Monday, 25 August 2014

Albums and B sides

Hello internet.  I’m back once again with another random musing on what I’ve learned from making games. This time round I’m going to set up an analogy and then torture it to death: Putting a game together can be a lot like mixing an album!

So I have pretty much completed development on our latest game, right now it has a grand total of 14 levels, each one of them with different mechanic or twist on the main game. 

Individually I’m happy with each of these sections.  They’re all debugged and tuned up to be as good as they can be on their own merits but now it’s time to think of how they hang together as a whole.

…and that’s where this whole album business come.  What I have is a set of pieces: some easy, some hard, some (hopefully) funny and so on.  Also the mechanics are all over the place, some just pop out of nowhere whereas others are pretty boilerplate to the game’s main theme.

If I just chucked them out in the order that I’d written them then it’d just come across as a disjointed mess. Instead the idea is to arrange them in such a way that they flow seamlessly from one experience to another along an overall arc.

It turns out that doing this is one hell of a balancing act.  Here’s a sample of the decisions that I and the rest of the team have been wrestling with:


The game should get harder over time.  You want a relatively straightforward opening level to get the player in to the swing of things but then what do you do next? The player is naturally going to get better at the game the more they play so you have to move with them.  Keep the levels too easy and they won’t perceive a challenge and wander off… make them too hard to quickly and they’ll hit a brick wall, get frustrated and again wander off. 

So you have to judge the difficulty curve right but even that isn’t enough… if the curve itself is smooth then that in itself becomes predictable, it can make you feel like you’re on a treadmill – progressing but not actually going anywhere.  MMO players reading this will be nodding right now J.  Instead I think that the ideal solution is to generally follow a curve but to spice it up a little! Every so often chuck in something solid for the player to chew on and then afterwards maybe give them an easy level as a breather.

Finally there’s a kicker to this.  I’m in the privileged position of intimately knowing exactly how the game works.  I know how the baddies think, I have played every level tens of times, I am the best person in the world at my game – so how the hell do I accurately judge difficulty for anybody else?

Well I’ve no idea.  I’ve gotten a bunch of people to playtest it but to be honest it’s mostly guesswork.  I’ll be fascinated to see how close to the mark I was when the game comes out.


Just as with difficulty, the actual experience of the game needs to be moving all the time.  If you stick with the same mechanics over and over again then you’ll slowly drain all the fun out of the experience.  Most games solve this by drip feeding in new weapons/mechanics/tools/etc. over time to keep things fresh.  To be honest this is pretty much the approach we’re taking here.  We’ve already got a mixed bag of easy/hard/funny/zany/straightforward levels so we’ve made an effort to shuffle them around so as to keep the player on their toes.

The Cut:

This is where the ‘B sides’ part of the title of this post comes in.  Out of the 14 levels I started this process with, right now it looks like only 9 of them will make it in to the main game.  So what’s wrong with the other 5? Well. Nothing really – they all play fine individually and they’re all fun and challenging in their own way… they just don’t fit in to the overall experience that I’m trying to achieve.  It’s painful to let them go but as football pundits say: there is no I in team!

On the plus side all these redundant levels can be repackaged as bonus content. If you get to the end of the game then you can take a crack at them as a semi-sadistic reward. Did I mention that some of them are really hard?


Games take fekkin ages to make. We’ve spent maybe 6 months on and off working on this one and a lot of the time we’ve been wrestling with where to set the bar in terms of production values.  Take the intro sequence, that took Mungy over 3 weeks to put together.  Yes it looks really good but if we polished the rest of the game up to that level but if we did then we’d still be building it next Christmas.  So I’ve been trying to walk a tightrope between making things nicer and wasting unnecessary time.

The result, I think, is that the presentation is sketchy in places. Hopefully though it won’t ever drag you out of the experience, and the time we saved can be used to get to work on the next game J

It’s also part of the learning process we’re going through.  We’re still very much in our infancy as a team.  One of the things that we’ve still got to nail down is how to produce and present a coherent vision of a game when we’re all running off doing our individual bits separately.  Turns out it’s quite hard to pull off!

