Kyle Comet and the Toxic Laboratory

A quick update to say that a new game is on the Apple iOS AppStore.
Kyle Comet is a young space hero that I once wrote a story about and self published. You can find it on Amazon here. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Planet-X-Mark-Wilcox/dp/1326413090)

I always wanted to create a series of games featuring a young space cadet type hero.

The premise of the game is pretty straight forward; shoot, jump and collect the goodies. I guess it’s an endless runner in that there is no structure to the game other than throwing obstacles down in front of you as you run.

This is deliberate. Akari took a lot of work in developing the level structures and writing the tools to craft all of that. I wanted a break from that style of development.

Jetpack Joyride provided a little inspiration for Kyle. It’s a game I’d played and enjoyed for some time. Even down to the cute and cartoony visuals. But my visual style is more of a pixel art style.

With The Toxic Laboratory I wanted every element to be fun.

The jump > shoot dynamic was something I’d used before and enjoyed. It allows for the game being operated with a single tap to the screen. As you tap the character jumps and shoots simultaneously. The first tap is a tiny jump but if you follow it up quickly with a second tap the character effectively takes off.

Having mastered that dynamic I drew a jetpack onto the character’s back and added smoke puffs to help illustrate the action.

Once Kyle’s character is off the ground you can ‘fly him’ for quite a stretch. Which is pretty cool as there’s plenty of floating goodies to collect.

A follow up to The Toxic Laboratory is in development just now; Kyle Comet and the Lost Moon. The Lost Moon adds platforms and more of a platformer mentality to the action.

Kyle Comet and the Toxic Laboratory is available now on the iOS AppStore.

 

Staying true to the golden days of the videogame arcade in modern mobile gaming

If you were a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s you’ll no doubt remember the wonderyears of the videogame arcades. The thrills of the new technology that provided hours of fun for us young gamer geeks was mesmerising.

These were the Star Wars years. Science fiction had finally become mainstream and was in the mind of every kid. To be able to visit the arcades and drop a coin to blast everything to hell was the ultimate thrill. We were all Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

But what was it about those days, the games and their magic that endures and why have we built our business around maintaining the ethos of those early, pioneering days in gaming?

Nostalgia?

This isn’t nostalgia. That’s important. Nostalgia is a fine thing but for us it’s much, much more than that.

Sure there’s a buzz in reliving and recreating the game thrills of our youth. There’s always an inevitable thrill in regressing as you get older. But the key thing here is that there are aspects to ‘retro’ gaming that are entirely relevant to the modern mobile gamer. Not least the ability to be able to pick up a game, have a ‘go’, succeed or fail and then put the game down in the knowledge that next time you pick it up the same challenges will be presented to you without the added blag of being repeatedly sold to.

Better yet you can be sure to test yourself against your (and your friends) past achievements via such mechanics as a high score table or achievements matrix.

It is indeed a decidedly retro thing. There’s a charm to it that has been somewhat eroded over generations of advancing technology. The limitations of a colour palette and small screen resolution forced some ingenious design decisions and pushed the artist in particular, into creating some wonderful effects.

Retro for us is Defender but it’s also Out Run or even Doom. Retro for you may be more relatively recent titles such as Grand Theft Auto 3. It matters not. The point is that there was a charm in the ingenuity of designing within limitations be they graphical or processor.

Mobile devices are phenomenally powerful in terms of their graphical capability and raw horsepower, but they come with their own challenges for designers in terms of their physical size and limited control options. This, for us, is hugely attractive as designers and artists.

We want to try and map aspects of the classic arcade game experience onto modern mobile gaming.

Annoyances

The modern game scene is driven by the desire to sell once and sell again actually within the game experience. We don’t much like this trend. Not necessarily because it wasn’t prevalent in the ‘golden days’ (you can be sure that if it was possible back then it would have been done) but because it’s a distraction from the thrill of the game.

Monetising your games is important from a business sense but ramming it down your audience’s throat is ugly and unattractive. If there’s one thing that annoys us as gamers it’s sitting down to enjoy a game only to be presented with a full screen advert and a tiny (X) to close and progress. For us it then becomes less about you the gamer and more about ‘we’ the business trying to earn a buck.

