Category: Game Design

Porting to a Mobile Touch Interface

It’s tempting to think, when porting a “click-and-drag” game from PC to mobile, that your control scheme update will be as simple as hiding the cursor, but the reality is far from it.

We knew from the start that the first major change in Let There Be Life would be that when selecting a branch for placement, it would need to be offset from the touch position so that the player’s finger doesn’t obscure the branch itself. This is not just important  from a visual standpoint, but essential for being able to see/align each branch’s attach point.

What quickly became apparent is that some branches looked too close to the finger, but others not. We realized that branches pointing away from the finger need a greater offset so the attach point is a comfortable distance from the finger.

Looks almost done…it's not!

That was a good start, but we still had work to do.

The next problem to be dealt with was the inability to consistently place certain branches near the top of the trees without risking the finger leaving the touchable screen area. This was particularly evident when the branch pointed up, such that the attach point was at the bottom. Compounding the issue was if the player clicked on the upper part of the branch-selection-zone (we maintain the touch point offset from the center of the branch, because all efforts to reduce it upon dragging felt awkward).

To combat this, we amplify the branches current y-position with respect to the finger as the player drags it upward. The amount of this amplification is dependent on both the current position of the finger (increasing the higher the finger moves) and the initial touch offset (if the touch is towards the bottom of the selection area, we don’t need to amplify much; if the touch is towards the top of the selection area, we amplify more because the branch is starting off lower relative to the finger).

No/little vertical change.










Note how the branch has moved up.










All these changes have us in a pretty good place. While playing the game on a touch screen is already satisfying, there’s still work to be done refining the controls (and I’ll write about that once we’re done). Nevertheless, it’s already exciting to see the game on mobile and we are super-psyched to introduce Let There Be Life to the mobile arena!

– Jay

The Aftermath

Wow, that title sounds dramatic. :)

Anyway, we posted a preview of Dukes and Dirigibles for other game developers to try out. The response has been very positive, but the requests for improving the tutorials hit me right in the gut. It was that kind of situation where you knew it in the back of your mind, but you needed to hear it from someone else to fortify your resolve to improving things.

If there’s anything I learned from this, it’s that you have to continually remind yourself that players will be coming into your game with zero prior knowledge of what will be expected of them. Sure, there are tropes in gaming that can be exploited (such as pressing the left mouse button to fire a weapon), but they only go so far.

So back to the tutorials I went. The main offender was the first tutorial. Right in the first “room”, we required players to recognize they are playing an omni-directional (as opposed to just vertical or horizontal) scrolling game from the right/left turning instructions alone. Without proper instruction, however, players were flying straight ahead into the first wall they came upon.

Though I didn’t change it to be so blunt as saying, “This game scrolls in all directions,” I did add a clear indicator that the way to continue was to turn to the right. I also added a hint box (we already use these elsewhere) that fades into view if the player has been in the first section long enough for the game to infer they he may not know what to do next (plus, it’s always good to give players clear objectives).

In general, I added more, but simple and direct, signage that filled in the gaps of what we were asking the player to interpret. The tutorial we had before these changes now seems to me like almost a puzzle game. But it’s not supposed to be a puzzle game – the tutorial is there to get the player ready for the actual game as efficiently as possible. I think a good rule for reaching clarity is to look at the tutorial and ask yourself what gamelplay elements are currently the least clearly explained, and decide if more needs to be done to inform the player about them.

In my next post I think I’ll talk about the types of things you should actually let the player figure out for himself.


Level Design

I’ve been in the midst of creating levels for our upcoming game, Dukes and Dirigibles.

It is an exciting process, but not without trepidation. I usually start each level with a theme in mind – maybe the level is focused on a particular style of layout, or heavy/light on certain enemies. Shortly after I start though I usually begin to fear that my idea for the level was all wrong, or at best unachievable. Maybe the level is too tight for the airships, maybe it’s too big and feels vacant, or maybe the flow just isn’t what I anticipated.

Pushing through this stage, however, leads me to enjoyable part. Once I accept what can and cannot be accomplished in a given play space I begin to move past seeing limitations and into seeing opportunities. At this point the personality of the level truly reveals itself and its construction suddenly seems easy. Well, maybe not easy. :)

Consistently I find myself thinking, “This is the best one yet!” A judgment based heavily in the moment, but not insincere. Which levels will pan out to be my (and/or the fans’) favorites, I cannot say. But it is encouraging that I become excited to see each new level in-play, and have yet to feel let down by the results.