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thatoneprogrammer

Programming-based game - how can I improve gameplay?

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Last year (summer 2011) I made a video game that targets people who think ahead. A map(or maze) is displayed with a top-view. The player programs a robot to go through the map from a green and blue animated circle("entrance") to a red and orange animated circle("exit") by pressing buttons. You then click "run" and the robot goes through the maze based on the buttons you pressed and the order you pressed them in.

I was going to make it into some sort of networked plan-the-fight game, but I had no knowledge of TCP/IP back then and I never had access to another PC on this network.

I have zipped up a demo (code-named "Justin") that I made and am attaching it to this post.. Please give me constructive criticism on what I can do to improve the game-play. If it's a lost cause, please say so politely, so that I can spend my time on making a better game.

I made all of the resources using Gimp and programmed everything that puts this game together in Visual C# 2010 express. I was never good at visual art, so it doesn't look like anything modern.

====operating system information====
Just to warn you, as mentioned above I made this with Visual C# 2010 express using the .NET framework version 4.0 on my Windows 7 computer. I have had problems with people who tried to play it on Windows XP and have not been able to get any error code from the Windows XP testers. I have had a friend test it on Windows Vista and it works fine.
I do not plan to make it on any other OS because I feel like I don't have as much control with programming on any other OS that I have tried, including mac osx and several distros of linux. I might be able to port it for mono, but I need to know if this project is worth investing additional time into.
====end of operating system information====
Hoping this at least interests someone,
thatoneprogrammer
*EDIT* (13 Aug 2012) I have been told that it works fine on Windows XP. If you have trouble with the game on Windows XP, please use the PM system to tell me exactly what happens and if possible include a screenshot. Edited by thatoneprogrammer

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IMHO you got a good start. I downloaded the game. First thing I noticed was the level selector, Seeing no game interface what-so-ever I simply assume this is just a prototype so I let i slip. I select a level, and here is where I'm surprised, immediately I'm thrown into a storyline about a robot (though it could use some work in terms of the actual dialogue, its good enough to get someone emerged to a small extent to at least want to continue through the dialogue). After the whole dialogue, I finally got to that map window and thats when I was just confused and with a "wtf?" reaction... Seconds after I just closed it.
For being a game its got too much programmer spice on it. You need to add some more design toppings with a layer of graphics. No offense but I've seen 13 years old make more visually appealing games. And the fact that you using awt and/or swing components such as the buttons doesn't make it anymore appealing.

So on a final note, I would say the idea has some potential but it needs some serious work in terms of interface, design, and visuals.

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Thank you for taking time to test my game's demo. I would have appreciated it if you read my post first because then I wouldn't have to make such a long reply to your post correcting some of your mistaken statements. It doesn't matter now.

First of all, it's C# with the .NET framework, not Java. If it were Java, I would not have offered information about which OS you should use because Java works on all systems with the Java Virtual Machine installed. It's "controls", not awt or swing.[img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/rolleyes.gif[/img] I'm sure using child windows like this is not an original thing for a video game; however, if it [i]is[/i] an original thing for a video game, it's never a bad time to try something [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_Set_Radio"]n[/url][url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_boy"]e[/url][url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PARC_user_interface#The_GUI"]w[/url]. The worst that could happen is it failing to ever become popular.

Second of all, I originally intended to make the player be at a control panel that the robot can take directions from. I suppose I could make my own custom-draw buttons, but I will keep the arrows if I can.

Third of all, I am a procedural artist(also known as a programmer), not a visual artist. I personally do not care about how appealing the game is visually. There are many [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Atari_2600_games"]games[/url](I'm sure that link has a few exceptions) with art that a 13-year-old could draw better. I have seen two excellent games, that look like a preschooler drew and wrote the dialog for, which were from a guy called [url="http://www.bjornarb.com/"]Bjornar B. from Norway[/url]. Go ahead and try them. It won't hurt if you actually look at a game for stuff that matters, like gameplay and story rather than visual appeal.

Fourth of all, I specifically asked for criticism on game play because I want to make the game more interactive. I will take your visual criticisms into consideration.

I thought for sure this demo had a help file accessible from a menu. I'll attach the help file, just in case someone offering criticism on the gameplay, rather than visual appeal, gets confused at the map screen.