Ratticus’ final comment

Anyway, how we did on all of these points is ultimately up to you! I hope you’ll all have fun playing ‘The Python Pythoff’ in a couple of weeks when it’s out there in the big wide world.  Maybe you’ll enjoy it maybe you won’t, either way please leave me some feedback – I’m dying to know!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Finding Fun

Hi internet,
So far on this blog my posts have tended to fall in to 2 categories. I'm either moaning about something or other that’s pissing me off… or cheering up and getting all excited again.  Well luckily for you, this one’s taking a different tack.  Instead I'm going to talk about something odd I've noticed.

Put bluntly: the difference between fun and not fun is bloody minute!

I've been prototyping a lot recently, i.e... knocking up quick and dirty builds to test out various gameplay ideas I've had… and in almost every case they don’t just emerge as a fun experience on the first attempt. Instead I normally have to go through a process of tinkering and testing over and over again until something entertaining emerges.

If a level is too short then a player will feel unsatisfied, too long and they’ll get bored.  Make it too hard and you’ll piss ‘em off… too easy and you’re back to boredom again. Also how fast should the character be? How about the relative speed of the enemies? What should the time limit be? How much damage can they take without dying? And so forth… Even on a purely mechanical level there are dozens of these factors that have can have an effect on a player’s enjoyment of the game.

More than that if I build a level and it isn't quite working it’s normally a combination of the above that I need to tweak to get the gameplay where I want it.

And the tweaking itself is a fascinating process, it can go something like this…
Build the basic game – not fun
Make it a little harder – still not fun
Make it a little faster – still not fun
Add more enemies – FUN!
Add a few more enemies – not fun again
Make the game slower – MORE FUN!
Slightly tweak the controls – no fun at all
Paint everything green – BINGO! Fun for breakfast, lunch & tea!

And so forth.  The point is that it’s not a formula that I'm working to at this point- it’s a semi-guided game of trial and error. Sometimes I have no idea what the magic combination will be, other times I may think I do and end up with an unplayable piece of crap.  Even if I hit a fun combination how do I know if it’s the best possible version or that some more tinkering wouldn't yield an even better solution? – I don’t!

Add to that the fact that at the same time I'm losing my objectivity by playing it so intensively and even then, fun is a subjective experience, (i.e.. if I do make something fun for myself there’s no guarantee that the next guy will), and it’s enough to give me a bloody big headache!

So there you go kids, fun is a crap shoot.  Admittedly it’s not completely blind, (I do generally have an idea of the areas I need to tinker with), but it’s fascinating to see that moment when it all clicks together and I know I've got a game on my hands!

Ratticus’ final comment.

I've taken a few things out of this: nothing I didn't really know already but in future I’ll put more emphasis on:
Getting more playtesting done
Prototyping quickly and often
Making anything that might need to be adjusted easily configurable
And so forth – you've heard it all before no doubt…

I don’t really have a silver bullet solution for this.  I'm sure experience will also help hugely as time goes on, but I don’t think there exists a way of honing in on a fun experience by design, you've just gotta chip away until something nice pops out!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Creativity Catharsis

Hey internet.  How've you been?

Last time we spoke I spent most of the post whining on about how depressing it can be to be creative when making games. It’s a contains a lot of whining so don’t bother to go and look it up but the main gist is that you’ll never have a chance to realize all the ideas you have for games because they take too bloody long to make.  I.e. you think up games far quicker than you can make them.

At the time this was getting me down, knowing that most of the kick ass concepts I have floating round in my head will have to stay there because I’ll never find the time to turn them in to ones and zeroes.

Well a few months have passed and things are different, I've got the spring back in my step and I’m full of programming.  So what’s changed?

No.  It wasn't drugs.

We've made a few changes around here and right now they’re all working out for the best… here’s what happened.

1. Mess about

Basically I was burned out on most of the stuff I was working on back then.  We had a couple of long running projects and, to be honest, I was sick of the sight of both of them.  Development had slowed to a crawl and it was hard to find the motivation to even load them up to work on….

So put simply I kicked them in to touch. I dropped everything I was working on and started a new project, one that I could do quickly, be creative with and have a little fun.

The core concept is very simple, and based on a classic game you’ll all know, it’s a template that I could rapidly build on. Instead of hand crafting a complicated engine for it I built something very straightforward – the idea being that I could bang out a new level or piece of content in a day or two rather than months…

From there I went nuts: Every level has a different central mechanic and requires a different play style, thematically they’re also all over the place.  It’s not a particularly polished or deep experience but its great fun in a tongue in cheek sort of way and is an absolute blast to work on!