If there’s another thing that annoys us it’s not being able to get into a game without the tiresome ‘this is how you play the game’. You’ve seen it before, you click PLAY and then you have 5 minutes of a greyed screen with highlighted pointers for how you actually play the damned thing.

Then, if all of that isn’t bad enough, you’re playing your game in the company of a 1/5th screen height persistent advert.

It’s ugly, intrusive and not at all what we want as gamers. As gamers we want to play. Pure and simple. We have our game and we want to play it and use our own intelligence and intuition to get us through.

Identifying these things was key to establishing our plan, or promise, if you like.

Our promise

So our ethos, our promise to the gamer, is that you will pay once for the game (£0.99, for example) and then play without any interference as many times as you like.

In the first two weeks of release we’ll likely offer the game free of charge. Following that initial free period we’ll charge a small fee for the game. We’re not Sega or Namco so won’t be asking for the usual £10.99 to recoup the enormous associated costs of development and marketing.

Staying true to the arcade ethos

True arcade games should not be so complicated as to require lengthy tutorial stages.

Many mobile games are of course fairly complex and warrant a tutorial of some kind. But even then it’s not as though you’re paying to play each time and have somebody breathing down your neck waiting for you to finish. Just wade in and figure it out! I personally often think that tutorials in games are a waste of dev effort and more a product of the heavy-handed marketing department who’ve seen such things in the competition.

“They do it so we should do it!”

It’s nonsense.

Most arcade games had an ‘attract mode’. It was a cut away from the title screen that offered a brief look at the game in action. Attract mode was designed to pull you in and have you spend your hard earned 10p. The cartoonist in me often imagines rows of agitated and excited arcade cabinets beeping, flashing and bouncing to get your attention :)

In many respects the iOS App Store is like a videogame arcade. You’re generally looking for a game to spend your gamer budget on (take a chance on). If the game is free to download there’s no risk, you’re not taking much of a chance!

Screenshots and ratings go a long way to attracting you. Ratings is not too dissimilar to word of mouth. If there was enough positive buzz about a game you’d hear it either amongst your friends or in passing whilst you wander the arcade. If there’s plenty of people stood around the cabinet you can be sure there’s something attractive on offer.

Similarly, if a game has merit you’d read about it on social media, gaming websites or hear about it amongst your gamer peers.

Sifting through the negative feedback and filtering out the ‘it crashes on my phone’ comments should leave you with enough information to persuade your purchase.

Marketing your games is vital and something for a future post. But for now let’s assume you can generate a healthy enough audience for your game on the app stores.

Attract mode translates into the preview video. Gamers are keen to see the game in motion before they commit. Both the iOS and Google stores offer a video preview. This is our opportunity to attract gamers based on the actual game. Flashy, over produced videos that show little or nothing of the game fail here in an instant. Rule 1: show the game in action! Show the promise to the gamer.

Genres and development challenge

We tend toward shoot em ups. It’s just our thing. We loved them all from Space Invaders and Defender through to Raiden, Outzone and Ikaruga. But we’re by no means limited to that genre. The key for us is in the visual style that we can achieve. The graphical potential of a game is a huge draw for us. If we can see a sizeable challenge in the code and art the project will often gain enough momentum to move into development.

The best projects are built on top of a number of key challenges.

From the developer’s perspective it may boil down to the tools that need to be created to build game specific levels. Our current project, Akari, started out as a scrolling shooter that quickly evolved into something that required staging and good level design. Our in-house level editor Neo was adapted to construct such challenges.

The artists and developers work closely to translate design goals into game features.

The time between developments is fun. We enjoy pulling together game concepts, graphical ideas and any other ideas for making a cool mobile game experience. But we never lose sight of our ‘promise’ – that our games will be all about instant accessibility and fast-paced thrills.

We also want to provide a consistent and level playing field. This is why we reject in-app purchases. Mechanics like that immediately offer an uneven playing field.

Social media

Embracing social media is almost essential in succeeding in modern mobile gaming. Testing yourself against your friends and then sharing those achievements on Facebook, Twitter et al is an increasingly important aspect to the game experience.

We’re keen to explore this without intrusion and are looking to integrate Apple’s Game Center and Google’s Play Games in all future games, for example.

It was always a thrill back in the day to visit the arcade and stand in front of your favourite game to see if your score was still top of the tree. Heaven forbid you should be displaced. Nothing would motivate you more than to see somebody else’s 3 character moniker sitting proud above you.