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Let me start by saying that I tried your game on Windows XP and it was running smoothly.
---------------------------


The basic premise of the game is something that we have seen many times (in many other games, on many different sites) HOWEVER if i can give you some usefull tips:

- I loved the beginning (the message boxes). I know you made it that way because you are not a graphic designer but it fits your game. It's very simple (you could say primitive) but it made my imagination work. Before game started I thought more of the game as something action adventure + puzzle gameplay. I would consider leaving it this way and changing gameplay into something more interactive. I mean, think about that: game starts with that message boxes, than you are left with an www adress. When you go see that site you end with simple page about, let's say, doing honey. And somewhere on that site you put your puzzle. When gamer will solve it he will gain next address (or some key word to google) and game goes on.Try making it as more mysterious[img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/ph34r.png[/img]

I mean, think about more interactive way of your game. I'm not saying "make better graphics and all" but by putting some effort (creating fake www pages and stuff) you make it more interesting. Think about writing some simple story. Player will want to know the ending, will go from one riddle to another and by reaching end he will feel an accomplishment. Besides, it's a clever way of making your game better without messing with your first idea [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/wink.png[/img]

- If you don't want it to be the way I wrote in the above indention; try to spread your text evenly. One message box has one sentence and another has 10 (which is somehow annoying and boring to read).

- Some maps are to big - it's no fun to move all the way to the right corner just to go 2 blocks down and move all the way back. Either way make them smaller or consider making more maps.

- I know that this is just a debug version but try making some achievements or goal for gamer to play your game. Make 3 more maps but "blocked" so until the player passes previous one he will have no access to them. Maybe think about making some medal/trophies for gamer so he will have purpose to play the game.

- why not making some list of best (you know - best time, best player or sth like that). Players like to compete with each other.

I have many ideas and I'd like to share it with you so tell me if you want more (or, if you want me to be more specific about some areas of game [graphics, gameplay, story]) and I will be more than happy to help you. Anyway, keep up with the good start and work and sorry for a bit messy post but right now it's 3:00AM here, in my country, so I'm a bit tired [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img]

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Thank you, HakuPL for your advice.

[quote name='hakuPL' timestamp='1344819680' post='4968903']
Let me start by saying that I tried your game on Windows XP and it was running smoothly.
---------------------------
[/quote]
It could be the service pack or something that you installed on XP that is not installed on XP by default.

[quote name='hakuPL' timestamp='1344819680' post='4968903']
The basic premise of the game is something that we have seen many times (in many other games, on many different sites) HOWEVER if i can give you some usefull tips:
- I loved the beginning (the message boxes). I know you made it that way because you are not a graphic designer but it fits your game. It's very simple (you could say primitive) but it made my imagination work. Before game started I thought more of the game as something action adventure + puzzle gameplay. I would consider leaving it this way and changing gameplay into something more interactive. I mean, think about that: game starts with that message boxes, than you are left with an www adress. When you go see that site you end with simple page about, let's say, doing honey. And somewhere on that site you put your puzzle. When gamer will solve it he will gain next address (or some key word to google) and game goes on.Try making it as more mysterious[img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/ph34r.png[/img]
I mean, think about more interactive way of your game. I'm not saying "make better graphics and all" but by putting some effort (creating fake www pages and stuff) you make it more interesting. Think about writing some simple story. Player will want to know the ending, will go from one riddle to another and by reaching end he will feel an accomplishment. Besides, it's a clever way of making your game better without messing with your first idea [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/wink.png[/img]

[/quote]
I have not seen a game like this(other than a game where the player programs an ant to get through a door using a real programming language... i forgot what it is called), but the story is similar to Portal 2.
I completely forgot that I had Anzen the robot say that the control panel is connected to the internet. I do not plan on making this game online, but I suppose I could make a fake browser with built-in fake web pages. Thanks for the idea.
[quote name='hakuPL' timestamp='1344819680' post='4968903']
- If you don't want it to be the way I wrote in the above indention; try to spread your text evenly. One message box has one sentence and another has 10 (which is somehow annoying and boring to read).
[/quote]
I put a load of text in one of those text boxes because one of the people testing the game said that the robot's monologue was too long, but I agree that text should be spread out evenly with text boxes.
[quote name='hakuPL' timestamp='1344819680' post='4968903']
- Some maps are to big - it's no fun to move all the way to the right corner just to go 2 blocks down and move all the way back. Either way make them smaller or consider making more maps.
[/quote]
I made a bunch of maps. I was originally planning on having the release of the game have 50 maps or more. The large map(100x100x2) was meant to be a joke to prove how large the maps can be, but that's not the maximum size. The maximum size is 100x100x100. I couldn't make an interesting enough map that is that large, so I just settled with that size.

