Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stencyl and Newgrounds

Since Mochi Media is winding down the services in the end of March, I started to look for alternatives for publishing and spreading my own flash games.

Previously, I have posted couple of games to Kongregate just to test the flow, but there has been only handful of players for each of them (with zero marketing). However, I also posted Explopool to kong for a week ago, and this time there has been enough players to get the ratings visible (2.7 / 5.0 stars at the moment). Clear progress, I would say. :)

I have heard stories about Newgrounds and how demanding the audience is there. So it has been bit frightening choice for the fledgling game developer who is unsure about his own skills. Nevertheless, I decided to make a Newgrounds version of Explopool (with scoreboard and ads), and test how game publishing flow works there.

Basically, integrating Newgrounds API to game made with Stencyl was very easy: Just create game project at Newgrounds and copy the API ID and encryption key to Stencyl advanced settings. After that ads and scoreboards are available with ready-made Stencyl building blocks. It is just as easy as integrating Mochi features to the Stencyl game.

After I was convinced that I had not broken anything in my game, I did the required setups and uploaded swf to Newgrounds. Then I performed final playtests in preview mode, did some sanity checks, and after pressing "submit" button game was available for audience in judgement mode. This means that players can vote whether new game is added to the collection, or if it is trashed and deleted forever from the system. But believe me, it is somehow exciting to follow how many stars your game will get from the first visitors. :)

In Explopool's case judgement phase went quite well. After some hours there had been couple of hundred players and rating was around 3 stars out of 5. Game was also added to the Newgrounds list, so I was very happy to the result.

One important thing to remember when converting a game for Newgrounds: Flash games are displayed in canvas with 16x9 aspect ratio ("widescreen"), so it may require some scaling or letterboxing to fit your game properly there. I had designed Explopool mochi and kongregate versions for 800x600px canvas, and I initially decided to shrink Explopool to 640x480px for Newgrounds. But that was a mistake: The quality of graphics was totally messed with this decision. After couple of days I figured out that it is possible to use vertical resolutions >480px, so I resized the canvas to 1066x600px. Now original Explopool grahics can be seen as originally planned. Learning the hard way.  :)

Edit: 25.3.2014: I noticed that there is also StencylJam2014 contest ongoing at Newgrounds until 28th March. What a coincidence! So I just added the "stencyljam2014" tag to my game and participated to the contest. I can hardly wait to see which games are selected to be the best ones, because there seems to be couple of high-quality one posted to the contest.

-Jussi

Friday, March 14, 2014

We're done! (Explopool flash game)

It is somehow rewarding (and also relaxing) to get something finished.

I am happy to tell, that after all that debugging, polishing and problem solving we got "Explopool" flash game ready and released. Game mechanics is not too complex, but still there were challenges to be overcome before we were able to say that this (possibly) works.



The basic idea of the game is simple: place and set a bomb to pool table, wait it to explode, and see how balls are pushed by the shock wave. If ball goes to the pocket, you will receive some points and handful of coins. When coin meter (on the right hand side) is full, you will get one more bomb. There is also possibility to get 2x or 3x points, if you get enough balls to the pockets with one explosion.

There are few special features available to make game more interesting and challenging:
  • black hole: sucks all balls in certain range to the hole
  • color match: if this is activated, balls of same color will disappear if they collide
  • multi bomb: Bomb will explode 2-3 times at some point (does not decrease the number of available bombs)
  • Nasty cover: This is bad, really bad. If you get this, the hole is blocked by a cover. Makes game surprisingly difficult.

Following lines were added because of Mochimedia flash services shutdown in the end of March 2014.

Mochimedia winded down all services in the end of March. Original Mochimedia version of Explopool is still available at couple of hundred flash game portals, but the leaderboards are not working anymore in them.

So, I strongly recommend you to play Explopool at Newgrounds or Kongregate. Both of them have leaderboards up and running, and Newgrounds version has also some medals to be earned.


If interested on Explopool, please have a try:
http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/636274

Also, check our webpages for latest news:
http://westsloth.gamaan.com/

-Jussi

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Don't think - publish!

"No matter what you publish, as long as you publish something". I have tried this strategy for a while when learning game development and released several flash games (or equivalent) without much self-criticism. 

There are many hobby game developers who start a project, work passionately on it for some time, and finally dump it to the trashcan or leave to the drawer to wait for better times. And this is repeated over and over again, for every game project. Basically, there is nothing wrong with this approach: sometimes project has to be terminated for some reason. And there is always something to learn from each project, even if it was left unfinished and never shown to anyone else. 

For most game developers the funniest and most interesting parts are concept creation and actual development of the game. Who would not like creating game assets and mechanics, or sketching characters and new worlds? Bug-hunting, game polishing and balancing are also tolerable tasks for most hobby developers. But finishing a game to release condition seems to be a phase, in which the motivation most likely runs out. I have experienced this in some of my little flash projects: game development itself is fun and interesting (I even like bug-hunting). But when it comes time to prepare game for releasing, I start looking it more critically and some kind of a self-censorship moves in. 

However, finishing (and publishing) a game provides valuable experience for the developer. You have to undergo certain steps to finalize your game to release condition: it may include final balancing of game mechanics, polishing the intro/menu/end screens, adding menu buttons, and adding appropriate links. Also integrating high-score mechanisms and/or some advertisement stuff from distribution network provider can be done here, if not taken into account earlier. In any case you have to test that everything still works before uploading your game somewhere. And if release is done "professional" way, you should not forget the marketing package: few screenshots, nice thumbnails, proper description and instructions how to play game, and maybe some attracting gameplay video also. Creating all this "extra" stuff requires surprising amount of time and effort, but in the end it will help you to get your game published. 

It is entirely up to you how polished and perfect you want to make your game. But do not make this too difficult, especially if you are fledgling game developer like me. There is life after unsuccessful release too! Also, it should not be forgotten that in best case you will get some feedback after releasing your game to public. This information may provide new perspectives and new ideas for future projects. If you don't want to release your game using any 3rd party network, why not just to put your game available to your own web site or equivalent and ask bunch of your friends to test it? 

Someone has said that the only difference between a beginner and a professional is that the professional has done more mistakes. From my point of view this is very well said: Game development can only be learned by doing the games, and if you make games you will surely make mistakes (even publish a complete failure).

So far I have published games just for flash, using Mochimedia distribution network. So I don't have any idea how to publish a game e.g. for Android or any other mobile platform. Let's see if my next project is the first one I release for mobile devices...I hardly can wait. :) 

-Jussi