It was actually pretty frustrating to see an unfamiliar moniker sitting immediately above you. We’re convinced that challenges between friends is the way forward. We all want to brag our achievements to those buddies we know we can communicate with.

Conclusion

Modern mobile gaming is hugely enjoyable. The games are staggeringly attractive and full of style. Despite game companies insisting that mobile games are much more than ‘casual’ we feel that actually this is exactly what they are.

To that end, for us, the best games offer instant action and a great challenge with the ability to replay to your heart’s content without ever being pulled away from the game experience.

The golden years of arcade gaming perfected the art of offering such experiences which makes classic arcade gaming entirely relevant to the modern mobile gamer.

 

HTML5 as a search term – we’re almost there

I recently started poring over the search terms to the Playstar Arcade in some more detail.

I found something quite interesting. A number of search terms carried the phrase “no download”.

Here’s a brief summary:

  • free online ipad games no download
  • mobile games no download
  • online ipad games no download
  • free games no downloads
  • free mobile games no download
  • free online games for ipad no download
  • free online mobile games no download
  • online games no download
  • free online games with no download

I receive a healthy amount of traffic from search engines, most of which are on desktop. I’d love for this to shift to mobile but that will take some time. None the less it’s encouraging to see that people are looking for games to play and are aware that games can be played without the need to download an app.

Although the phrases listed above are all variations on a couple of themes they show a brief insight in to the mind of the searching gamer. That list accounts for around a third of all phrases that include “no download”.

The intriguing phrases are the ones that contain “iPad”. I imagine it’s fairly common knowledge amongst the iOS community that there is no support for Flash or any other 3rd party browser plug-in. So this can really only amount to games that can be played in the web browser natively.

The same cannot be assumed for those searching more generally for “mobile” or simply “online”. But by virtue of the fact that they’ve included “no download” I’d assume that they are referring to browser games.

There is a clear opportunity for HTML5 games here. As the quality of HTML5 gaming rises (and it should as publishers demand more visual quality at least) we can hopefully start to see a level of education amongst the browser gaming public that “HTML5”, at least in a gaming sense, can be synonymous with not only quality gaming but crucially “no download”.
Strictly speaking it could also become synonymous with “online”. But let’s not muddy the water as its real strength is of course in “offline”. That’s a different story.

HTML5 is quicker to type and probably ultimately far easier to remember.

Let’s look at that list again with the words changed to suit the HTML5 developer.

  • free HTML5 ipad games
  • mobile games HTML5
  • HTML5 ipad games
  • free games HTML5
  • free mobile games HTML5
  • free HTML5 games for ipad
  • free HTML5 mobile games
  • HTML5 games
  • free HTML5 games

We’re getting there…

Continuing to target the arcade gaming niche with my HTML5 games

Ever since my first foray in to browser gaming I’ve stuck to my goal of creating the kind of games that I enjoyed in my youth. Generally speaking this means classic “pixelled” sprites and the control of an on-screen character / spaceship / vehicle of some kind. Ideally I’d also throw in bombs, lasers and explosions a plenty. 
If I’m honest it’s also a pretty easy style of game to write.

I guess right now I’m wondering whether it’s right for me to continue to target this niche in retro gaming or whether I should move on a bit and challenge myself with a different genre.

There are benefits to maintaining a niche and also several drawbacks.
The benefits clearly come in the form of brand association and search relevance. The more I can focus on writing about a specific area of mobile gaming the more I improve my chances of being returned favourably in Google et al.

But sticking to a niche also narrows my opportunities in the wider field of attracting work. Whilst I’m always going to favour working on my own projects and my own designs I can’t disregard the fact that there is some value in being a coder for hire.

Arcade games, the classic ones (which I guess we now refer to as retro arcade games), offer some wonderful pointers for achieving an optimum in designing games for casual mobile play.
Arcade games almost by definition were games that you could play and access quickly and each “go” would last for little more than a few minutes. This is what your single coin gave you and if the experience was a good one you’d possibly sink another coin. If not you’d move on and find something else.
This has real parallels with today’s online games scene. Especially the mobile web gaming scene.

