Map Attack

Hard to believe that it is August already! It feels like yesterday that we were starting out on our Tranzfuser journey. This week alongside our usual weekly development we’ve been ramping up on preparing our pitch and business strategy for Yellow Rock Road. Trying to come up with any sort of concrete plan has been challenging when it is so difficult to predict sales numbers, made no easier by the neutering of Steam Spy earlier this year due to Valve’s privacy update. The best solution we’ve been able to find so far has been this Gamasutra article, but even that is not necessarily giving us great data to work from. Nonetheless, we’re sticking at it and trying to figure out other ways that our game is worth investment in lieu of reliable numbers.

In other news we’ve spent some time this week developing the artistic direction for the map that players traverse in the game. Our artist Emma has come up with a couple of potential styles. We haven’t fully decided on what we’re going with just yet but below are some of the styles we have been considering:

Anyway, it looks like this typewriter is running out of ink so this might be where we have to fini

Shifting Assumptions

After missing a week we’re back with another post! The last two weeks have been very busy for us. In our previous blog post, we mentioned that we were planning to get Yellow Rock Road out in front of others. Luckily we were able to do just that on Friday of last week. The feedback we received was invaluable and caused us to ask some very significant questions about the ways in which the game worked. We have been very busy answering those questions since then (hence the lack of a post last week), and we’re ready to start sharing some of the conclusions we have reached.

The change we are going to focus on talking about today is the way the rhythm game is played. In our original prototype dating back to January of this year, the rhythm game was played using 8 buttons – WASD and IJKL (you can play the prototype here if you want to check it out for yourself). We wanted to create an experience that would emulate playing an actual instrument, and we reckoned that this control scheme would be pretty close to what it might be like to play a simplified piano. Even for us, the control scheme was not necessarily easy to pick up, but once we got into the flow of it, we found that it made for a really fun way of playing a rhythm game.

Fast-forward six months and we still had our 8 button control scheme in place. We were aware that the control scheme was somewhat challenging to pick up, but we figured this was not necessarily a bad thing as it would provide a skill ceiling for players to work towards as they played the game. Cut to the night where we were demoing our game to a few other developers here in York. What we noticed immediately was that people were not engaging with the rhythm game in the way we hoped. People were put off by the controls and not very excited at the prospect of getting better at them. With the couple of individuals who did push through, we found that once they had learned the control scheme, the game offered little challenge and they were able to complete songs with very high accuracy percentages (and this was with very little amounts of practice). What we had created was not a skill ceiling, but a skill floor. Once players had figured out how to play the game, there was little there to keep them interested.

One significant change we have made to combat this is to make the rhythm game use 2 buttons instead of 8. While this may sound counterintuitive at first, we have found that because of this change the game becomes a lot more accessible while also retaining the potential to increase in difficulty as the game goes on. Only requiring two button presses has meant that we can make the curses (as described in this blog post) present in the game more complicated and ultimately more interesting because there is much less information that the player has to process in the base version of the rhythm game. We’re hoping that this will be able to make the experience of playing the game ultimately more welcoming, satisfying, and complex in the long run, but like all of game development, everything is subject to change.

That’s all the time we’ve got for now as we need to get back to work on the other exciting changes we’re making to the game, the details of which we hope to share in the coming weeks! If any advice can be taken from this we would simply say: playtest as soon and as often as you can! We’ve found that the majority of decisions when it comes to the design and development of games are made on assumptions. To have those assumptions challenged as frequently and as often as you can will only make your game better and something closer to what other people will actually want to play. Anyway, enough rambling for the moment. We’ll be back before you know it. Love and respect!

Before we forget- we have a new bit of promo art, check it out!

Life’s a beach

We were in Brighton this week for Develop, a conference for anyone and everyone involved in the game creation process. Being away from our desks this week meant that we were only able to squeak in a few hours of work each morning. What we lost in development time, however, was more than made up for by the various people we were able to meet. There were a huge variety of developers, publishers, researchers, and everything in-between. It was incredibly useful to have the opportunity to talk with and network with these people, each able to give their own insight and advice on how to make games.

As you can imagine, each day was quite long with lots of talking, but being so close to the beach meant that we were able to take a break whenever needed. Being totally honest, at times the experience was a little overwhelming. With so many people there who had been in the industry for many years, it could sometimes be quite daunting as we are so new to the scene. Nonetheless, we were absolutely humbled by how many knowledgeable people there were, and are very grateful to them for giving their time to talk to us about their experiences.

Sunny Brighton!

We came into this week not really knowing what to expect, but have come out the other side reinvigorated and ready to hit the ground running when we get back into the office on Monday. We are about to reach a tipping point with Yellow Rock Road where it will be in a much better state to start having it shown to others. Being able to go to Brighton and talk to so many other developers has meant we are now determined to reach that stage sooner rather than later.

Feelin’ good

This week we spent a lot of time updating our event management system. Having determined last week what our goals were for our time-travelling branching narrative, we used this week to make our event system much more extensible. We now have an improved set of tools which allows for events to be linked to one another, this opens up much more exciting possibilities, allowing for longer storylines and narrative moments that are more directly affected by previous decisions.

