This is great. I'm going up against some fun high-quality-titles. Let's see how this will turns out :-).
Read the announcement on Gamasutra.
Or visit the unstoppaball-website.
Now that the euphoria of not sleeping and game-developing has settled down, let's take a look at what went right and what went wrong during the development of Metal Sphere Solid.
Well actually, everything went pretty alright. There isn't much that went "completely wrong". Ah well, I'll talk about it anyway.
What went (somewhat) wrong
The theme – Because "escape" is such a non-theme. You can put virtually everything in it. In that regard it is even worse than "it's dangerous to go alone."
The color-scheme - The main charater needs to contrast with the environment he's in too create tension. If the main character just blends in, he's not in jeopardy, he's at home. So I was a little miffed when I figured out with 12 hours to go that the environment was mostly blue, and I didn't want to create a red ball again.
I went for a glowy green (which I nailed this time), which nicely contrast with the level. The color-combination is still a bit weird.
What went right
Tile-based level - Having everything in clean tiles made putting this together much easier. This further creates a nice little gag when you leave the tile-set at the end.
Timelapse - I love timelapses. Everything seems ultra-efficient.
The Story - This is the largest amount of story I ever put in a game. Until now I've worked under the premise that good games-design has to be the basis, while story is optional. That still holds true, but now I see how an engaging story can pull you into the game.
The end - I love it. Too bad I couldn't extend it a bit. First you see your friends, an assortment of balls similar to you, but with different colors, core-structures and sizes. You free them, they say a random, possibly funny line, and roll to freedom. You join them, and while joining them leave the rigid, tile-based confines of the main level and enter a free terrain.
I need to expand upon the "friendly ball"-theme more. It's fun.
The ball-design - Compared to one of my previous games, Unstoppaball, the ball-design is much better. The glowing core is warmer, the outging light shows the strength of the character, and the brightness contrasts nicely witht he relatively dark surrounding.
The Soundtrack - I experimented with my guitar until I found something that was both interesting and fitting to the gameplay. So far it is only good, but nothing special. Also, the loop is off by half-a-second. Need to remember that next time.
What I would have liked to add/improve
Better character-fragments – So far the "remains" of the hero or the enemies are just four to five relatively uniform fragments. With more time I could have created something more complex and organic.
Better score – The score that is now measured is the time you spend being seen. The highscore-list is reversed, which means that people with the least amounts go on top places. This is far from optimal, as there is a "finite" highscore, and after attaining it doesn't create an incentive to keep playing.
More complex enemies - The original plan of having patrolling enemies fell through due to time-contraints, but I still managed to make something interesting with only stationary guards.
Well, pretty much every aspect came out positive – The game is emotionally engaging, throwing enemies in spikes is fun, the sneaking mechanic is relatively rare, so far I've gotten a pretty good amount of votes, critiques are positive, and a good number of people have played it.
Also, I got a review. Which is always nice.
I call this a success. Now let's see how you will judge this :-).
You are a Sphere, taken prisoner by the evil Cuboids. Try to escape. Avoid enemies. Avoid being seen. Be sneaky. Be stealthy. Escape!
- Asthetically interesting environment
- Atmospheric soundtrack
- Physics-based controls
- A heartwrenching story about friendship and escape!
- Highscore-system, so you keep coming back to kick more ass
- Geometry-based adversaries and allies
- Completely unrealistic glowing spheres.
- The largest amount of story I ever put in a game
Also, I got a review. Which is always nice :-).
There are coming along nicely (except for the generous cutting needed and copius amounts of ink used), so I'll have a good batch ready for GamesCom.
I love the design. They are bigger than usual cards, made with heavy paper, and printed on both sides. The pictures are from games I made (unstoppaball, Dirt Driller, etc).
- I get a miniature farmer, which is my agent in this world. Only through him I can interact with things, apparently. Can I change his appearance?
- Oh yes, I can. Clothes are prohibitively expensive (unless you buy them with real money, more on that later), but most of the hairstyles and faces are free. Since I can't recreate myself to my satisfaction, I settle for an evil version of me, which will probably do some evil farming.
- I already have a dozen "free gifts" in my inventory from not doing anything with this game whatsoever since the beginning of time. Interesting.
