Deep Plaid One guy trying to make some interesting decisions

Quick Connectrode Update

Posted on July 30, 2011

Deep Plaid Games' latest game, Connectrode, has had considerable success to date; I thought I'd post a compilation of some quick data and links:

  • We launched on July 2nd (not the best timing as many games were either launching, on sale, or releasing in-game specials over July 4th weekend).
  • We were reviewed by the Austin Chronicle on their blog, on July 13th.
  • We were reviewed by TouchArcade on July 18th.
  • We were featured by Apple (in "New & Notable" on the App Store) on July 21st.
  • Joystiq featured us in their "Portalbliss" column on July 27th.
  • Several other major app/game sites have done reviews, all of them positive.
  • Flixel creator Adam "Atomic" Saltsman tweeted about the game and mentioned it during a recent appearance on the TouchArcade podcast.
  • The game has hovered around the #10 position in both the Puzzle Games and Strategy Games categories on the App Store since being featured by Apple.
  • The game's peaks (to date) in the All Games category at ranking #70, and at #125 in all apps overall.
  • All of this is for the U.S. App Store. We've seen comparable success in the Australian, Canadian, and U.K. app stores, though with different timings.

The game is doing well financially as well, and the enthusiasm in most of the reviews and on Twitter is both humbling and exciting.

We're still planning an update with volume control support, and GameCenter support for leaderboards. There's also many requests for a harder difficulty mode, which is something I'm thinking a lot about and which may make it into the 1st or 2nd update we do, we'll see...!

Fun times!

C.O.O.P. – My Global Game Jam 2011 game

Posted on February 2, 2011

I (and a team of 8 others) made a new Flixel game: it's called C.O.O.P. It's a Flash game, but to play it properly you need two players at the mouse/keyboard!

Play it Here!

Controls:

Keyboard Player:

Move up/left/right/down: W, A, S, D

Shoot up/left/right/down: Arrow keys

Mouse Player:

Place object on game field: Click there.

Choose object to place: Click on buttons at bottom of screen, OR use the mouse-wheel.

How we made it: I led a team of 9 people in creating this game in 48 hours; it's built using the Flixel engine. It was intense, and some things about the final product are a little rough, but I'm very proud of what we accomplished!

Gameplay: One player is playing the game as a top-down shooter, using the keyboard. The other is playing something more like a tower defense game, placing items on the game field using the mouse. Both of them are cooperating to keep the "keyboard player" alive. This was the high concept I came into the jam with; the team agreed to run with the idea (our second choice was a game about getting pandas to mate - the theme of the jam was "extinction"); and run with it we did.

We're planning to clean it up, add a single-player mode, and try to sell it to a Flash portal - we'll see how that goes.

I'll write up a more detailed "postmortem" of the development process within the next few days, watch for that here. If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it; just leave it in the comments below!

How to Design RMT That Doesn’t Suck

Posted on December 4, 2009
Today they make us pay for our guns. How long before we have to pay for our mustaches?

"This is serious, men! Today they make us pay for our guns - how long before we must pay for our mustaches?"

Ars Technica reports that Battlefield Heroes has changed its business model. Previously it was "free to play, and you can buy guns in-game with real money if you want, or you could buy them with in-game money for a reasonable price." They've now changed that last part to "in-game money for a ridiculously exorbitant price... did we mention that real-money option by the way?"

People seem unhappy about this.

Of course, there’s no way that this change could be made without people complaining; simply because there’s never been any change made to any online game, ever, that someone has not complained about, and the bigger the change, the more the complaint.

The Problem We Can All See Coming

Flashing your abs is not the ultimate douchebag move - THIS is.

Flashing your abs is not the ultimate douchebag move - THIS is.

It does sound to me like they're just plain doing RMT/microtransactions wrong. Any player of any online game will tell you (except perhaps the very rich ones): selling anything, for real money, that just plain increases your power level (especially in games that are directly competitive like an FPS, but in others as well), will always be unpopular.

It’s nice to see BF:H actually experimenting with this, if only so we can observe and learn from the results – I don’t think anyone’s ever actually pulled the trigger and tried that model, at least not on a significant scale… but I think we already know what we're going to learn from this. Have you ever played Monopoly with some douche who offers another player $1 of real cash for Boardwalk? I imagine it feels the same way to get pwned by a player who is crappier than you but has a great gun just because he paid for it.

(And even if he actually killed you fair and square because he's a better player than you, you’re going to immediately complain that it was just because of his pimped-out weapon. Game designers need to think a lot more about what goes through players’ heads when they fail in a game – ideally they should never have anyone to blame for their death but themselves. This is part of why Modern Warfare 1 and 2, and Team Fortress 2, are such successful multiplayer games: they all have forms of “kill cams” that let you learn exactly how you were killed, which gets you thinking about what you could have done to avoid it, which can turn an inexplicable/frustrating kill into a learning moment, which then amps up your desire to get back in and keep mastering the game. But I digress.)

