My Year-End Game Development Review

Another year in the books… I guess its time for a review of my 2018 game development work, and planning on what I want to do in 2019.

2018 Accomplishments

Looking back, it was a busy year (busier than I thought). Here’s some of the things I accomplished, with links to more detail.

Stuff Still Up In The Air

Will I ever finish SMS: The Next Mission?

Back in 2014, I wrote and released Space Mission Survival for mobile platforms. Back in 2015, I decided that this would make a great PC/Console game, and I started work on porting (actually, re-writing) Space Mission Survival to PC and I added some extra modes to play the game using graphics and sounds available in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Over the past 4 years, I stopped and restarted development so many times (seven times, I believe). I get close to completion, but that extra 20% needed to release it always discourages me.

  • Do I add a “Shmup” mode? Remove it?
  • Would people pay money for a game that plays exactly the same in each mode?
  • Based on lack of any feedback, does anyone really care if it is released at all?

In my last post, I said I will finish it to release, and I will at some point. It’s so close to completion at this point. It’s better than sitting on a hard drive.

Same thing for Johnny’s Flip Book Adventures. The Ludum Dare version ended with such a great rating, and it seems to be a favorite of those who played it, but I have serious doubts that it will sell well, let alone be noticed, and that is also discouraging.

2019 Plans… Somewhat Undecided

I am finding that I have some other interests I want to pursue outside of game development. After years of waffling, I decided that I am going to learn to play the piano/keyboard. A wonderful Christmas present from my wife will help move that dream along.

I am also finding that I enjoy woodworking and I have a few projects that I want to start (and finish). I started working on a bench last year, and I also have a couple of things on the “to do” list.

2019 will start my 8th year in game development. As 2018 winded down, I find myself questioning whether I should take some time away from game development to take a breather, and dedicate more time to pursue the other things I mentioned. Right now, I am not sure.

These interests will naturally take away from my development time. Currently, I have these development items on the list:

  • I started on an update to Tappy Easter, and I hope to get it out within the next month. I am currently working on some visual improvements, and I am investigating other monetization options.
  • The re-write of Johnny’s Flip Book Adventures is well underway, and I would like to finish it in 2019, with the goal of a mobile and Nintendo Switch release, but as I mentioned I am having some internal thoughts on its overall success.
  • I am still undecided what to do with Space Mission: Survival. I need to decide once and for all what to do about its release.
  • I am toying around with releasing a new space-themed spelling game (I guess an Alphabeta Asteroids: Mission II).
  • Maybe some minor updates to my Object Pooler library.
Conclusion

What a busy 2018 flying under the gamedev radar! I guess I will see where 2019 takes me and what I feel like working on. Only time will tell.

[divider]

Johnny’s Flip Book Adventures – November Status

I just wanted to post a screen shot of both the classic “Space Mission Survival” mode and the Ludum Dare 42 mode of Johnny’s Flip Book Space Adventure.

Development is going well, and I am happy with the results.  I am currently working on audio, and after that I believe I will be working on a configuration/settings screen.

Keep checking here as well as on itch.io for updates.

 

[divider]

Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure – Development Underway!

I decided that my Ludum Dare 42 entry, Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure, deserves an official release, so I have been working on a rewrite which will be released on PC, Mac, and hopefully consoles. There are two reasons I decided to continue development.

First, the game was very well received by the Ludum Dare community. After every Ludum Dare, I think about continuing development, but since this game scored so well, I think that this one should be improved so it can be released. I plan to add and tweak a few things to make game play better.

My second reason is that I think the game I was working on, Space Mission Survival: The Next Mission, would make a great add-on. You can read about my on-again, off-again development of SMS:TNM but to summarize: I love that game, I’ve made a lot of progress, but I get waves of doubt and discouragement in developing it since I am unsure of it’s success for various reasons (I still have plans to release that game, but a flip book version fits in well here).

So, Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure will have two chapters: an enhanced version of my Ludum Dare entry, and the classic Space Mission Survival game released to mobile years ago, but with the new flip book style. I think this will be a great game, and I am excited about its development. I hope to get a game play video out soon, and I am hopeful that a playable beta can also be released.

[divider]

Post Mortem – Pumpkin Patch Match (Updated)

Back in 2016, I wrote a Post-Mortem blog on my mobile app Pumpkin Patch Match (actually, I wrote it when I released PPM in 2015, but took several months to publish the article). Since the release of the Windows and Mac version, I decided to update the article a bit, and it follows below.

Background

Pumpkin Patch Match bannerI wanted to create a Halloween themed game along the lines of my past two holiday releases, Tappy Holidays, and Tappy Valentines Day. Tappy Halloween, as it was going to be called, was going to be a simple game with the same game mechanics as the first two games in the series, but I just couldn’t figure out a game that would be interesting.

