Posts belonging to Category Game Development

A Long Absence

Hello all you beautiful people.  It’s been a while since my last post here.  A lot and not that much at all has happened since the last post.  I’ve tried out quite a few games and been reading through 10-year old Game Developer magazines.  I’ve also gotten up to speed on general iPad/iPhone development using Objective-C and the iPhone SDK.

I’ve been getting into the habit in the last few weeks of sitting down with a game I’ve never played and trying it out for an hour.  I have a few reasons for doing this: a) as a designer, I want to look at what other games are doing/have done, b) I want to analyze how well other games pull a gamer in within the first moments of a game and how much of the game the player can get a feel for in those moments and c) I like to play games.  My plan was/is to write up my impressions of the games I’ve been running through.  So pretty soon you should be able to look forward to some notes on Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Assassin’s Creed, NickToons Unite!, Open Season, Sonic Heroes, Sonic & Knuckles, Jimmy Neutron: Attack of the Twonkies, Kirby Air Ride, and World of Warcraft. As you may have noticed, I’ve been raiding my little brother’s library for titles I hadn’t played.

Reading through the old Game Developer magazines has been interesting.  Not only has there been a lot of great information I’ve left sitting on my shelves for all these years, but it’s pretty fun reliving the history of game development through articles written when I was in college.  I’ve been reading them chronologically and just got to 2002 last night, a time when the Front Line Awards were praising the nVidia GeForce 3 graphics card, Maya 4, and the “new” Titanium Powerbook G4.  It was also funny to notice an ad for the 2002 Game Developers Conference while wearing the freebie shirt I got from attending the 2002 Game Developers Conference.

lastly, I just want to mention that the Pragmatic Programmers’ iPhone SDK Development by Bill Dudney and Chris Adamson is a great book for getting up to speed on the basics of iPhone/iPad development using Apple’s iOS SDK.  I found it well written and the progression of topics well thought-out.  I also liked that the authors chose to be tutorial-level detailed with new topics, but as the reader progresses through the book, the authors leave the implementation of previously learned material to the reader.  It does the dual job of forcing the reader to actually learn what there doing and practice it, while also making the book itself more readable and hold more information (since they don’t have to reprint the same instructions over and over again, lots of space is saved).  so yeah, good book.  Great resource.  It’s been super helpful in getting me my first iPad gig.



Currently playing: World of Warcraft Trial Edition

Intermittent Gameplay

mafia wars pic

In the last couple of days I’ve been playing with a Facebook app called Dungeons & Dragons: Tiny Adventures. The FAQ describes the gameplay as “intermittent,” which is to say, the designers force to player to go do something else while waiting for the next event to take place.  It’s an interesting concept that I found irritating as a player, yet I continue to play.  What’s even sillier about that is that D&D: Tiny Adventures doesn’t even have much in the way of play built into it.  The typical play session goes like this:

  • Open up the app
  • Check the adventure status
  • Read about what happened to your character
  • Bemoan or rejoice the result
  • Wait about 10 minutes
  • Repeat

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Did he actually do anything?” and the answer would be, “No, I did not.”  The extent of the player’s meaningful actions is limited to choosing a couple of bonuses that he has the opportunity to use during the “adventure” and outfitting the character with the armors, weapons, belts, etc. typical of a high fantasy game.  It basically becomes a random story generator that forces the player to wait about an hour to read the story . . . and oddly, I keep playing it.

This made me curious about all those other Facebook apps I’ve been hearing about and getting invites for: Mafia Wars, FarmVille, and the like.  I decided, as a game developer, that these are things I should know about and have experience with especially considering they are pulling in upwards of 49 million active monthly users . . . just on Facebook.  Yes, 49 million users play FarmVille.  So I started an account on both Mafia Wars and FarmVille. Both “feature” the intermittent gameplay I was introduced to in D&D: Tiny Adventures, however both allow much more in the way of meaningful actions.  I find Mafia Wars thoroughly addicting, despite it’s weak graphic design.  It is a bit less intermittent than the other two subjects, especially in the first 5 or 6 levels, which probably helps hook a player early on.  All the games I tried featured leveling up and some amount of profile/character customization.  Each creates an interesting situation which is what caused me to write this blog at nearing 6 o’clock in the morning: these type of games make me look for something to do to pass the time until I can get back to the game.  I don’t know if that’s good or not, but here I am being mildly productive . . . though way past my bedtime ; )

Gotta go check my mafia, my farm, and my adventure!