HTML5 game portals tend to target mobile devices. The good sites are clean and optimised for display on the smaller screens. As such they are pretty straight forward to navigate around and generally uncluttered. The same cannot be said for the desktop equivalents which in many cases are more of an excuse to litter the screen with advertising than offer any kind of a gaming experience.

My stats continue to show me that my games are popular. When somebody visits the site they generally play around 3.2 games per session before they disappear. 6% of visitors exit via an advert. I’m not actually sure whether those 6% have enjoyed their time on the site and played that average 3.2 games or whether they’re simply hacked off with the experience and were looking for a way out. I guess there’s every chance this is the case.

Regardless mobile arcade games  and mobile game design (HTML5 game design) continue to challenge my brain cells. I’m always thinking of new elements to games that I scribble down for later reference and often draw upon them when I’m thinking of the finer details of a game’s execution. 

I use SNES and Arcade emulators (ZSNES and MAME) on a regular basis to research gaming styles, challenges, reward systems and every other vital element of a good gaming experience. 
MAME generally offers that throwback to the mind boggling and dazzling array of cabinets that beeped and zapped at me as I stalked the arcade for that perfect way to spend 5 minutes and 10 pence. I suppose it gets me in the mood :)
The SNES games on the other hand are showing me the visual style that I’m aiming for. Especially in my most recent game Jumpin’ Jasper which was every bit a SNES inspired game.

I’ve not set out to find any magic solution here it’s really just a Sunday morning blog update with a coffee and some thoughts. 
I have to say that playing and designing retro-styled arcade games still thrills me. There’s a lot to be said for this.
I may be missing a trick or two by not becoming a more high profile game developer but maybe that’s not for me. 

An old manager once said to me “Stick to what you know by all means but do it well. Do it very well. Be the best at what you do well and above all enjoy it.” 

Article about the perception of HTML5 as a gaming technology on Gamasutra

I recently posted an article on Gamasutra about the association with HTML5 and gaming. I go in to a little detail about how we as HTML5 game developers can improve the perception of HTML5 as a viable medium for mobile gaming.

You can read the full article here: The public perception of HTML5 and its association with games

Some (more) thoughts on a football game

It’s World Cup year. As a football lover I love the world cup finals. This year we are in Brazil, the home of traditionally the most exciting team in the world. Brazil are generally the neutrals favourites and have, in years gone by, come to epitomise a free flowing style of football that is both easy on the eye and extremely effective at opening up the opposition’s defence.

I’ve thought about making a football game before but have never really settled on a design that suits the nature of the touchscreens that I target.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a game in which the player controls an attacking player with the sole goal of dodging oncoming defenders.
For as long as he has his finger on the screen the player is controlling the movement of the player. It’s all about timing. When an approaching defender looks as though he is about to slide in the player must lift his finger off the screen. This triggers a jump from his on-screen attacker.
If the jump is well timed the play continues until the attacker reaches the edge of the box.

Now it’s about position. As the player steps on to the edge of the 18 yard box the game automatically shoots. But it’s not over yet, the player just has the keeper to beat. To maintain the momentum I don’t want to completely stop the action for the player to place his shot. Instead I’m going to give him as long as he has earned!
For each well timed jump to avoid the defenders the player earns valuable time. Also, to distract the player in to changing direction during his run toward goal I will drop bonuses on to the pitch. The more the player collects the longer he has to aim his shot at the goal.

After each attack it’s the turn of the opposition to attack. But I’m not interested in displaying that. For that I’ll roll a dice and present whether or not they scored to the player. I want to get right back in to the attacking phase so that the player is primarily concerned with scoring goals.

I think I could probably take this design forward in to an initial concept with some crude graphics.

Taking on the app stores – step 1: Google

I’m on something of a mission to have my HTML5 arcade visible to the search engines. Naturally I’ve a number of keywords and phrases that I want to have positioned favourably in Google et al. My goal is to have phrases such as “free arcade games” on the first page of results and ideally “above the fold”.
To this end I’ve done a good deal of work in making sure that the site’s content is specific, relevant and perhaps most important of all unobtrusive to the player. I think I’ve achieved a reasonable balance.

Every once in a while I grab a coffee and spend 5 minutes punching in variations on my keywords in to Google.
The most recent search phrase was “free arcade games for ipad”.

