The Last Dinosaurs is out, check it out on Kongregate here!
The Last Dinosaurs is an arena shooter game that Jimp and I put together over the summer. Its been released on Kongregate but we have had trouble finding any more sponsorship for the game. It has been an interesting experience as it is a game we both really like but failed to excite sponsors. I think it definitely ties in with the dramatic collapse of the flash market, but looking at the game as well its easy to learn a few lessons about what we go wrong or could have done better.
I was so proud of Epic Time Pirates (play here) and had worked really hard to put together an awesome shooting game that I was keen to do more with the code base. I love working with Jimp and he had a bit of free time over the summer so I invited him down and we spent some time working on The Last Dinosaurs. This wasn’t the first time I’d work in the same room as a collaborator it was still a pretty new thing for me. I think we were able to do a lot more then we normally would have done we were able to cut down the last few weeks in to a few days simply by being next to each other.
Concept and narrative
The first thing we decided upon, and one of my favourite things about the game was the concept; a team of crime fighting dinosaurs in the sewers. It was kind of reminiscent of Ninja Turtles and as a kid I was a massive fan of the turtles!I think we had a pretty good narrative, and we really felt that the big twist in which your mentor is killed was a pretty powerful moment. However, looking back it probably would have been better to flesh out the enemy characters like the Cat King, a little more. Without doing so it all feels a little anonymous. I think characters and personal stories are much more engaging then just general good vs bad set ups. Having said that we were really excited about having a base you returned to every few levels where you could talk to your team mates, an idea lifted entirely from Mass Effect. That game really succeeds in making you care about your crew members, and in a small way I think we wanted to capture a little bit of that spirit. Its hard to tell whether people have enjoyed that aspect or saw it as more of a chore. There is no benefit gained from talking to crew members, but we had hoped it would add to the immersion, if you’ve played the game what do you think? Did it help draw you in or was it a pain?
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen is that buying new weapons should only be accessible to the player. I find this quite odd as traditionally in games like Unreal, you would unlock weapons and everyone in the arena would be able to grab them. This was the normal way of doing things. However, I think that with newer FPS games (like COD) its much more usual to pick a gun at the beginning of the game and stick with it, perhaps changing your ‘load out’ when you respawn. I did it this way in Bearbarians and I definitely saw that people preferred this system. Its my fault for not realising this, I was just to used to the ‘old fashioned’ way of spawning weapons in arena games. It makes me realise that you shouldn’t rely on old gaming tropes, you should take time to think about what would work best in your game and create a new more appropriate system based on what you decide. For example, it probably would have been better to have had classes with each team member having a different weapon and therefore a different role in the game. You could then customise their load out before each match. This would have also allowed us to stagger weapons as the game continued, rather then relying on players to buy them from the shop. However this would have taken significantly more time and we were on a pretty tight schedule. Another good system would have been allowing the player to possess all guns they have already unlocked and used a weapon wheel (like in our game Zombinsanity) to access their guns. This would have also allowed us to restrict the enemies guns and give them better weapons as the game progressed.
I spent quite a long time trying to make the game ‘juicier’. I took out mouse aiming to make the game more accessible and I added things like screen shakes, slow motions and characters being blown away when killed. Its amazing to play the original version and then compare it to the final one. A lot went in to making it feel responsive and make you feel powerful, a lot of things you don’t notice but when its missing you can ‘feel’. For example, after every kill there is a few milliseconds in which the game is paused. This is to give your brain time to see and register that something has happened but its not long enough for you to be really conscious of it. Its a really subtle trick but makes a huge amount of difference. Its all stuff taken from a great talk by Jan of Vlambeer; the undisputed Indie kings of ‘juice’, which you can watch it here:
When you complete the game you enter ‘endless mode’, in which areas across the city are constantly under attack and you need to continually fight to keep the streets safe. Technically I was pretty pleased with this, we were able to generate endless missions against different teams across different locations and it didn’t take particularly long to do. I’ve been really interested in the idea of randomly generated missions for a while now, and while this wasn’t much more then ‘choose a location from a list’ and then ‘choose an enemy team from a list’, randomise a few more things and voila; mission available! – it still felt like a nice way to keep the game going. I think I’ll take this idea and expand on it in the future, but its hard to say whether it helped the game in this case. It would have been perhaps nice to have been able to complete the endless section, or at least have some kind of goal. I don’t think people have a high tolerance for goal-less-ness and perhaps it was a bit of a cheap trick to keep people engaged, but I liked it, and it was meant as a genuine extension of the game.
Kongregate has a meta-game reward system for its members, it sets them tasks to do each day and if they achieve them they are rewarded with a ‘kongpanion’, an animal which they collect and sometimes are have other applications. Whats really cool about them is that Jimp is the artist for them – and this is a game about animals. We thought it was a perfect match, and one of the agreements we made with Kongregate was that we would integrate them in to our game. One fo the interesting challenges about this is that you need access to the players Kongregate account to see what kongpanions they have, and you also need to be prepared that there will be new Kongpanions every week! This means you can’t hard code them in to your game, you need to bring in the graphics from outside the game and load them in dynamically. You also need to have buffs from them and these need to be consistent across all games and be generated for future kongpanions that don’t currently exist but will do in the future! One option would be constantly update the game – but who can deal with that noise? It would also be a life long commitment and be totally unsustainable! So heres what I did; I dynamically loaded in the players kongpnaions from his kongregate account, then using the name of the kongpanion I used random seeding to create a particular buff for them and the power of that buff. This way, every player would receive the same buff from the same kongpanion! Random seeding is a pretty awesome thing and really useful for a crazy amount of different situations. Escape to Hell (play here), a game I made with Rob Donkin uses a lot of random seeding as it meant that missions and dungeons could be generated endlessly, but that you could also save and replay those dungeons and come back to them later – so long as you kept a record of the seed.
We received some criticism that the kongpanions felt ‘tacked on at the end’, which is fair because… well, they were tacked on at the end. I felt surprised that people were surprised by this. They are a site exclusive feature that add buffs to your character as a reward for playing on Kongregate. Perhaps we should have mentioned them at least once in the story to provide some explanation, but that wouldn’t have made much sense as you couldn’t use them on other sites and this would have pissed off a lot of players.
Guinea Pig Sanctuary
Did anyone find the Guinea Pig sanctuary? This was one of the highlights of the game and we thought it might bring some real laughs, but no one seems to have mentioned it. When you enter the sewer base, jump up rather then dropping down and you’ll find it. Jimp and I had a huge amount of fun coming up with it and I hope people have had some sadistic rodent blasting fun with it!
When thinking about game design there are quite a few things I’ve learned through making this game.
- Being in the same room is just insanely more productive then working with someone remotely.
- Add lots of juice to your game
- Think about all aspects of the game, particularly with things you assume should be there as your assumptions might be wrong. Take time to think about how something could be redesigned to fit more effectively with the particular needs of your game – you might even end up innovating!
- Explain all features of a game to avoid being accused of ‘tacking things on’. The more coherently all the pieces fit together the more streamlined it will feel, ultimately leading to a better experience