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!

Categories
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!

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Toytles: Leaf Raking Progress Report – Yard-Coverage-Based Dialogue

Here’s this week’s progress report for new updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

In the previous sprint report, I fixed defects I introduced due to the new screen transitions, and I started working on new dialogue.

Sprint 22: Time-based dialogue

  • Story progression when finishing a yard (unique monthly client dialogue w/ difference between clear/uncleared yards

I did 9.75 hours of game development last week, which is almost double my average but quite a bit less than I was hoping to be able to put in considering I took a few days off from the day job. Then again, it was a holiday weekend, and I ended up running errands and doing things around the house. Oh, and someone was digging outside and cut the phone line to our house, and so we’ve been without Internet since the day before Thanksgiving. Someone should come out today, but I don’t know how big of a job it will be to replace the buried phone line or how long we’ll be without Internet access.

Most of the time was spent writing new dialogue for each of the neighbors. It was fun discovering what makes each of the game’s neighbors tick. And I know the new dialogue is just able to hint at their complex lives.

When the dialogue I planned to write was finished, and I was playing the game and testing things out, I found that in practice it was actually much more difficult to talk to the neighbors after you’ve raked their yards due to not being able to visit them after 7:00pm.

On the one hand, it means that I probably do not need to worry about adding too much more new dialogue because it will be unlikely to be seen by players. On the other hand, perhaps there are things I can do to allow the player to have an easier time to do things in-game as well as visit with neighbors if I either had the player’s character return from school a bit earlier or allow visits with neighbors later, or perhaps both.

My niece suggested 8:00pm instead of 7:00pm for the latest time you can visit a neighbor, and she also suggested that 3:00pm is too late to return from school. I’ll need to experiment to see what extra time in a day does to the game’s economy.

In the meantime, I found that once I started testing the game on an iPhone, the game crashed quite frequently. It turned out that during the new transitions, on my main development machine and on Android nothing would go wrong somehow, but on iOS it turned out that a deleted object was being used when it shouldn’t, which indicates that it was probably also being used and waiting to blow up on someone’s Android phone or tablet. So I fixed the issue, and now it is better across both platforms.

I thought there was another crash bug, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out if there was another place where I was using deleted memory. In the end, it turned out to be a weird issue with Xcode’s debugger, and if I ran the game on its own, it worked just fine.

So expect a new release of Toytles: Leaf Raking soon.

Thanks for reading!

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future 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

Toytles: Leaf Raking Progress Report – Yard-Coverage-Based Dialogue

Here’s this week’s progress report for new updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

In last week’s sprint report, I talked about finishing up screen transitions and fixing some defects. I finally started to work on adding the new dialogue.

Sprint 21: Time-based dialogue

  • Story progression when finishing a yard (unique monthly client dialogue w/ difference between clear/uncleared yards

I did 6.5 hours of game development this past week, and while a significant amount of it was geared towards the new dialogue functionality, I did find I had accidentally introduced a major, game-breaking defect, so I also spent time investigating and fixing it.

The Defect

Originally, the game had no screen transitions. When I switched from one screen to the next, it was immediate, which meant that I could save the state of the game immediately whenever the player made a decision.

For example, if you moved from one neighborhood to another, it took 10 in-game minutes, and that was a decision I didn’t want you to pretend didn’t happen by shutting down the game and then reloading it.

Similarly, choosing to go to sleep to end your day is a decision that gets saved.

However, once I added transitions, I had to delay changing the screen you see until after the fade out, then I would fade the new screen in.

The defect got introduced because I shouldn’t save until the screen change occurs, but it saved before the fade out, which meant that the old screen was saved.

If you kept playing the game, it would be no big deal. The game works just fine.

But if you close the app, then when you reload it, you could be on the wrong screen.

For a non-game-breaking problem, you could visit the kitchen to talk to your parents. If you close the game and reload your save, you would still be in the front foyer and not in the kitchen, and yet the dialogue from your parents would still be on screen. This issue is no big deal because there is no in-game impact from seeing dialogue in the wrong part of the house.

