BBGameZone PBBG Contest 2010

It’s that time of year again – time for another PBBG Contest, hosted by the Browser-Based Game Zone! Here are the rules for the new contest:

  • The contest runs for one month this time (instead of 2 last time) – it starts today, and ends on the 18th of february.
  • Competitors are allowed to enter the contest in the middle, although they may start at a slight disadvantage.
  • You must start with a new game – the only exceptions are old/ancient games that you haven’t worked on in a long time (subject to judge approval), or games that were entered in the last contest and placed lower than 5th when it came time for judging.

Right now, there are no prizes for the contest, as it’s solely for fun and reputation building – but that’s not to say that by the end of the month, there won’t be any.

Interested? Take a look at the forum thread for more information, and good luck!

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Monday, January 18th, 2010 site-news Comments

Interview: Jodie from Shadowlack

I recently stumbled accross Shadowlack, which is (according to the website) “a Science Fantasy Play-By-Post RPG”. I thought that it might be interesting to hear some thoughts from someone running a game that isn’t based on the mafia or vampires. I managed to get in touch with Jodie Struthers, who’s been running Shadowlack for an amazing eight years! Here’s what she had to say:

What moviated you to start/build Shadowlack?

Shadowlack began as an ongoing comic book that several of my friends and I wrote while during grade school (circa 1997). We would pass this beaten up notebook around during class and add panels to it without any sort of pre-planning. The comic book grew to include over 2,600 individual illustrations. Eventually we had a really neat story going on. In 2002, I thought that it would be a great idea to open it up to people on the internet – but in text form.

Shadowlack is based on this same type of haphazard story telling with people writing from the perspectives of their original characters. Each post is unique and adds to the collaborative nature of the world.

After 7 years of running Shadowlack, have you ever been tempted to shut it down? What motivated you to keep going?

Oh yes. The last time I seriously thought about it was when my best friend at the time (who was helping run the site for a period), ended up leaving. At the time I really wasn’t sure what to do. She had been an integral piece to many of the plots that were on the go. I was very tempted to close down the site, however it was the support I got from the member base that kept it going. My other constant form of motivation is my desire to learn, and Shadowlack has been a great tool to learn from over the years.

Is the platform behind Shadowlack an out of the box solution, or a custom one?

Shadowlack right now is based upon a phpBB forum. I’ve built and re-built the site using many different platforms over the years and each time it’s gotten better (at least technically). At first I was limited by my skill-set in regards to what I could do, but now the only limitation I have right now is time.

Many play-by-post games suffer from “inflated” member counts because they require you to create separate accounts for each character that you wish to play. Shadowlack solves this problem with a modification that I wrote, that allows you to create multiple characters underneath one master account. Many other features and add-ons have been written to compliment this.

So no, it’s not just an out of the box forum solution with a skin or banner slapped thoughtlessly on it. There are also several automated processes that help me run the site, as well as a fully fledged content management system which I’ve also augmented. I like to think of it as a mutated version of phpBB… you know, with a few extra arms, eyes, and noodles kicking around.

How much time a day do you spend managing Shadowlack? Do you have to manage it at all, or do the players generally police themselves?

Daily my time spent on the site can range anywhere from five minutes to several hours, or sometimes no time at all. Due to the nature of the game (people who join generally think writing is fun and want to contribute to the project), we don’t get many trouble makers. I’ve only had to lay down the perma-ban hammer down on about 5 or so people over the years due to rule breaking.

Do you ever have to add new features to Shadowlack, or does the game run itself?

New features generally come in the form of new plots, creatures, and races. However, unlike the majority of the play-by-post games these days, it is not just a forum. It’s also an original world setting. Players are free to create and build their own alien races, religions, cities, monsters, diseases, and other such things. The game does run itself to an extent, but I find myself acting largely as a director whose job it is to fit creatures and story elements together in order to solve puzzles and make things semi-believable (it is a science fantasy game… so things don’t have to be 100% logical). We’ve had discussions about magic, apartment utilities, nomadic hunting, pubs, racism, reproduction, governments, and then some – all in relation to the Shadowlack world. The world of Shadowlack isn’t exactly an idealized society – it has its vices – but it certainly is an interesting one.

