Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Freshly Squeezed Progress Report – Taking a Turn

In last week’s report, I mentioned how I accomplished very little due to transitioning into the new year, and I expected to get the work done in the next week.

Sprint 5: main game loop

  • Create toy
  • Create toy dispenser
  • Create shipping container

I did not get all of the work done last week. I have a toy, and a created a toy dispenser that spits out toys onto the conveyor belts, which carry the toys along the line each time you press the Advance button. If the toy isn’t on a belt, it doesn’t move.

The dispenser takes a queue of toys that are initialized at the beginning of the game. Right now, the logic is to dispense a toy if there is one in the queue, but I think in the future I can see changing it to allow me to dispense a toy at a specific timing. Perhaps I can even have it dispense more than one toy at once.

Toy Factory Fixer -Dispensing Toys

The Advance button kicks off a new turn, which currently starts the following sequence:

  • If a toy dispenser has a toy in the queue, dispense the toy.
  • Move any toys along the conveyor belts.

And…that’s it.

I did not create the shipping container for it to fall into yet.

On the one hand, I know I only allow myself to dedicate the equivalent of at most half a day’s work across an entire week, so getting things done slow and steady is the norm for me as a very, very part-time indie game developer.

On the other hand, it feels like I should have something more playable by now, yet another week has gone by in which I don’t. By my count, I’ve already put in over 40 hours into the project, which means if it was a 48-hour game development competition on a weekend, I would not have a game ready to submit by the deadline.

Looking at this past week, I know I spent some time making the toy move along the belt smoothly and redrawing the dispenser when I realized how awful it originally looked, but it wasn’t the lion’s share of the work. I probably could have saved some time not worrying about the dispenser’s looks, opting to focus on getting an ugly shipping container into the game instead, but I still wouldn’t have anything more interesting for the player to do by now.

My goal for this coming sprint is to not only add the shipping container but to add the ability to hire a worker and place one on the factory floor next to a conveyor belt. Once the worker is there, the next step will be to get the worker to pick up a Bad Toy from the belt, then get the worker to separate the toy parts.

Thanks for reading!

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future Freshly Squeezed games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Freshly Squeezed Progress Report – Belts and Toys

I took a short break from development because I wanted to spend time assessing the past year and figuring out my plans for 2021. I didn’t report on my progress since my last report when I talked about the lessons learned in terms of prioritizing what gets done, so I’ll bring you up to date with what I’ve done since then.

Sprints 3 and 4: main game loop

  • Create mockup for game play screen
  • Create in-game menus
  • Create toy
  • Create toy dispenser
  • Create shipping container

I changed the conveyor belts I created last time so that they were easier to see at a glance which direction a toy would go when on them. They animate now, which looks nice enough, but since the game will be turn-based, they need to be readable when static.

To help me get a sense for how to implement the next things in a game, I find useful to create a mock-up.

I used my conveyor belts, my new toy stuffed bear, and my existing buttons, but then I quickly created a toy factory worker and some buttons on the side for advancing one turn and for hiring workers.

It’s not a finished mock-up, and the finished game might look a bit different, but it does give me a sense of where things are going.

My main goal for the last week was to get a toy dispensed, get it to travel along the conveyor belts, and deposit into a shipping container. Of course, as I said above, I did very little game development.

I managed to get the toy bear in the game, but I don’t have the logic to move it down the conveyor belts yet.

Toy Factory Fixer Mock-up

I did draw a toy dispenser on paper that I really liked:

ToyFactoryFixer - Dispenser Drawing

But I didn’t draw a shipping container, which I imagine will just be a box with flaps.

Considering I only put 2 hours of game development in last week, partly due to being distracted by a fascist insurrection at the Capitol Building, it’s understandable that I didn’t get everything I wanted done.

I expect that in the coming week I will get all of the above done, add another toy type, and can move on to the mechanics of hiring toy factory workers soon.

Thanks for reading!

