Not Dead

Work continues sporadically on Yet More Tower Defense, though not for lack of interest. Exams, followed by holiday shopping and events, and the sudden realization of impending doom regarding my honour’s project have all come together to thwart my attempts at getting Yet More Tower Defense ready for playtesting. Realistically, progress is going to be severely hindered by my honours project.

However, I took a few minutes to today to flesh out a simple high score system along with saving and loading. It was a snap to do and I’d been putting it off, but now I’m glad I had some low hanging fruit.

I think it’s hugely important to work on a project every day to keep up the momentum, even if it’s just for half an hour. I let this one slip for almost two weeks – I’m not going to let it fade away. That’s one of the reasons I bought a premium membership early: I’m invested now!

What’s on the Menu

With a few days off before exam preparation really begins, I’ve been able to devote a fair amount of time to Yet More Tower Defense. I spent quite a bit of time working on the menu system but I think given what I’m trying to put in feature-wise, it’s turned out to be a very worthwhile investment. I’ve essentially worked off the Game State Management sample which has proven to be a fairly powerful and extensible concept.

While it always seems like there are dozens of things left to do, my list is finally getting to the point where I can see the end, at least in terms of necessary features. Let’s take a look, if partially for my benefit in combining the many to-do lists scattered around:

  • One more Hud component (showing upcoming wave details)
  • High scores
  • Help screens/instructions*
  • Proper treatment of PlayerIndex
  • Ensure storage best practices are working
  • Full game purchase functionality
  • One more tower type
  • Two more creep types
  • Badges

The “Help screens” item has an asterisk because I think I will tackle this during initial playtesting, rather than before. I’m interested in seeing what people’s initial, unguided intuitions are.

Badges are something I’ve hummed and hawed about because they aren’t at all necessary for the game. I am suspicious of the average consumer’s opinion of unofficial acheivements, as I don’t think they really hold much weight. However, since I’m not making this game with an “effort to marketability” ratio in mind but instead to go through the full process of making a game, I’m going to implement badges. If they add something that consumers consider important, cool. I certainly don’t think they take away from the game.

After that list is finished, I get to start the long process of polishing and balancing. The most important aspect of this is going to be creating/finding some respectable graphics and sound effects. I consider myself somewhat artistically inclined, though in traditional media. I have a few ideas on this front that I’ll look into. I haven’t decided if I’ll throw my game into playtest before it gets final graphics in place. There is a blocking issue of Xbox360 performance, which isn’t quite acceptable at the moment (I develop primarily on PC, where the performance is flawless).

All-text updates are boring! Here’s a screenshot of the new Challenge Select screen:

Select Challenge

Select Challenge

I did find myself playing the game quite a few times over the past few days, despite the fact that the balancing is just placeholder values so the difficulty is all over the map. I consider this a good sign (:

Premium Membership obtained: First impressions

It’s done! I went and invested in a premium creator’s club membership which means my game will officially be a waste of time and money if I don’t bother to finished it (how’s that for motivation?). Well it wouldn’t be a complete waste, because I’ve learned a lot already, but there’s still much to learn! I’ve been working on it, largely adding to the usability of the menus today, but that’s not what this post is about.

Premium membership entitles you to:

  • Deploy games to your 360*
  • Download premium content
  • Playtest games
  • Review games
  • Submit games

I’d completely forgotten about the premium content bit (now I can look into those premium samples). Okay there are only two, that’s less exciting and a bit disappointing. Maybe I’ll glance into the Robot Game though. The deploying-to-360 functionality was something I already had from my trial membership through Dreamspark.

So, submitting a game is obviously key, but I’m not there yet. That leaves playtesting and reviewing. I took a look at the games in the review queue, only to be a bit disappointed that many of them are just re-submissions of existing games. Regardless, I don’t feel I have a good enough grasp of edge cases to catch the important crashes (storage devices, purchases, extra controllers, etc) and thus I’m going to avoid peer review for the time being.

Playtesting is the real reason why I caved and bought a subscription early. Yes, that’s another thing. There’s very little incentive to buy a subscription before you intend to submit a game. The premium samples are probably the only reason, short of wanting to help the community. In my case, I actually want to do just that, but I wonder how many people are putting off the purchase, and thus their contributions to playtesting/reviewing, for a pretty straightforward financial reason.

Some people are thankfully using playtesting for what I hoped it to be: a place to get feedback on your game, from alpha through to almost release-worthy. I think it’s great to just grab a few games, take note of what the developer is interested in hearing about and then sitting down with the games and a clipboard. I looked over three games tonight,left a bunch of feedback for two of them and look forward to doing it again.

If only there were more games in the playtesting queue…

The sound of button-mashing

I mentioned I was going to tackle either gamepad input or sound next, but I ended up just doing both. Now that’s not to say they’re finished, but they are functional. One of the mantras I’m developing by is “Keep it playable”. Since day one,¬†Yet More Tower Defense has been playable in some form or another. Now, it hasn’t always been fun, but it’s alway been working. I’m the only one working on it, so there isn’t any time lost for other team members when the game is broken, but I feel that it’s a worthwhile habit regardless (and it does wonders for motivation).

Nothing too earth-shattering or complicated in my input or sound managers, though there is one thing I’d like to point. Given that¬†Yet More Tower Defense is destined for XBLCG, and thus playable by the general populace, best practices are incredibly important. One of these is having intuitive controls that are consistent with what gamers might reasonably expect. That means that Start should pause, A should proceed through menus, B should take you back, etc. For this reason, I felt it was important to have an input manager that could handle things like:

gamepadInputMap.Add(InputAction.Accept, new Buttons[] { Buttons.A, Buttons.Start });

Two buttons mapping to one function. A quick google for input samples seems to come up with a lot of code that only handles a 1:1 mapping, often with a note saying, “this shouldn’t be a problem”. Instead, I’d prefer to easily remap my controls (without looking for a bunch of multipart conditional checks in an IsMenuCancel function) and have a one-to-many relationship for actions and buttons. I think it’s worth doing, if not for your sake in managing control bindings, then for your users who might expect ‘A’ and ‘Start’ to perform the same function in the menus.

And on that note, I’m getting to the point where Yet More Tower Defense is feature complete. It should be just some more content creation (graphics, sounds), polishing and lots of testing and balancing in the near future. I hope to be able to throw it into preliminary Playtest soon. That also means I’ll be able to playtest and review other games, as I’ll finally buy my Premium membership. Sweet.