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.” 

HTML5 game framework, web audio and a new (old) game

I’ve spent a good amount of time lately working on my HTML5 game framework. It’s starting to pay dividends.

I think the thing I am most thrilled about is the support for Web Audio. Thanks to a bunch of great sites and their articles getting up to speed with producing sounds for the games has been a breeze.

I heartily recommend this site for a great introduction to the API: http://www.html5rocks.com/en/tutorials/webaudio/intro/

I currently support 3 files types: OGG, WAV and MP3. OGG files are generally larger than the other two. Generally speaking I aim to get the game code and assets in to 500k. For all audio I aim to use no more than another 500k such that the game fits in to 1Mb. Downloading a 1Mb game outside of WiFi isn’t a problem in 2012.

For the soundtracks that run through the game I use a very fine composer and old school buddy. You can find his work on SoundCloud. We grew up listening to the awesome music of Rob Hubbard on classics such as Sanxion. I can’t tell you what it means to us to be able to reproduce the arcade thrills and wonderful game music from almost 30 years ago.

Audacity logo

For the creation of sound effects I use Audacity. A wonderfully simple tool to use yet extremely versatile and rich with features. You will need a couple of plug-ins to export to different formats but the application will guide you through this.

As a source for my sound effects I fire up MAME and record the audio of a few games. Armed with a WAV file I launch Audacity and start to tweak the sounds until I’m happy that a) it sounds nothing like the original and b) it fits the game.

This is probably copyright hell but just now I’ve not used the work commercially. Most likely by the time I get to use production quality sound effects I will have commissioned them.

Adding sound and music to games is in many respects the final hurdle. Mobile web games have been largely mute this last couple of years. It’s just awesome to be able to offer rich multimedia gaming experiences.

I look forward to presenting my next project, Crossfire, in the next couple of weeks.