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future Freshly Squeezed games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

Categories
Geek / Technical Personal Development

Doodle-a-Day 2020

In my annual review blog post, I shared that I wanted to get better at drawing, so I decided to do at least one doodle per day in 2020.

Besides taking a drawing and a painting class in high school, I am mostly self-taught as an artist, which means that a lot of basic principles and such are things I either only recently came across or still don’t know.

I learned about the book “Fun with a Pencil” by Andrew Loomis from Hayden “Docky” Scott-Baron, and I used it to help me learn how to create faces and bodies of various sizes and shapes.

I was actually hoping to finish the book, but I’m at the part where I am creating rooms and scenes, so I’m dealing with perspective. While my doodles were once a day, the book was something I looked at periodically to learn the next lesson.

I also watched the Great Courses series on How to Draw, and between the two of them, I’ve learned the value of shape, volume, and drawing with a darker pencil once you figure out the shapes you want with a lighter pencil. B-)

Here’s how my doodles looked at the beginning of the year:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

About midway through the year I started to focus on drawing hands and feet when I realized that my characters can’t always have their hands in their pockets:

Doodle-a-day 2020

I love this sad clown character who kept popping up in my doodles:
Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Later I started to draw monsters, and I tried to add shading and details to make things more realistic. Other times, I tried to make things more abstract and cartoony. Sometimes my phone’s camera started identifying faces, which I took as a good sign of my progress:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

I periodically had to catch up when I missed a day or a few days, but otherwise, I managed to not only draw something each day but also draw better than I had a year ago.

It’s exciting to have learned so much and start to recognize concepts and ideas that I didn’t know existed at the start of 2020, as well as understanding how much more I don’t know exists.

Sometimes I rushed to get a doodle done, and other times I took the opportunity to explore reference art and practice trying something new. But it was fairly low pressure, and I enjoyed the habit. I plan to continue it in 2021.

Categories
Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

2020 in Review and My 2021 Vision

Another year has passed, and I feel very fortunate that my family and I survived it fairly unscathed. I know that a lot of people didn’t, and I know the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking its toll, both in lives and lives affected.

It has been a tough year, but I continued to be employed and was able to work from home. Most of our extracurricular activities, such as taking our kids to dance and Cub Scouts meetings, basically stopped. I rarely left the house all year except to pick up groceries or go for a walk around the neighborhood with the kids.

I got to spend more time with my family. Without school providing meals, my wife and I cooked a lot more, and we found that we enjoyed doing so together. We got the kids playing Just Dance and following yoga videos online to get daily exercise in. Internet outages went from being a minor annoyance to having a major impact on our work and school, and as I am the main IT department in my house, it all fell to me to make sure that the Wifi kept working.

It took a lot of adjustment, but we made it.

Goals from 2020

I had a few major business goals for last year:

  • Finish the contract game project
  • Game Sales: from $0 to $10,000 by December 31st
  • Release one more game before December 31st

The contract was finally finished in January, and aside from one more update to comply with changes in the App Store in the summer, I was done. I was happy to have had such a direct impact on the creation of a published game, as well as getting paid for it, but I was even more happy that I could direct my attention back to growing my own business.

Last year, I said:

Ostensibly my goal for the last few years was to get from $0/month to $10/month in sales. Again, the goal was meant to be achievable and to be a stepping stone to increasing sales over time.

But I think what might help is if I gave myself a much more inspiring goal, something that is doable but also would require me to stretch to make it happen.

So my 2020 goal is to get $10,000 in sales by December 31st.

It’s not quit-your-job money, but it’s not so small as to let me think I can procrastinate and make it happen in the last weeks of the year, either. It’s also not about the money, but money is an easy metric to track.

I came nowhere near to making that amount of money. That sum did not end up inspiring me, and it is probably because I didn’t see a clear path to it. Last year I wanted to start creating and finding my audience again after ignoring my business in favor of contract game development, but I didn’t formulate a coherent plan to do so until December. So for most of the year, I worked on creating updates for my existing game.

In the end, I was paid a total of $16.79 from sales of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my leaf-raking business simulation game (I have another payment coming this month from a sale from last month).