However, what IS a big deal is going to sleep at the end of the day. The game saves while you are on the sleep screen, then on normal weekdays you go to school, then at 3:00pm you in the front foyer. If you shut down the game and reload it, it would reload the game at 3:00pm but on the sleep screen. And the entire point of the sleep screen is that you don’t do anything but wait for time to pass until you wake up. But since you aren’t supposed to be on the sleep screen, time isn’t passing.

My personal favorite manifestation of this defect was discovering that if you saved up $1000 and went to the store, purchased the Ultimate Item(tm), and shut down the game while the screen was transitioning to the You Won screen, then when you reload the game, you would be back in the store, only without $1000. The game saved the fact that you spent it.

Interestingly, the game also saved the fact that you bought the Ultimate Item(tm), but it won’t register that you’ve won. You have to attempt to purchase any item in the store for the code that checks for the victory condition to run. So this specific problem isn’t technically game-breaking, but it would probably have upset players when they thought the game cheated them out of the game-winning money which they spent the entire time earning.

I fixed these issues by ensuring that anytime there is a screen transition that the save occurs only after the transition has ended.

The Dialogue

After taking the detour to fix the fairly major defect I introduced with screen transitions, I finally got back to writing dialogue. I’m actually pretty excited about the way my dialogue system is coming together.

I finished adding new dialogue tags for determining which month it is based on the current date as well as tags for yards being clear or yards being not clear.

In code, they are the following new tags:

    IS_SEPTEMBER_TAG,
    IS_OCTOBER_TAG,
    IS_NOVEMBER_TAG,                         
    IS_YARD_CLEAR_TAG,
    IS_YARD_NOT_CLEAR_TAG 

As a reminder, the way the tags are used is in two parts. First, I get a list of possible tags based on the current game state. So if Mr. Cardinal is my client and I am in his yard on the day before Thanksgiving and his yard has any leaves covering it, then the tags that would be generated by the current game state are IS_CLIENT_TAG, IS_NOVEMBER_TAG, and IS_YARD_NOT_CLEAR_TAG.

The second part is that each piece of dialogue in the game is tagged, and so I can now tailor the messages that any neighbor says to you based on a number of tags. So I can write some dialogue and tag it with all three of the above tags, and in the game when you visit him, the game state-based tags will match all of the tags for that piece of dialogue, and so he’ll say something unique and topical:

Mr Cardinal's dialogue in November

And once you rake all of the leaves in his yard, the IS_YARD_CLEAR_TAG would need to match a different piece of dialogue, which furthers the story of Mr. Cardinal being an inventor:

Mr Cardinal's dialogue in November

As I said, I’m pretty excited about the possibilities, especially as I add more tags. The combinations of tags, and so the dialogue that matches various combinations, can be endless.

So when can you play it?

I took off a few days from the day job this week, so I expect to put in some time to finish writing all of the dialogue and create the new version of the game for review in the App Store and Google Play.

But I wish I had a release sooner.

I underestimated how much work it would be to write 6 new lines of dialogue (2 x each of the 3 months) for each neighbor. I didn’t want to make a new release until I had new dialogue in the game, as I didn’t think screen transitions alone would make for a compelling update.

I think in hindsight I realize that I should have worked on the new dialogue first so that there was always potential to release a new version of the game.

But hey, it’s a mistake I can learn from. Next time I plan a release, I will make sure that I work on the must-haves first rather than last.

Thanks for reading!

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical

Toytles: Leaf Raking Progress Report – Transitions & Starting Dialogue

Here’s this week’s progress report for new updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Last week, I reported that I quickly prototyped a fade-out/fade-in screen transition to get a sense of how it felt, then worked on the production version once I determined that I liked it.

Sprint 20: Screen transitions & time-based dialogue

  • Create screen transitions when entering/leaving yard
  • Story progression when finishing a yard (unique monthly client dialogue w/ difference between clear/uncleared yards
  • Defect: Visiting a neighbor causes unsightly refresh
  • Defect: Reloading from the store loads a store with no items and no visit button.

I did 6.25 hours of game development last week. I finished the scene transition fades quickly enough, and then I fixed a couple of defects I found.

