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The Spilt Milk Live Post-mortem: Week 2: Diversification

By on May 13, 2011

Hello and good morning, it’s Andrew J Smith here again, bringing you part two of the Dev Diary for my second iPhone game project, imaginatively codenamed ‘Project #2’. We’ve already covered the gestation and origin of the game project, so this week we’re going to dive into the fun part – tweaking the existing game and exploring some of the thought processes behind the additions we made to it over the weeks.

The way we designed it, the main attraction for any long term player of Project #2 had got to be the highscores. We touched briefly on the multiplier we introduced last week, and the next thing to go in was OpenFeint support for online leaderboards. Getting this in early really screwed the project. We ended up competing over score – just between the two of us, bear in mind – so much that development of the game took a bit of a backseat. I’m half joking here, as this process did a number of positive things for us and the project as a whole.

Firstly it gave us confirmation that we were onto something. If in this barebones and very simple form our game was already proving addictive over the long-term, then surely it’d come out good in the end? This prolonged competition in the standard mode of play also gave us plenty of time to let the idea settle in our minds. I’m a big believer in letting a game get comfortable in your hands before charging off down a particular avenue of design ‘intent’. Adding features that you think will work is sometimes counterproductive, effectively cutting off potential avenues of development before they’re even apparent to you – and this means your game could’ve been better if you’d just taken your time a bit more. Suffice to say that hasn’t happened with this game.

Another core element that came from Nicoll and I competing for so long was the addition of the always-present friends’ highscore – constantly seeing the player who has surpassed your score is an incredibly good motivator to keep playing (just ask Geometry Wars 2 or Trials HD) so it was a no-brainer for us to add that functionality.

We also got a healthy level of respect and fun out of this period of time – for a new team this is incredibly important. We managed to click in many ways – sense of humour, attitude towards work and even the work balance spread between us. While trying to beat each other’s scores we’d insult each other, discuss mad ideas for the game and mock things up in the spare time we had. This led to discussions about world conquering (of course!) and the tactics we’d use to become overlords of humanity.

Combining PR and designing

Essentially while the game was pretty art-light and code-heavy, my role as designer could and should be bolstered by handling all the PR too. It’s something I’ve grown to love, but only time will tell if I’ve been successful. The game is good – it just needs to be played to prove itself, and any avenue that helps with this has been explored to the fullness of my capability. In fact, this very blog came about out of a desire to spread knowledge about the game to the world. I simply cornered Nicholas at the World of Love 2 afterparty, chatted a bit about his business ideas, and suggested a collaboration of sorts. Hey presto – you’re reading about it, and probably wouldn’t have known about the game if this blog didn’t exist.

After we decided enough was enough and we should get on with making the damn game, extra game modes were at the top of our list. The first we added is a bit of a classic – Deadline gives you 3 minutes and infinite lives to score as many points as you can. It’s a slightly more forgiving route into the game than the newly-named Survival mode (only one life… but play for as long as you can) and the two were nice counterparts to the same core gameplay. Moving onwards, we obviously came up with a lot of ideas for modes, some which made the cut, and some which haven’t (yet!) – Race, Maze, Solo, Exploder, Time Attack, Gauntlet, Turbo and Trace modes were all bandied about, and the final 6 make up a really complementary and diverse balance of exciting modes. Of course we plan to add more and more over time post-release, but 6 seems like a good number for the launch. Of course with all these changes we needed to have some tools added to the build so I could roll up my Designer sleeves and contribute something more tangible to the project than word docs and jpegs…

In fact, one of the most popular modes in the Beta (more on that next diary!) by the name of Gauntlet came directly out of me being a pillock and putting a whole bunch of the available sliders up to maximum. Endless hoards of constantly spawning enemy lines looked fun, sounded mad and felt good to try and survive amidst for the few seconds I could manage. The idea of swarms of baddies stuck and after a bit of balance (and sense prevailing) this mode seems to strike a chord with everyone that plays it.

Don’t tinker; be radical

There is a serious piece of advice in there though – I’ve long felt it is easier and more productive to either double up or double down when tweaking and designing. If you want an enemy to be weaker, halve his health to get a proper view on what this would mean. If you want the player to feel more rewarded by an action, double the points they receive and see what effect this has on the experience. Obviously you’ll have to tweak the numbers in smaller increments at some point, but early on this kind of ‘doubling up’ really helps figure out the key areas that need attention, in which direction you should move, and does so quicker than endless smaller tweaks would do.

Of course we weren’t just concentrating on the gameplay at this stage. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed the graphics have changed considerably over the course of this diary. We are aware that it’s hard to tread that fine line between retro and modern while making sure not to be seen as naff, uncool or trying too hard.

We think we’ve hit the nail on the head – a gentle glow around the lines themselves reminds us of old monitors and arcade machines, while pickups, powerups and other effects are just nattily designed particles, and a gentle grid behind the play area lights up gently in reaction to the gameplay on its surface. Add in a bit of depth with the star field in the background that moves in a very subtle manner and I think you’ll agree we’ve got a pretty unique looking game that harks back to the ‘good old days’ without explicitly using those tired old clichés of wireframes and vectors.

Tune in next time to see how we approached testing and the beta phase of the game. You know, all the most important bits of work left to do before we launch! Come back next week for Diary 3 – Beta Path to your Door.

Early Days Fun Facts:
Total Project Documents – 3
Screenshots Taken – 229
High-fives during development – 3
Build 17 Size – 11,355kb
Total Cups of Tea Consumed – ~240

About Andrew Smith