After a couple of weeks of trashing ideas, it came to me… make a game where you have to match a pattern of jack-o-lanterns. Shortly after, I decided to change the name to Pumpkin Patch Match since it seemed better suited for the game.

Putting It Together

I have been learning Unity throughout the first part of 2015, and I thought that this would be a good “first game”. I got pretty far, and was pretty impressed with it, but what I thought were a couple of limitations prevented me from continuing, so I went back to CoronaSDK for this app.

I put together a CoronaSDK based application in no time and I am very happy with the results. I feel it is one of my better developed apps.

Stuff I Encountered
  • CoronaSDK is great for 2D games. I built Pumpkin Patch Match rather quickly, but I’ve been trying to find a reason to move completely to Unity. I guess both have their strengths and weaknesses. I am close though, since there are a few things that are a bit limiting with Corona.
    • 2016: Looking back, I think I should of continued to use Unity… it would of been a great learning experience.
    • 2018: Looking back again, it may have been more difficult to use Unity. CoronaSDK makes creating iOS apps so easy (it takes the complexity out of XCode). With Unity, integration of Admob on mobile is a bit difficult, and working with XCode for app updates is killing me. If this was a non-mobile game, it would be a no-brainer to use Unity, but I am glad I stuck with CoronaSDK. I found this out when I wrote Tappy Easter using Unity.
  • I decided to try Vungle for monetization… let’s see how this pans out. I hate ad based games, and I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get out of that, but I don’t seem to have a choice. My games with In-App Purchases, or games I originally released as a pay-to-play (no ads) were unsuccessful.
    • 2016: Still not sure Vungle is the way to go.  It fits well with the game (allowing the player to continue at the same level if he/she watches a video), but I do not see the profits I expected.
    • 2018: I moved from Vungle to AdMob. Easier, less hassle.
  • I am also going to release on the Windows Phone platform. I have no experience there, and have no idea how this will turn out. CoronaSDK recently released a Windows Phone build.
    • 2016: I did release a Windows Phone version, but since Vungle on CoronaSDK on Windows Phone is not supported, I had to go with a $0.99 app, and as I expected, not a single purchase was made.
    • 2018: Windows Phone version is still there, and not being purchased (*sigh*), but a Windows desktop version released!!

For the Windows version, I released it on itch.io for a low price (right now, only $1.00 USD). All ads have been removed. This version makes a great game for toddlers and young children… it’s “Halloween-y” without being scary, is a good way to improve memory, an does not display advertisements. It’s also great for adults who remember and enjoy a certain popular hand held audio matching game as well.

I have some ideas to add features to the game, and may add them as time goes on. Of course, if Pumpkin Patch Match for desktops becomes popular, it would be a great incentive to add these features sooner.

[divider]

Pumpkin Patch Match Now Available on Windows

Pumpkin Patch Match is now available on the Windows desktop platform!

Pumpkin Patch Match is a spooky spin on a classic audio pattern matching game. Jack-o-lanterns will light up and display an audio tone in a random pattern.  Repeat that pattern to advance to the next level.  Pumpkin Patch Match will add one more jack-o-lantern to the pattern every time you are successful.

If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, the concept of Pumpkin Patch Match will be familiar to you.   Great for kids!  Fun for adults!   Great for Halloween, or anytime!

See how many jack-o-lanterns you can pick in a row.  If you make a mistake, a second chance is available.

Supports English, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Japanese languages.

Pumpkin Patch Match was originally released in 2015 for mobile platforms. A Macintosh version will also be available soon.

[divider]

My LD42 Results

Well, the results for LD42 are in, and this time, I am extremely surprised and pleased…

  • I placed in the top 100 in 7 out of 8 categories!
  • I placed in the top 10 in 2 categories!

I felt Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure was good, but I had no idea how it would rate.  Many thanks to those that played and rated.

As I mentioned in a previous Post-Mortem blog and video, this was a LD I almost sat out, but decided to jump in about 12 hours late. I am glad I did!

Looking at the graph, I normally rate somewhere in the middle of the pack, so the LD42 results really stand out. Some things that I find interesting, looking at the scores:

  • All audio was done by speaking into a microphone, and changing the pitch to make it sound more like a child. No computerized bleeps, bloops or tools to create sound effects. The results were obviously favorable.
  • Top 5 in Humor! I did try sprinkling in some funny things, so I am glad that it was noticed and appreciated.
  • Mood.  I always score very low here, and I guess it was because I am not sure what this is exactly… until now. Did the player feel like they were playing a flipbook game? Answer is “Yes”!

  

Continue Development?

After every LD, I feel that I should continue development on my game, but I never do for various reasons. With this game, I am still undecided. The high score is motivating me to continue development, and I feel that this may be a good Nintendo Switch game. I do have some enhancement ideas, like adding additional enemy types, but I also have an idea to add this style to the game I am currently developing, SMS: The Next Mission as a bonus level for early adopters. I would be interested in any comments around future plans.