In about a month of on-and-off weekend and evening coding I’ve gone from nothing to a fully working and 90% complete game. You lot will have to wait a while before you can get your grubby hands on it but it’s already succeeded in its main goal… getting me engaged with making games again!

2. Democracy

We also started looking at a new project as a team.  It’s at a very early stage at the moment so I don’t want to talk about it… instead I want to wax lyrical about the process we’re following.

We’re trying a new collaborative approach for it.  We picked a genre that we’re all interested in and from there on out we've discussed everything as a group and evolved the design together.

It’s actually really difficult to stop yourself going off and working on it individually but we've put in a couple of rules: all design decisions are group decisions.

Now none of the above is rocket science but previously we’ve tended to have one person take the lead in terms of the design.  This means that you can get a very good picture on how the game’s supposed to work… but on the downside it’s harder for the rest of the guys to keep motivated on the project.  Because they haven’t been involved in coming up with the idea, they’re not as invested in it… which can be a real drag if it involves several months of their time and effort.

So the new approach then:  downside is that it’s a lot slower.  Obviously it relies on us being able to regularly meet up (which is not always possible) and sometimes you can spend ages debating a point which you would have decided in 5 seconds if it was just up to you.

The benefits, though, far out way all of that:

  • Everyone is fully engaged from the start.
  • We’re all fully up to speed on the development and direction of the game.
  • We’re having to articulate, defend and justify our ideas…
  • ….which we have plenty of, because we’re all thinking about it separately then bringing what we’ve come up with to the table at meetings.
  • Also, the discussion is making us want to research a hell of a lot more.  Example:  right now we’re hoovering up episodes of Horizon and Stargazing Live to pin down the fundamentals of interstellar travel (yes, the game’s based in space)
  • Finally, there’s a snowball effect: As the design develops we are all getting more and more enthused with the whole project.  When the time comes to actually crack on with production then we’ll be chomping at the bit to get going.

Now: I'm not saying that we won’t be using the autocratic approach for some games going forward (my experimental muck about game being a prime example), but: I do think that we’re starting to come up with a trademark Caper approach for collaboration.

I'm beginning to get an idea of what working on Caper games is going to be like in the long term.

And it feels great!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Creativity Conundrum

Good afternoon Dr Internet.

Normally I like to use these blog shaped therapy sessions to throw out some info on what I've been up to and discuss whatever’s on my mind. I find it cathartic; we all like to get things off our chest occasionally.  But recently things have changed, I've realised a few home truths, and it’s doing my head in.

I keep thinking up new game ideas!

Some are better than others (I’ll admit that) but they’re all at least partially original, do-able with my current knowledge, exciting to me in some way and I can’t wait to get started on them!

So where’s the problem? Let me explain…

In the last few weeks I've been working on Newgrounds and Kongregate integration for Bedlam.  Now that we’re finished with the damn thing we want to shove it in front of as many people’s noses as possible.
Even though it’s still being rolled out, in my mind it’s already old news...the next game in the pipeline has been in development for almost 10 months now and is about 80% complete.

So from here I have to finish post production on Bedlam, then complete the next game, then do the post on that, plus probably some website updates and all the socials… all of which before I can get cracking on anything new.

And in that time, (not the whole development cycle – just the last couple of weeks)… I've come up with plans for another 3 games!

Now I’m sure I’ll get faster at coding… and I'm only part time so I could chuck in a bunch more hours if I wanted to… And we could get some more guys in to help us… but even with all that (and the best will in the world), I’m never going to make all the games I want to.


There it is right there.

Big sad face :-(

So the vast majority of the games I come up with are never going to be made…  Every time I hit on (to me) a great new idea then I’m fully aware that the chances are that it’ll end up filed away in an imaginary storage warehouse in my mind, guarded by imaginary top men. Top Men.

I guess it goes with the territory of being a game developer. It takes so long to make a game compared with the amount of time needed to conceive one, it’s practically inevitable.