Now, I know there are a number of reasons for the low sales. Almost no one knows about the game, for instance. I haven’t been doing a good job pushing it out there.

But I did port and release the game for iOS, and then I published 6 of what I called Personality Injection updates since July. Each time I did so, I not only posted an announcement on my blog and shared it on social media, but I also sent out an email to my GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers.

Oh, that’s another thing I did: I brought back my mailing list. I used to have one years ago, but I decided to start a new one. I invited the previous subscribers to join, and some did. Sign up, and you get a free player’s guide for Toytles: Leaf Raking, which is another thing I created last year.

Since I had a new mailing list, I also added a new goal for the second half of the year: grow my subscribers by 10. I ended up increasing the number of subscribers by 3, but since I didn’t promote it any more than the game, I think that’s a decent improvement.

I ended up publishing a total of 58 blog posts throughout the year, partly because I started writing a weekly sprint report, documenting the highlights of what I accomplished in the previous week of game development. Considering that I published a total of 3 blog posts the year before, this output is a significant improvement, and I think it directly led to people learning about Toytles: Leaf Raking.

Now, I thought I would get to a point where I would consider myself “done” with Toytles: Leaf Raking updates and could start working on a new game early enough to get one released by the end of the year, but since I was only working an average of about 5 hours a week as a very, very part-time indie game developer, those Personality Injection updates sometimes took me over a month to get out. So no new game has been published yet.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been working on one since December, and strategically it is the first of my Freshly Squeezed line of games. More on that later.

I also had a few personal goals for 2020:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day

Take a look at this chart of the year:

Morning Exercise Routine Tracking in 2020

The green indicates days in which I did a minimum of 10 push-ups, 10 squats, and 30 seconds of planking. The red indicates days in which I skipped. There is a big block of red near March, when my back was bothering me significantly enough to prevent me from exercising, but otherwise most of the year I kept up the habit. I feel fitter and more capable. I also did yoga on weekends, which I credit with preventing my back from hurting throughout the rest of the year.

I was trying to walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day but our treadmill’s motor started to smell like burning, so I haven’t been using it. I did walk with the kids during the summer after lunch, but otherwise I didn’t do walking regularly.

I read a total of 25 books, which is less than I read the year before. Still, between listening to podcasts instead of audiobooks in my car (and then not driving anywhere when the pandemic hit) and reading longer books, I think the fact that I was able to keep up a reading habit during the pandemic was a win.

But my favorite habit was doing a daily doodle. This one appealed to me partly because I always liked drawing but I also liked the idea of getting better at it. My programmer art is decent, but I want to make it more decent, and I know to get better I need to practice more than I do.

I’ll have a separate post about the improvement of my doodles, but here are my first few drawings:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

And here are some of my favorites:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

My 2021 Goals

Creating an aggressive sales target didn’t seem to work for me, but I still managed to make some sales happen despite a lack of advertising or contacting reviewers or anything.

It was a total of only 7 sales across Google Play and the App Store, but I can build on that.

My goals for 2021:

  • Go from ~0.146 sales per week to at least 1 sale per week by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience to at least 100 subscribers by December 31st
  • Release at least 6 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st

I explained a bit what Freshly Squeezed Entertainment means, but the main idea is that I will be following through on my goals to create more and find my audience. I want to create free, quality games that encourage curiosity and support creativity. I want the games to find the people who love playing them and encourage them to sign up for my mailing list. And I want them to see my mailing list as a way to give me feedback and collaborate with me on the kinds of games they want to play, which means that when I release a game for sale, I am more likely to have an audience interested and willing to pay for it.

There’s a lot of uncertainty to this strategy. I don’t know how many people who play games would be willing to sign up for a newsletter these days. I don’t know if people who play free games are less likely to pay for a game. I don’t know how many people will sign up, nor do I know how many who do sign up will read the emails I send out. I don’t even know if my free games will be seen or get lost in the huge number of games that get released each week.