Currently Playing: Mafia Wars, FarmVille, Dungeons & Dragons: Tiny Adventures, Army of Two

Jumping Bean Gets Promoted!

¡Hola, amigos!

Image by Tom Martinez Jr.

My team and I have decided to promote the Jumping Bean prototype to full-on game status!  We’ve started an eight week production to create a full iPhone game based on the constant jumping theme of Jumping Bean.

We’re starting with the simple concept of Super Mario Bros. with the jump button on auto-rapid fire.  The game will feature designed (i.e. not procedural like the original prototype) levels with playful graphics and a classic platformer feel with the auto-jumping twist.

Iteration #1:

Jumping Bean SMB1-1

The first iteration of this concept exists here and includes a level based directly on Super Mario Bros. level 1-1.

The comments for this iteration included:

  • Need some enemies
  • The jumping feels floaty under ceilings
  • The control feels a little too precise, giving the player little to master in regards to the platforming
  • We’ll need more complex levels, including moving platforms
  • Could get a sense of depth by adding parallaxing

Some of this feedback was implemented in iteration #2.

Iteration #2:

Jumping Bean SMB1-1b

The second iteration (found here) is actually starting to feel like a game and is almost as good in quality of many of the free games on the iPhone, which means anything we add from here on we can charge for ; ).  We added some simple enemies, adjusted the feeling of the jumps, and added to the game a concept Tom drew up for our lovable amigo.

Some of our feedback at this point:

  • It’s time to start thinking about the game’s color palette
  • Should think about having a way to get rid of enemies
  • More variety in the enemies would be good
  • Restarting the whole level every time the player makes a mistake is probably a little harsh

I’m feeling really good about the progress on this one (of course we have Unity3D to thank for that) and the type of game we are shaping up to make.  It will be exciting to see how it progresses over the next eight weeks!


Currently playing: Super Mario Bros., Jumping Bean

This Week’s Prototype: Capsule Defense

Capsule Defense

Capsule Defense

I present to you: Capsule Defense

To Play:

  • Move the turret by moving the mouse left and right.
  • Fire by pressing the mouse button.
  • Go here to try it out.
  • Come back and add a comment on this page telling me what you think.

About the Process:

This week’s prototype comes from the mind of my little brother . . . though it doesn’t nearly do the original concept justice.

My Brother’s Concept: Let’s make a tower defense game like Plant vs. Zombies where you get to build your own weapons from parts you earn each level.

What Actually Happened: I only managed to get done with a single gun and a mindless capsule target.  So today, before writing this post, I added a little swivel and a Mindless Capsule Target instantiator and made a sort of Missile Command clone.  Yay!

You might have detected a discrepancy between concept and result.  That would be from not putting enough time into it to do the concept justice. C’est la vie.  Perhaps another week we’ll get a more fleshed out version.


Currently playing: The Beatles Rock Band

Safari Sketch for iPhone Feature List

Safari Sketch for iPhone . . . sorta.

I’m buckling down on the design for the iPhone version of Safari Sketch.  (If you haven’t played it yet, please check it out here!)  We want to support the Association of Zoos and Aquariums as much as we can with Safari Sketch, so I’m trying to get the iPhone version out as soon as possible.  Right now I’m looking at date of submission to Apple around the end of the month.  Much to do!

