Post Mortem: TerraTanks: Dominion (Part 2) Need to improve

Really this section could go on forever. I fell into a despair about the game 2 months ago where every week I would make a large update to fix what I thought was the game not being fun and by the end of the week the game was not fun again. This has since dissipated and I have been having a blast with the game.

I want to focus on 2 things that I think need talking about (and one of them is not web page layout). One is something games in general suffer from. The other is something my game uniquely suffers from.

Thing 1: Scope, scope, scope, scope, scope.
Something I have difficulty with is wrapping my brain around just how big something is going to be. While being big is not necessarily a bad thing, being big and empty is a horrible thing. When you create a space, that space needs to be filled out completely. The first game I made (Atlas: The Gift of Aramai) suffered from this. The driving principal of the game was “we want to make it big”. The fallout of this was 5 years creating content to still have the game seem desolate and empty as you character walked for 7 minuets to the next town.

It is amazing how the power of squares can effect the amount of content you have to generate. Filling area is literally X times more time consuming than filling a linear map where X is the length of that map.

When starting a game, think small. When you think of most browser games they occur on one screen. Depth is so much more valuable than breadth. Depth displays the designer’s creativity. Depth in a small game means that you can actually release your game in a time span that doesn’t drive you crazy.

Far be it from me to follow my own advice. TerraTanks is a very large game. I believe it is also a very deep game. It certainly is a complicated game that evaluates actions in a sophisticated way. It took me 2 months to finish the breadth of the game and an additional 8 months to add depth to a state where I am satisfied with my work. (2 months of that was under the public beta). I have a very long list of things to do to add more depth to the game. It is playable and fun as it is, but the oportunity to add depth seems to be expanding and not getting smaller as I create features.

Thing 2: I created an odd way of displaying the map.
This can be prefaced by saying that compared to many of my peers, I think sideways. It is fun to be unique in my problem solving but it is sometimes difficult for me to relate my ideas to the general audience.

This is what I mean. Most people when they want to create a map they will go about creating a cartesian coordinate system grid. People understand the incrementing value and it is easy to calculate distance using the pythagorian theorem. When I went about creating the map I originally thought of how space looked in my head. You have a universe with nested galaxies. Each galaxy had nested stars. Most stars are solar systems with nested planets. The idea of nesting is what stuck with me. What I did from that was to create a system of nested areas which defined my space. My galaxy was a square divided into 4 square quadrants like this:

0 | 1
----
2 | 3

Please note how like any good programmer I start with 0. Each square quadrant was divided into 16 square sectors so in quadrant 0 it would look like:

00 | 01 | 02 | 03
-------------
04 | 05 | 06 | 07
-------------
08 | 09 | 0a | 0b
-------------
0c | 0d | 0e | 0f

Now note that since I have 16 squares I am using hexidecimal notation.

What I end up with is planets that have identifiers that look like 0b23c5 which accurately descirbes the location of the planet in a nested notation. While it makes complete sense, this is really difficult to explain. Most people don’t have a computer science background and even if you do, people don’t view maps as a series of nested grids. While this way of making maps simplified programming in many respects, but it is not good to make your end users learn something like that to understand your game. The other problem is the effort to convert the game to a cartesian map is difficult and pretty much impossible now that people are already playing the game.

Game makers often fall for the old trap of either trying to show how smart they are or treating their audience with contempt for not knowing the minutea of their own passion. Really smart game makers can present difficult concepts in a way that everyone can pick up and understand. You don’t need to spell things out for your audience at every moment, but don’t make them figure you out either.

Most of the remaining issues with my game involve how to efficiently display large amounts of information. This is something I work on every day so I don’t think of it as something that I did wrong in hindsight, but something that is still in progress.

Wish there was more?

I'm considering writing an ebook - click here.

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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 www.terratanks.com). Jake constantly fights his arch enemy Sarcastro and hopes knowledge of his weakness, visual design, never falls into the wrong hands.

Monday, September 8th, 2008 code, design, frustrations, postmortem, terratanks, usability
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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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