Wowee… I’ve just hit my last keystroke for Super Adventure Pals and I’m not sure I can believe it! I know I’ve rambled on about the game over the last few months without giving any back drop to it in terms of  how it came about, why Julian and I got together to create this game and where I hoped the vision we had would go – so allow me to remedy that now!

The last 6 (or more accurately 9) months have been kind of crazy. My girlfriend went away for 3 months and then came back. I decided not to accept a PhD offer and instead to become a game developer, I moved twice, started work on 5 games, completed 3 (+1 more now that Super Adventure Pals is done!) and …

Why do I mention all this non-related stuff? Well because it is related. My idea was that  by using code and frameworks I develop in older games I could potentially have a whole number of new games on the go at the same time. I.e. by carefully cataloguing stuff I’d worked out how to into re-usable systems (like a level editor for example), I could save myself a lot of time and produce alot more stuff – all I’d need were willing friends. And I managed to find them (at a similar time) Tom Williams and I got in touch through FGL – he had an amazing portfolio and I was instantly blown away by it. We started work on a number of things that didn’t quite get off the ground before finally getting stoked about a game that came to be know as Castle Commander.

Castle Commander

Castle Commander can be played here. I also wrote a development post-mortem for it, which can be read here.

By the way, I was skimming through the Newgrounds strategy games and saw that Castle Commander was number 10! I was slightly disappointed when I realised it was only for the year – but oh well – not bad for a first strategy game and first attempt at AS3.

Castle Commander storming the charts

Castle Commander has had 4.5million plays world wide now compared to 3.2million for Kit & The Octopod. This kind of blew me away as I felt sure that Kit & The Octopod was more likable and would have a greater appeal – but it made me realise – ‘arena’ style games have far more replayability. Sure Castle Commander is essentially a resource-free RTS, but it is really just a string of ‘arenas’ with un-lockable spells tied together by story scenes at the beginning of each battle. Kit & The Octopod, because it is a ‘one-off adventure’ can’t sustain that sense of replayability. This ties in again with what I saw with Combat Hero Adventures, unfortunately I don’t have stats from that game – but its pretty clear to me that it is the game I have made that people like the most.

Again – Combat Hero Adventures benefits from the ‘arena effect’ where people can get to grips with the gameplay very quickly, but something different will happen each time they play – even if its the same level – because of the reliance on AI, weapons, upgrades and the players ability to get better every time he plays. Its actually often BETTER to replay a level as with increased familiarity comes further enjoyment and advantages.

Tying it all together with a strong narrative also seems important for arena games and is often overlooked – it gives players a sense of context. If you can be bothered to read the story, you’ll feel much more involved in the world around you – even in arena games.

The arena effect is something I took advantage of for Ultimate Arena: Extreme.

Ultimate Arena Extreme

Ultimate Arena: Extreme came out of necessity. With Super Adventure Pals taking months longer then we had originally thought and Castle Commander fading into the mists of time money became very, very tight. I also had to move (twice) and my girlfriend had only just started at her new job. The stress of games lasting for a minimum of 3 months really put a strain on me. Something had to be done. Having mentioned game jams a couple of times my girlfriend set me the challenge – make a game in 24 hours. Well this was something new, fresh and exciting. I raced down stairs fired up the laptop and 24 hours later had… well not much! In the end I managed to negotiate 40 hours – a standard working UK week and came out with Ultimate Arena: Extreme.

And I know – I’ve read the criticisms, no levelling up, no weapons, blah, blah – but I gotta tell you – I freaking love that game! Its so easy and fun. There are great videos on youtube of people of all ages playing – and the non-gamers I know can play, and actually win! In fact, I like it so much that I’m planning on making an arcade cabinet for it and have just bought an x-arcade joystick – check ’em out – they are awesome!

It was SUCH a liberating experience, to throw something together and keep the energy alive. It was wonderful, and while I’m not planning on making a 1 week game again any time soon, I will certainly be limiting myself to 4 – 6 weeks. But using what I’ve learned before to make each one better. I’ve already planned on what I’ll be doing after Zombinsanity (which is next on the list to do!)

Speaking of Zombinsanity – check out the new HUD design!

Zombinsanity - New HUD

Oh by the way – did I mention I added a chainsaw? Yeah, a chainsaw :) So many people asked, I couldn’t resist! You press ‘E’ to switch between guns or a chainsaw – it works sooo much better because now when you run out of ammo – you just pull out the chainsaw – you’re not stuck with the rubbish revolver.

Right so back on point…

Super Adventure Pals and conclusion

One of the coolest things about Super Adventure Pals (in theory at least) was that it would allow me to work simultaneously on Zombinsanity and Super Adventure Pals as they both use (modified versions of) the same level editor. The difficulty was that the demands of the two games were so different that it almost became irrelevant – it was just an easy way to make the levels. So I suppose that it was important as it accounts for why we ended up with 76 levels for Super Adventure Pals, but it didn’t really end up as I had hoped.

Making the levels was actually one of the quickest parts of the development. Every 5 levels we’d add a new level element (moving spikes, gates, new enemy types, etc) – the real length was at the beginning when we spent a long time getting the engine right. We also spent a long time creating the world of the game. The map is pretty massive and there are 3 towns, each with 5 or so interactive characters. We also have levelling up, different weapons, unique abilities to unlock, etc, etc.

So the bulk of development really came from all the features we added. So my idea for a lot of games running from a standardised engine really didn’t pan out – and to be honest I’m relieved. It means that each day I start a new project I won’t be limited. I’ll be able to create whatever I want. I know feel pretty comfortable with AS3 after Castle Commander + Ultimate Arena, and can’t wait to start on new projects (after Zombinsanity – which will celebrate a whole year in development next month!). I also know that I’m going to go it alone for a while. One of my favourite things about this job is creating the art – and when your stuck coding all day you really do miss it. I’ll have been going full time for a year next month, and I cannot bloody wait for the next one – I really feel like I’m only just getting started!