell computer. I used it for more than a decade; one time I even bought a replacement on eBay when the previous one got worn out.

I suppose it was appropriate for me to ignore most of the keyboard market back in the early 2000s. It was saturated with crude membrane keyboards that take advantage of cheap pressure pads and simple electric contact to trigger keys. Keys on these feel mushy when pressed, but very quiet and suitable for a library or crowded office.

To stand out from the crowd, some were built with "ergonomic" placement of keys, and additional plastic frames littered with round media buttons, dials, palm comfort rests, and other novelty features. The boxes on the shelves were shiny, decorated with lightning bolts and other striking icons to grab the consumer's interest. It all just seemed so gimmicky, especially at a time where it was common to see a "high end" mouse advertised in PC Gamer magazine being just a plastic non-optical ball mouse encased in a slick plastic hull.

A couple years ago I set out to find a new keyboard. Perhaps it was spontaneous research in gear pro Starcraft players comfortably use to dispatch 500 actions per minute. Either way, after a lot of grueling research, I settled on a Das Keyboard with cherry mx brown switches as a trade off between tactile response and overall noise level.

Image from mechanical keyboard guide.

Das Keyboard "Silent" with Cherry MX Brown keys

I suppose for over a hundred dollars, it was not as great as expected. However, after extensive constant use, I realized how easily the Dell membrane keyboard fatigued my fingers, when used as a secondary for my Mac Mini.

I wanted my second mechanical keyboard to have blue switches for additional tactile response. These switches are louder, but to me the "noise" sounds very pleasant on my Cooler Master QuickFire Rapid. The newer models do not have logos plastered all over the frame. It lacks a numpad so home row is directly in front of me, without shoving the mouse out of the way. The Das Keyboard feels very cumbersome in comparison. To each their own.

Image from mechanical keyboard guide.

Cooler Master QuickFire Rapid with Cherry MX Blue keys and blank white keycaps.

I bought some blank white keycaps to replace the standard black ones. The material is PBT, so is harder, more durable, and feels superior over the ABS ones that virtually all keyboards come equipped. Plus aesthetically it is more pleasing to the eye. I see myself using this board for a very long time. It works for me. Occasionally I switch back to the Das Keyboard with brown switches; both feel unique in their own way.

Friday, July 18, 2014


It has been a while since my previous blog post. It is easy to get carried away by the workload. "Just one more character drawn and animated, then I'll post. Just one more feature programmed, then I'll post."

This is not the first time that I have made tremendous changes to the initial design direction of a project. This one started as a time optimization puzzle game, where the challenge was to destroy a passive target in as little time as possible. The first bare implementation a month ago proved to me the idea is less interesting than predicted.

It is now a defense game with a theme inspired in part by the history of the Salem witch trials. It offers a choose-your-own-adventure where you role play as the mayor of a small town being overrun by the undead, reanimated by two witches. There are eight different units that can be hired, each with four skills (first image). The fenced space expands later in the game, consequently increasing the difficulty.

This time I plan to upload the game for playtesting very early, with less than a quarter of the story finished. Minor features are added as needed, so there is a lot of freedom. I did this with Zombie Tactics (to be released by my sponsor very soon), where much of the story and dialog was written on a laptop away from home.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Back to Isometric

I had long been wanting to explore isometric art again, specifically where the horizontal and depth lines are angled at 30 degrees and the vertical remains the same. I attempted this style previously, but with minimal effort that consequently left me discouraged.

This time I used the same painting process as my characters, where first I sketch repeatedly and freely; it feels more organic, like modeling a sculpture out of clay. Once I have a decent sketch, I trace with thick outlines and splotch the usual colors with shadows and highlights.

My two previous projects Zombie Tactics and Demons Down Under turned into a handful. This time I wanted to create something a bit more confined and minimal, while also getting a feel for a new art direction. Therefore, here is the current progress of my next game:

In a nutshell, you must unlock and hire units to join a revolution in a fictional world, reminiscent of early Europe with a hint of traditional fantasy. The entire focus is destroying the statue, symbolic of a corrupt dictatorship. 