Before I go on I must at this point pledge my love for Apple’s iPad. I’ve had an iPad since its launch and have very much fallen for its elegance, execution and simplicity. Contrary to popular opinion I also rather like its sandboxed nature. I’ve no intention to “jailbreak” it. There’s no need. Not for me. It does what I want it to do and then some. Most important of all though it plays HTML5 games like a dream.
So appearing favourably for a search phrase containing the words arcade, games and ipad is a key goal for my plans of 2014. Free is obviously also an important word since HTML5 games tend to be largely synonymous with free gaming just now. I guess that will change. It’s interesting that I’ve not identified HTML5 as a key search word just now. I’ve made some provision for it but until it becomes a key word in the mind of the public searching for games on their mobile I’m less concerned about it. That said part of my mission is to create that relationship amongst the gaming public with the words HTML5 and games.

So what do I get when I punch “free arcade games for ipad” in to Google?

Well, disregarding adverts, I get several results before my own site playstar.mobi is returned.
I set out to take a closer look at the links that preceed my own. Here’s some detail.

Results as at 21st February 2014

1. http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/60-best-free-ipad-games-692690
A very respectable list of free iPad games available from the app store. Very difficult to compete with as some of those games are AAA in iPad terms.

2. http://toucharcade.com/2013/12/25/best-free-iphone-and-ipad-games-of-2013/
Different games but the same premise. A list of very good quality games that you can install and enjoy for free before you hit the brick wall of In App Purchasing.

So far it’s hard to see where my humble little HTML5 games arcade could possibly fit in to the big world of iPad arcade gaming. But I’ll persevere.

3. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/namco-arcade/id465606050?mt=8
This time a direct link to some of the games that influenced me both as a boy and as a “grown up” game developer. Geez. This is getting tough. How on earth can I compete with this?

4. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2373779,00.asp
Holy hell another list. This seems to be the way to get your pages ranked well. TechCrunch, TouchArcade, Apple and PCMag are all well ranked within Google so this is no surprise. It’s looking quite ominous a task.

5. http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-31747_7-20110992-243/the-best-free-ipad-games-period/
ANOTHER take on the best free iPad games available to us in 2013. It’s becoming very much a trend is this. I doubt the authors care a jot about what games are good and what are bad. They just want their site ranking well for these search phrases. “The best free ipad games, period“. Well if that’s not arrogant I don’t know what is. Arrogant link baiting. Wow. The internet sinks a level.
This list is different but really no different to the others, other than it ranks lower in Google’s index.

I offer some very simple arcade games that are based on a simple premise: shoot, dodge and blast your way to the top of the high score table. It’s old school and I’m starting to feel like I cannot compete.

6. http://ipad.about.com/od/Action-Arcade-Games/tp/The-Best-Action-Arcade-Games-For-The-iPad.htm
I couldn’t see a date alongside this entry. I think it may be a couple of years old given some of the titles on offer – “Rage” for example.
I quite like this list. It’s simple and honest. But still it points directly to the app store. HTML5 gaming hasn’t a sniff. Yet.

7. http://ipad.about.com/od/iPad_Games/u/A-Guide-To-iPad-Games-And-Gaming.htm
I didn’t delve too deep here but it looks like all the results of number 6 categorised. The author is the same. Yup, very much an SEO exercise.
“Daniel, get us listed up there with Techcrunch for free iPad games. We’re about.com for God’s sake. We need to be registering.”

8. http://iappguide.com/ipad/top-games/arcade-games/free
Hang on. This looks different. I’ve never heard of iappguide.com. These guys could well be HTML5 focused.
Alas, no. It’s another bunch of links to the app store. To its credit it looks pretty well maintained. Right now Flappy Bird is all the craze and there’s a bunch of “flappy” games on offer. No HTML5 but it’s a bit different. Credit to them for weighing in at number 8 but I’m not sure I’d install any of their listed games. It’s just a list and feels pretty pointless. i.e. content I could get just by going to the app store or reading one of the previous 7 lists.

Lists, lists, lists. There’s no experience to be had here. Just lists. If you play Google you can position yourself well but have limited relevance to your audience. I’m not convinced lists are what people searching with the word “arcade” are after. I’m possibly (and probably) wrong.

