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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Developer Diary #5

This week I started illustrating. It’s been a while since I did anything quite like this, so the learning curve is quite steep. I am relieved to report that I am quite pleased with the results. I started the process by sketching and thumbnailing. My expertise are not in character design or storyboarding, but I do know quite a few illustrators and am familiar with the process. I consulted several online tutorials and references and managed to take my sketches away from embarrassingly vague to something more substantial.

Sketch to Vector Draft (click to enlarge)

Sketch to Vector Draft (click to enlarge)

I am also attempting to create a plot which says much through very little. I want the character to be someone with whom the player identifies and whose plight stirs emotions. I also want to say this in as few frames as possible. I am inspired by Omnom from Cut the Rope, here. I am asking questions like, “What makes plot engaging?” “Why do we identify with certain characters?” and “What subtle actions create huge response?” I am learning this is much harder than it looks.

Draft of one of the story panels

Draft of one of the story panels

I am also beginning to think about how I am going to land this project. It’s easy to make a development cycle last forever, so I am trying to beat feature creep to the punch by having a mental image of what the game will be when it is done. I think most of the inflation will occur within the menus via illustration sequences, external links and credits, and the ending sequence. All of these are important. A game without a proper execution of these elements looks bare–even if the actual gameplay is good. Fortunately I love this process. I’m really looking forward to making this game sparkle.

-Ryan

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Developer Diary #2

Today I took the plunge on level design. Now before I move on let me just get it out now: I hate level design. Many a project has been abandoned because I placed too heavy an emphasis on level content. In the past I dealt with this by playing to my strengths. By either writing procedural levels or avoiding them all together, I was able to finish projects and pursue other ideas. This was an excellent practice—but now I’ve decided to grow in this area through Precarious Potions.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I’ve begun thinking that like good writing, good level design requires revision. Good writers chop out every word which does not add to the main thrust of the work. They rearrange, remove, and rewrite until their finished product often looks quite different from their original draft. Creatives often get attached to their work, so this process is hard. At this moment I have about 20 finished levels for Precarious Potions. Getting those levels to exist was a painful, frustrating experience. I spent weeks on them—but as I look at them now I realize that they were best seen as a preparatory doodles or sketches.

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