Here are a few designs that I think could make "real-money weapons" viable in an FPS, without unbalancing the game and angering players.

Design Solution #1: Money Weapons are different, not better.

Would it be unethical to ask people to pay real money to unlock a virtual jar of urine?

Would it be unethical to ask TF2 players to pay real money to unlock a virtual jar of urine?

Imagine an FPS which had a core set of weapons which was available to everyone; but in which you had to pay real money to unlock extra weapons... so long as the "money weapons" aren't just the most powerful weapons. They should be crazy unusual weapons that are balanced or have downsides compared to the alternatives. The analogy here is if you were to pay $5 in TF2 to open up one of the "new" items that they've been opening up for each class - these new items are carefully balanced against the other weapons and are all used about equally. (One problem here is that people might be very unhappy to find that a gun they paid real money to unlock has been nerfed to be better balanced against the other weapons.

Design Solution #2: Money Weapons can be better... but you still have to earn them.

In CS, everyone hates AWP whores - but the gun is expensive to get, and hard to hold onto. Couldnt paid weapons be the same?

"AWP whoring" can turn a game around... but it takes patience and skill to earn one.

This takes the above idea a bit further. Imagine a Counter-Strike-like game in which you can use the in-game money (which is a completely separate resource from real money and can only be earned by playing, and playing well) to buy weapons of higher and higher power. Once again there could be a core “line” of weapons that are unlocked for everyone, and can be bought with the “in-game” currency; but there could be also be special weapons that you have to unlock by paying real money. But again this just unlocks it,  you still have to buy it with the regular in-game currency like any other weapon. The advantage of this over the above option, is that here a "money weapon" could be just plain more powerful... so long as its in-game cost was balanced to its power like every other gun, so you would still have to play the game, save up money, buy the gun, and have to start over if you died and lost it. The analogy here is if you were to pay $5 for the AWP to be in your arsenal in CS, but it worked exactly the same in every other way; you have to play, win, and save up in-game cash to buy it. (And if your opponent kills you, he'll enjoy picking up your "money gun" and pwning you with it next round - maybe he'll enjoy it enough to go buy an unlock of it for himself!)

Design Solution #3: Money items are only more powerful in the right hands.

In the WoW TCG, Leeroy Jenkins is a rare and expensive card... but like the real Leeroy, you should think about whether his help is really worth the drawbacks.

The WoW TCG Leeroy Jenkins card is expensive... but like the real Leeroy, you have to think about whether his help is really worth the drawbacks.

While working at Blizzard, I got to hear a speech from Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, where he explained that the design of the game (at least originally) was for the “very rare” cards (which, by the way, inevitably become the "very expensive" cards on eBay) to not actually be inherently more powerful than any other cards; instead they should be more specialized. In other words they could be extremely powerful, but only when combined with the right other cards; for example, a card might have a major downside, but it would be powerful in a deck of cards that worked to mitigate that liability. I’m sure there’s a thousand exceptions to that rule in the game and cards that are just plain overpowered, but it seems like allowing people to buy items that are only “high-power” situationally - when used creatively and in tandem with other items - could be a model that still feels “fair”. The analogy here would be if, in  Modern Warfare 2, you could pay $5 for a very specialized "perk" which was balanced against the other perks, had inherent downsides, but which could be combined creatively with other perks to create a build which - if played well by someone who understood their tactical strengths and weaknesses - would result in a very powerful and unique opponent.

Conclusion (with belabored analogy)

Game companies should realize that the core of their business is keeping the gameplay fun, and a multiplayer game quickly stops being fun once there is imbalance or unfairness (actual or perceived) - and they should entrust these decisions to designers. Designers should see business models like these as creative challenges.

Designing a game can be like building a TCG deck: there's certain things the deck has to do to be viable... in this case, one of those is "make a profit." The "Real Money for Items" card can be a powerful one in the deck of your game design - so long as you build the rest of the deck to compensate for its pitfalls.

Brad & Shay’s Textellent Adventures

Posted on October 1, 2009

I haven't posted about this before on this blog, so I should probably share it: Brad & Shay's Textellent Adventures is a site where I collect some chat conversations featuring me and my friend Brad Lewis. It's a little game we play wherein Brad pretends to be an 80's-era text adventure game, and I pretend to be a person typing into a text box. I'm very convincing in this role.

If you've never experienced Brad's unique sense of humor, it's worth it just for that. Here's a bit of an episode in which his wife Katie filled in for my usual role:

Katie: unbend sword with blacksmith tools
Brad: You haven't any tools
Katie: yes i do, unbed sword
Brad: You unbed the sword, it is sleepy, and grumpy after a long nap.
Katie: unbend!
Brad: syntax error
Katie: use sword
Brad: You bum $3.80 off the sword and convince it to go pick up your dry cleaning. When the sword asks your help moving a shelf, you conveniently are "busy"
Katie: this game is stupid end game
Katie: exit
Katie: MEH I don't like your game
Brad: Your score is 2.