A while back, I wrote a bit about the design of Tappitt. In that post I wrote about the core idea of Tappitt; to quickly get the player in the ‘flow’ and provide fast paced, simple ‘frantic’ gameplay. In a lot of ways this was a success and the folks I’ve spoken to who have played it, have enjoyed tapping away.
That being said, it is far from perfect. The initial parameters and resources of developing version 1 led it to that point, with many lives, multipliers for points and, as a result, an obscured and unused boost ‘power up’. Here is how Tappitt looked in v1.1.
Observe the dangling boost button hanging uselessly in the top-left like a ergonomic nightmare. The points multiplier and obscure scoring system of 4/7 dots. I had so many players who couldn’t process these parts of the system because of the fast twitch interactions they were being asked to perform.
Whats more, you started with 5 lives of each color. This was my attempt to link the colored circles to your most precious resource; ‘life points’. The reality is however, that this served only to prolong the game with no increase in tension to match it. Also, it’s not like my players can even really process what lives they have left, and therefore which circles they might ignore in a pinch.
So Tappitt v2.0 simplifies.
Now, the player sure as hell knows where the boost is, no longer has to think about the specifics of scoring, nor how many lives they have remaining. They can just focus on the core interaction; tapping.
I am hoping the reduced playtime, and simplified appearance get a positive response from players. I am especially curious to see whether, as a result of the ‘Boost’ being more obvious, the player feels more agency and power. This feature was specifically designed to feel like the ‘coolest’ thing you can do.
The new version will be out on iOS very soon. Android players will have to wait while I figure out a silly Android thing.
Tappitt is a casual game for the bus (or toilet) seat gamer who is looking for something a little more challenging. What follows are some brief ramblings on how the game’s design shifted over time (here is the game’s trailer for context).
The Game Design
The core design goal for this game was simple: get the player ‘in the flow’, keep them there and make it frantic. We wanted a game that gave the player 3-5 minute play sessions but demanded their focus and skill throughout, keeping them on their toes and ‘in the zone’ as the game progressed.
The core mechanic of the game is simply to tap and you must do so fast enough to maintain your three different coloured lives above zero. With this simple ‘tap the circles’ mechanic in place, we knew we had something accessible for the casual audience. However, simply speeding things up over time, did not seem all that compelling (read: fun).
After some playtesting hours and minor experiments, we settled on adding ‘colour stacking’. This mechanic introduced subtle moment to moment micro-strategy by asking the player to quickly balance the benefits of going for a colour chain with the necessity of protecting their lives. We incentivise colour stacking using the classic arcade trope of the ‘multiplier’ (and later on, earning the ‘boost’ resource). This strategic choice married with the reflex-heavy, flow-inducing tapping really moved the design on.
Next up was the ‘colourless circles’ which originally had a blocking effect that demanded the player tap it before they were able to tap any other colours. Unfortunately, this drastically slowed things down and felt horrible in playtesting; it totally went against the core design intentions! As a result, we changed it up so that it would randomly spawn and expand at great speed. If it grows too big, you lose one of each life. If you catch it in time, it destroys all other circles and rewards a multiplier. We could see immediately that this way, the colourless circle contributed heavily to the frantic feel of the game as well as creating some really hectic and rewarding moments reliant on the player’s sharp reflexes and focus.
The last piece of the puzzle was ‘boosts’. We had playtested the game a bunch and were enjoying the challenge of beating each others high scores, but the game lacked any ‘big ticket’ moments. Like many game makers, we want our games to present some form of ‘wish fulfilment’ which in general we take to mean: within the confines of the system and it’s rules, make sure the player, at some point, has the opportunity to exert profound (satisfying) change. This can be made further accessible (a desirable trait in casual games) by mapping this potential ‘power’ to a relatively simple action. The issue of course, is that you can’t have a player continuously perform this simple, powerful action. Limiting it’s use through a consumable resource then, is a nice solution.
With this in mind, we introduced the ‘boost’ which, when activated, powers up the player’s taps to additionally tap nearby circles (as well as turn the juice up on the screen shake). Ultimately this drastically improved the game feel and gave the player another tool to maximise their high score. It also came in handy when we decided on our monetisation strategy; a topic that we will no doubt cover in a future blog post.
We’re excited to put this game out there and we already have a couple of ideas for our first update! Most significantly, we want to introduce ‘extreme mode’. We understand that advanced players will master the game early and we want to make sure we meet their skill with a mode that most will find infuriatingly impossible. The plan here is to ratchet up the speed and see if anyone can last longer than 60 seconds. Obviously, these ambitious players will have a Game Center leaderboard reserved just for them.
