Developer Diary #18 — Lava Lamb

It’s been some time since my last writing, so I’ll just dive back in and talk about what’s been going on. The summer was somewhat slow for game work, with the bulk of my time spent on API integration for various platforms. I have not released Treasure Chasm yet, which is really ironic considering how rapidly I created it. There are many “reasons” (aka excuses) I can give, but the main issue is that I am still without music. Hopefully I will be able to wrap it up and release in the near future. I also participated in the Ludum Dare, and crossed the finish line for the first time. I spent some time after the weekend working on expanding the game, but soon found the overall design lacked enough depth to continue. Even the failure was great design experience.

For now, however, I have been working on a totally new game. It is just days from release. I started with thoughts about combining pinball with Doodle Jump. It turned out to be rich with gameplay, which I am thrilled about. Initially I was going to make the game about a series of interesting little monsters that jump out of a volcano. While the gameplay was going very well, the theming just was not right. I tried to make a few different monsters but the result was mostly just confusing.

Then, I made one little change. I scrapped the monsters and added a sheep. Something about the juxtaposition of wool and lava was really hilarious to me. After that the game really just fell into place. I watched a great talk by Rami from Vlambeer about game backstory which helped me assemble a structure about a stupidly brave lamb that has jumped into a volcano. For some reason you are supposed to rescue the sheep with giant pinball flippers. Also disco is playing. By that point, the title Lava Lamb just seemed very appropriate.

Right now, everything is “done.” This means I am in “struggle with Apple” mode. The only steps left are uploading app preview videos and submitting the final build. Hopefully that can be accomplished in the next few days, but the last couple weeks of Red Tape Jungle give me reason to be hesitant about any projections.

Ryan

Developer Diary #17 — Gifs Ahoy

Work on Treasure Chasm has finally begun. Boy has it been fast. I’ve never had a project take off so quickly. The last few weeks have been very interrupted by travel and grad school finals, so the rapid reentry has been very refreshing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my pre-drawn artwork served as a to-do list once development began. With so much time to consider how the game should go, I found the gameplay was solidified and focused before I even began to program. There really is very little complexity, and I want to keep it that way. Projects tend to spiral out of control with too many ideas. So far, I have been avoiding that by sticking to a simple core. We’ll see how that plays out in the end game.

I’ve included some gifs to show off some of the game. The main idea is simple: dive below the surface to collect treasure, but don’t run out of fuel. Players can refuel at the surface as well as upgrade their submarine. As the players upgrade their vehicle they will be able to go further and further below the surface, where greater rewards are found. Along the way they run into many different kinds of obstacles. The goal of the game is to reach the bottom of the ocean to collect the greatest treasure. What players doesn’t know is that a secret buzzes in the deep. I am currently wrestling with the ending, giving it a satisfying bigness without bloating the project unnecessarily.

 

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I can’t properly describe how much fun I’m having with this. Here’s to hoping it’s just as fun for everyone else. More to come soon!

 

Ryan

Developer Diary #16 — New Game! New Game!

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A few days ago I started work on a new game. This is always an exciting time, so I am capitalizing on the creative high by doing as much pre-planning and asset creation as possible before piecing things together in Construct 2. I am usually so eager to see things moving on the screen that I can skip important steps. Then I waste time and focus correcting them later. Right now I am streamlining the gameplay and organizing the flow so that the resulting game is cohesive and simple.

Photo Mar 21, 3 47 33 PM As an artist, one of the best ways for me to plan a game is dive right into asset creation. As I create elements, I think to myself, “what purpose does this serve the gameplay?” and, “what is the simplest way to include this?” That way, as I am creating art, I am solving key problems before being faced with less important but more distracting problems. With this game, I am telling myself that I should be able to play and enjoy myself in my mind before writing any code. It’s tough but so far has been absolutely worth it.

I hope to catalog development on this game better than I have in the past, so more posts/screenshots/gifs should be on their way shortly. Feedback is very appreciated. Drop me a line on Twitter or leave a comment below.

 

Thanks for reading!

Ryan

Precarious Potions Post-Mortem

“Yesterday I released my first app to the App Store and Google Play.” What a phrase. As of today there are over a million apps in the App Store alone. I am still learning how to “make it” in this market and am beginning a new journey as I write. What an exciting week! For the sake a post-mortem, though, how about we rewind a bit?

Beginning

I started work on Precarious Potions the summer of 2012. I was working an awful job and discovered HTML5 as an alternative. I had been making games for the past 10 years, but never thought I could earn a living doing it. I started making Precarious Potions as a way to learn the platform. I put it to the side while working on other games, and established a sustainable business over the next year and a half. Whatever I was working on, I kept coming back to Precarious Potions. It reminded me of Cut the Rope and Jenga in all the best ways. It was just so compelling I had to finish it.

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Learning Experiences

So what have I learned during this time? I have grown immensely as a game designer. I refactored the game at least twice. The scope of the game has both exploded and shrunk and has settled somewhere much grander and yet simpler than I originally intended. I learned how to build atmosphere and adventure without an enormous amount of assets. I disposed of stereotypical tropes like the “level wall” nearly every puzzle game uses blindly. I questioned my reasons for making games and for following cookie-cutter models given me by the games I was emulating.