With the transitions in place, it is clear that the yard screen gets recreated each time you visit your neighbor. It has not been an issue, and it doesn’t affect the play of the game, but the unnecessary redraw is now distracting. So I fixed it.

More importantly, however, was finding out that there was a problem with reloading the game if you were in the store. Normally the game reloads and regenerates the screen you were on, but if you exit the game by way of the main menu, it behaved differently than if you merely shut down the app.

The problem was that the game code didn’t anticipate that you would ever be in the store on loading a game. I think the idea at the time was that it was difficult to save the game for whatever reason, plus it wasn’t strictly required. If you exited the game while in the store, the last automatically saved data would put you in the same neighborhood as the store, so when you load the game, you’d just enter the store. No in-game impact occurs.

But what I discovered was that if you reloaded the game in the store, the store screen would be empty. So you’d have a “Leave” button, but it would otherwise have no store items. It was eerily empty. If you left the store, it would transition you back to Midtown, which meant you lost 10 minutes of game time due to the neighborhood movement.

Since that impacted you as the player negatively, I needed to fix it. If you’re interested in some of the details, I initially had a false start where I tried to prevent the game from saving if you exited to the main menu, which seemed to work.

But as I tried a bunch of things, I eventually found out that it broke the game even worse: If you exited to the main menu while sleeping, on reload, you would perpetually sleep. The game didn’t load something properly and so while time didn’t advance, it offered no menu options, so you were forever sleeping at 3:00pm.

So I reverted that changed, and instead I decided to go with it and had the game generate the store screen properly. The reason I didn’t do this at first was because I was convinced that the save game data had the wrong data for the store, but it turned out that I was wrong.

The last thing I worked on was finally getting started on dialogue based on which month it was. I started with September, and it’s going smoothly.

The other piece was changing the dialogue based on whether or not the yard is clear. So the end result will be that your neighbor with say one thing before you rake their yard and another thing entirely after you do so.

Eventually, I want each day to offer multiple conversation paths based on who your other clients are, what time of day it is, and more. I won’t get there all at once, though, but I can still build incrementally up to it with each release.

But there is no new release yet. It has been over a month since v1.4.4 was released with holiday dialogue. I feel a bit behind schedule, even though I don’t really have a schedule. But expect the next release soon.

Thanks for reading!

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future 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 Politics/Government

Toytles: Leaf Raking Progress Report – Scene Transitions

Here’s this week’s progress report for new updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

I talked about fixing some typos and adding screen transitions in last week’s sprint report.

Sprint 19: Screen transitions & time-based dialogue

  • Create screen transitions when entering/leaving yard
  • Story progression when finishing a yard (unique monthly client dialogue w/ difference between clear/uncleared yards

I did only 3 hours of game development last week.

I think I expected that I would accomplish a lot more. I had even taken a day off from the day job.

But in case you missed it, last week coincided with the U.S. Election. Normally we can call it the night of, or we wait for the Supreme Court to tell us who won, but we spent the better part of a week paying attention to the news.

The memes have been great, by the way.

I look forward to not worrying that my kids see the President’s behavior as something to emulate.

Anyway, I decided to quickly hack together fade out/fade in transitions between screens.

Why did I hack it? I didn’t want to spend the time and effort to create a high-quality implementation until I knew how it was going to look and feel.

So I treated it as an experiment. And I liked the result! It felt nice, and added a sense of polish to the game. And the investment on my part to find out that it would work out was minimal.

Experiments like this are the kind of thing I want to feel comfortable doing more often, especially early in a project when there are so many questions to answer about a potential game’s design space.

Once I had determined that I liked the look and feel of the fade out/fade in transition, I threw out the hack and started over, only this time test-driving my solution and being mindful of wanting something solid to build upon. I even managed to refactor out part of the neighborhood-transition code so that it relies on my new general transition code.

I only got to put in about an hour or so of effort into it. I expect to finish up the work this week, and then I’ll get started on the new dialogue. I don’t know if I’ll finish it all this week, but once the dialogue is done, I’ll cut a new release.

Thanks for reading!

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future 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!