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Moving a Game Jam Game to the Mobile Market

In this post Mollie takes a look at some of the major feature updates occurring in Global Killer in it's move to a mobile platform. Please check out the original post at http://labs.vectorform.com/2011/07/global-killer-going-mobile-2/

Mollie Harms, Blogger

July 12, 2011

6 Min Read

WIP composite of new planets

WIP composite of new planets

There are quite a few updates that the team had to take into consideration while moving Global Killer from a Global Game Jam PC game to the Windows Phone 7.  It’s a new audience and a new opportunity to expand our game to be an ideal fit for the mobile market.  We discussed a straight port of the game to the phone which would have only involved a few graphics changes and a controls update.  However, the game as it was built would not have lent itself well to mobile play experiences.  The controls and UI updates are very important to games but somewhat obvious with this one, so I’d like to discuss the market we’re approaching and the updates that we’re making to the levels in more depth.

 Being an established gaming community, it’s fairly easy to look at the mobile market and see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to games.  I’ll open up my phone here and check out the top games in the iTunes app store…  The Zune marketplace is a little different, but I can save that for another post if people are interested.  The nuances are important but mostly out of our control for Global Killer.  For the sake of the argument, iTunes examples will do just fine.

The top paid apps in the iTunes App Store currently are 1. Angry Birds,  2. Fruit Ninja,  3. Angry Birds Rio, and 4. Tiny Wings.  These games take no more than a few minutes to fire up, start playing, and to complete a level.  Each of them has a single interaction that will get you through the entire game.  With the exception of Tiny Wings, you don’t have to be perfect to pass a level, but you can always go back and try to better your score.  Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja have a ton of levels or modes that help add longevity to the game play.  Tiny Wings does something slightly different but equally as brilliant, by having a new, procedurally-generated level to play every day!  It gives TONS of replay-ability with minor development and art time.  The genius of their simplicity astounds me.  All of these games are cute and fun, no death, gore, or tigers.  What’s also very important is that each of these games is highly polished.  There’s feedback and animation for every interaction, lots of visual reward for accomplishments, responsive touches and physics to make a solid and fun experience.

So why these features and why this sort of gameplay?  Mobile gamers often act like casual gamers do.  Players are looking to escape from their daily routine with whatever time they can get.  Often it’s a couple stolen moments on their commute or at lunch, or when they’re at home and the kids have gone to bed and it’s time to unwind.  Although they may choose to get deep into these games and spend a lot of time with them, a lot of time is not something they can commit to.

The idea that casual gamers are looking for a way to unwind is important as well.  These players don’t want to have to think or focus extremely hard, get super involved, and have to completely shut out the movie playing in the background.  These gamers want to chill out and have some fun and get rewarded for it.

What are our big take-aways?  The best mobile games have simple interactions, are easy to pick up and play, progress can be made in a short amount of time, they’re highly polished, and the mechanics are simple yet lending to long-term engagement.

Global Killer was a rapid-prototype game that was made for the PC.  Most of our design decisions were made resulting from time constraints and not necessarily because of market considerations, but we had a vision for the game that we were pursuing.   We did need to make one fairly big cut in our move to mobile, which was the planet shout bubbles.  With the massive amount of screen real estate that we’re losing there would be too much clutter with the planet shout bubbles, and the font would be too small and difficult to read.  The shout bubbles were a large source of humor for us and a place that we could add a lot of character to the game.  We’re working to rebuild those qualities in our art style.

The level design is the biggest aspect of the game that we’re reworking.  Instead of an arcade type game where our players would see how far they could get in a hardcore, no-fail mode, we’re shifting to a casual-friendly win criteria.  Global Killer is broken up into multiple small levels, which can be accomplished in 2-5 minute play sessions.  You don’t have to destroy every planet to win, and you don’t have to beat a time-limit.  Performance of about 75% completion will get you through the level.  HOWEVER, we don’t want to estrange our serious players, so time and execution will still be measured and players can revisit to get better performance grades (think bronze, silver, gold awards and leaderboards).  We’d still like to keep an arcade mode in the game as well, for those people that can and will play our game for hours just to show how wicked sweet they are.

Another advantage to breaking up the levels is that we can better show player progression.  You’ll see visible changes in the planets and in your asteroid as you move through the game.  These small visual rewards will help players feel like they’re reaching milestones in the game and encourage them to keep playing to find out what’s next.  Some un-lockable content won’t hurt that either.

We’ll also be handcrafting our levels instead of randomly generating them as we did with Global Killer on the PC.  I know, a few paragraphs ago I spoke of the brilliance of Tiny Wings and their random level per day.  Why would we leave that?  Creating our own levels allows us greater control in shaping the experience for our players.  Mostly, however, it helps us avoid randomly generated levels that start the player in an unfair position.  The biggest thing that we want to avoid is frustration.  With all the games out there, one bad experience from us and they don’t have to ever pick up our game again.  We’d like to stay as far away from that as possible.

This is by no means an extensive look at our new features for Global Killer, but they are the biggest changes that we’re making to be successful on a mobile platform.  The reworked level design is going to be a super addictive feature and the updated graphics and weapons will add a lot of depth and character to the game.  Although it would have been an (easy) option to do a straight port from our XNA title to the WinPhone 7, we want to go the extra mile to make this game a global killer!  (cue rim shot)


Please check out the original post at http://labs.vectorform.com/2011/07/global-killer-going-mobile-2/

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