How ’sticky’ is Shadowlack? Lots of games only see players for a few minutes at a time(although frequently throughout the day) – are most visits on shadowlack short, or long?

A player’s stickiness depends entirely on their level of involvement on the site. Over the years I’ve also been able to track a few trends that generally coincide with school. Given that the demographic of the site is 17+ (with the majority of players in their early to mid twenties), times of slow activity are generally around university exam times, and during summer vacation.

The average time a person spends on the site (including visitors who pass us by), is 5 minutes. Generally registered members will spend half an hour or more on the site at a time. Writing takes some thought and dedication and this sort of niche market really isn’t for the type of person who wants instant satisfaction.

Have you had any trouble retaining players as the years went on?

People come and people go. There have been multiple cases where players have disappeared due to life happening only to return several months (or even years…) later. That said, there are also a handful of people who have been around since the conception of the site. Those that join and find that they like it, tend to stay and play. Which can be said for most games.

What’s the coolest thing that you’ve seen happen in Shadowlack?

All of our awesome plots and characters aside, the coolest thing has been watching the long-time players evolve and over time become skilled writers. One of my favourite things to do is look at people’s old roleplay posts from when they first joined and compare them to the ones that they’re writing today. The differences are phenomenal, and it makes me happy to hear that a person’s writing on the site has significantly contributed to their performance in educational institutions. I’m proud of my players for reasons that most game owners probably never consider. :)

A lot of players are drawn to flashier games that they can play on their own, and roleplaying(especially play-by-post) seems to have fallen by the wayside. What do you think draws people to Shadowlack, as opposed to just playing neopets or forumwarz?

One thing that I would like to stress is that play-by-post roleplaying is an extreme niche market. You really aren’t going to make money off of it unless it is just a small feature of the rest of your game. All of the big “successful” play-by-post games (of which there really isn’t any more than a handful that I’d actually consider to be successful), do not have true business models. They are run by hobbyists (like myself), non-profit organizations, or are kept alive by the donations of the players themselves.

I’m actually a long-time Neopets player myself and was largely responsible for getting the Role Playing board added to their site. With that being said, the draw to a place like Shadowlack is largely different. It is not a heavily policed site. Players are free to do a lot of things. It also isn’t rated G or “family safe,” so swearing is unlikely to get you in trouble. Over the years it has turned into a sort of “safe haven” and home for creative types. The site is full of aspiring artists, writers, and musicians. So the greatest draw to the site most likely is freedom of expression and creativity. I mean, yes we are writing stories together, but we’re also developing characters and building an original world setting. It’s fun, and not a complete waste of time since players are developing their writing skills.

What plans do you have for Shadowlack, going into the future?

Because Shadowlack is also a world building project, I’ve spent a lot of time looking into various CMS solutions, from Wiki scripts to full blown enterprise CMS solutions, in order to make building the world setting easier. After trying so many options and being unhappy with them (either because of spaghetti code, lack of structure, too much bloat, or what-have-you), I’ve started developing my own CMS framework that integrates with phpBB user sessions. Generally I plan to bring a lot of the world building aspect back. So more flora and fauna, as well as expanding on the science fiction element of the game in terms of space exploration and the planet’s technology.

Looking back into the past – what plans *did* you have for Shadowlack, and did you fulfill them?

My only clear plan from the beginning was really just to have fun and learn while doing it. It has been my pet project for years and everything that I’ve learned while working on it has helped further my career. So in that essence, I have fulfilled my plans (sort of… the learning process is perpetual).

One of my larger plans, that I pulled off last year, was the renaming of the site. Originally the game was called Ramath-lehi (the name of the planet). Unfortunately this was a name that was a) hard to remember for newcomers and b) hard to spell! I changed the name to Shadowlack gradually over 2009. Ramath-lehi is still the name of the central planet. Shadowlack is just the name of the bigger picture.

Do you do any marketing for Shadowlack, or just rely on word of mouth?

Right now it is entirely word of mouth. In the past I’ve done up posters and handed out business cards. It has also been a part of several advertising campaigns. Over the past four years though I have not put much emphasis on advertising and have purposely kept the player base small and manageable due to my lack of time (sudo get degree). However this may change in the future.

What has been the most challenging part of running Shadowlack for so long?

