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Idleplex, Coopers Little Adventure Releases

It’s been a couple weeks since the last formal release of Sandbox Hero, but for good reason.  As a small break I decided to produce a couple games and to shake out some of the cobwebs of working on a single project so long.

Idleplex

The first game I released is called Idleplex.  Its my attempt at making a small idle game, in the vein of the Cookie Clickers and Candy Box games.

Getting further in the game accumulates more boards, and more management of upgrades

Getting further in the game accumulates more boards, and more management of upgrades

I approached this game wanting to return to simple game mechanics.  In fact, I considered how simple game mechanics could go, with simple shapes and single-button mechanics controlling everything.  After defining these simple mechanics, I wanted to let the games play themselves, and let the players focus on cultivating a mosaic of these moving pieces.

The final outcome is a large grid of minigames that take over the screen and beg for you to update them over and over and over again.

I hope you enjoy it.

Cooper’s Little Adventure

The second game I released is called Cooper’s Little Adventure.

The day I finished Idleplex I went home and decided to make a game a small game.  I came up with the idea of making very small upgrade game about collecting coins, and when I say small… literally small.  I wanted to challenge myself and try to make the smallest game I could.  I also challenged myself to make a game with UI and upgrades, and make it function as a start to finish game with a story.  The project ended up being 100 pixels by 100 pixels.  Most of my games are about 800 pixels by 500 pixels, so this game is about 2% the usual size.

Cooper's Little Adventure starts out in a cardboard box, as many adventures do

Cooper’s Little Adventure starts out in a cardboard box, as many adventures do

There’s not a lot to say about Cooper’s Little Adventure, just that I really like tiny projects because they really help challenge and inspire other projects.  This was a 3-4 hour project, nothing too serious, just a game developer having fun on a Thursday night.

Thanks to Cooper for letting me use his likeness in this game.

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So now back to Sandbox Hero, and who knows what other little projects will poke in!

Sandbox Hero, Kongpanions, and Other Updates

If one thing is certain, I am terrible at updating my website.  I received no less then a dozen emails asking me if I was alive (yes I am).  So if you came back daily for six months looking for an update, sorry :(.

There’s several things I’m doing, have done, and in the process of thinking of doing.  But the biggest one is Sandbox Hero.

Sandbox Hero

About two weeks ago, Sandbox Hero came out of private beta and into public beta.  I can’t be more proud of what has been accomplished so far in this game.

Sandbox Hero is a game about creation, exploration, play, and community.  In the vein of other level creation games such as Little Big Planet, Minecraft and Everybody Edits, Sandbox is all about player-creation.  Players make their own maps from start to finish (literally), placing obstacles, enemies, and pathways to the exit.  In addition to building maps, a large component of the game is playing other people’s maps, where you earn XP and coins to level up your player.  It is both RPG and creation toolkit, and soon, some multiplayer components.  It is the most ambitious project I have pursued to date.

I wanted to talk a bit about the last few months of production and the way this game came to fruition.

Mom's Looking for You, a map I created in Sandbox Hero

Mom’s Looking for You, a map I created in Sandbox Hero

When I first approached this game I was thinking of something very simple… much smaller than what was eventually created. I wanted to make a game based around a level editor and sharing system.  I love platforming games, and I love level editors, so why not create a level editing platformer system for the players?  The goal was to provide maybe, 8 to 10 tiles and let people do very simple levels with them.  In fact I created the editor screen seen below as a mockup of what the final product could possibly look like:

The first iteration of the editor, with very simple blocks and a much smaller scope

The first iteration of the editor, with very simple blocks and a much smaller scope

The game was going to take place completely in this editor space.  There would be no hub for equipment, levels, etc.  Load and save would all take place through this window and it would be purely an editor.

As I developed the engine more, I realized the scope could take this game well beyond what was created.  What other features could this game have?  How could I build this game looking forward, so I could add even more features in the future?  I spent a lot of time on these questions, trying to balance what this game should have or not have all at once while managing time and priority for features.  I could go as far as full-multiplayer with real-time everything, or pull back to just simple level code sharing.  In the end, I decided to find the middle ground at asynchronous multiplayer and to scale up from there.  But even that was not a simple path.  The beginning of this game raised many questions I didn’t anticipate for the end-game.