In Conclusion

For a game that was almost never written, it scored beyond any expectations I had, and I am seriously considering continuing development as a stand-alone game as well as a mode in the game I am currently developing.

I also hope to keep the momentum going for LD43!

[divider]

Post-Mortem – Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure

Another Ludum Dare, another Post-Mortem.  This one is about the recent Ludum Dare 42 events and the development of my game Johnny’s Flipbook Space Adventure.

The Days Up To Theme Announcement

I was looking forward to LD42 for months, until about a week before the start. For some reason, I was not hit with the normal excitement, and decided that it may be time to take a break… after all, I did 5 LDs in a row and I am currently working on my pet project. I decided to press on and go through voting for themes.

Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of most of the themes to make the finals and when the theme was announced, I decided that its probably a good idea to take a break. Even though I was “out”, I was still thinking of a game, and about 6 hours later my game just came to me and I was in! At this time it was well after midnight so I decided to go get some rest and start early the next morning. By the time I got started, I was over 12 hours behind, but I was determined to ramp up and get to work.

Day 1

Day 1 for me was actually Day 2 of Ludum Dare. I decided for the theme I was going to use hand drawn images and animate them in a flip book style.  I used Adobe Photoshop Sketch (which I never used before) on my iPad to draw 5 images for each sprite, and animate them in a loop. It came out very nice.

I scanned some graph paper as a background image. I also scanned a piece of paper that I tore a hole into. Originally, this was going to be used when the player’s ship shoots an alien ship… I wanted the hole to appear at the spot where the alien ship was destroyed, but this was becoming quite a challenge. There was a lot of overlap with other holes and existing alien ships, and that was causing a lot of physics issues that I just could not work around. It also made the game a bit frustrating to play.

I decided instead to “tear” a hole in the paper between levels. That seem to work and made game play fun and challenging.

By the end of the day, I had a pretty solid space shooter with some audio in place. Since I was pretty far into development at this point, I decided to call it for the day, and pick it up again the next day.

Day 2

It’s not Sunday 8:00am EST. There is 10 hours of Ludum Dare left, but I was in a good position. I completed the audio, using Audacity and Adobe Audition (another tool I never used before) to make my voice more child-like, created the title screen, and back story, and after a bit of play-testing, it was time to submit.

What Went Well

  • Normally, it is a bit of a task to come up with something I want to develop and is fun to play. This time, the game idea just came to me so easily. This was a game I really wanted to make! That was an incredible motivator.
  • During development, I actually learned how to use 2 applications I never used before (Adobe Audition and Adobe Photoshop Sketch). I’m not a pro with them, but they are 2 more tools in the tool belt.
  • I made all the audio with my voice, and it was fun!

What Could Have Gone Better

  • I’m not really sure… this is a tough one. My original ideal of ripping holes when alien ships were destroyed was costing me a lot of time. Same with my lack of enthusiasm during the start. I did turn these into positives and I think it helped me create a game I really enjoyed programming and playing.

 

[divider]

SMS: Next Mission – August Update

Time for another update… Space Mission Survival: The Next Mission development has been going well these past couple of months. Right now, I have the following modes in a playable state:

  • Arcade 70s – Blips, bloops, vector glow!
  • 8-bit 80s – Classic home computer pixel fun
  • Console 90s – Higher res, digitized sound effects

Screenshots are to the right… click on the pic for a larger image. I am also planning a short video to go over the history of this game, my development timeline, and of course, game play.

No more restarts… this is the project that will continue until release!

Some tweaks that I am planning on adding in the next couple of weeks:

  • Right now, the game plays very similar in all 3 modes (except for the sounds). I plan on adding some additional features to the 80s and 90s mode to include features that were available at the time.  Perhaps a boss level for the 80s mode, and more enemies in the 90s mode.
  • I am considering adding an additional mode for the 2000s. Roughly based on some ideas from my previously abandoned “Shmup Mode”. I have a couple of ideas, but no promises., and I won’t let me hold back the release.
  • I am thinking of adding something to the game for early adopters… perhaps a new mode (text-based 60s, anyone?), or a special ship.

The plan is still to put a version up on itch.io or Steam as soon as I can. I am working toward that goal now. Maybe that will generate some feedback.

[divider]

SMS:Next Mission – May 2018 Status

I guess it should not be surprising, after reading many of my previous status posts, that things have changed yet again. It seems like I never want to release this game. This time, though, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

After several attempts at trying to create a “Shmup” version of Space Mission Survival, it has finally occurred to me that I do not like any version I put together, and I should temporarily abandon the attempt, since that is the only thing holding up release. Instead, I decided to clean up the currently complete version of the 70s, 80s, and 90s modes, and release a beta on itch.io as soon as possible.