I learned how to design levels—and I’m not talking about using a level editor to place elements on a page. I’m talking about creating lists of lessons players should learn to play the game without instruction. I’m talking about deconstructing what male and female players from ages 5 to 99 do automatically when presented with a stack of books and a bottle on a touch screen. I’m talking about using zero tutorial text. What I learned the hard way is that creating good puzzles is about first knowing your player really well and then simplifying until the player has the knowledge and ability to make complicated decisions on their own. Of all the areas I grew while creating Precarious Potions, this was at once the most painful and the most rewarding. I still get a headache thinking about it, but am prouder of fewer things.

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What Now?

I also learned that HTML5 is powerful, useful, and mature. We are no longer in the era of cute web demos. “Write once; run everywhere” is no longer a buzz-phrase. You can do it today—I did it yesterday. If anything, Precarious Potions shows that there are options outside of proprietary languages and plugins (all of which are great in their own right) that are legitimate and robust. It’s not perfect. It’s got weird bits and awkward places, but I would recommend it and I intend to keep using it.

I love my game, and I hope you do to. I’ve released it for free with zero ads and in-app purchases. I am honored to have a partnership with the great guys at gamemix.com who have made that possible. If you’d like to give the game a spin, you can play it on iOS, Android, and/or the web via www.precariouspotions.com. If you like it, consider rating or sharing with a friend, your mother, or your favorite house pet. Tweets, posts, and +1’s are sweet, sweet gifts.

Have a wonderful day, and I hope you enjoy playing.

Ryan Davis, Creative Ink Games

 

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Precarious Potions Launch

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Today is finally here! After many months of tough love, Precarious Potions is ready for the world. What can I say? There really are no more words.

It’s free, it’s fun, and it won’t ask you to harass your Facebook friends. Play in an app or a browser through the power of HTML5.

http://www.precariouspotions.com

Have a wonderful, fantastic day.

Ryan

Developer Diary #15 — Red Tape

This is Apple.

Alright, it’s about time I wrote. I’ve put off writing until I could announce Precarious Potions, but in light of recent events I will abandon that plan and write anyway. The past couple months I have been beating my head against the red tape gates of App Store submission. Precarious Potions is ready to go on Android, but iOS is proving to be a ferocious bureaucratic monster. I’ve tried to get around not owning a Mac but in the end I gave in. I will be buying a shiny new app submission box. Woe is me and all that.

On a more positive note, the New Year has brought a great deal of business with it. It has been encouraging to find email waiting for me almost every day. It looks like my work is getting out there and generating its own interest. That said, I do not know where most of my website views come from (you are a mystery to me). I can only think that the largely false “If you build it, they will come,” has become true in “build enough, long enough, and somebody will show up.”

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I have also spent some time reskinning JuJu Berry (the matching game I made for a local frozen yogurt shop) into an improved version with my own IP. I am thrilled with it and will be charging full steam toward Apple’s red tape nightmare again as soon as Precarious Potions is out the door. The current version is available for license now.

I am finding myself growing a passion for this style of match three game. I know that’s weird. It also rings a bit anti-indie. However, I think I have stumbled on something really incredible. I know match three has been done to death, but it is always done to death the same way. In the end, it’s about bottle-necking the player with number of pieces. But what if it was fundamentally different? What I am asking now is, “what if the bottleneck is removed?” What if the limiting factor becomes player memory and organizational prowess? I cannot describe how excited I am to play with these ideas. It’s just waiting to be done.

Things are really looking up! I can’t wait to report on Precarious Potions. Fingers crossed for late February!

-Ryan

Developer Diary #13 — “Done” and “Released”

About a week ago I started saying that I am done with Precarious Potions. It’s a great feeling, being “done.” It’s really too bad that “done” and “released” are not the same thing. Now that I am no longer adding content, I am rounding up edge cases, squishing bugs, and arguing with nonsensical web standards. In some ways I want the release to be as perfect as possible, and in other ways I know that I can never make it 100% functional for every browser on every device in all weather and astrological conditions. The consensus at the moment is that HTML5 is still flaky, at best. I’m starting to learn tolerance for odd bugs that don’t actually break the game. It’s the ones that do that are currently driving my up the walls.

One important thing I do in the time between “done” and “released” is lots of random testing. I usually stick my iPad under someone’s nose and ask them to check out a game I made. If they look interested (which they usually do) I ask them for critique—mean critique. I want them to rip it apart. This serves two purposes: The first is to take their socially acceptable nothing-but-vague-praise response and push it into a more realistic realm. The second is to help find the things that solicit 1-star reviews before they have the potential to scar my game’s reputation. You can hear it before or after, but I find it much easier to manage before. If the tester truly likes your game, they won’t be able to help including praise along with the critique. Either way, it’s a win-win.

I can’t wait to kick this game out the door. I’ve got a lot of great plans for it—which I will be writing about quite soon. I really believe in where this game has gone. With the right exposure it will do well in the wild. Once it releases I will share more details about the transformation it went through in the past year-and-a-half, as well as overall success or failure in the marketplace.

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Until next time, here is a preview image of the intro sequence. All elements were hand-drawn on a very large sheet of paper and then captured via my iPad camera. I vectored over them, but the hand-drawn nature remains. I am psyched to use the process again—it made such a difference.

-Ryan