There was five major problems and solutions I had to attack:

1)  Building Content Intuitively

Many players have never made a level before.  Some players use level editors all the time.  I wanted to make a system that worked easily for all experience levels.  I spent a lot of time fielding feedback and information on what sort of editing tools players wanted and implementing changes with each version, as players tested new builds.  More time has been spent on the editor than anywhere else.

A look at the final editor, which is still in-progress even in public beta

A look at the final editor, which is still in-progress even in public beta

The editor features are very simple if you want them simple, but if you want to dive deep into your creations, the editor is built to be as intuitive as possible.  You start with the tools in the toolbar on the far left and pass across the screen to the right, eventually ending in the Publish screen.  Everything is meant to be explored left to right.

When building the editor I wanted to make sure that adding new content would be easily done.  I went with a top-bar tabbed approach so that new content could be expanded easily.  I built a window system to make new editor windows very easy to build.  Everything was built for expansion.

2)  Sharing and Discovery

Sharing is the most difficult part of this game.  I needed a way to facilitate transfer of maps between players in a way that was easy and quick.  There were a few ways to do this:

Human-to-human Level Sharing:  Copy-and-paste level codes are simple and easy to implement, but they are not great to sort or manage.  The game started out with these but quickly moved on.

Kongregate Level Share:  Kongregate has their own level share system, which is a very simple and prebuilt system that makes it easy to add level sharing to any game.  It works great, but I realized quickly that I need to sort levels in very different ways than what was being offered by this level share.  So I realized I had to keep moving on.

Player.IO:  Bingo.  This was it.  Player.IO is a service that provides multiplayer/database services for online games.  I needed a database that players can search and filter through to find content, but not have to worry about scaling or crazy management tools.  This is harder, but easier on the players to find great stuff.  I had to learn how to program in C# to write server code and it added several weeks to my production time, but it was well worth it.  Now players could sort and filter maps by type of map, last published, etc.

After realizing that I now had access to a multiplayer database, I started debating multiplayer.  After working on Exit Path and other synchronous multiplayer games, I realized that this was a stretch.  This game already had a lot of sharing features and some planned asynchronous multiplayer features, so I decided to hold off until later pending success of the game.  Going forward it could be possible but I don’t want to say yes or no until I roll out more features.

As the game went through beta I learned a lot about what players wanted.  They wanted  more sorting methods and categories so they could find levels they liked.  Some players like playing automatic levels (rollercoasters) and others wanted levels about exploration and story telling, which are completely opposite ends of the spectrum in level design.  I built categories and special lists specifically to their needs and continue to do so.

An image of the area where users share their content.  This screen has changed more than a dozen times to reach this state.  Its very colorful and simple to use compared to the older systems.  Still in progress, even now

An image of the area where users share their content. This screen has changed more than a dozen times to reach this state. Its very colorful and simple to use compared to the older systems. Still in progress, even now

3)  Performance

I made a few maps but realized that people might be making ridiculously big maps.  Instead of limiting size, I decided to start optimizing the hell out of the game so that limits could be minimal.  I made my own compression algorithm for making maps tiny, and used some other compression algorithms to further compress maps.  I spent a few weeks getting maps down to about 15% of their uncompressed size.  Load times stay relatively quick for their thousands of tiles.

Secondly performance.  Displaying thousands of tiles is incredibly difficult in Flash, especially interactive or animated tiles.  I decided to try my hand at Starling, a framework built on-top of Flash that leverages the graphics card for processing.  This allowed me to render lots of content on-screen at great performance.

To maintain great animation for the player while maintaing performance I leveraged the Dragonbones framework.

To ensure that UI stayed sharp and flexible, I kept all my user-interface pieces in vector instead of bitmap.  This was difficult since Starling is based on bitmap graphics, so I had to build a special wrapper to allow for both traditional vector and speedy bitmap processing.

A map created by a player in Sandbox Hero, called Castle of Adventure, by Bud001

A map created by a player in Sandbox Hero, called Castle of Adventure, by Bud001

4)  RPG Mechanics

I spent a lot of time on level creation features,only to realize I was neglecting the actual play of maps.  The game is user created, meaning there wasn’t a lot of plot or storytelling to offer, so I wanted to offer more sense of progress for the game.  I added RPG mechanics which would allow for upgrading weapons and body pieces and allow players to grow in character while playing player’s maps.  This also allows for personal expression through dressing up characters.