Tonight the task was to decide which of the features from the original I would keep, which I wouldn’t and what, if any, would be the new iPhone-specific features.  The following is the list as it stands right now.  If you’ve got an opinion or a suggestion so far, speak up now or . . . well you know the rest ; )

Feature List:

– Basic gameplay remains the same match-3 mechanic we all know and love.  Right now that part is running super smoothly on the iPhone and I’m very happy with the performance.

– I’ve decided to keep all the powerups, including the erasers that I originally thought I would do without.  If I took them out, I’d still want to reward the player for matching five.  Since the eraser is a good powerup for that, I just left it.

– After much self-debate, I’ve decided to keep the journals.  Tom‘s art is just too good to be left out.

– I’m going to strip the game down to a single game mode.  It will basically play like the old Relaxed mode, but with the art-unlocking aspect from the Safari mode.

– The main menu will be removed in favor of a jump-into-the-game approach.  Once the game loads it will immediately start the last level the user didn’t complete instead of forcing the user to go through two or three menus to get to the game.

– The pause menu will now contain the journal viewing option and the profile management menu.

– Some iPhone specific features I want to add:

  • Toggle the option to ignore calls while playing
  • Toggle the option to allow iPod playback while playing
  • Set the big animal pictures as wallpapers for the iPhone

So all in all the iPhone version will retain much of the original Safari Sketch, streamlining it into a single relaxed game type and going directly to the action.  I think this will suit the iPhone user well, as it will allow them to pick up and play quickly and for short bouts.


Currently playing: Jumping Bean, Rock Band, Prince of Persia

Jumping Bean

Tonight I present to you last week’s prototype: Jumping Bean.


  • Arrow keys <- and -> will move the bean left and right accordingly.
  • Refresh the game’s page to get a new level (each level is created randomly).
  • Go here to play.

How this came to be:

Jumping Bean came about as an exercise in creating a procedural 2D platforming game.  I still want to come back to this one and create a fun Mexican jumping bean theme for the art . . . “Next time, Gadget . . . Next time!”

I started with two platforms to develop the basic collision between the platforms and my capsule character (gotta love the quick and dirty programmer art).  The “bean” has a simple script based on Unity’s built-in FPS Walker script that limits the player to moving in only two dimensions (with the arrow keys) and jumping (with spacebar).

After I felt good about the way the bean was jumping around I created an instantiation script that created a given number of platforms along the x plane.  As it created each platform the instantiator would set the platforms length randomly based on a range inputed in the Unity editor and created a gap based on a second range.  This gave me a nice line of platforms that varied each time the game was restarted.

I tweaked the gap and platform sizes a bit until I got something that felt pretty good, but realized that the game was still pretty easy.  I wanted to add a little challenge so I played with a few different ideas until I hit one where the bean just continually jumped on its own.  (To be honest, I was inspired by an iPhone game I’d been shown a while back by my buddy Tom.  I don’t remember what the app was called, but it is quite addictive.)  This gave me something pretty fun where the player only had control over where the bean jumped but not when it jumped.  It also simplified the control scheme, which I’m always a fan of : )

So now I had my jumping bean and a single row of platforms.  I wanted to make the levels more interesting so I added two more platform instantiators for a middle and upper row of platforms, too.  This made things more interesting to look at and jump around on.  I wanted, however, to make the player have to be conscious of where they were jumping, and the game wasn’t doing that quite yet.  Plus the player had no reason to be jumping around, so I added . . . duhn duhn DUHN . . . little white dots.  MMMMMM.

Since we had something good and yummy to collect, I wanted something bad and not so tasty to avoid.  Thus the little red menacing mines were created.  Both the dots and the mines were sent to the platform instantiators to decide randomly where to put them, giving the player a different experience each time they reset the game.

This one was a couple/few afternoons of work . . . I have yet to manage a full week on one, but I’m hopeful for the future!