But the general idea is sound: give away value to attract players, get permission from players to talk to them, and use conversations with those players to get feedback and learn how to make what my audience is willing to pay for.

It’s way better than hoping and praying that strangers discover and pay me for each new game I create.

I was originally aiming to release one Freshly Squeezed game a month, but so far I think my 5 hours/week isn’t going to make it work out for me. It’s especially doubtful as I still want to create updates for Toytles: Leaf Raking in between Freshly Squeezed games. Still, I hope to have a release for my first new game before the end of this month.

One thing I realized is that out of the three goals, the only one I have direct control over is publishing games. I can’t control how many people sign up for my newsletter or how many people buy a game. But if the three goals are as connected as I expect they are, then releasing quality games should attract newsletter subscribers who eventually become customers.

Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and I recognize that 1 sale per week works out to almost 7 times what I am currently (I originally had a goal of 60 sales per week but realized it was much, much more ridiculous to expect an almost 400x increase in sales), but I can’t wait to get some hard data in the coming months to see how well this strategy plays out. I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.

As for personal goals, I like aiming for a book a week as well as not sweating it when I don’t make it. I will continue to do daily exercise, and in fact I’ll increase my push-ups and squats from 10 to 15. I need to either fix my treadmill or get a new one so I can get in daily walking or running even when the weather doesn’t work out. I think I’ll continue to create daily doodles, but I am going to want to learn other aspects of art, such as color, character design, perspective, environmental design, and more.

Happy New Year

I hope 2021 sees the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, a safe transition of power, and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. I hope my kids can play with family and friends without worrying about someone getting seriously or fatally sick. I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in the coming year.

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Freshly Squeezed Progress Report – Lessons in Prioritizing

Last week, my weekly sprint report detailed how much time I spent trying to create art myself that ended up looking pretty mediocre, with a promise that I wouldn’t spend so much time doing so going forward.

Sprint 2: Basic navigation for all Freshly Squeezed games

  • Start new game
  • Options lets player see credits
  • Create menu screen background art
  • Create options menu screen background art

While I had time off from the day job, I also found myself preparing for the holidays. I managed to make time to work on game development between wrapping presents, eating cookies, and preparing a meal for Christmas Eve, but my priorities were definitely not on putting together a Freshly Squeezed game.

Toy Factory Fixer main menu
What I did accomplish was finishing up the simple art and buttons for the main menu screens. I unfortunately did not do anything to get a playable game implemented yet.

I created the basic menu structure that all Freshly Squeezed games will use going forward. I hate second-guessing myself, though. Did I spend too much time making a menu for a game instead of a game?

It’s not as if I spent too much time making a generic menu system. I already had a menu system I coded a long time ago. And it isn’t as if I was perfecting details that didn’t need to be done.

But perhaps I could have worried about that menu once I had a game I could release, or even after release. The second Freshly Squeezed game won’t be made until this one is released, so in terms of prioritizing the work, I probably could have worried about the menu later.

But last sprint is done, and I can focus on game play in the next one.

I have already started working on creating simple conveyor belts, reminding myself that they don’t need to look beautiful so that I don’t spend too much time on them. I tried to finding conveyor belt art on sites such as OpenGameArt.org, but the few I found were very tiny or the wrong perspective.

So I made this, with four frames of animation so it is clear which direction it is going. This will actually make up two different sprites: the left and right sides of a conveyor belt, with a middle section being a third piece I still need to create.

Toy Factory Fixer Conveyor Belt

Perhaps I could put an arrow on it to make it clearer since it is meant to be seen as a still frame most of the time due it the game being turn-based.

I don’t know how much time I will have to work on this project this week. My wife has already indicated that she wants some house projects to get done during the break. But I hope that by the next report I finally can show off some simple game play.

Thanks for reading!

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future Freshly Squeezed games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Freshly Squeezed Progress Report – Stop Arting Around

Last week’s report focused on what it took to get a new project started, especially when this project will be the first in a line of Freshly Squeezed projects.

