Bacon and Games

Month: March 2011

Bfxr Builds on Sfxr, Adds Mixer and More

Back in February I wrote about as3sfxr-b, a free sound effect generator written in AS3. Increpare, the editor’s author, has recently updated to a version dubbed Bfxr, which extends the already fantastic AS3-based sfx generator.

Bfxr Screenshot Mixer

The biggest addition in this version is the inclusion of a mixer. That’s right, you can now create sfx with this editor and then mix several tracks together to create a much more complex, layered sfx. You don’t even have to leave the browser. All these years I’ve been using audio editing tools like a sucker. OK, ok… you can’t completely abandon your audio tools, but it is an extremely handy feature.

He’s also added some additional waveforms, filters and some other fun features. But your head is still spinning from the news about the mixer, I know. So I’ll give you a moment.

Good?

Go check out Bfxr now.

Original GTA Game Doc

GTA Header Image

The original game design document for GTA 1 surfaced on Reddit recently. It’s a quick read and totally worth it if you’re into game design. A few noteworthy nuggets:

  • The working title was Race ‘n’ Chase. > Good move going with GTA instead, Rockstar.
  • They reference other games in their doc, including Sim City and Doom. > A game made by gamers. It’s neat to get a glimpse at some of their influences.
  • There’s a decent mix of design and technical notes in here. It’s all very high level, but interesting to see the technical challenges and solutions they addressed even this early on.
  • The only pedestrians listed in this doc are “Schoolchildren, lollipop ladies and dogs.” – This list is immediately preceded by “[Pedestrians] can be run over cars”. Rockstar knew exactly where they were going with this franchise from the very beginning ;)

The article on Reddit offered up a 10mb download of 12 jpeg pages. I stitched them together into smaller, single pdf for your convenience. It’s an interesting read. You can download the original GTA game doc here.

GTA and other old games of theirs are available for free download on Rockstar’s website. And for more info on the original game, they have a deliciously 90’s GTA website still up for browsing.

Many thanks to Ajay Karat of The Devil’s Garage for the article tip.

iSlash is Great… but the Star System is Flawed

iSlash IconLet me open by saying that I really like iSlash. And because I like it, I can afford to be petty :) No, that’s not what I meant. But because it’s a great game it’s worth scrutinizing and the details of a well made game are all you can really look at improving.

A Quick Overview of iSlash
First of all, if you haven’t played iSlash yet, go download it. iSlash could be described as the love-child of Fruit Ninja and Qix (or Jezzball if you never had a GameBoy). The goal of the game is to slice the level (a piece of wood) down to a small enough piece that the iSlash gods allow you to advance. On each level there are a bunch of ninja stars bounding around. The rules are simple. 1) Avoid the ninja stars while slashing and 2) wood pieces will only be removed if they demarcate a portion of the level that contains no ninja stars. As the game progresses the level shapes get more complicated, ninja stars of different types emerge and powerups are added. Here’s the trailer:

The Dilemma
Since it’s a fun game I’ve been racing through it. It’s truly got that “just one more level” addictive quality about it. As a result, I’ve now finished all 100 levels and I want more. So I went back and started trying to get 3 stars on every level, hoping it would unlock the additional levels added in the latest update. All was going well until I hit Level 27 of Set 1, the first level that put up a fight. Exciting!… challenge is good.

Up until this point I had developed a very general strategy; try to remove large chunks in a single slice, remove the metal first and try not to cordon any of the ninja stars off onto their own wooden island. Pretty basic stuff… more than adequate for clearing all 100 levels. But when I went to work on getting all 3 stars, my strategy wasn’t getting it done.

After 5 or 10 minutes of playing Level 27 I’d completed it many times, though never with a rating better than 2 stars. This was enough time for me to raise an eyebrow. I needed a new strategy.

Back to the Drawing Board: Improving Our Strategy
iSlash Level End ScreenI took to the level end screen to see if maybe I’d missed a clear explanation of what type of performance would yield 3 stars. Sometimes the developer provides a time or score goal, but no such luck. This was a bummer, but not a huge deal. It’s often possible to intuit what you need to do in order to improve your performance. As frustrating as it is that Angry Birds doesn’t reveal the exact score benchmarks for 1, 2 and 3 star ratings, if you come up short you know what you have to do… get a higher score. And you already have a strategy for doing that. More destruction. Less birds. Fucking pigs…

In iSlash we’re given 4 statistics about our performance on a level:

  1. Time
  2. Slashes
  3. Area Left (% of wood remaining)
  4. Score

Unfortunately, the user has no idea which of these 4 things factor into the 3 star rating system. This might cause problems for a user trying to develop a strategy for getting 3 stars, but let’s take a look.

We can almost certainly assume that the number of slashes is an important statistic, so let’s start there. Surely someone who gets the job done in 3 whacks deserves a higher rating than a player who whittles the level away with numerous tiny slices. There’s no clear indication of how this contributes to the rating. Rats.

Picture of 2 ratsWhat about time? The movement of the ninja stars is different each iteration, which is great because it keeps the levels dynamic. The trade-off is that the user has no control over when the perfect time to strike will occur. Patient gamers like myself will lie in wait, preparing for the perfect time to slice a big chunk of the level away with the first cut. But am I being penalized for making my first cut 30 seconds into the game? And if I am, given that the movement is random, do I deserve to be penalized for something I cannot control? I assume time is important, but again I can’t be sure. Double rats.

Area Left would seem like a nice way to separate the men from the boys, except that the percentage at which the level is complete is constant for all levels, which vary greatly in size and design. Additionally, once you hit the goal the level is over and it’s very rare that your final cut can account for more than a few percent. It’s just the nature of the game. So there’s not much room for variation on the area left. Rats. Rats. Rats.