I don’t have any answers on this… only a pearl of wisdom: From now on, no matter how drunk I am, I’m never going to pitch an idea that I have at another game developer. It’s something I try to avoid as a rule: typically when you start gushing at people they can get pretty defensive anyway…

 But now I know another reason: When you start banging on about an interesting new game concept you’re not offending them, but you are reminding them of all the great games they have in their mind that’ll never see the light of day.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Indie game: the moment

Well internet, the last couple of days have been a bit of a roller-coaster.  As things are all tied up on Bedlam I decided that it was time to release it in to the wild and see what’s what.

To date it has been up on our website and playable for over a month but: given that we haven’t actually told anyone about it OR the website, the chances of it being actually played by anyone are practically nil.

So this brings us on to the Indie game: The movie moment referenced in the title… Anyone who’s watched the film knows the one I'm talking about: It’s the part where Super Meat Boy gets released and Tommy and Ed are glued to their monitors seeing how it goes down with gamers.

To be honest it totally swept me up! For about 2 hours after the game went up for review I was refreshing my browser every 5 minutes, reading all the comments and agonising as the rating went up and down.  And before you ask: No I didn't log on anonymously and up vote the game!

So how are we doing?  We’ll it’s been just under 3 days now and the stats are as follows:
The game’s been viewed 1657 times
It’s passed evaluation and been accepted on to the main site
We've had 4 comments – all reasonably constructive and positive
We’re hovering at a rating of just over 2 out of 5.

This may all seem pretty underwhelming to you but I'm ecstatic! The game’s getting played! WOOOOOOOO! It’s not gajillions of people, We’re not making any money off it, but we've entertained a bunch of random people around the world for a few minutes of their lives… and I find that immensely satisfying!

And as for the rating… Well I’m not to disheartened by a 2/5: After all it’s our first game, it is really limited in scope and (due to the fact I haven’t figured out the Newgrounds API yet), It hasn't got a working leader-board… which is a big point of the game.  So yeah I’ll take 2/5 for a first punt all day – It gives me a target to aim for with the next game!

Also a side note: Loving newgrounds so far!  I’d heard some pretty disparaging comments about it but so far it’s all sweetness and light.  The developer area is straight forward, the terms are really generous and pretty much all of the users who've commented have left constructive feedback :-) - I think it’s going to be a second home from now on.

Find out how it's doing now at

..just make sure you vote :-)


Thursday, 27 June 2013

It lives!


Hi Fives all round!

At last dear internet, we’ve got something new to show you!

It seems like ages since we’ve released anything new:  I’ve hated having to write dev update after dev update banging on about how swimmingly it’s all going without being able to show you guys anything tangible to back it up...  Well it turns out that we weren’t slacking after all!

Here’s what we’ve been up to…

New game – Bedlam!

Yes we’ve talked about it before – but now you can go play it!

Well what are you waiting for? Head over to right now and give it a bash… go on, I’ll wait…

Back so soon? Ok well let me talk about it a bit then.

Students of this blog will of course be aware that we’ve already talked about this game quite a bit during its’ development, so I won’t go over anything that’s been previously announced. Instead I want to talk a bit about the latest developments.

In the last few weeks the game’s really come together.  First off Mungy’s completely redone all the backgrounds and a lot of the other assets.  I think the new art style looks awesome and is a real step up from the previous versions, so well done there munginold!

Also we’ve completely reworked the score system and how infected patients react when they’re not cured.  These mechanics feel a lot more solid than the previous arbitrary lives system that we had in place.  It also fits in with the overall plan for the game now as you lose a grip on the game you also become infected and lose your mind!

The final big late addition was sound.  Mostly we begged it from around the internet but unsurprisingly there aren’t any sound libraries out there which cover effects for quaintly insane Victorian mental patients! Therefore we grabbed up some beers and recorded them ourselves.  This was of course hilarious – it’s hard to gurgle and shout the word Bedlam over and over again with a straight face!  We eventually got through it though – judge the results for yourselves in the game!

Our shiny new website is live!

Awww ain’t it pretty

Go have a look: We have a kick ass new design and a bunch of extra content for you guys to enjoy!

Well there you go, welcome to the new home of Caper! Why don’t you settle in, create an account and join our community?  Right now you’ll be able to play our games, log high scores and join in the discussions on the forum. In future we’re going to add a bunch of extra features to it like being able to brag to your mates when you beat their score, detailed gameplay stats and a bunch of other cool stuff.