Sprint 1: Basic navigation for all Freshly Squeezed games

  • Start new game
  • Quit game
  • Options lets player see credits
  • Create menu screen background art
  • Create options menu screen background art

As I mentioned in the previous week’s report, I wasn’t sure how much time I was going to be able to dedicate to working on this project. With the holidays coming, there’s plenty of work at home to do.

I didn’t get much accomplished. I’m feeling a little impatient to get to the actual game play, but I also know that my Freshly Squeezed games are meant to do a few things:

  • Find an audience for the kinds of entertainment GBGames creates
  • Allow me to quickly develop future games

In order to do the first, I want to ensure that people know about how to become a part of my audience. If people find and love a Freshly Squeezed game, they might want to know about future games as they get released, and asking them to sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter (see below) seems like the kind of thing I want to do in each game.

And since I want to do similar things in each game, it would be nice if I can make it as simple and straightforward to create the scaffolding and common pieces so that I can focus on working on the game-specific pieces.

That’s why this sprint’s focus was so heavy on the menu navigation. Future games shouldn’t need much to be done to make this part work.

I Should Not Try Too Hard With Art

The theme of the Toy Factory Fixer is a toy factory, and I wanted the building to be made primarily out of brick and wood. I did some research for art references, and I discovered the public television show The Woodwright’s Shop, which is in its 37th season.

So that was a bit of a distraction, but I found a nice background of the actual scenery from the show, and I tried to create a background for the main menu by tracing and filling in with patterns, and here’s the result:

Original menu screen background

And while it was kind of OK, I realized that I had spent way too much time trying to make something so ugly. Blurring it didn’t hide the shoddy workmanship. It looks like I rendered it in 3D using low-poly models in a program from the late 90s, but this was all created in the Gimp this week.

And I of course didn’t want to spend too much time on mediocre art, so I found a couple of art packs (Japanese Interior Essentials and Japanese Urban Accessories on Itch.io) and used some tiles I liked, and the new menu background is actually put together based on four tiles from those packs:

Menu with game background

The idea is that these tiles make up the background, so they are a bit subdued on purpose as I want the game elements that live on top to be a bit more prominent.

Going forward, any homemade art will necessarily be simple. I might want to try really hard to make the art all match, but either I am using pre-made art or I am putting together a decent-enough placeholder.

It might end up looking wrong, but the Switch version of Dragon Quest seems to be doing well enough with its mix of art style(s) so maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about it…

My next step is to put the menu buttons on some sensible looking control panel, and I think it would be nice if I could put a conveyor belt on the screen, perhaps with the title of the game rolling down the belt, but it might just stay a static image. I should worry about making conveyor belts a part of the actual game play before I worry about making the menus fancy.

As far as getting this game ready for release before Christmas, I doubt it will happen even though I have a couple of days off while the kids still have school. It’s looking more and more like a 2021 release.

Thanks for reading!

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future Freshly Squeezed games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

Categories
Games Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Tell Nintendo Online to Keep Google Out of It

I’ve been a fan of the existence of Duck Duck Go, the search engine that focuses on privacy. It’s search results are sometimes not as useful or comprehensive as I’d like, but most of the time, it’s great knowing that what I search for there won’t follow me around the Web.

So I subscribe to the Duck Duck Go Privacy Weekly newsletter, and I just learned about how Nintendo is using Google Analytics in the eShop. The latest firmware update will apparently automatically turn on data sharing even if you had turned it off prior to the update.

If you’re in Europe, you have the benefit of the EU’s GDPR to protect your privacy, and so you’re probably less concerned about the kind of data that is being collected about you.

In the US, we have no such privacy laws, but at least Nintendo Switch offers an opt-out in this case.

Nintendo Switch eShop Analytics

  1. Open System Settings and go to Users, then select your Switch’s primary user
  2. Select Nintendo eShop Settings, and type in your password if you need to
  3. Scroll down to the bottom and click “Change” button under Google Analytics Preferences
  4. Click the “Don’t Share” option, then click the “Change” button on the right

I hope you find this helpful. I feel better if my kids end up on the eShop that they aren’t being tracked any more than they already are online.

