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.
So our preview build of Dukes and Dirigibles is up on FlashGameLicense. If anyone is registered there please go take a look at the game and let us know what you think!
Prepping the game for upload has been an education. For starters, I didn’t know that even the preview would require a thumbnail, so I spent an afternoon just on that to get something together that I thought was eye-catching. Didn’t want people’s first exposure to the game to be a throw-away image.
Safe-guarding the SWF had its ups and downs as well. At first, all that would appear after the preloader (which showed our company logo) was a blank screen. Not a good start. Some searching revealed that there were issues with Flixel going on. I found that I had to leave some of the core Flixel classes unprotected, which wasn’t a big issue because they’re publicly available anyway. Then after that I read how unscrupulous types could still re-brand your game by not even touching the code, but just by swapping out the graphics! So I had to institute some protection code of my own that checks a variety of the game’s images to make sure that they are exactly the ones they are expected to be be.
Finally, I had problems with the default UI mouse cursor appearing. This happened in two cases: first, completely randomly. Um…yeah. That never happened in the Flash player, but it was now an issue when embedded in a web page. Second, and this I should’ve caught before, is that if the player pressed the RMB and that Flash dialogue box popped up, when clicking back to the game the default UI mouse cursor didn’t go away. At first I tried to fix that by simply setting the default UI cursor to hide every frame, and that worked, but if the mouse was moved outside the game screen it would flicker as you moved it until clicking somewhere. Very annoying, and players would not have been happy. So I had to make the code a little smarter such that it hid the default cursor every frame that occurred in the game screen, but showed it if the mouse was outside the game screen.
Fun stuff, right?
We are going to upload a preview of Dukes and Dirigibles (probably on Monday) to the website where we will be putting it up for auction, FlashGameLicense. We’re doing this so other Flash game developers there can have a look at it, and hopefully provide feedback on anything else we can improve in the game before we release it.
Honestly, we’ve been surprisingly nervous about this. While we’ve shown the game publicly a couple of times, and it’s always garnered positive responses, things feel different this time. Maybe that’s because before we could always tell ourselves we have time to make changes, even major ones, if they’re necessary. Not this time. The game is damn-near done and pretty much is what it’s going to be.
It’s amazing how devastating any comment could be at this point. I think I would sink into a deep depression if someone on FGL simply said, “It was okay.” But I’m going to try to stay focused on the comments that involved something actionable. “It sucks” means nothing to me, because it doesn’t speak to anything specific, but if someone says, “The tutorials weren’t clear enough” I’m going to have to hunker down and figure out how make them even better.
It’s such a strange time. The game could turn out to be popular and successful and we’ll say to ourselves, “Well, of course, we already knew it was a good game.” Or it may not generate much attention at all, and we’ll berate ourselves for not seeing that coming. How two completely opposite results seem entirely plausible is amazing to me, and I hope we won’t have to ever live with such heightened uncertainty again.
We just uploaded 10 new screenshots from Dukes and Dirigibles! The pics show off the kind of action you can expect from the game, and hint at several of the bosses you’ll come across. They also include a shot of the UI screens for selecting a level to play and the defeat screen (here’s hoping you don’t see that too often!).
Chect out the Games section of our website to see more images like this: