Tweaking games for a better challenge

I’ve been playing around with a few of my older games lately. Galactians 2 in particular has spent a good amount of time on the ramps.

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Swoop, dodge, blast, bounce and splat

When I wrote it a year or so ago I was keen to just upgrade the graphics from the previous incarnation, Galactians, and boost the player ship’s laser power. My design document for the game was (as usual) a single sentence that roughly read “swoop, dodge, blast, bounce and splat”

To that end it came out pretty close to the design :)

It was a game that I’d enjoyed making and had tested to death before I unleashed it upon the portals. But I guess there was always an element of “am I making it too easy by giving the player so many laser power-ups?”
I still think I was. But the amount of fun that could be had wiping the screen clear of swooping aliens in under 3 seconds was just too irresistable to ignore.

3 second attack waves?

I’d played with the concept of short waves of attack with HyperGunner. It worked quite well in that game so I was keen to repeat it.

4I played Galactians 2 a lot this last week and of course my ability to rack up the high scores increased. Before very long I was in to the millions and the average game length was probably around 10 minutes.
It was only when I stopped to look at that number 10 that it occurred to me that it might just be a bit too long and a bit too easy. Should I be thinking about reducing the average game time?

My Google Analytic stats show me that the average amount of time on a game page is around 3 minutes. This isn’t exactly scientific. It only takes a handful of players to stay on the page for 10 minutes whilst the other lord-knows-how-many-thousand duck in and out within seconds to skew the figures. But that aside I stuck with the notion of 3 minutes per game. It seemed like a reasonable amount of time to be playing and quite possibly the optimum amount of time to trigger that all important I must have another go and do better.

So where next?

The frankly ridiculous jelly bomb

Well I didn’t want to mess with the core mechanics of the game.
I liked how the aliens peeled off the formation and swooped to attack. I also liked how later levels would see a non-destructable guided missile and the frankly ridiculous “jelly bomb”. It also seemed to work that on later levels just as the player was becoming comfortable with the repetition of blasting and splatting some aliens would target the player with their bombs rather than simply dropping them.

It was when I focused on the bombing habits of the alien bugs that I realised something fairly crucial to the game’s challenge / reward dynamic. The distance between the hovering alien formation and the player’s tank was fairly large. Around 200 pixels from the base of the lowest alien to the turret of the player’s tank.

Within that space the aliens would shift left and right whilst diving often in a sharp angle. On the shallower dives the player was pretty vulnerable. But on the steeper dive curves the player had a lot of time to react.
So I tweaked the game to shunt the player up by 48 pixels (I always work in 8’s with sizing in these games. No idea why?) and reduce the severity of the alien dive curves.

More challenging and more fun

The result was incredible. The challenge presented by reducing the player’s available response time was enormous. Better still it actually felt like the kind of arcade game that I grew up playing. I was thrilled.

My high scores were halved, as was my play time. Rarely did I score 1 million and rarely did I reach 4 minutes per game. But nothing was lost. In fact quite the opposite. The game was more challenging and consequently more fun.

The concept of reducing reaction times is now high in my mind as I shift my focus to some of the other games.
In particular¬†Jumpin’ Jasper, which is nearly complete, is prime for applying this “rule” to.

There is of course another benefit to shrinking the play area in this way. The game suddenley opens up to a wider audience of Samsung Galaxy Y and iPhone 4 users. In fact my player sessions have more than doubled as a result.

An extremely worthwhile exercise.

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