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Freshly Squeezed Progress Report – Toy Factory Fixer

In my last report, I talked about my plans for creating and releasing games for free as Freshly Squeezed Entertainment. Toy Factory Fixer is my first Freshly Squeezed Project.

Creating the Project

Historically, I’ve created new projects by using the code of older projects, removing the game-specific code, art, and sound so I can start with a clean but strong base. This project was no exception, but I found that it took me quite a bit of work to take Toytles: Leaf Raking‘s source and remove all things toytles-related.

I made a note to myself that if I am going to be doing this reuse regularly, I need to make it easier by separating the generic code from the game-specific code.

During One Game Per Month in 2013, I did do something like that, but at the time I just deleted one file because I threw all the game-specific code into it. It’s not maintainable, and I know, because Toytles: Leaf Raking started life like that before I started splitting out to make it easier to work with, but for a one month project that I wasn’t intending to return to, it worked fine.

So I want to do something similar by setting up a separate game-specific directory for game-specific code, so that way I just delete that directory’s contents and have a new project ready to go.

Anyway, once I had the new project building and running, all it had was a main menu on a blank title screen. I created a quick button, and I updated some of my generic code to render buttons with an arbitrary color, and here’s the result:

Toy Factory Fixer main menu buttons

I know the menu isn’t exciting, but much like my One Game Per Month games, I want the main menu screen to be fairly standard and easy for me to build. I am already mimicking what Toytles: Leaf Raking does in terms of which buttons are available and what happens when you press them. I am hoping that aside from swapping out the game’s title and background art, perhaps even the button art, the menu requires no work to reuse for future projects.

I realized that I now have a project to work on, but I didn’t put together a a plan to work on it yet. I know some people like to use simple TODO items in a list, but I actually find it helpful to have a spreadsheet tracking not only my backlog of features, ideas, and defects, but also what I plan to work on in a given week. I think even for a small project, and maybe especially for a small project, having a project plan with a more robust sense of what I am doing and when I plan to do it. It helps to keep me from working too long on one aspect of the project and reminds me that I want to ship a working project.

If you’re interested in reading how I do it, I documented how I go about creating my game development project plans back in 2016. I do mostly the same thing today, although I found it easier to not split up the user story across multiple cells. Copying a single cell and putting it into my sprint plan is easier than trying to take multiple cells and adding the text from the column headings so it makes a complete sentence. Perhaps it might be easier still to have the cell get populated based on a user story ID so I don’t have to manually copy the text, but it’s not too big of a pain for me to worry about fixing.

So now I have a simple project plan with a simple backlog that I expect to grow as I work on the project and think of ideas or identify work that needs to be done.

Yet it’s a plan that is detailed enough to keep me focused on getting a shippable game as quickly as possible.

What’s Next?

One thing I didn’t anticipate that I should have is that the holidays are here, and I might have less than the 5 hours of week I average on game development due to working on house projects, doing Christmas shopping online, and making sure our address book is up-to-date so we know where to send our annual Christmas card.

So while my goal is to get the game out before Christmas, it is entirely possible that I won’t find myself with nearly as much time to work on it as I’ll need to do so. I know that at least the App Store is saying that they won’t review games around Christmas, so there’s a bit of a deadline if I want it out in time.

But this project is also a good first attempt to see how long it will take me to get a brand new game design into the hands of players. Some of my One Game Per Month games only took me a handful of hours to put together, so perhaps I’ll find that this game will come together much more quickly than I anticipate.

But I am also figuring out a number of things, such as what resolution should the game run at “natively” or how big should the factory floor be in terms of tiles or how the HUD and interface should look. It should be fun. B-)

Thanks for reading!

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future Freshly Squeezed games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Freshly Squeezed Progress Report – Toy Factory Fixer

After the release of Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.5 last week, I decided to take a break from creating Personality Injection updates so I could work on something else.