Life interrupting. Things have this wonderful way of just happening. Shadowlack was with me through my high school years and also with me while I was obtaining my degree. I’ve gone through a lot of changes and so has it.

What are you working on these days?

I run my own media and design consulting firm which takes up the majority of my free time. Aside from Shadowlack, I work on a small in-progress PBBG called Black Shuck that revolves around the afterlife and also lend a hand in regards to providing design work and coding for various other gaming sites.

If you could tell new browsergame developers one thing – what would it be?

Don’t give up so easily. It is true that many, many games die due to lack of interest and time. In the play-by-post niche, most games don’t even make it past the three month marker, which I’ve taken to referring to as RPG SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). I believe that a lot of this has to do with the stagnant nature of most forum-based games. People set up a forum, create a fabulous plot, expect others to stay and play, and then get upset when their players have nothing of further interest holding them there. The game owner then loses interest, moves onto another project, and it dies. Rinse and repeat.

I’m not saying that every game idea is a clear winner and that constant persistence is key. I’m also not going to say that originality is a trump card. Simply take what you’ve learned, build upon it… and enjoy it. If you’ve got something good going on, other people will take notice of it (be warned that you may have to take to standing on street corners and flailing your arms – but oh, they will notice).

If you’d like to know more about Shadowlack, you can check it out at the Shadowlack website.

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Monday, January 11th, 2010 interview Comments

Christmas Survey Results

First off, a big thank you to everyone who filled out the survey – I’ve gotten confirmation on a lot of the plans that are being put into place, in addition to meeting a few more people who would be interested in writing for Building Browsergames (if you filled out the survey and gave me your e-mail, check it now – you should have an e-mail from me saying thanks).

The overwhelming response to the question What would you like to see on Building Browsergames primarily? was tutorials — while I know I’ve kept you all waiting, I’m hoping to be able to begin publishing some of the tutorials on the tutorial list very soon.

One of the readers who responded to the survey mentioned that they’d like to see some more “architecture” oriented tutorials – but forgot to provide their e-mail! If that was you, please get in touch with me at buildingbrowsergames@gmail.com, and I’ll see what I can do.

Based on the number of survey respondents who indicated that they were interested in writing for
Building Browsergames, it looks like we should have a lot more updates coming down the pipe – I also have a few changes in mind for the site that should make it easier for new (and old) visitors to find things on the site that they haven’t already, going into the new year. There are big plans for The PBBG Network and PBBG Snippets in the works as well — but I’m keeping those under wraps for now.

Once again, thanks to everyone who responded – I hope that everyone had a safe and happy new year.

Monday, January 4th, 2010 site-news Comments

How are we doing?

Now that Building Browsergames has started back up(albeit slowly), there are a lot of big changes planned. With that in mind, I wanted to ask you, the community, for some opinions on what direction you think the site should take(and how it’s doing so far).

If you’d like to provide some feedback, please take some time to fill out the Building Browsergames Christmas Survey, and give me your opinions.

Want to leave more feedback? Get in touch with a comment, or send an e-mail to buildingbrowsergames@gmail.com.

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Monday, December 14th, 2009 site-news Comments

EffectGames.com launches

I recently stumbled accross EffectGames.com, which bills itself as providing “free, online tools for building, sharing and playing your own browser based games”. I managed to get in touch with Joseph Huckaby, one of it’s cofounders, for a little more about the service:

Well, it took me four years, but I believe I have finally proven that you don’t need Flash to make great web games. I have just launched a new website called “Effect Games”, which allows developers to create professional quality JavaScript games for free, and publish and share the games just like they would a YouTube video.

There are several game demos up on the site, so you can see what the engine can do. All modern browsers and platforms are supported, including IE 6+, Firefox 3+, Safari 3+, Chrome 1+, and Opera 9+.
Games are powered by the “Effect Engine”, my JavaScript / DHTML library that provides the framework for displaying and animating all the graphics, playing all the sounds & music, handling the keyboard & mouse, and sprite collision detection. It can smoothly render multiple layers of parallax scrolling tiles and sprites using pure DHTML (no Canvas or SVG, so it plays nice with all browsers).