9. http://iphone.mob.org/genre/arkady/
Proceed with caution! I’m not convinced that this site is a friendly site.
It’s the first site on the list that offers games outside of the app store. Yup, you’ll need a jailbroken iPad for this lot.
If you’ve jailbroken your iPad you’ve really missed the point. You probably should have some form of Android detritus like a Nexus 7 or Samsung Galaxy Mega. Both fine bits of kit but for my money inferior to Apple’s offerings. Anyway, that’s technical opinion and I try to avoid that.
I don’t like this site. It’s just a bit “hey look at my adverts”. There’s no promise of an experience to be had here. Just a vehicle for ranking highly and splurging adverts at you.

10. http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/muo-free-ipad-games-addicting-arcade-edition/
Aaaand another list. A bunch of iPad games that somebody has hastily assembled without any real thought or care. Actually perhaps there was some care taken not to replicate what Techcrunch or About.com were offering.
This is a terrible list wrapped with some adverts. Again.

I must be close to being listed. Surely.

11. http://www.imore.com/namco-arcade-ios-freetoplay-classic-arcade-titles
205 words in this article. 205 words. The rest of the page is adverts and links to other site content. Those silly enough to fall for it have commented in the comments section. Jesus.
So for anyone genuinely looking for free arcade games to play on their iPad it’s looking pretty grim. Unless they’re happy with wading through a list of somebody’s opinion as to what’s good they’re not really going to get the “arcade” experience.
Perhaps that’s not important.
I perhaps need to think about this.
Most people surfing the web for games were probably born after the glory days of arcade gaming. Is it really right that I should harp on about the beauty of playing games and striving for the high score for the cost of a single coin?
Maybe not. I am quite possibly barking up the wrong tree. But that said I’m convinced that what was fun for me as a boy 30 years ago ought to be fun for today’s casual gamer. The challenge of a good arcade game with that single goal of dominating the high score table – the one thing that identified you as the “best” – has to be a worthwhile pursuit.

12. http://playstar.mobi/
HUZZAH! I made it. Amongst the endless lists of lists I made it.

So what does a searcher see for their “free arcade games for ipad”?
To better understand this I’m going to try and step inside the mind of the searcher. What kind of a person might want to find free arcade games for their ipad?

Free games for iPad is quite different to free arcade games for iPad. At least I think it is.
If you include the word arcade you’re looking for something quite specific. That’s not to say you’re looking for something from 30 years ago. Not at all. But you’re looking for a style of game that almost by definition is brief, challenging, entertaining and most likely pretty intense.
So far a few of those lists have thrown up their own results and a bunch of the games listed are very good. Very good indeed. But they’re not “classic” in their execution. Not necessarily.
So from this I deduce that what I want from my searcher is an unwritten desire to play “classic” arcade games.
To have my games returned without having to supply an extra (and arguably implied) keyword is good.
The person I want to be searching for “free arcade games for ipad” is an iPad owner (obviously) and somebody interested in (ideally) classic style arcade games from what I would call the golden era.
This is both useful and limiting.
Useful in that it provides a niche target audience to aim for an limiting in that it restricts me to that very same audience.
Nonetheless I am happy to target this audience.

So what words greet my searcher?

Well right now it’s

Free Mobile Arcade Games – HTML5 gaming – No Downloads, no installs | Play Where can I play games on my iPad, Android, iPhone or iPod Touch for free 

Woah. Look at that – HTML5 gaming.
If I can get this person to click they’ve suddenley (hopefully) made an association with free and/or arcade gaming and HTML5.
I’d be happy with either of those associations.
One day HTML5 will be a key search phrase for anyone looking for a particular style of game. Ideally “mobile” and possibly “free”. Whether that shifts to the stinking world of In App Purchasing remains to be seen but certainly the mobile angle is key.

Same game > any device. That has to be a winner. It is afterall our unique selling proposition to our audience.

Building your own mobile web gaming portal – the games

I think that it probably goes without saying  that your games are your primary asset. They are the key to the success of your portal. Treating your games as such is a pretty good step toward achieving your goal of becoming a reasonably sized independent arcade.

It doesn’t take an astro-physicist to calculate that you stand a greater chance of repeat plays in your arcade if you have something worthwhile to offer.

