This blog is a transcript of a talk I did for the (extremely cool and pretty groundbreaking) Power-Up Digital Games Conference, hosted by Zettabyte Marketing.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for sticking around so late! My name is David Vogt. I'm the founder and project lead at The Ludicrous Ones. I suppose you could say that I specialize in reimagining and breathing new life into classic game designs.
That philosophy brings us into tonight's talk. "Maximizing fun and playability across platforms" A lot of what we do is taking these older, yet viable designs, and making them work with today's technology; like various input devices, distribution methods, and the such.
This is Bug Attack!, and will be our example tonight. In fact, you can pop over and play the free web version right (now) after this. Try it in both PC and mobile browsers for a real hands-on example of this whole thing.
So, this is Bug Attack!. It's partially inspired by Missile Command, and partially inspired by the idea of ants making their way into your kitchen from seemingly everywhere, and the tense, desperate feeling that comes with! The object of the game is to directly click on them to kill the variety of bugs. At various point intervals you receive power-ups, such as powerful bombs and a repair kit to restore health. Very simple, and to the point.
However simple, can we bring it to players elsewhere, and will it hold up? Yes, but not everywhere.
An easy to play, pick-up and play game like Bug Attack! is exactly the sort of thing that works well with a mobile device. Easy decision! Doesn't mean that changes aren't needed.
The most immediate problem was the size of the bugs. They were simply too small for the screen area. They were hard to target, and hard to see. This led to the blue bugs being resized by a large margin; and while their size was increased, the black bugs' and dragonflies' were not. That was to keep the game from becoming too easy, bonuses too easy to hit; plus, the beetles just kind of took up the entire screen! It was a mess.
User Interface needed to be addressed, but luckily, it was pretty much a no-brainer. The Pause function and powerups are inobtrusive, and can be activated with a touch or click. The only real difference is giving PC (and console) users the option to disable the onscreen buttons, and use keys and buttons instead. A simple matter, but something you want to keep in mind. It's one thing to design things to your vision, but playability needs to be a factor in your decisions.
PLAYING THE GAME
Besides the above, there is one big difference between the big and small screen versions. In the original design, you click or touch, boom. You know what, though? A single touch at a time felt very restrictive, and not all that fun. It was clear that it had to play like a different game at that point. Multi-touch won out- but there were some goofy and fun tests with smashing them with a swipe or a smear. We may revisit some of those ideas for powerups for a later update, but as the primary method of play... no.
FREE AND PAID VERSIONS
We don't want to get too into marketing and distribution here, so I'll keep this brief. There are cases for both methods, and there will be different versions of Bug Attack! on mobile. The free version will simply be the basic single player game, with a few inobtrusive ads.
The paid version will have extras, including free post launch updates, as well as being ad-free.
The Android platform versions have a nice extra benefit, and that's Google Play integration. That means we were able to effortlessly (and without cost!) add achievements and system-wide leaderboards. A nice platform specific perk, the kind of thing to watch out for, if it's in your scope.
THE BIG SCREEN
Bug Attack! is a neat little game; one that I'm not afraid to admit gets played an awful lot outside of work. Still, we can do more for a full featured experience. How much, though? If you aren't familiar with feature creep, it's basically when you go nuts adding extraneous stuff that your game doesn't REALLY need, and sends your scope, time, and budget spiraling out of control.
I think I've kept feature creep well under control, while adding some fun and pretty worthwhile stuff.
To make it all feel a little more substantial, some of them are unlockables. Every point you score in a complete game gets you closer to unlocking the extras. Real world achievements, in a way.
What kinds of extras are we talking about? We'll start with the base PC version.
We have things like splat colors: Change the color of splats the dead bugs momentarily leave behind, a sound test, a mode with quite different gameplay, and some bizarre surprises.
The two most substantial would be the...
Arcade Bezel: This gives you an enclosed, CRT arcade monitor view, complete with bezel and a marquee. It's mostly a cosmetic extra, but very nice to have.
Two player mode: The biggest advantage, to me, of a big screen experience is the ability to have local multiplayer games. After MUCH experimentation and deliberation, I came up with this;
By plugging in a standard XBox style gamepad, you can access 2-player mode. Player one plays as they normally would; but player two takes control of a building-mounted turret. This turret fires powerful rounds which can be manually detonated; but only one at a time. This creates a fun, strategic approach. Definitely a different, worthwhile experience.
There are more bonus modes and the such to be announced and released post-launch as free updates, but we'll move on to the last major platform.
NINTENDO WII U
Being a home console with a touch screen & stylus, plus Wii Remotes with pointer functionality, it's a simple matter to bring over the base game. Still, there's a lot more that can be done.
The elephant in the room is multiplayer. This is still a work in progress, but you have a machine that can support five players, easily.
The console gives us a lot of freedom of play, and I want to pass that freedom on to the players at home. This is leading to something of a party mode, where players can take on different roles; the trick is balancing and changing the game itself enough to facilitate the variety, while not so much that it loses its sense of self.
How would you handle it? It's worth putting yourself into those shoes, and thinking about.
The other primary change is the inclusion of Miiverse, Nintendo's integrated social network. In Bug Attack's case, this is a matter of swapping the Twitter share feature with a Miiverse one. Simple, but very fun and engaging for users.
So, that basically sums up where you'll be playing Bug Attack! later this year, and how it's fun and different each way you play it. But why isn't it everywhere? Playstation and XBox are great platforms, with great ecosystems. I personally enjoy both, as well as past iterations. Fact of the matter, Bug Attack is not a good fit with their control methods. Shoehorning it onto their controller schemes simply isn't fun; so the decision was made.
This leads into the close of this talk. Each decision made for each platform, and how everything feels and plays; each decision is made with fun in mind.
At the end of the day, that's an important, if not the most important, core value of our job. Fun. If something isn't fun, or it could be more fun, we make it better. If it doesn't work, sometimes it is better to check your pride and profit at the door, and get rid of it.
I hope you've gained some insight and appreciation of what goes into bringing a game across platforms. I also hope that you had fun. Thank you for hanging out tonight.
I've included the URL to play the free version of Bug Attack!. Try it out on both your PC and mobile device if you can, to get a real grasp of some of these examples.
This is a transcript of the live talk for the Power-Up Digital Games Conference.