Bookmark for future procrastination

It’s Friday game night again, and on the agenda; experimental games. These are all developed by small indy game developers who challenge the mainstream perception of what games can be. We played The Graveyard, The Path and Musaic Box from Steam, and a bunch of web games well worth checking out:

 

Meat Boy. You play a slob of meat trying to get the girl. Platformer with wonderful controls.

Storyteller. Move people around to change the story. 

I Wish I Were The Moon. Take pictures to move stuff around. Try to find all the endings to this strange love triangle.

Coil. A dark, playable poem. 

Osmos. Working Alpha version availiable for download. 

Eversion. Download game, but well worth it. A disturbing platformer. 

 

All in all it was a pretty interesting night. Afterwards we dropped by the gym for a some much needed workout before heading home for a quiet evening. It actually rained yesterday, something you don’t see often in Boston. Gone today though, and Sunday looks like it will be awesome. In any case, don’t need nice weather go go bowling. 

Oh, and if you try any of the games let me know what you think!

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BPM presents: Fieldrunners

Last night we went to Boston Post Mortem, a  monthly gathering of game developers in New England. In software development, a post mortem is an article written after the completion of a project as a “lessons learned” evaluation, a practice usually ignored by mediocre companies (“everybody knows what went right and what went wrong, so we don’t see a point in writing it down”) and highly valued by the more successful ones who wants to improve. In game development these articles usually confirm to a “what went right” / “what went wrong” approach, and can be found on developer oriented game sites such Gamasutra and in Game Developer Magazine. Yesterdays presentation at was by one of the developers behind the highly successful iPhone game Fieldrunners, and given in the postmortem format.

Looks familiar, yes?

Men moving from one side of the screen to the other. Your job, killing them before they get there.

Fieldrunners is basically a port of the Tower Defence web games that have been all over the web for the last few years, with Desktop Tower Defence being one of the most popular. While bringing nothing new to the genre, it was the first TD game for the iPhone, which was key to it’s success. In any case, here’s a quick rewrite of yesterdays presentation. It’s usually best to start with the bad so you can end on a high note, and this is the presentation pretty much as it was given. 

What went wrong:

  • Got the hardware late. They did most of the development using an emulator, and when they actually got the iPhone and could test the game they found that it didn’t run as well as it should so they had to rework parts of the game. 
  • They didn’t design for unlockable content, which made it hard to implement later and caused the usability of the interface to suffer. 
  • They didn’t implement an online high score system, nor supported user created content. This was two of their most requested features. 
  • As nobody on the team knew anything about advertising, they didn’t do much of that either. 
  • While promising to deliver regular updates, they were slow to release them. 
  • Their website was infrequently updated, and used a forum setup which made their server crash every 6 hours. 
  • Their quality assurance wasn’t very good, so they ended up with major bugs from time to time as they would make a change, then only test the part of the game that was thought to be affected instead of the entire game. 
  • The game was released with one level and no audio, which really is a bad idea by anyone’s standard. 
  • It suffered from iPhone related crashes, as most people don’t know that you have to restart your iPhone when you install something just like you would a normal computer.
  • And last, they didn’t do any localization. 

This is pretty much game development 101, and most of these problems should be easy to avoid. While some things are given (people like high scores, design for unlockables and test on actual hardware), most aren’t that bad. Remember the forum though, you don’t want to hang yourself out to dry too much in front of your peers. As we will see, some of the things listed as wrong didn’t turn out so bad afterall. 

What went right:

  • Kept the ownership of the IP even when offered a fair amount of money for the game (a little self-patting here)
  • They built a community around the game through a website and forums, which created a buzz around the game. 
  • Pricing seems to be a major factor in the success of an iPhone game. A change in price will always give you bad ratings, so a set price is the best way to go. They set the price at $5 and never touched it again. 
  • By keeping the game within the 10mb limit people can download it over 3G and EDGE in the US. Anything larger and they will have to go through iTunes, which means you will lose all the impulse buys.
  • Timing the release at the end of the year when people where writing up their top 10 list of games for the year, meant they made it into a few of those lists. 
  • An attainable scope with a hard deadline made them actually release it, even though it was lacking in several areas.
  • While developers tend to make games they themselves want to play, giving your game a theme that the casual gamer will appreciate is usually a very good idea. Nothing too goofy or hardcore sci-fi / fantasy, in other words. 
  • Keeping the user interface simple (a given, but often hard to do). 
  • By promising to give regular updates people were more forgiving in their reviews, and by releasing major content updated they often saw reviewers writing additional reviews which gave them several rounds of media buzz. 
  • Also, being perceived as an indie developers helped a lot in reviews. 
  • Last day implementing savegames and different levels of difficulty turned out to be a very good call, small things that made a lot of difference. 
  • By creating their own engine designed for this game it was easy to make changes, and it ran much better then it would by using a more generic engine.
  • All this added up to a perfect 5 star review after 3500 reviews, and it seems that it’s impossible to add new reviews once that number is reached. This gives the game a permanent spot in the top of the appstore. 
  • In addition, they made the cover of Time Magazine as part of the “choices of the year” edition, were fronted by Apple in several commercial, and received a lot of media attention in general. 

Personally, reading between the lines in his presentation, I think they just got real lucky. They implemented existing gameplay in a decent way, didn’t make too many mistakes during implementation and because people like tower defence games, they grabbed the attention of the right people and made it into such lists as Time Magazines top games of the year. Did he give us the key to success? Hardly, but there are a few lessons in here that anyone developing for the iPhone should pick up.