Making sure you have enough quality in your games to keep a player engaged, challenged, entertained and ultimately rewarded enough to come back for more is of course a challenge in itself.
I have 15 games available. Some work well. Generally the older style shooting games. Some don’t work so well. For those that don’t work so well I am analysing the performance statistics to see if there’s anything I can do to improve the experience.

I think it’s probably worth exploring the world of mobile gaming in general and not just focusing on the burgeoning mobile web market. With a little investigation of the mobile gaming world at large we can probably get a good feel for what gamers will want and expect from a gaming portal.

Here’s a few key points.

Design with replayability in mind

Something that the arcade game designers of yesteryear proved to be very good at was designing enough to challenge and entertain the gamer whilst leaving enough behind to warrant another “go”.

This is of course linked to the need for a very visible and realistic target. In the arcades this target was ultimately a high score and the bragging rights that accompany having your name or initials flashing the brightest in the high score table.
But a good arcade game was split in to smaller more bite-sized chunks.

Scramble

Scramble arcade game

Consider Scramble. A tricky game and one that took most gamers a good amount of coins to master. The premise was simple: shoot, dodge, swoop and navigate your way through a deep scrolling maze. The game would throw more and more at you until your were hit or collided with a rock or a wall. It was intense and hugely challenging.

The ultimate goal was to take that top score. This was, in the early 1980s, very much a cultural thing. Gamers in those days would spend play times in school bragging about their scores. Although perhaps that has become less of a draw to modern gamers it is still very relevant to pitch your skills against your buddies.

Yet despite all of this I do believe that as gamers we invest an incredible amount on a personal level when we play. To that end I love the idea of designing stages within a game that must be conquered. On a personal level the gamer must go just one step beyond where they were in the previous “go”. Once this is achieved their attention turns back to the score.

“Right I beat that little challenge now what score do I get as a reward?”

So with that in mind I always try and design games that break down in to stages and also offer a wide range of points values for accomplishments therein.

In a later post I’ll go in to some detail of how I get data in and out of the games and in to a database.

Offering a niche

When I first set out to make mobile web games I knew that I wanted to make arcade games. Specifically the style of game that I grew up playing. They still to this day hold the most appeal.
As a result every game that I have in my arcade is an old-school style arcade game.

Just to ram the point home I even called the portal the PlayStar Arcade. I want gamers to identify with the portal as a source of arcade games. In my next post I’ll talk in some depth about the importance of branding your site.

So when a gamer comes to my arcade to play an arcade game they know roughly what they’re about to experience. The action is brief, repetetive and very much a throw back to the games of 25 years ago. This may not always be a good thing but I think on balance the decision to aim for this niche was a good one. I am engaging a certain type of player and my audience figures and play stats appear to show an increasing audience with a greater willingness to replay.

Something’s working!

I’m always reading about the importance of variety in a game designer’s portfolio. This is probably sound advice but it must be in line with your goals. It isn’t my goal to become a freelancing game designer. I just want to manage and administer my own niche arcade. I applaud those who are able to adapt to changes in the market and stay one step ahead. But it’s not for me. I guess you have to decide what is right for you and what your goals for your portal and your design ambitions are.

Rewards, rewards, rewards

This is a short and sweet one. Make the gamer feel good about playing your game. Reward everything that she does both visually and audibly (where possible). Don’t just display a “well done”. Shower the screen with tiny stars and let the little on-screen character do a little dance. Your gamers will remember it and come craving that feel-good experience in the future.

Screenshots, blurb, action and a challenge

This is a big one. I’m willing to bet that the primary reason for somebody clicking to play your game when it’s sat amongst a sea of games is the screenshot that is used to advertise it. In fact whether it’s a screenshot or an icon make damn sure that what you’re showing is the game’s key selling point.

If your game is a driving game don’t just show a stock image of a steering wheel with the name of your game over it. Show an in-game shot (or an adapted version of it) of a vehicle on the road in an interesting setting.

This of course links back to how you design your games. Designing with a screenshot in mind is no bad thing. When you construct your games try to visualise how it’s going to look sat alongside all of the other games in your arcade.

Those old enough to remember the glory days of arcade gaming will remember the artwork on the cabinets. The image of electro-invaders on the side of the Space Invaders cabinet or the bright yellow Pac-Man set against the largely blue hue of the maze that was in the masthead; both instantly identifiable and designed to pull the gamer in.