I spent a lot of time working with my coworker Anthony to build the RPG system for this game.  He’s a bit of a data genius as well as very experienced in building extensive RPG systems.  It took a lot of wiggling of numbers, stats, and information to build the system that currently exists now (still continues to be wiggled).  The moment you add more jumping abilities or faster run speed it breaks many other features.  Making a flexible weapon/item pickup system was difficult due to all the possible parameters the player could have.  I narrowed it down to the following parameters:

Attack:  Amount of damage to enemies

HP:  Amount of damage a player can take

Dash:  Amount the player could dash

Jump height:  Height the player can jump

Jumps:  Total number of jumps the player gets

Run:  Speed the player could run

Each weapon and item changes these attributes.

An early realization is that some maps would be far easier to beat if a player was high level versus low level, and that some level designers wouldn’t want this to happen.  In an effort to allow for self-balancing, enemies scale in difficulty with the player, so the player has to continue to get better skill-wise and item-wise to continue to compete well on levels.  In addition, I offer a Pure mode to level creators so that they can set everyone back to level 1 temporarily if they want to.

5)  New Features and Tiles

Most of my games are built as to a very specific experience, meaning that I have no plans of updating them once they go wild.  In this game I knew I would want to keep working on it even after it launched.  I had to ensure that I built all the systems to allow for expansion.  New tiles are easily added through a built-in catalogue that I can add to very quickly New features , weapons, items, and enemies follow a similar system.  Backgrounds, midgrounds, and music also had to have special systems added to them for simplicity in creating new content for each.   The way levels are saved to the server account for

Being careful about being future-ready extended the production time but will speed up adding new content in the future.

Release and Future Of Sandbox Hero

The game went out of private beta a couple weeks ago and so far has been living up to my expectations, being warmly received.  Players have been incredibly supportive of the game, providing bug reports and feature requests far faster than I could ever keep up with.  The maps players are creating are phenomenal, and we are constantly surprised by the quality of content.  Quizzes, Rollercoasters, Stories, Deathtraps, and more can all be found from a single game.  I am extremely happy working on this project and seeing what the players will continue to create and share with the world.

The artwork by Jimp made this game really shine.  Jimp has worked for years with me on games and he did not spare a detail for this game.  I could not be happier working with him.

Sandbox Hero continues to be developed and will continue to be a work-in-progress.  I really enjoy this project and love the community that has started to form around it.  I will continue to work on it and give it the support and love I feel the players who help create it deserve.

Other Work

If you read my previous blogpost I was working on a button pushing game.  This game has  been cancelled due to proximity and style to the vein of Cookie Clicker, which released before it could ever see the light of day.  It was an unfortunate coincidence, but I’m going to use some of the material I was planning for the button pushing game in another project.

I’m currently working on a quick game which should this month.  Its a small single-player game with no name yet, but it should be enjoyed by those who liked my minigame compilations of years past.

On Kongregate I helped create a metagame for the site called Kongpanions.  A play on the word Companions, they are small, often cute creatures you are rewarded for beating and completing challenges on the website, specially through the Badge system.  One step further, you can use the Kongpanions you have collected on the site in games such as Sandbox Hero!  Its a fun system and rewarding to both developers and players alike.

A screenshot of the Kongpanions page on Kongregate.com

A screenshot of the Kongpanions page on Kongregate.com

Otherwise, I have a HUGE surplus of game ideas and concepts ready to unfold.

And in my personal life I’m watching the olympics, riding my bike, rock climbing, and playing video games (specially Papers Please, Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds, and Pokemon X).

I’ll try not to write updates once every six months any longer (sorry again), there’s a lot of great stuff coming up and I can’t wait to share it.

Summer. Interviews. Games.

Games.

I’m working on a few different projects at once, some at home, some at work.  Its a fun mix of simple and longer titles.