- Hey Farmville: You do not have to call if a "Free gift". The fact that it's a gift automatically includes the attribute "free". (see: tautology)
- Also: It is not a Free Gift if I actually HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.
- I crated a huge mono-culture of neatly segmented fields of interchanging vegetables (to keep nutrients varied, which isn't actually a feature), while the small space on the sides is occupied by trees and whatever animal or decorative object I seem to have.
- I have to remove fields to display some decorative stuff, like a small garden. I don't like this getting in the way of my evil efficiency.
- I really wish you could issue mass-commands, as is "harvest all fields" instead of having to do "harvest one field" 46 times.
- Oh, you can buy those in form of farmhands? Only with real money? Clever.
- (I won't buy them)
- Many online-games feature an early item-overload. Right on starting Farmville you are bombarded with ALL available items, 75% of which you can only get through real money or through the roping of other people into Farmville.
- There are "masteries". When you harvest something, you gain experience in said field, and so gradually unlock new types of seeds to plant. However, you only get those masteries after level 10. Which means all of the stuff you did before is wasted and does not count towards your total experience. I can conceive of no logical or economical reason for this. It doesn't even make the game easier to comprehend, I for one was massively confused. Suffice to say, THIS IS STUPID.
- The game reminds you as often as it can to either a) buy stuff, b) tell your friends or c) actively recruit your friends. I have the feeling they made mass-testing to get the maximum amount of notifications without pissing people off too much.
- So here's the thing: You can plant your stuff, it takes some time to grow, then you can harvest it. There is however a window of time for harvesting, which I think is the time it took for you plants to reach maturity. So if your strawberries took four hours to grow, you then have four hours to harvest them, after which they wither, and your invested time into the game will be lost (unless you "un-wither" them by paying money).
- You actually begin to plant your stuff so that you have access to a computer when it will be ready. A internet-less day would be devastating to both your farm and your investment into the game.
- Luckily, you can "un-wither" your crops with Farville-Cash (which you can buy with real money in inconvenient and unnecessary complex ratios, much like I maligned in my thoughts on Bioware-points). As with any good drug, the first taste is free.
- Boiled down to its very core, the game is not dissimilar to Cow Clicker.
- While digging in my field I found some gasoline. Huh. It didn't specify whether it was a can, or if it just seeped out of the ground. Either way, I am nervous about this. The game treats the discovery of a toxic, carcinogenic and highly flammable substance in my field not with the sudden deaths of my crops, but with joy.
- Oh, I can rotate my cow. No more east-west alignment for you, darling!
- Apparently I can buy rusty scrap metal to make my farm look nicer. Interesting.
- Oh, there it is. I can already exchange real money for Farmville-cash, but then buy Farmville-coins. And I thought there was no "pay to win" button.
- When I click on my "farmer-me" I land in the clothes-section, where I can buy comparably expensive clothes. This sub-menu is laid out completely different from all the others, and always confuses me.
- There are ranks, and levels, and skills, and achievements, and medals, and tons of rare stuff. Stuff!
- Hey, a cross-promotion. If I buy 30€ worth of merchandise in an online-shop, I get 70$ worth of pretend-farmville-money, which I can exchange for more pretend stuff. It's the circle of life.
- There is a ton of stuff to plant and then harvest. You get vegetables, fruit, tees, flowers, and crops like wheat. There are also some funny items, like square melons or "super"-fruits (i.e. “super-strawberry”), which you unlock by mastering the "normal" kind. The problem is that it's TOO MUCH. Right at the beginning you are bombarded with ALL OF IT, which you can only use a fraction, and unlock the rest over several weeks.
- In the last day new feature has been added that shows who of your friends plays what game at what time. Great. Now everybody knows I tried this.
Well, these are my points about Farmville (and all other games that follow the formula, I guess). I can see how many people would find them interesting, but frankly, I outgrew them a long time ago. I already can control my impulses, and don't feel any loyalty towards my virtual assembly of non-existent stuff.
Also, Farmville didn't really try to respect me, with all the "give me your money", "recruit your friend to give me money" and "you have to pay money to see all the cool stuff"-spam.
As a producer, I can see how this brings in revenue. As an experienced gamer, I can only look at League of Legends or Team Fortress 2, where you never have the feeling you have to pay to enjoy the game.