Tappitt will be released for free on 2nd April 2016 on both iOS and Android in over 40 countries. If you are of the journalistic persuasion, you can checkout the press kit here which includes a link for a preview Android build to play!
I currently have full time responsibilities outside of game development but my compulsion to make games has recently motivated me to release a game. The problem as always, is: what can I do in the time I have, whilst not waiting years to put something out there?
About 6 weeks ago, I decided that I would have to sideline my big visions, my large ideas (for now), and instead focus on delivering something… anything. I rifled through some old experiments, game jam ideas and other little bits and found a game originally titled “Colour Balance”. I had written this game in less than 24 hours back in 2015 and it was… okay. The key thing was, it lent itself to the ‘casual’ audience which I thought, would be a good fit for a ‘developed during the evenings’, release.
The task I set myself then, was to take this small idea and commit to making it fun, polishing it and then releasing it. I wanted to invest my hours of intentional practice and challenge myself to put something out there.
I have been able to turn around a bunch of gameplay in my evenings over the last 6 weeks and have now got the game feeling really fun. It has just entered a ‘feature freeze’ and will be doing a few weeks in beta testing before I put it out there. So far it has been an amazing learning experience to take on the challenges of game development that rear up when a game nears completion. This includes dealing with:
From a business point of view, signing agreements with Google and Apple can be a lot to take in, as well as providing all of the materials required to simply test a build (with in app purchases). Also, integrating social features and monetisation into your game, in a way that doesn’t totally suck, is hard work. I still don’t think I have quite nailed it.
In the end, I have opted to keep things clean and simple wherever possible and think I’ve managed to take this stuff in stride whilst maintaining a good grasp on the ‘funness’ of the game.
Last week I had the privilege to visit the Dutch Game Garden (DGG), an incubator for games companies in the heart of Utrecht, The Netherlands. I was there as part of the gamebiz project and enjoyed meeting various education partners from around Europe. I was also given an amazing insight into the realities of running a small games company in today’s market.
State of the markets
One of the challenging realities revealed throughout the week was the saturation of both the iOS / Play app stores and Steam on the PC. Both of these markets have been the main target for new companies looking to self-publish (Ludo Gear included) in the last 5 years. Whilst mobile has been a tough place to publish for a while, 2015 saw a tipping point in Steam’s saturation. This in turn, seems to have led to indie companies being more willing to open conversations with publishers who can often bring advertising, market knowledge and the all important – capital. So if the ‘indie revolution’ is over, what can small companies do to stand out?
There is obviously no formula for this, and ultimately ‘make an amazing game’ still seems to be a good start (it’s true that a culture of innovation and polish dominates at the DGG). After this, getting exposure is the main challenge and for PC games, getting streamers and YouTubers on board seems to be the key. A few different companies noted that nothing had a bigger effect on sales than a popular streamer playing and liking their game; some have even started targeting streamers with special features that integrate with Twitch.
So how about mobile? Well, this is and has been tough for years now. Most apps are released for free with some kind of monetisation offered within the app (including Tappitt, Ludo Gear’s first release). However, there was encouragement offered during the week that, at least on iOS there is still room for ‘premium’ apps as Apple looks to feature ‘quality’ on the front page even at a few dollars charge.
The Importance of your Network
One of the great features of the environment at the DGG was it’s network of connected developers, publishers and educators. Not only do they offer business education to their newly joined companies but specifically hold monthly ‘network lunches’ to facilitate showcasing, networking and recruiting. I even noted that students from HKU, who are still many months from graduating, stated the importance of their network. Often, these students have been working on and running their own companies and game projects for well over a year whilst studying.
This importance of the network may seem obvious, but it comes in response to the idea that ‘indies can sit in their pants at home and make millions on games’. This is no longer the case (if it ever was). As the markets grow more competitive, your network becomes more important.
Finally, one thing that really stuck with me was the welcome we received. As a cultural exchange it was amazing and our hosts at the DGG were accommodating and friendly. They showed us around Utrecht and Rotterdam; two very different cities, as well as introducing us to some very interesting, more established Dutch games companies. Everyone also spoke more-or-less flawless English, for which I was most grateful.
This week I started my first consulting gig for Ludogear writing tools for Machine Studios!
Company director, Simon Roth, was a colleague of mine back in our studying days at Bournemouth University and has since gained kickstarter funding for his upcoming dungeon-keeper-like colonist management game. The game, set on and named after the planet ‘Maia’, is currently on Steam early access where it has gained further support from players.
Simon has developed his own game engine from the ground up specialised for the game and when we spoke about opportunities for work it was clear that my tools background could be put to good use.
So, over the next few weeks I will be integrating the Maia engine into a stand alone application to make a real time editing and content creation tool (starting with a particle editor). I hope to present some screenshots here soon and to help contribute to this exciting project!