Game #1:  Sandbox Hero – This is a game where you pretty much get to make your own game and levels.  Its pretty neat, like a Little Big Planet environment that you get to share, create, and play content in.  You can make groups of levels to share all at once, instead of just individual levels!  This is well into production and should see beta on Kongregate.com shortly.  Stay tuned!

Game #2:  Button Push [working title] – A game about pushing a button over and over again… only time will tell where this game goes…

Game #3:  Hellevator A and B – These are smaller games for sure, but they both take place in elevators.  These are very, very obscure and early titles… so don’t expect these for a while.

Interviews.

I was interviewed for the Super Indie Pals podcast.  My artist and partner Jimp is one of the Indie Pals (Elephant Quest, Corp Inc, etc) so it was fun being on his show.  Cool guys.  Was happy to partake!  Listen in:

Summer.

Settling into a Summer full of bike rides, rock climbing and games.  Its my first Summer back in the Bay Area after living in Southern California for 6 years (it’s Summer year-round there).  Its crazy having cool days in the city of San Francisco, I love it!

Updates to come!

Speaking at Flash Gaming Summit; GDC Week

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Picture courtesy of Flash Gaming Summit, Mochi Media

The Flash game community, regardless of whether their work is Flash, Unity, or wherever they make games now, is a community full of incredible people.  I am proud to be part of it.

Flash Gaming Summit and GDC happened a few weeks ago and I’ve been putting off the recap of what happened there.  I’m not going to speak much to the conference itself or GDC talks (both were great and speak for themselves, go to them!), but more about what was realized and confirmed there.

The Talk

I did have a solo presentation about my work at a Flash Gaming Summit… I called it, “A Personal Retrospect: A Decade of Flash Game Design.”  It was the most I’ve ever talked about myself and it took a lot for me to even get up there on stage.  Not out of stage fright or any normal speaking role discomfort, but because I am generally someone who doesn’t talk about their career; I am usually far more interested in what others have to say.  Nonetheless, the talk went really well, was fueled by coffee (I finished the talk about 5 minutes early!) and was a fun journey.  You can watch it here if you like.

The major points…

1)  Flash developers are some of the most, if not most, creative game developers from this decade

Over the last decade we have seen some amazing content come out of the community.  Innovative, personal, and creative, these games continue to get better and seriously push the envelope for game design.  Flash devs take risk, aren’t afraid to try new things.

2)  Flash developers are getting better treatment, but it could still be better

A lot of Flash devs get pushed into bad contracts, shady sponsorship terms, and have their content stolen.  While it has gotten better we still have a ways to go.  Content continues to be ripped off, ripped apart, and even rebranded without developers permission.  Its frustrating to watch but at least its improving, and we should continue to encourage Flash Dev love.

3)  Flash had growing pains for mobile.  But its getting better.

When Flash first came to mobile it was a bit frustrating to work with.  But exporting from Flash/Flex to iOS and Android is getting way better each and every year.  We’re seeing successful cross-platform games coming out and they look great!  It can only get better.

4)  Game quality continues to increase year after year

Flash games continue to get better.  There is no slowing down, each and every year there seems to be some new major releases from some of the top devs in the industry.

5)  A decade later, Flash is still the best platform for making games for the web and beyond

Flash continues to be the place to make online games right now.  Sure, there is blooming technologies that could upset this throne (I’m looking at you HTML5 and Unity!) but for now the top games still continue to use Flash as the technology of choice.  Facebook, MMO, single-player, and beyond… games continue to thrive under Flash’s wing.  Its far too early to rule it out… its not dead yet.

The Community

During GDC week I met for a random lunch with Joey Betz, Chris Jeffrey, Jay Armstrong, and James Pearmain.  Talking to them, we all realized we had nothing going on that evening.  We decided we should all meet up later, so I tweeted out that Tweet you just read.  And low and behold, this happened:

Holy crap is right.  If you wanted to see one of the most amazing meetups of Flash Devs this was it:

John Cooney – That’s me!
ConArtists Team – Last Stand, Last Stand: Dead Zone, Warfare 1914
Jimp – Elephant Quest, Sushi Cat, Super Duck Punch, Penguinz
Joey Betz – Sushi Cat, Crush the Castle
Chris Jeffrey – Space is Key, Platcore
Jay Armstrong – Super Adventure Pals
Toge Productions Team – Infectonator
Jared Riley – Hero Interactive, Bubble Tanks, Paint the Fence
Daniel Stradwick – Monsters Den
Brad Bourne – Fancy Pants Adventures
Greg McClanahan – Kongregate
Andrew P – Game Dev, Kongregate
Emily Greer – Cofounder, Kongregate
Anya C – Developer Relations, Addicting Games
John D – Founder, Kongregate
Colin C – Product, Mochi Media
David Fox – Flash Mindmeld

There was more and I’m sorry I didn’t get you down.

