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.”
A considerable amount of work has gone in to Jumpin’ Jasper this last few days. I’m thrilled by the results of some intense pixelling. As always it’s the colour choices that end up defining the game and I think I got this one just right. Time will tell of course but I’m pretty sure this is the most complete game I’ve made yet using HTML5 tech.
I’ve made a conscious decision to shift towards a SNES art style. This is not a casual decision, it’s very much a direction I want to take my games in going forward. I think the market for HTML5 games is maturing quickly and in order to compete it’s vital that I step up the quality of my output. I enjoy the art as much as the coding and crafting these sprite-based retro games is very much a part of the thrill. Of course the research that goes in to coming up with the art style isn’t so bad either!
So I’m definitely in to the closing stages with the game and am looking to tie up a few loose ends before I begin the lengthy testing process.
I have a few more features that have definitely crept in but they’re not huge and I’m happy to let them slip through the back door :)
Hopefully Jasper will prove to be a hit for me and I can build upon his character for future titles.
Development on my platform game project is coming along nicely now. It’s always nice to break the back of the game’s “engine” and then settle down to tweaks and minor mods. For the most part just now I’m playing with numbers to get the best “feel” for the game.
For example – initially I had the player’s character (a squirrel that I currently call Jasper) leap in to the air with a tap on the screen (or mouse click / Z or CTRL on keyboard) and fall at the same rate that he jumped. It looked great as the squirrel span quickly and then landed with a satisfying thud. But when I tested it on a mobile handset it was proving difficult to control the character. So I slowed the rate of descent and also reduced the spin speed as the squirrel descended. The result was and is equally as satisfying and much more fun to control.
I have to say that playing the game on the desktop with the keyboard is a lot of fun. It feels great and very responsive. But crucially on mobile it works extremely well. A fine balance.
My level editing suite allows me to drop features in pretty quick. The resulting JSON that is spat out is simply dropped in to the game transparently such that when I fire up the HTML it’s just there. This gives me the freedom to chop and change at will and more importantly it allows me to have a lot of fun creating levels.
I currently have 4 monsters all of which are mutated bugs of some kind. Two bugs crawl along the platforms, 1 spits acid and another drifts in and targets the squirrel if he’s hanging around too long on the level. Kind of like the saucer in Defender.
Using this same codebase I’ve already started designing a game similar in some respects to the excellent Metroid. I like the challenge of creating more sophisticated SNES style graphics. In fact there’s a lot of similarities between some SNES titles and my own art style. I’m not the world’s best pixeler but I do enjoy it.
I’m currently targetting the first week in December to complete this game and then I’ll go back to the cartoon space adventure starring my young intergalactic ranger Kyle Comet.
I’m looking at producing a football (soccer) game for my next project. Looking around at the world of football in computer games is a pretty interesting exercise.
Thanks to sites like YouTube it’s not so difficult to perform quick comparisons between games from a variety of different platforms.
See for yourself what I found over a coffee break earlier today.
World Cup 90 Sega Megadrive
Versus Net Soccer Konami Arcade
Cyberball Not sure which platform – cool portrait view
American Football game – cool portrait view
Beautifully presented N64 J-league game
Excellent execution. Non-fluid game.
Neo Geo. Say no more. Beautifully presented.
I included some of the non-Soccer games to highlight their presentation. I typically like to produce games in a portrait orientation so the Cyberball game was particularly interesting to me.
As a huge fan of football myself I can say that the thrills of the game are in the attacks. The faster and more precise the counter-attacks in a game the more thrilling it is for the spectator.
I want to build a game that captures the very best parts of a football match. To that end I may well ditch the standard approach for making such a game in favour of purely concentrating on the arcade thrills of attacking football.
Throw-ins, corner kicks, offside.. they’re all pretty dull to an arcade gamer.
One idea that I’ve had is to start each as a set piece where the player has to defend a free kick. If the attacking team scores then the set piece is reset and the player must defend again.
If the set piece breaks down and the ball goes out then the stage is reset and again the player must defend.
If however the set piece fails and the player obtains possession then the thrill of the counter attack ensues.
I like simple controls so initially my thoughts are to tap left, centre or right on the screen to direct the goalkeeper when in defensive mode.
In counter-attack mode the AI for the advancing players will be handled by the code such that the player simply taps the screen to pass the ball. The theory is that the player taps ANYWHERE on the screen and the code will select the nearest team mate to pass to.
Once the team player with the ball moves beyond the overlaid 20 – 25 yard line he automatically shoots.
This is very much a dumbed down approach but it currently works for me to think like this.
I’m a huge fan of simple controls and simple execution.