[quote name='hakuPL' timestamp='1344819680' post='4968903']
- I know that this is just a debug version but try making some achievements or goal for gamer to play your game. Make 3 more maps but "blocked" so until the player passes previous one he will have no access to them. Maybe think about making some medal/trophies for gamer so he will have purpose to play the game.
[/quote]
That is a very good idea. I can not implement it properly yet because I haven't implemented a save system, but I will try to make "medals" for very strange accomplishments, like getting through that big maze.
[quote name='hakuPL' timestamp='1344819680' post='4968903']
- why not making some list of best (you know - best time, best player or sth like that). Players like to compete with each other.
I have many ideas and I'd like to share it with you so tell me if you want more (or, if you want me to be more specific about some areas of game [graphics, gameplay, story]) and I will be more than happy to help you. Anyway, keep up with the good start and work and sorry for a bit messy post but right now it's 3:00AM here, in my country, so I'm a bit tired [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img]
[/quote]
A high score list? I suppose I could keep track of how many moves the robot makes in order to get to the exit. Once again, that would require a saving system, but it should be relatively easy.

So just to reiterate to make sure I get what you are suggesting:
1. Make a false web browser with a series of false web pages to add mystery to the game's story.
2. Make the monologue flow better.
3. Make a save system to keep track of the finished and unlocked levels as well as a high score list.
4. For the demos, get rid of the 100x100x2 map and add more maps.

I'll get started on that soon. School is starting again soon. Between normal schoolwork in the morning and making video games with a team at a school that I go to in the afternoon, it should take quite a while to implement these changes for new demos.

Thanks again for the great advice, hakuPL.[img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img]

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@thatOneProgrammer Java or not, you get the point. However I apologize on my criticism, reading it now is barely constructive. I guess what I was trying to say is that you need to think less like a programmer and more like a gamer (if you plan on improving this game and releasing it). For example, I would have been less likely to close the game window if there was at least a quick initial and interactive tutorial on the controllers of the control panel. The fact that you have some text in a help file isn't the way to go either. You're gonna want to give in basic instructions on how to use your interface the first time a user is playing your game. THEN have a help file or something on a website that further explains parts of the game. So that once a player is into your game, they can use that help file or webpage for reference. It should only be there to expand the knowledge the player has about your game if they so wish to do so. It shouldn't have to be read to be able to play the game.

Other then that, try to read up a little bit on game design, there are several articles you can find just by doing a google search or checking out the game design forum here. I'll say that especially for a game like this, that is somewhat unusual. You're gonna want to hold your player's hand and explain the most important things of your game in the quickest and most interactive way you can think of. So like I said, do a little bit of research on game design.

Lastly, disregard my graphics comment. I tend to praise more functionality and gameplay over graphics. And really unless you're trying to sell this, I'd say just keep using the placeholders and focus on the gameplay.

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[quote name='thatoneprogrammer' timestamp='1344905560' post='4969275']
So just to reiterate to make sure I get what you are suggesting:
1. Make a false web browser with a series of false web pages to add mystery to the game's story.
2. Make the monologue flow better.
3. Make a save system to keep track of the finished and unlocked levels as well as a high score list.
4. For the demos, get rid of the 100x100x2 map and add more maps.

I'll get started on that soon. School is starting again soon. Between normal schoolwork in the morning and making video games with a team at a school that I go to in the afternoon, it should take quite a while to implement these changes for new demos.

Thanks again for the great advice, hakuPL.[img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img]
[/quote]

1. No, no, no... what I want you to do (well, it's only advice) is to make a few sites in real internet. As a example - are you familiar with ilovebees viral action? If not, go to [url="http://www.ilovebees.com/"]http://www.ilovebees.com/[/url] and [url="http://ilovebees.blogspot.com/"]http://ilovebees.blogspot.com/[/url] Read on internet about that action. Look how the people tried to solve the riddle. Of course, I'm not saying that you have to all of the sudden do something so complicated like they did. No. All am I saying is that - make some fake www sites, put them on the internet, send someone your game. When the game starts they will see text, try to solve the first puzzle and then BAM as a reward they will get a www address and, let's say, some random number. They will go on the net, discover some random site and somewhere there (on that site) will be place to send question to the admin of that site. If they will send that number - BAM, another puzzle of yours. And the action goes on and on. Of course, it require some serious thinking [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img] But, I hope, you get what I'm saying.

As always, it's only an idea. Nothing more.

2. Yup. That's what I meant.

3. If you want to go with your basic idea - yes. If not - look at first point and, instead of making simple high score, add it only for people who actually beat the game. BTW, make also some fake forum if that's possible

4. Yup. More riddles equals more fun.

As far as I remember, ten years ago, there was ONE game similar to what I'm telling you. Unfortunatelly I can't remember the title
But, I remember, that it was full of strange puzzles, fake www sites. They even included a program that send fake mails on your mail address to confuse you even more. There was even a hidden program that made your PC to froze (of course, only for few seconds, and nothing really happened, but that was sick and funny idea [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img] )

Last words - google "eternal darkness all sanity effects". Read and think more about what I just said and, even if it's to complex for one person, try to make that game. That would be really cool.

Whatever your decision will be - good luck with your game and, as always, I'm free to talk about your project [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/cool.png[/img]

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