Archive for March, 2011

My Berry Blast Minigame is on Facebook

Monday, March 21st, 2011


During my last month at Big Fish Games, I made a mini-game called Berry Blast in Action Script 3. It’s one of those “bubble shooter”-type games. The mini-game was added to Big Fish’s My Tribe game on Facebook as a collectible decoration that you can play every day to compete with friends for the best score in one minute (Bejewelled Blitz style).

If you want to play it, you’ll have to start playing My Tribe (which I also worked on as part of a team) and collect a few crates until you get the Berry Blast mini-game decoration. It’s a common item so shouldn’t take too long to find. Also there are 3 other great mini-games made by other team members: a match-3, a pachinko-style game, and a spot the difference game (one of many design ideas I came up with that a co-worker did a really great job of).

Berry Blast was good fun to make, and had lots of little complexities that I tried to get right to ensure that it played well, and I think I did a good job because it’s fun and rewarding to play. I actually left just before the game was finished. It was functionally complete when I left, with placeholder 8-bit sounds (made with SFXR) and a few pieces of final art. Then a co-worker plugged in the final graphics and sounds and hooked it up to the My Tribe mini-game framework that handles all the competitive scoring and Facebook sharing etc. I think he even fixed a couple of small bugs, ahem ;-)

It may only be a mini-game, but I was proud of it because I coded it from scratch in AS3 and learned a lot about the language along the way, and even made a neat little AS3 game framework (Big Fish owns the code, so I can’t share it, sorry).

If you manage to find Berry Blast in a crate and play it, please let me know what you thought!

12 Tips for Making a Game Tutorial

Monday, March 14th, 2011

image by zugaldia

Over the years I’ve made quite a few casual games, and played absolutely tons of casual, indie, facebook and mainstream games. As I result I’ve seen plenty of tutorials ranging from non-existent to fantastic. Getting your tutorial right is a fine art and will greatly affect the sales of your game if you are using the Try before Buy model that most casual game portals use. Even if you aren’t using that model, you still want everyone who plays your game to really get into it and tell their friends how great it is – so a good tutorial is vital and not something that should be tacked on at the last minute (which of course it often is due to time/budget constraints – something that I’ve been guilty of myself).

Here are some tips to get you started. Of course every game is different and yours may need a different approach, but hopefully these general guidelines should help:

1: Make a List

List out all the unique game mechanics/features/content in your game.

2: Mark the Important Features

Mark the important items on your list that you want to introduce with a tutorial element of some kind. You may not want to introduce everything if you want players to discover some things naturally.

3: Order the List

Order the list appropriately, which means a) in difficulty AND b) in coolness (to make new players see the epic possibilities of the game).

If you are doing a demo, figure out what to show in the demo and what to leave for the full version (perhaps >50% of features in demo, but not >50% of levels i.e. the full version is padded with more levels using the features in clever ways).

4: Construct Tutorial Levels

Construct (or use existing levels) to show off the mechanics in your chosen order.

5: Have some non-tutorial levels

Make sure there are some levels that don’t introduce anything new but get players to practice previously learned stuff, perhaps in a combined manner. This way it won’t feel like there’s a constant barrage of tutorial levels. Also it helps to pad/pace the demo a little bit.

6: Avoid Modal Windows

Try to avoid modal tutorial dialogs (where you have to read the text + press OK to clear) wherever possible. Sometimes it’s really not possible to avoid a couple of these.

7: Use Popups

Use popups on screen with an animated arrow pointing to the item of interest. These will disappear when the user performs the action.

Alternatively/additionally consider tutorials in the game world that you can walk past and read, and structure the game levels so that you can’t proceed without solving the simple tutorial, and be sure to repeat the lesson in a slightly different way (without tutorial text) soon after so it’s not forgotten.

8: Use Dynamic Popups

Some popups will be at the start of the level or trigger when a normal event/sequence of actions occurs (works better in sandbox-type games). Others will be for special edge cases where the player may have done something wrong (or way cool) and you want to inform them of that.

Don’t forget to point to things like goals or picked up items on the HUD that you want to draw the player’s attention to.

9: Edit the Text

Wield the knife on tutorial text. Make it as small as possible whilst retaining the core message (leave out extra details for skilled players to find out themselves). I’ve seen some very long and wordy tutorial text before than could have been reduced to just a few words.

If English is not your first language and the game is being sold on English sites, then get someone English (who is good with writing) to edit it for you.

10: Use Image/Animations

Try to add images/animations to important tutorial popups that show the player what they are trying to do (picture paints a thousand words…)

11: Ability to turn off tutorial

Decide if you want an option to turn off the tutorial. (Some players may turn it off, then fail to understand the game and quit).

By default the tutorial should repeat every time you play the same levels so that players who didn’t get it and want to can re-read and try again.

Also, if you don’t have a profile management system (unique profile for each player), new players will probably want to see the tutorial so you’ll have to leave it on by default. Profiles are better though.

12: Test it and fix it

Test it. Use Metrics (time level completion, track failures/retries, track when they give up/stop playing). Also watch players.

Look for where players have forgotten simple early lessons later on in the game, and where later lessons are too confusing, or they screw up the sequence that you want them to follow. Then make changes to the tutorial and test again.

Do you have any more tips to add? Please comment!

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

What The Dog Saw

It’s been a while since I last did a book recommendation post and that’s partly because I seem to be reading less books and reading more online.

Anyway, on the way back from GDC last week I picked up What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve read his other excellent books and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s a collection of various articles from the New Yorker and they are fascinating reading covering a wide range of topics such as: how the birth control pill was affected by its inventor’s religious beliefs, why fixing homelessness may costs less than managing it, plagarism, The Dog Whisperer, and why the Challenger disaster is no one’s fault, plus a bunch of other really interesting ideas. Well worth checking out.

I’ve also been slowly reading The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life. It starts off going into the history of Game Theory and explaining some “basic” concepts (although I still had to concentrate to understand them), and then going into the applications of game theory in everyday life. It’s a pretty interesting book and I’ve already used some of the techniques in business negotiations.

Finally, on the way to GDC in San Francisco from Vancouver I had enough to time to quickly read Coraline by Neil Gaiman. It was a good little story that I think is supposed to be for kids although it would probably scare the crap out of them. If you’ve never read Neil Gaman’s American Gods: A Novel then I seriously suggest you do so, it’s a fantastic book. Years ago my girlfriend (now wife) suggested I read The Sandman series of graphic novels, and after reading the first one I bought all the rest because they were like nothing I’d read before. Gaiman is a fantastic storyteller; he seems to bring some of his English heritage, steeped in history, legend and fairy tales, into his writing in a way that greatly appeals to me.