We also spent a significant amount of time this week working on the UX of the game. Even though we are at a relatively early stage of development, we decided this would be a useful area to focus on because in our experience, the way a game actually feels can have a very significant impact on how much fun the player is having, regardless of how good the mechanics or artstyle may be. If you’re looking to understand UX better we’d highly recommend this Medium blog.

Who knew lerps could feel this good?

As a team on a tight deadline, a key mantra we stick to when developing games is one that Blizzard hold: polish as you work. Judging by the games they produce, it appears to be working! Applying this mindset to UX in particular is important for us because it is an area we have often left too late in development on previous games we have made. Our hope is that by getting started now, we’ll be much better prepared for the later stages of the project.

Thanks for reading, we’ll be back at you with another food review next week!

Arrested Development

Back again! This week has been a bit of an unusual one for us, with less time spent on development and giving some much-needed attention to our business planning and organisation. Thursday and Friday of this week were spent at a fantastic, completely free (!!) workshop organised by GamesLab Leeds on all things games business. It was very informative, and we now know what ICOs are (we think)!

As we have mentioned the amount of development done this week was a bit more limited. The time we have spent on it has mainly been focused on improving our narrative. Over the last month we have been iterating upon the way that narrative will work within the game, and this week was spent reassessing the work we have done up to this point and seeing if it is really achieving what we want it to do. A significant focus of ours has been selling the time travel aspect of our game and we saw that our narrative was lacking in this regard. As a result, we further explored ways that our narrative can take advantage of this premise, working towards something that is repeatable that allows the player to see the possible permutations of their actions between different timelines.

The best possible solution we have found so far is one that involves branching narrative, as seen in games such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead and BioWare’s Mass Effect to name two notable examples. Our hope is that with this, we will be able to find a balance between authored content and something that can be enjoyed on multiple occasions. Narrative is never an easy thing to incorporate with the mechanical nature of video games, but we’re enjoying the challenge. We wouldn’t want things to be too easy 😉

That’s all from us this week. Big thanks again to GamesLab Leeds for the workshop. We’ll be back next week with another post!

Our new and improved logo!

The start of art

This week was another busy one for us as we were working in many different areas of the game. It opened with our artist Emma getting stuck into the art for the first time since the start of Tranzfuser. Most of this work was focused on figuring out how the key information in the game should be presented. We don’t have loads to show right now and at this stage nothing is final, but below you can see a small preview of what we are exploring.

Already a big improvement!

We also continued to make progress on improving the rhythm game. Music is now streamed rather than downloaded to reduce down-time during the game. This paves the way to possible integration with web applications, however, that is far down our priority list right now!

As Yellow Rock Road relies heavily on its UI to let players interact, a significant portion of this week was also spent on establishing the groundwork for making the UI engaging to use. Research for this particular aspect of the game involved lots of time spent tinkering in the menus of some of our favourite games that we are playing at the moment (a big shout out to Slay the Spire for this in particular, which has some of the most satisfying menu clicks we’ve ever heard!).

And there you have it! A relatively short update this week as much of the progress we made was incremental in nature. We’ll see you next week with another update!

Making a rhythm game that anyone can enjoy

We’re back with a new post! This week was another busy one for us as we continued implementing the core mechanics of the game. A lot of time was spent fleshing out the features of the map, adding the key stat changes associated with it, and re-designing the way that paths generate. We’re still not 100% with it yet, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.

We have movement!

Joni spent the second half of the week creating a method for the player to import their own music library for the rhythm game sections. He was worried that it would take a long time but we’re sat here on Friday afternoon with all the key functionality complete. Joni remains the smartest idiot on the team.

Joni is very pleased with himself.

We thought we’d take a moment here to discuss why we are opting to base the rhythm game on the player’s own music library, and how this decision fundamentally shifted the design of the game. Earlier this year, when we were planning the project, we had initially planned for the rhythm game to use bespoke music which would come with the game. We began searching for a potential genre that would suit our needs. After a lengthy trawl through 100s of Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages, we quickly realised that there is no genre of music that everyone loves (duh), but more importantly: it would be tough to find music that would be accessible to a wide range of players that also fitted the tone we were hoping to achieve with the game. Needless to say, things were not looking great.

Like with most problems in life, sometimes you have to look at the problem from a different angle. It seemed like a crazy idea, but what if instead of providing the music ourselves, we let the player choose their own songs? It could mean that everyone has their own perfect soundtrack to use in the game!

We knew other games have achieved this: Audiosurf is wildly successful and allows people to put in almost any track (including the entirety of Bee Movie). This is all well and good, but could we actually build something that could do the same? It seemed pretty outlandish, or a task that would take months, but thankfully we were early enough on in development that we could take the risk to try it out and see if it was possible. And here we are, with our own procedural rhythm game generator 😀

Adding songs into the game.

This change in the way music would appear in the game ended up having a large effect on the rest of the game’s design. Yellow Rock Road was initially planned to be a linear narrative game in which the player would occasionally play a rhythm game as they followed the story. Shifting to a procedural rhythm game meant that it was now technically infinitely replayable. Being the lazy game developers that we are, we of course wanted to take full advantage of this, so we started brainstorming on ways that we could create a replayable story. That’s how we ended up with the current structure of the game. We will almost inevitably talk about how we went about designing a replayable story in a future post, but that’s all for now! Thanks for giving this a read, have a most excellent day!