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This group of devs more or less saw each other all week.  We had drinks, we had dinner, we had fun.  It was great to see everyone.

What was realized from seeing these wonderful people all week is that this really is an amazing community.  Coming from all over the world these developers met and connected as if they’ve been longtime friends.  Everyone seemed to be Friend Level 1,000… genuine people who love to make games and who are extremely supportive of each other’s work.  We joked, we enjoyed each others company, and most of all we celebrated; that just for a week we could all be under one roof and enjoy a beer together.

Photo on 3-24-13 at 10.02 AM

I took a funny picture with Jimp before the presentation

There’s something to be said for that.  This is not the Indie game scene.  This is something different; a wavelength that resonates with very unique people.  While it might overlap with that Indie vibe I think its different.  A microcosm of game developers who make games, or at least came from making games, on the Flash game platform, and grew together sharing a different mentality about games.

On a fun sidenote, I opened up a tab at the bar and asked anyone who came in to use my tab.  For 26 people, I ended up with 2 beers beyond my own on the tab.  I have to give it to Flash devs, they are extremely self-reliant.

So that is that.  I can keep going about how great these people are and how honored it was to spend a week with them, but my babbles need to end somewhere.  I can’t wait for next year to see everyone again and to meet other developers.  There were so many others I met and so many more I hope to meet.

SUPER DUCK PUNCH!

Super Duck Punch is out!  My first game with Kongregate!  Play it!

FightHorses2

Flash Gaming Summit, A New Game Soon

Life is still in transition, and happily I can say that there will be a game coming out very, very soon.  Also happening soon is a talk at Flash Gaming Summit about the last 10 years of game development.  I hope there’s an online video to share of my talk.  It has, by any means, been a crazy 3 months.

Back to the game I’m working on… we’re days from launch on my newest game, developed at Kongregate and almost ready for the masses.  It’s a doozy.

Achievement Unlocked 3 ended up winning that JayIsGames.com Puzzle Platformer of the Year award.  Hooray!  Thanks for your votes!  Also, it is nominated for a Mochi Award at Flash Gaming Summit.  Glad to hear that game is getting some recognition.

Will post the new game once it releases.  Happy Tuesday!

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Achievement Unlocked 3 – Nominated Game of the Year

JayIsGames.com has been featuring my work for over 6 years.  They covered some of my earliest work, including the Ball Revamped series when it was just picking up.

They have nominated Achievement Unlocked 3 for Puzzle Platformer of the Year!  And its up to a user vote, so if you want to cast one, feel free!  Here is the link to vote!

And if you haven’t played it yet, go play Achievement Unlocked 3.

A Fresh Start

A new city, a new home, a new job, a new year, and a new outlook on life.

For the first time in a long time I’m on a high for game development and the road ahead. Large projects, bigger ideas, great success and room for failure… all these things are culminating in an energy that I haven’t had in a long time. I’m really quite excited about whats to come.

I’ve been building a project in my mind for about two years now that I have not found the energy to start on. It would be something to create in my own time and write at my own pace. But its been hard… my energy for the past year has been really low, and the project will be an effort unlike that I’ve ever taken on. It has a strong platforming narrative, many worlds, clean gameplay, and an overall vision that I feel fairly solid on. Now that I have the time and energy I’m going to try to give it a go.

At Kongregate I’ve started on a hybrid fighting game/boss battle/strangeness that will make you duke it out within really ridiculous scenarios. It’s well into production and will probably see the light in a few weeks.

As far as photography, I’ve embarked on a 365 project, to take a photo every day until 2014. Here are the results so far:

Jan3

Jan2

Jan1

2012 was a kickass year, and 2013 is looking incredible. I can’t wait to see what happens.