HTML 5 Audio is used where supported (currently Safari on Mac OS X 10.5 only, 10.6 and Firefox coming soon), and 3rd party extensions used elsewhere. But developers don’t have to worry about the underlying implementation. The engine provides a single API, which is the same no matter what tech is used under the covers. Write your game code once, and it’ll run everywhere. Everything is documented online, including a side-scrolling platformer tutorial.

We have an integrated web app which allows developers to prepare and design their game online. It comes with an Asset Manager for uploading and organizing game graphics and audio, a Level Editor for laying out sprites and tiles into levels, and lots of tools for manipulating graphics in real-time using non-destructive filters (scaling, rotation, and a number of other transforms).

Users can develop their games locally on their Macs or PCs, and don’t have to upload any code until they are ready to publish. The game publisher can compile their code automatically using Google Closure, and provides them with a unique URL and embed code to share the game on their own site, blog, or anywhere they want.

The engine also has a Plugin architecture to bring in 3rd party libraries to add new features. For example, we just released a Box2D Physics Plugin, bringing realistic physics simulations into the engine.

We’re getting ready to launch a slew of new features in the coming months, including video support, achievements, leaderboards, more social network integration, and the ability to save & load games in progress.

After taking a look at some of the demos, it looks like there are a lot of cool things to be made with EffectGames – it will be interesting to see what the community creates with the service.

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Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 site-news Comments

Got Snippets?

Frequently while working on a browsergame/PBBG, I’ll write a piece of code and then think to myself “hey, that might be useful in another project some day”. In those situations, I’ll put the snippet somewhere on my system, and then go about my day.

However, there are a few problems with that approach. For one thing, it’s impossible for me to show someone else my snippet collection – and sharing your snippets once you hit the 10+ mark quickly becomes less than enjoyable. Also, what happens if your system goes down?

With that said, I am pleased to announce the launch of http://pbbgsnippets.com, a new snippet-sharing site geared specifically towards PBBG developers. I collaborated with Janne Siera on the concept, and Gabriel Bianconi did the design. Janne and I are hoping that this new snippets site will be able to spur a little bit more sharing within the PBBG community; I’m sure there are tons of useful snippets out there to share.

The code behind http://pbbgsnippets.com is available, and languages can be added as necessary – if anyone would like a copy of the source code(or a language added), send an e-mail to buildingbrowsergames@gmail.com, or just post a comment.

Monday, December 7th, 2009 site Comments

The Tutorial List

Alright, it looks like the people have spoken! Here’s the full list of requested tutorials:

  • Building a structured voting system(with voting rewards)
  • Adding in-game chat to your game
  • Creating an invitation-based registration system
  • Using alternate authentication APIs(facebook connect, opensocial connect, twitter auth)
  • Building a quest-based game
  • Push content(orbited, comet, etc.)
  • Scaling your game
  • Using document-oriented databases in your game(couchdb, mongodb, etc.)
  • Allowing players to set stats(assign skillpoints)
  • Achievements
  • Building a backend administration area for your game
  • How to prevent users from editing another user’s information(validation)
  • Adding alliances to a game
  • Marketing your game
  • Detecting and preventing cheating in your game
  • Adding validation to your game
  • Adding voting reward support to your game
  • Building a territory map that auto-updates

If there are any other tutorials you’d like to see(or you’re interested in writing one yourself), send me an e-mail at buildingbrowsergames@gmail.com, or just comment on this post.

Monday, November 30th, 2009 site Comments

Looking for a tutorial?

It’s that time of year again — the time of year when Building Browsergames solicits ideas for the next batch of tutorials we should write.

What are you looking to build? What features are you getting stuck on? If there’s anything you’d like to see a tutorial on(anything at all) — post a comment below and I will do my very best to get to it.

Tutorial requests will be accepted for a week, so you have until the 25th of November – at that point, I will take the list and everyone will be allowed to vote on which ones they’d like to see first.

So — what do you want to see a tutorial on?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 site, tutorial Comments

Interview: Formulawan

I was recently contacted by the developer of Formulawan, a new racing strategy browsergame. He agreed to respond to some interview questions:

Tell us a little bit about Formulawan.

Formulawan is a sport manager browsergame about Formula One. It is a marriage of racing and strategy. Players enjoy running exciting races, but they also love to develop their team and think about the next step of their game plan.