It will play like a strategic puzzle game where the challenge is to destroy the statue in as little time as possible, balancing resources and economic power. The statue will have, say, a million hit points, and units (e.g. teachers, engineers) that arrive by train will have special abilities that can support surrounding allies.

This idea all started with just one unit gaining many various special abilities that must open a treasure chest by inflicting sufficient damage. The prototype was not very entertaining, so it evolved to this current iteration.

I estimate 90% of the art will be finished by the end of the week. Afterwards I'll be going on a week long trip with a laptop, so I can focus exclusively on programming. I already prototyped most of the game, so now it is a matter of filling in the gaps.

In the future I want to refine this art style, and pursue simulation games. There are so many new possibilities.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Demons Down Under playtesting

Demons Down Under is available for testing! I am opening testing to the public rather than spamming a private list. Just register as a player on and navigate to the game. There is a forum thread for all feedback which already I have taken advantage of.

Meanwhile I am very excited to be experimenting with a particular design idea for my next game. More on that later...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Beneath the surface

Ludum Dare #29 took place on the weekend! Ludum Dare is a game jam event held three times a year, featuring 48 hour compo entries (do everything yourself), and relaxed jam entries where teams and existing content are allowed with an extra day.

My entry for the compo is called "Giant Pumpkin" While thinking of the theme, I was watering my plants, figuring beneath the “surface” could imply soil. Roots get really chaotic. Meanwhile I remembered a trip I took to the York, Pennsylvania fair, featuring enormous pumpkins. You get the idea, I latched onto the spontaneous design idea and proceeded from there.

The Good:

Using Flash, I got a lot of bang for the buck using Tween objects for small animations. For example, the plus symbols on roots and stems grow spontaneously in a fraction of a second. That bit of polish does make a difference as it makes the game feel more interactive. 

The sound effects came together well using a cheap microphone to record things found outside. I need to get into the habit of making more of my own audio for my larger projects; finding that exact one needed on free sound websites is arduous.

The little popup that comes up when the cursor hovers over something became really useful and easy to manage.

The Bad:

Balancing many resource types in a game is very difficult! I would have liked it to be more educational, but overall is so far from being biologically accurate.

The Ugly:

There are several bugs with resource costs and weeds. Also the preloader does not work, as far as I know. The adrenaline kicks in as the clock ticks down the final minutes.

Overall an enjoyable experience!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Almost there...

So close now. Demons Down Under is now fully playable; it just needs minor tweaks and adjustments from here on out. I have been spending the past few weeks on a phase of development that repeatedly involves the following steps: play-testing, accumulating a list of a dozen small tasks to accomplish, finishing everything on that list, and then rinsing and repeating over and over. It takes quite a bit of perseverance. Each iteration is one step closer to completion.

Demons Down Under will be my 11th indie game. I have gained sufficient experience to understand that it is best to work efficiently, but not rush to the finish line. Rushing near the end leads to excessive down-time between projects, so is not beneficial in the long run. Rushing overall leads to early burnout, and worse, terrible shortcuts in design to save time. For example, compare turn-based game Zombie Tactics to the failed one of the same genre from years ago:

Failed turn-based project
Successful, Zombie Tactics

Also compare the hack-and-slash bunny game to Demons Down Under...

Failed hack-and-slash game
Successful, Demons Down Under

Similarly, compare the terrible stationary defense game to Defend Your Nuts 2:

Failed defense project
Successful, Defend Your Nuts 2

Lastly compare these two hack-and-slash games:

Failed hack-and-slash project
Successful, Paladin vs Demons

Each of these failed projects have something in common: I rushed too early, crunched too hard, and lost inspiration and motivation. I took too many shortcuts in attempt to reduce development time, which crippled the design. So basically when it comes to small games, work efficiently, but do not rush.

Interestingly, I also rushed on the following projects... perhaps within time I will return to them...?

Some of these have some interesting foundation from a game design point of view. A key benefit of working independently is exercising complete creative freedom. Gut feeling and spontaneous inspiration play a big role. The inspiration can originate from an arbitrary source. For example, I live near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, so may take a trip to Gettysburg now that the weather finally is warming up.