A lot has changed in the Unity world since I completed that version in 2017, and loading up the project resulted in a lot of errors and warnings. I’ve also learned a lot along the way, and some of the ways I went about coding the game makes me cringe.

Right now, I am migrating everything to a new Unity project, again keeping most of the code. When I get a playable version, I will release it on itch.io in beta, and then as a full release. This release will only include the 70s, 80s, and 90s styles, the “Classic” Space Mission Survival… with some minor enhancements for each decade’s mode.

Progress is great! I think I will be able to get an alpha version out on itch.io very soon!

It’s now been two years of restarts, and one year of a completed version sitting on my hard drive. The only delay in the release was that I wanted to add a Shmup mode to the game. Maybe I will one day, but I am no longer making that a priority.

[divider]

Bullet Hell Breakout: A Post-Mortem and My Results

I normally publish a Post-Mortem of my Ludum Dare game while the review phase is still underway, but this time I purposely decided to post this after judging is over. I didn’t want to influence the ratings given to me by people playing my game (in fact, I didn’t post a “play my game” message either). Since voting is now over, this post will be a combination Post-Mortem and review of my results.

Post-Mortem

This LD was probably the most difficult one for me… so much discouragement. I had a very difficult time deciding on an game to develop. Once I decided on my game, the development was such a chore.

Day Prior to Theme Announcement

I like to review the possible themes and put together a short list of games I would develop if that theme were chosen. I was dreading this theme, Combine 2 Incompatible Genres, because I could not think of anything I really wanted to develop.

Day 1

Of course, this theme is announced and looking at my sheet of ideas, there are none. I usually give myself about an hour to put together something before I start developing, but this time I am into Hour 3 and I haven’t put together any ideas that I like.

Bullet Hell Breakout Screenshot
Bullet Hell Breakout Screenshot

I hacked together a few ideas and a combination Missile Command / Financial Management game is my best bet. I start putting ideas together, and quickly realize that the financial management part would be a bit too difficult, but more importantly, I do not feel excited about this genre. It’s not a genre I enjoy.

I’m about 4 hours into LD, and I don’t have an idea. I finally decide on a bullet hell game, and a bit later, I decide to mash it with a breakout/pong clone. I do enjoy both of these genres and decided to finally start coding. It already 1:00am Saturday morning, my time.

I put about 2 hours into designing my game and laying it out in Unity. Around 3:00am (6 hours after the theme was announced), I decide that what I have is utter crap, and I scrap just about everything, and decide to get some sleep and try again in the morning.

Day 2

I get only about 4 hours of sleep and I am back at it. I put together a breakout style game where the player hits moving space invaders. I add an enemy that puts the player into bullet hell mode when hit.

Around midday, I am ready to gave up. The game just isn’t fun. I come back a few hours later and add some features. It’s better but I am giving up again. I do this “code/quit” routine most of the afternoon. I hate the theme, I hate my game, I’m not having fun, but I am not going to give up. I decide to finish today, get something completed, and enjoy my Sunday.

I’m coding late into the evening, and after playing a few rounds of my game, I decide that it’s not that bad, so I will polish it up tomorrow.

Day 3

Sunday is spent adding audio, graphic improvements, instructions, and some effects. It’s not great, but I like it.  It’s pretty close to submission time and I don’t think it is worth trying to cram any more features into the game at this point, so I do my final compile, and submit it.

What Went Well

So little went well in this LD, but looking back:

  • I do like the work I did on the pixel enemies, and the graphics and layout of the game screen.
  • The mash-up between Breakout mode and Bullet Hell mode is interesting.
  • Despite a constant feeling of discouragement, anger and sadness, I finished this game!

What Did Not Go Well

  • The switch to Bullet Hell mode needs improvement. I do like the sudden switch, but maybe a visual or audio clue would be helpful.
  • The ball/paddle movement and collisions can be improved. The “floaty” control of the paddle is something I don’t really notice, but it was a comment made by just about everyone who played.
  • Due to the time it took to decide on a game, and the Saturday discouragement, I felt a bit time-constrained.

Voting Results

The comments around the float-y controls, the paddle, and the bullet hell mode discouraged me even more than normal, so I was expecting a dismal result. It turns out there are some positives.

Overall, I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, and pretty close to the results of my LD40 game, ANTagonist, which I actually liked better. I’m not sure what to think about this.

What was a pleasant surprise was that the results of the audio and graphics categories were the best out of all 7 Ludum Dares I took part in. These always seem to be weak categories for me, so this is a great news and hopefully a step in the right direction. As I mentioned before, I am very happy with the look of my game.

Conclusion

Despite an absolutely terrible Day 2, I managed to submit a game, and the rating is somewhat better than I expected. I guess the take-away here is to never give up no matter what you are up against.

[divider]