Every player manages his own F1 team. You hire drivers and buy cars, construct special buildings and build your own equipement. It is possible to tune up your cars, to recruit staff like managers, nurses, mechanics…Players can join normal league races, take part in championships during a whole week or organize their own friendly race. As you can see, there are lot of possibilities and there is something to suit every taste…

This game has been existing for more than two years in French, and now, an English server is available since two month as well as a German Server since two weeks. A Spanish version is coming soon too…

What programming language(s) did you use to build Formulawan?

HTML, PHP and Flash.

Was Formulawan built by a team, or a single developer? How long did it take?

Formulawan was built by a single developper and it took about two years to develop the whole game. Even if the game has been improve for the very start until today ! It was his first game, and a huge project for a single man. But concerning the flash animations and the graphic design, it’s the work of Motion Twin, Formulawan’s partner.

Were there any parts of Formulawan that took longer than expected? What were they?

Yes, after the start of Formulawan, there were lots of bugs and I didn’t think that it would take all my time during months to fix them…It took two years to have a stable website !

Did you do any marketing for Formulawan, or just rely on word of mouth? If you *did* do marketing – what did you do?

On the French Server, few things were done about marketing because the developper was already very busy with the game itself. It took lot of time before Formulawan made itself known. But from the moment when the partner of Formulawan, Motion Twin, put an ad on its website www.MyBrute.com, things were different. More logs, more players ! A person is in charge of the marketing for the English and German Servers, but that’s quite new…so we will wait and see !

What plans do you have for Formulawan, going forward?

Well, as Formulawan has been launched in English and German, we can expect a Spanish server in the next weeks, and, why not…a lot of other multilingual servers in future…And Formulawan will also have new updates, as well as new tracks and even a new special game mode !

If you could give any advice to aspiring developers, what would it be?

You need a lot of courage, investment and passion to create such a game, especially when it is your first one ! You need abilities, but this isn’t the most important thing. It takes a very long time and you must have the opportunity to do this…It is very, very restrictive, but it’s also a priceless pleasure to see other people playing your game ! I would encourage all enthousiasts to create their game but not alone if possible!

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 interview Comments

Market Opening in Browser Based Poker Games

Online poker is a very popular game. It’s also a huge industry, due to the fact that poker is played for real money and poker rooms can take a provision from the players, much in the same way as a derivatives trading exchange.

However, poker has not taken the same position within the free browser games segment, which is a bit surprising and should entice programmers looking for new niches.

Of course many people are reluctant to invest real money in a poker game with a bunch of strangers, to say the least. But playing for fun in the realm of a friendly online gaming site should definitely appeal to people, and poker is a really good game.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the challenges awaiting him or her who wants to step into a browser poker game effort.

Design

Obviously, the design should appeal to the target group – people who don’t necessarily like to gamble with large sums of money. Maybe something friendly, something with a happy feeling about it. Online flash game style.

Players will probably want to design their avatar, or at least pick it from a list, the longer the better. And the display of money needs to be very clear, so that it’s easy to see how much is in the pot and how much money the opponents have in their stacks. Even if it’s a fun money game, this will be important.

Playability

For a browser poker game to gain popularity, it definitely needs to achieve a high degree of playability. Just as with any other game, players will run away if they have to spend energy figuring out how to work the game controls.

Also, if the poker game is to be multiplayer, player interaction needs to be made really easy and smooth. Any glitches and freezes in the game flow would risk mass defection, not to speak of outright errors in counting the money owed between players.

Stability

Online poker rooms spent the first years of the poker boom struggling to build game server software with really good stability, rather than perfecting the look and feel of the poker clients (which at the time was almost exclusively a download poker game.)

They knew that players would leave really fast if they got the impression that games couldn’t be trusted. Of course, in fun money games the problem isn’t quite as acute, but stability is important.

Game lobby with waiting list feature

When setting up online games for multiple players, you have to come up with a solution to the problem of starting and joining games. Online poker rooms and backgammon sites often feature pretty advanced game lobbies, with active games being listed and sorted in various categories.

Enabling players to join waiting lists for games that are full is very useful, even when the player is currently seated in another game – or several.

It saves a lot of manual reloading in the chase of an open seat. It also reduces the risk of failure when several players try to join a game simultaneously.

A good game lobby prevents a lot of frustration among players and works as a lubricant for the game machine.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 misc Comments

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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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