Post Mortem: TerraTanks: Dominion (Part 1)

It is kind of an odd feeling writing a postmortem on a game that I feel is still living, breathing, and growing. I still make updates to the game almost daily and some of them aren’t even bug fixes :) . Like the BlackSword postmortem, I don’t think I can really put down everything in one post so I am going to assume this will extend into other posts. I think the place to start is to describe how this game took root.

After completing a single player RPG (Atlas: The Gift of Aramai) on the Mac with a group of friends in college I decided that I wanted to do a 3d Scorched Earth game and I called it TerraTanks. I worked on this game for 3 years cycling through different open source engines and finally got a good way through it using Torque. I had finally reached the end of my list of friends that wanted to work with me. It turns out most people have dreams of their own. The game was too complicated to finish on my own so I started contriving different plans to be a successful game maker. The plan I settled on was to create the third iteration in my TerraTanks anthology which was an MMO. I switched my thinking towards making it a low tech browser platform game that I could surely finish on my own.

I actually did not approach this project with an “I saw this other game and I can do better” mentality. I had played very little of very few browser or MMO games. I came in wanting to fulfill a couple of feelings through a game experience. I wanted to create a feeling of vast empires and colossal battles, and I wanted to create a feeling of non-tied down community. The real breakthrough came when I discussed with a friend a system where you are put on a team that automatically groups you with your teammates and periodically you vote to see who becomes your leader. Later in the postmortem I will discuss how the great ideas that start a project often become lackluster at the end.

I finished my prototype in two months and sent it to friends to see what they thought. It sucked but there were some really good ideas in it that just had to be extended. I had basically created a sandbox where things could happen, but there was no driving force and no way to tell what you were supposed to be doing. It is not enough to give people tools. People are aware that the environment is set up with a system of rules and they want a general idea of how to best navigate inside that confine.

It took another 6 months to fix and change a lot of my prototype and give the game a sense of direction. I “released” the game and that turned into more of an open beta. I don’t know how many times I have heard it said, I am still in complete awe of how helpful it is to have other people play your game with you. They have uncovered enough issues and suggested enough head slapping improvements to make me embarrassed about the first iteration I released.

In future posts, I will talk about things I think really went well with the project and things that I should have done better. For now I will leave you with a synopsis:

TerraTanks: Dominion – a PBBG where you take over and mine planets in a vast galaxy inhabited by enemies you are sworn to make war upon.

  • over 2 million planets
  • real time and turn limited play integrated together
  • real time travel across galaxy (trust me this actually works well in game)
  • research that is global to the player and not local to a planet
  • sophisticated combat calculations that allow you to combine your troops with your team’s troops
  • simple voting system to move up in rank
  • tax system to reward you for moving up in rank
  • auction for regulating resource economy
  • planet auctions to allow you to speculate in real estate
  • in game messaging
  • integrated forum

Wish there was more?

I'm considering writing an ebook - click here.


Jake is a games nut. He flips out and makes games without even thinking twice about it. He is good at rulesets, balancing (games, not on a beam you idiot), and knows things about coding. Like all mammals, Jake likes board and video games and makes both (like Jake constantly fights his arch enemy Sarcastro and hopes knowledge of his weakness, visual design, never falls into the wrong hands.

Monday, September 1st, 2008 design, games, postmortem, terratanks
  • Great games often get overlooked because while there may have been a gifted writer and coder involved, success is directly proportionate to the amount of marketing effort dedicated to it.

    But while marketing can gain sign-ups, game play (enjoyment) determines retention power. If you lack one or the other the game will flop. If you get tons of sign ups but the game fails, it's missing that staying power; it needs something more. On the other hand, if you have a loyal following and those that sign tend to stick around, yet you have have few players, then the game just needs more promotion effort.

    I work in the marketing field, specifically with web promotion, SEO & SEM. If you guys have a fantastic PBBG and it needs promotion, feel free to nudge me, I might like to get involved. You can reach me via my link above.

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Building Browsergames is a blog about browsergames(also known as PBBG's). It's geared towards the beginner to intermediate developer who has an interest in building their own browsergame.


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