Currently playing: Prince of Persia

From My Littlest Brother’s Collection

Ben 10 Protector of Earth

I decided last night, when I was too zoned out to keep doing any “real” work, that I wanted to do something more than just play a game or watch one of the several things on my list of things to watch (which includes some great stuff like Police Squad! and Cowboy Bebop).  So instead I thought I’d start going through my 8 year-old brother’s game collection and make notes on what I found.  I started with what he was playing before he went to bed last night: Ben 10 Protector of Earth for PlayStation 2.  Ben 10 is based on the Cartoon Network animated series of the same name and involves a young Ben Tennison who fights baddies with an alien “watch” that allows him to transform into different alien forms.  Sounds like a good premise for a game.

The game has a cell-shaded graphical style and seems to use the same voice actors from the show, giving it a pretty authentic feel for the IP.  I’d seen my little brother play it before, so I knew I was about to play a brawler.  What I didn’t realize is that the developers had almost completely reused the mechanics from one of the best brawlers on the Playstation 2 (and on almost any system to date), God of War.  Ben 10 Protector of Earth is God of War for kids!  If you haven’t played God of War, know that it is a 3D platforming brawler with some character progression and puzzle elements.  It features an ancient Greek setting and epic boss battles against creatures of immense size.  Ben 10 pulls many of the same game design elements: from the larger than life boss battles with their timing-based mini-games to the unlocking of new combos to increase your alien forms’ powers and versatility. I was surprised at how many game mechanics were pulled directly from God of War.

That was a brilliant move on the part of the developers (Cartoon Network Interactive, 3D Publishers, and High Voltage Games).  The game system is proven and would just need to be rebalanced for a slightly less skilled player.  This costs less in design time and allows the developers to focus more on integrating the IP and giving it justice.  I wonder how many other Teen and Mature-rated games could be reworked into E and E-10+ games, giving them a wider available audience . . .

Aside from the brilliance of reusing game elements from successful older rated games I think the game is pretty good.  The character progression, unlockable alien forms, and decent story kept me involved.  The brawling itself is a little repetitive and more obvious than its God of War inspiration.  Falling off the level in the first couple stages is absurdly easy to do and causes instant failure, but failure has little consequence in the game as there aren’t a limited number of lives or continues.  If I didn’t have a gazillion other things to play right now, I could see myself going through the whole game.  Not bad for a kid’s cartoon IP.

Game on,


PS – The trailers for the live-action movie based on the teenager version of Ben 10 looks pretty cool.

Currently playing: Ben 10 Protector of Earth


Voila! The first of my weekly prototypes. I asked my dad for a theme and he gave me “color.” So after a grand total of one afternoon’s work I came up with Colors! (You’ll need the Unity Web Player plugin to play it.)

Use your mouse to change the color of the ball and the glitter.  Moving the mouse forward and back changes one of the red, green, and blue channels, moving the mouse left and right changes a second channel and using the scroll wheel changes the third.

Enjoy the fancy colors!


Currently Playing: Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles Rock Band

Personal Prototyping Challenge

I will be posting weekly game prototypes soon.  The purpose of these prototypes is twofold: 1) to quickly try out gameplay ideas in an effort to find something cool that people will enjoy playing and 2) to practice and improve my game development skills.

The idea comes from my time at the Game Developer’s Conference last spring.  I attended the Indie Developer Track and in many of the sessions the successful developers talked about how much rapid prototyping they did.  The guys who put together World of Goo found the idea within a prototype called Tower of Goo that they put together in a graduate course.  The goal of the course was to put together a new prototype each week of the class.  Crayon Physics Deluxe came from a prototype called Crayon Physics that turned out to be an extremely popular prototype on its developer’s page.  The developer decided on his own to put together monthly prototypes (inspired, I believe, by the aforementioned graduate class idea).  There were several other examples of developers who did regular rapid prototyping “discovering” successful game ideas, making me realize that one of the advantages that independent developers have is their flexibility and freedom to blow through dozens or hundreds of ideas quickly.

With all that said, I’ve started my own weekly prototyping schedule.  I will be posting my results each week for all to try out and comment on.  Some will be fun, some not, and hopefully one gem of a concept will surface that really shines for people.


Currently Playing: The Beatles Rock Band, Guitar Hero 5