This leaves score. The score, like Angry Birds, has potential to be a simple benchmark for where 2 stars ends and 3 begins. However, since we don’t know how each of the above contributes to the overall score, using points as a benchmark would give us something to aim for but we’d still be unsure of how to hit the target score. Now we need an exterminator.

A Possible Solution
Typically I’m in favor of peppering the user with statistics about their gameplay. Stats are easy to display because the game is already tracking all sorts of variables. It can be fun to see how many enemies you killed or how quickly you did it. But when the extra statistics detract from the experience, they become a liability. Displaying the time and the percentage remaining would make sense if iSlash had granular leaderboards, breaking each level down into categories of speed, efficiency and score. But the iSlash leaderboards only deal in scores.

So what’s the solution?

Use slashes for stars, leave time and area left to the score.

Make the number of stars earned directly related to the number of slashes used to complete a level. We know that completing a level as efficiently as possible is important. It’s clearly a great strategy and we know that cutting large pieces earn us powerups. So this should be the way you rate the performance because it’s almost certainly what the iSlash players are focusing on. To bring it home, show the required slashes to reach the next star rating adjacent to the earned rating. “3 stars at 8 slashes” If you earn 3 stars, you only see your three shiny stars and go on your merry slashin’ way.

With the star system clearly defined around the slashes, the score can become a function of time and area left, leaving people who want to compete globally to feverishly slash to their hearts’ content. The person at the top of the heap will still be the one who did it in the least slashes (i.e. the fastest, but it no longer directly contribute to the calculation of the score). Displaying the score would simply be a matter of adding the time score to the area left score, both of which are intuitively better if the numbers are lower. (not depicted above)

Users who want to achieve completeness will be able to develop a specific strategy around the number of slashes and those who are fueled by the allure of competition can continue to one-up their friends on the leaderboards.

This “problem” is by no means a show stopper. It’s still a great game, but I think it would be a more satisfying experience if the users weren’t left in the dark about the stars. I hope that there is an iSlash 2 in the works and I hope that, if there’s time, the developers will consider these thoughts. As for you, go pickup iSlash on the App Store now.

25 Memorable Quotes from the 2011 Flash Gaming Summit

This past weekend I attended the Flash Gaming Summit in San Francisco. I thought, before I get into any detailed articles about the event, it might be fun to just throw out a few quotes that really stood out to me. Some were inspiring, some interesting, but all listed here caught my attention. Bear in mind, I was taking notes the entire day, but I can only write so fast… thus what I’m calling a quote my actually be paraphrased. Regardless, it’s the message that struck me, not the words that were used.

Flash+ A Whole New Dimension for Games
Thibault Imbert & Lee Brimelow, Adobe

  • Mobile game revenue 2009: $4.7b | 2010: $5.6b | 2014: $11.4b
  • Adobe is looking at building APIs for using game controllers in Flash games
  • Native bitmap cursors now available
  • Stage Video utilizes the GPU which gets the same performance as QT on Windows. Drops CPU usage to almost nothing.

Keeping Yourself Honest in Game Design
Andy Moore, Radial Games

  • If you release a game that sucks, no-one will notice. People WILL notice your game when you fix the problems and re-release.
  • You can’t target everybody.
  • Surround yourself with talented people who can do what you can’t. Don’t try to be a one-man show.
  • Be promiscuous. Find partners on a per-project basis. Just because a team agreed on game A doesn’t mean they’ll both share the same passion on game B… and you want to be working with people who have a passion for the game.
  • Steambirds was originally known as “SexyPlane”
  • “The game on the left is the game I love. The game on the right is the one that made me money. You have to strike a balance.”
  • At the time of writing, the Steambirds franchise has made around $200k, including roughly $125k from iOS and Android sales and $40k from the initial sponsorship.

Panel: Metrics From Top Game Developers
Anil Dharni, Funzio | Curt Berertron, ZipZapPlay
Greg Thompson, Tall Tree Games | Mike Sego, Gaia Online

  • Roughly 1-3% of your users will be paying users.
  • If in the first month your game is not making as much money as you’re spending on it, you need to quickly figure out how it can make money or dump it.
  • A few thousand dollars is a decent starting marketing budget for FB ads because they yield high quality traffic. Use metrics and adjust.
  • Different is good. Even though Baking Life was another game in the sim genre, it was the first baking-related game on Facebook
  • Scandinavian audiences tend to monetize the best
  • Competition is important in a FB game
  • The assumptions you’re making about your FB game will almost certainly be wrong. Release early and iterate.
  • It’s less expensive to acquire users on FB than on a destination website

Panel: Polish: Make Your Games Shine
Panelists: Alexander Shen, Mochi Media | Daniel Stradwick, Monstrum
Jared Riley, Hero Interactive | Mike Pollack, Tasselfoot

  • Polish means not taking shortcuts
  • Polish includes hitting genre expectations
  • Cater to as many people as you can. In the console world, users have already invested $60 when they play your game. In the Flash gaming world, another game is just a free click away.
  • “I’m not time rich, I’m money rich”. – People are much more comfortable making micropayments for consumables. Spending a dollar to stay alive long enough to complete a level is more palatable to a gamer than paying for extra content or otherwise unobtainable features.
  • Sponsors usually won’t spend more than a few minutes playing your game. They love to see versions with cheats that allow them skip ahead in the game and see the full experience without having to play the game from start to finish.
  • You want users playing your game they way they’re comfortable. Consider allowing button mapping as a way to retain users.

And this one about Facebook games just made me laugh:

People have about 10 minutes to play your game before they move on… or their boss comes in.

For more information on the speakers mentioned in this article, click here If you’d like to watch the events summarized above, click here.

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