Similarly think about how you “talk” to the gamer. You want him to click and play. Give him something to fire his imagination. Calling a game Shoot the bridges is possibly not going to inspire a young boy’s imagination in the same way that River Raid does.

River raider

River Raider HTML5 arcade game

In my own game River Raider I wrote a small introductory paragraph which read:

Fly fast and low and blast everything to pieces. Your mission: destroy ALL bridges along the mighty river and neutralise the enemy threat. But watch your fuel and steer clear of the rocks. If you’re good there’s rank and glory to play for.

I worked hard to try and capture a young boy’s imagination and give him some motivation to jump in and play. I’d hoped that with just a few words somebody might pick up that gauntlet and take up the challenge of destroying bridges and blasting “everything to pieces”.
It also serves as a neat way to present at a glance what the player can expect when they press the start button.

So that’s it. A few starters based upon my own experiences designing games and attracting gamers in to play them.
In future posts I’ll go in to a little more detail about branding your portal and acquiring traffic. I’ll also discuss the tricky problem of converting casual visitors in to loyal gamers.

Electromaster – awesome iOS shooter game with single touch controls that work

A game that I’ve enjoyed a huge amount of late is Electromaster. It carries that irresistable blend of retro, arcade action and compelling gameplay.

Electromaster Electromaster screenshot.
 

The premise is simple. You control your electro zapping character as she walks around the screen and press and hold the screen to charge the weapon. When you release the weapon fires and you can then control that weapon by sliding your finger around the screen. The longer you can hold on (the screen rapidly fills with enemies and one collision halts your charge and depletes your health) the longer the weapon fires for.

Using your electro charge you must zap the enemies until they disappear off the screen.

It has that same frenzied sense that Robotron had many moons ago. But I guess the beauty of this game is that there are no overlaid controls. For that reason alone I play it pretty much every day. In fact my daughter and me are in serious competition! It comes with bonuses and power-ups and just, well, delivers. Even better it has a scoring system that quickly runs to the millions. Great game.

I like it so much I’m going to attempt to emulate it in JavaScript. I hope I can do it justice.

Update: check out the author’s web site http://xionchannel.blogspot.com/ and other game – Hungry Master.

Some thoughts on a context based HTML5 platform adventure

I’ve been toying with the idea of an arcade game in which the player controls a character that must escape from a dark and creepy tower. In fact being extremely inventive with my naming I’m calling the game The Dark Tower !
The premise is simple; your character is stood on the uppermost platform of a series of seemingly endless platforms and must decide what action to take to get off that particular platform.
If successful the character will drop down to the next platform where he is presented with another challenge. So on and so forth until the player guides his character out of the creepy tower.

The challenge in the game centres around the timing of tapping the screen to perform the character’s action. Depending upon the context of the platform the action will vary from jump, walk, run, duck or shoot. At least that’s what I have for now ! I guess it’s a kind of Temple Run concept.

So as an example the character stands waiting at the far left or far right of the platform and spins to face the direction he needs to move to get off the platform. At the far end a strange object periodically spits out a poisoned dart. You have a second to consider this and realise that the height at which the dart is travelling means that tapping the screen will result in your character jumping.
You tap the screen and sure enough he jumps over the dart and starts to walk forward. Another dart comes, you tap, the character jumps and continues to move forward. A health icon is overhead. You tap to jump collect the icon and moments later you tap again to leap over a dart. At the end of the platform the character drops down and spins to face the next challenge. This time he starts to walk on his own. From above a boulder smashes down. You tap the screen and your character stops. Tap again and he starts to walk. Another boulder crashes down before you. Tap and tap again and you’re on your way… So on and so forth.

It’s either a challenge of escaping from a predefined number of platforms or simply seeing how many platforms you can complete.

My plan is to randomise the platforms with the simpler stuff at the start and the more demanding platforms later on.

Impossible Mission screenshot C64

Impossible Mission – Commodore 64

The key for me in all of this is the animation of the game’s central character. Much like Impossible Mission from the 1980’s golden age of gaming I want the player to engage with the game based upon the silky smooth animation of their on-screen avatar.
Update: Play a Desktop JavaScript version of Impossible Mission at http://impossible-mission.krissz.hu/

More as I have it.

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