I’ve been working on Toytles: Leaf Raking for a few years now, even if you don’t count the period of time when it was on hold while I was focused on a contract game project.

But I have ideas for other games that encourage curiosity and support creativity, and I’d like to start exploring these ideas through the creation of playable prototypes that I will give away for free. These free and quickly put together games will fall under the designation of Freshly Squeezed Entertainment.

Freshly Squeezed Entertainment

Freshly Squeezed

Now, to be clear, I do not intend to churn out unplayable junk. Each Freshly Squeezed game will be released as a perfectly playable game. It might not have all of the bells and whistles, but it won’t be broken and it will provide a complete entertaining experience.

The idea behind giving away free games is that I want my games to have as little friction finding their audience as possible, and if enough demand exists for a particular game, perhaps I will create a “deluxe” version for sale. In other words, rather than guess at what random strangers might want based on trends and fads, I’m trying to find and get faster feedback from the people who would be interested in playing the kinds of games I am creating.

My first new project in the Freshly Squeezed line of games is currently titled Toy Factory Fixer.

I spent a little over 3 hours over a few days coming up for ideas, but here’s the premise:

The toy factory had an accident after one of the worker elves tried to automate the assembly of toys.

Now all of the toys are put together wrong, and the shipping deadline is arriving quickly!

You need to put the toys together correctly in time for them to be delivered.

The worker elf implies where this game takes place. Originally, I had planned to make it a Santa’s Workshop game, with the deadline being Christmas Eve. When I explained this project to one of my nieces, she objected. She told me that making it a holiday-themed game might needlessly limit its appeal. She suggested that I instead add holiday-themed elements to the game, but keep the game more evergreen.

She’s 9. And she is probably right.

Ok, so that’s the premise. What’s the game play like?

I spent time trying to explore options. My goal for the player experience was to have the player make strategic choices for how they go about repairing toys.

I didn’t want it to be in real-time. I wanted the game to be less about reaction time and more about thinking and decision-making.

I found myself imagining a factory, with elves working at conveyor belts. I liked the idea of them taking apart bad toys to get toy parts, and then using those parts to put together good toys, and trying to do so before time ran out.

Of course, since it is supposed to be a game, I then started to think about what obstacles that prevent the toys from being separated and put back together too easily?

Here is a list I came up with:

  • Time or turns are limited
  • Inventory has a maximum capacity
  • Factory floor has a limited number of spaces that can be taken up by toys
  • Materials such as thread, screws, glue, etc need to be obtained first somehow (perhaps by permanently destroying a toy?)
  • Workers must be in correct place to do the work
  • Machines must be in the correct configuration to do the work
  • There are a limited number of toys to work on at one time
  • Toys are work $X and you need to ship $Y worth of toys to succeed
  • A machine does multiple types of jobs, but must do them all at once, and since space is at a premium, sometimes toys aren’t where you want them to be

That last one really intrigued and excited me, and I might keep that idea in my back pocket for a future game.

I liked the idea of multiple types of workers. Originally I thought it would be good if each worker was a specialist who could only do one job, but then I liked the idea that they can do any job, and some types of workers can do some jobs better while doing worse at other jobs.

Toy Factory Fixer: Conveyor Belts & Workers

So for example, a Ripper can tear apart stuffed animals in 1 turn but take 3 turns to put a toy together. Meanwhile, a Sewer takes 3 turns to separate stuffed animals but takes only 1 turn to put them together. And presumably there would be an average worker who takes only 2 turns to do everything.

And perhaps there are variations of workers, and they are more effective doing a certain type of job with certain toys than others. So the Ripper is great with ripping apart stuffed animals, but the Cutter is great with cutting apart wooden toys.

I recognized that I was in the “anything and everything is possible” phase, and I wanted to quickly get to something more solid in terms of rules and game play.

Toy Factory Fixer initial mechanics

I imagined the assembly line acting as a path for creeps/toys to traverse in a Tower Defense game, and the workers would be placed along the conveyor belts to work at stations, grabbing toys as they move down the line and placing toys down to be deposited into a shipping container at the end.