So why not join up now and buckle up for an awesome ride!

What next?

Well there are still a few things we need to tidy up with both the game and the site first off.  Also we have launched it all but we haven’t actually told anyone about it yet – so when the rough edges are sufficiently smooth we’ll start advertising and hopefully drum up some traffic.

After that the good news is that you shouldn’t have to wait all that long until the next game comes along.  It’s already about 75% built!

It is, in fact, built on top of the engine we developed for Bedlam.  Although we've enhanced it a great deal and twisted the mechanics to make it in to something that looks, and plays, very different!

Look out for future blog posts on that subject and everything else we’re up to.  But in the meantime why are you still here? Get over to our website and start playing our games!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Please take a seat, we have much to discuss

Hellooo there internet me old chum!

Want to know what we’ve been up to? Well here are the deets!

Well we’ve been working hard in three areas…

1. Bedlam!

Mungy’s been hard at work in the art cave.  He’s created a bunch of assets for the intro sequence and the other cut scenes as well tarting up the game in general.  He’s come on a lot during the development of this game and so I guess it was inevitable that his earlier work wouldn’t match up to the par he’s working to now.  He’s pretty much finished this now and the end result should be a more coherent look to the game.

Here are some screens of his recent work:

Adam’s also been getting stuck in to the sound.  We've worked up a brief and an asset list that’ll meet the requirements and feel of the game so he’s working through that to pull it all together.  I have to say, I have no idea what music should go with a game set in a Victorian mental institution, so good luck there Ad! – It’ll be fascinating to see what he comes up with.

I expect both will have completed their bits & bobs in the next week or so.  Then it’s just a simple case of putting all their good work in to the game and we should be ready to rock!

2. Website!

As I’m waiting on the others to get their stuff done for bedlam I've been using the free time to crack on with the website.  We really want to be more than just a portal for the games – instead we’re shooting for a nice friendly community portal.  Somewhere where you guys can hang out, interact with us and talk gaming as well as play our games. So far I’ve implemented the following:

A forum
Facebook integration
Twitter feeds
Blogs – so you’ll be able to read this whilst playing!
User system
News feed
Stat tracking / leaderboards – so you’ll be able to brag to your mates!

That’ll probably be about it for version 1.  We’ll get it out there and then use it as a foundation to build more features on going forward.

As a side note: Web development is what I do in my day job – Therefore I’m finding it really boring! Don’t get me wrong: I’m chuffed with the way it’s taking shape and I think it’ll be awesome when it’s done… but it’s just not the same as making stuff that blows other stuff up!

3. Polishing up the back catalogue:

No, this isn’t a euphemism… go wash your mouth out.
I need to go through all the old games to get tem working with the website, so while I’m at it I’m also enhancing them a bit as I go.  I’ve just finished CardBastard (still the best game name ever!) and it’s been a fun exercise to do.

I’ve added in a bunch of new art assets for the tiles. So now they’re all made out of characters / art from our games rather than being 30% sketches and 30% dodgy facebook images.
I’ve changed the music and sound effects.  It’s now using some tracks that Adam wrote a while back – good to get some of his stuff in to one of our games!
Some tweaks to how it plays and fixed a few bugs – mostly boring stuff though so I won’t bang on about it here.

Next I’m going to focus on D-Day Minesweeper (add sounds & music / then do some tidying up) – and then on through the rest of the games til I’ve done the lot.

Getting ready for launch!

So that’s what we’re up to, so what’s next?  Well if we time it right then we should get all the above done at roughly the same time… this is not a coincidence!

So far we haven’t publicised anything we’ve made, apart from a select group of friends who’ve been helping us with our testing we’ve mostly been keeping it under our hats.

So we wanted to do a big launch to kickstart this project in to life.  With the new website and a couple of extra games we feel that we’ll finally have enough content to make it worthy of your time.

Therefore in the near future our baby will finally be born! There will be fanfares! Parties! Celebrity guest endorsements! – well actually none of that… but we will be plastering ourselves all over the internet like shameless whores to try to get some traffic to the site.

To be honest its kinda scary! I’ve got no idea how people will react, or if anyone will even bother showing up… fingers crossed!