Toy Factory Fixer: Depositor, Conveyor Belt, and Box (with potential machine)

But imagining hides a lot of details, so I started prototyping the game on paper to get a sense for how the game might feel:

Toy Factory Fixer: Paper Prototype

Originally I tried to use some abstract wooden circles, stars, and hearts to represent toy parts, but I found it difficult to match them, so I cut up some index cards and drew some pictures. If you’re wondering, the rocking horse is supposed to be a horse top and rocker bottom. My daughter called it a banana. Whatever. It’s a paper prototype. The fidelity doesn’t have to be that high.

I put together a small conveyor belt level, and then tried playing the game by pretending I was hitting the Play button at the bottom to advance one turn, which would produce a toy from the dispenser. Each turn, the toy advanced one square along the conveyor belt, and it eventually advances to the shipping box. I still haven’t figured out what happens if a bad toy makes it into the shipping box, but perhaps a penalty occurs.

Toy Factory Fixer: Paper Prototype

I then assigned a worker, and then tried multiple workers, and realized I couldn’t wait until a computer could automate this work for me. Advancing toys down an assembly line, knowing what state a particular worker is in, and trying to figure out the details of mechanics such as what could possibly happen in a single turn of the game is a lot to juggle.

Toy Factory Fixer: Paper Prototype

But I did love the basic spine of the game I had put together: toys move down the conveyor belt to a shipping box, and the player assigns workers along the conveyor belts to manipulate and fix the toys before they get there. There are a lot of details to work out, such as whether the workers are autonomous or need to be activated manually, but the basics are pretty much there.

I then decided that perhaps workers should be hired, so it costs money, which means you need some money to start with.

Toy Factory Fixer: Paper Prototype

After hiring a worker for 1 Money, you can place them anywhere along the conveyor belt. I wasn’t sure if the worker should just influence the square in front of them or a range of squares adjacent to that square as well. I started picturing that famous “I Love Lucy” episode…

I very quickly needed to figure out what happens to the separated toy parts. Do they disappear automatically into inventory? Does the worker hold them? Does a worker need to run around the level, collecting toy parts from other workers? For now, I just wanted them to disappear into your inventory, since that seemed simpler.

What’s Next?

Toy Factory Fixer is just a paper prototype right now, so I’m looking forward to getting it into digital form soon.

I want to put together a very lightweight project plan, write down all of the ideas I’m having, and then prioritize them so I can get a playable game as quickly as possible.

Ideally, I’d like to get this game out before Christmas, but I don’t know how long it will take me. I estimate that in a Ludum Dare 48 hour game jam, I might spend only about 24 actual hours working due to sleeping, eating, and taking frequent breaks. And if I do 5 hours of game development a week on average, it means that this game is probably behind schedule and won’t be done.

But maybe it won’t take me 24 hours, and I can get something releasable much earlier. We’ll see.

One final thought: I invited my son to talk about this game’s design as it evolves, as I wanted him to get a sense of what the work of game design can look like. He’s been enthusiastic (to the point that I had to tell him that he should wait until I had finished talking about my idea before interrupting me with his own), and it has been some of the best quality time we’ve spent together.

Thanks for reading! I am really excited about this project and the Freshly Squeezed Entertainment line of games it will introduce.

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future Freshly Squeezed games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

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Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.5 with Transitions and More Dialogue

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, has a new “Personality Injection” update, available now in the Apple App Store and Google Play store!

Version 1.4.5 adds more unique dialogue for each of your 19 neighbors, turning the neighborhood into a more lively and interesting place.

Clients now have different things to say for each of the three months of the leaf-raking season, and they say something different when you finish the job in their yard.

For example, Mr. Cardinal says the following in October:
Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

And after you finish raking all of the leaves in his yard, he’ll instead say:

Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

Also new are screen transitions that, frankly, make the game more enjoyable to look at and play. You can see for yourself how it enhances the game nicely:

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!