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Using some of the styles that we had already established with the earlier concepts I decided to do another background.

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So what did people think of Spell Team Death Match? After facing its first official testing group, STDM was met with generally positive feedback. The artwork received praise which was great. But the real reason we were testing was to see how players responded to the controls and game mechanics. Before we go any further I should state the current game mechanic to give the following more context. STDM uses a 2D platforming system where players face off in an arena, collecting letters to upgrade their weapons. There are no enemies and the aim is to kill your opponent 10 times. Maybe there’s a cooler way of saying it. Something like: Collect letters, spell words and kill your friends! It needs work. Anyway, So what did we learn? Here’s our list:

1. If you design for everyone, you please no one

Initially users didn’t seem to have a problem with the game’s controls and were happy to bounce around the screen shooting at each other. But as the time went on, more players started to have trouble with them. Part of our problem was that we were trying to be a little too clever. We had previously created a movement system for the prototype of The Evening’s Dying Light where there was a hidden joystick that we covered with two buttons, left and right. We made this option available originally to ensure the players could quickly go from left to right without having to lift their fingers off the screen and tap the other button. This system actually worked fine for players who didn’t look at the controls as they weren’t confused by the buttons. But as soon as they started to try and press the buttons directly we ran into problems. The reason for this is that instead of pressing the button, they were actually moving the joystick to that point. Sounds confusing? It’s less so in real life. Anyway, the point here is to keep things simple and follow a golden User Experience rule: If you design for everyone, you end up pleasing no one. 

2. Expect comparisons to other games no matter what

We were given feedback that because STDM actually shared the same paradigm as games like Mario and Super Crate Box, people would have a low tolerance to bad controls. Which is absolutely true. With the prior knowledge of a player being reminded of such titles, we will have to ensure that our controls are perfect. One suggested way of doing this was incorporating distance and height on shooting and jumping. The shooting of grenades in particular, as they are lobbed, they would be more useful if the player were to have control over how far they are lobbing them. Regarding the jump height, it was suggested that players have control over their jump height based on how long the button was pressed (a la Mario, Donkey Kong Country, etc.). So with this feedback in hand we are aiming to tackle controls next before we move on.

3. I don’t know what that does, but I also don’t care

Another key aspect of the gameplay mechanic is the weapon changing system. Currently we have the system set up so that players don’t necessarily receive an upgrade, it is more of a parallel path to a different weapon type. This forces players to learn how to play with all of the weapons available and dynamically changes the ebb and flow of battles. One minute you’re the hunter, the next minute you’re the hunted. Then you’re the hunter again! We found no complaints from players regarding this system. Even though upon questioning they didn’t know what was happening, it wasn’t a source of frustration. This is actually the outcome we were hoping for. When players are annoyed, they voice their frustrations. But the fact they didn’t mention something we thought might be a problem was a win for us.

4. Overdeveloped visuals skew player perceptions

One interesting point that was made by a user was that the artwork made the game seem a little further into development that it actually was. Although the artwork received praise from players, the combination of this with the problems with the controls had a negative impact. The game looked more polished than it actually was, so players expected more of it before they had even played. This has taught us a valuable lesson: Be sure to dress your games appropriately as it can skew player perceptions.

All in all though, a very productive session for us. We felt that this was the final session before we locked in some of the permanent mechanics of the game and hopefully that means we can start a whole lot more asset creation soon!

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Here’s another background image variation with much more detail added.

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A little bit of an environment test to see how pixel art looks when we put a bit of depth of field into it. The bottom right and left areas will have to make allowances for on-screen controls anyways so this is possibly a good start.

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So what do you do when you hear a game soundtrack that you absolutely love? Go find the person who made the music and pay them to work on your next game of course! We’re pleased to announce that we have enlisted Nic Gorissen a.ka. Bignic of Zombies. fame to create the original soundtrack for Spell Team Death Match. So until we can get you some gameplay footage, we suggest you download these absolutely bangin’ tracks and play them at high volume (preferably, in a residential area). Grab a copy now for the bargain price of only USD$4.

Early title treatment for STDM

The idea for Spell Team Death Match (I will be saving keystrokes from here on by using STDM) came from playing endless numbers of platformers. But also from playing 3D games like Unreal Tournament. We used to love networking our PCs via LAN and playing death matches together. We loved running around frantically trying to find the best guns, bee-lining for the rocket launcher in the hope that the other player hasn’t beaten you to it. This often ended in being splattered upon arrival at said upgrade spot if you weren’t quick enough. So we wanted a game that would have the same kind of intensity and enjoyment but in a much more simplified environment.

Our first step was to create a prototype. This started (as most do) with two squares on a screen that we gave the ability to jump, move left and right, and shoot. When one player hit the other with their bullet they respawned where they started from. It was actually quite fun. We had our prototype up and running and it only took 3 hours. We played around with the variables of the jump, shoot and movement speeds until we felt they were serving our needs. Holy cow! We made a game! Well, not quite yet.

As this was a multiplayer game that we wanted to launch on mobile devices, we were going to have to make it run over a network. Unfortunately we ran into a few problems. While trying to send packets of data via wireless we realised that without having to put in a large chunk of work we were going to need a really good connection to do so. So after a whole day of trying to implement the wireless multiplayer functionality of our game it suddenly dawned on us – we hadn’t even tested the damn thing! Would anyone even want to play this game? We should probably have checked. We had plunged head long into the development side of things without actually even getting any player feedback. Not only that, we had wasted a whole day trying to get something to work that was holding up the rest of the development. So we left the game as a local multiplayer game, only playable on keyboard, and we shifted our focus back to which features we could add to increase the fun. After fleshing out 4 different weapon types that we thought best illustrated a cross-section of all the projected weapons, we started to put them in.

Two days worth of work later and we had a pretty sweet prototype. And it played quite well with two players on the one keyboard. So what now? User testing! We invited a group of our friends (a couple of developers and a few lay people) and they all faced off to see how they fared. The initial feedback was that the game was quite chaotic. As far as we were concerned that was a win. However people did mention that they weren’t so keen on the grenade launcher due to the launch trajectory. But loved the flamethrower. By doing this user testing we were able to see some glaring holes in our upgrade system. Which is fine as they were to be expected so early on, but the real test was whether or not people found it fun. And they did. One machine, two players, good fun. Success!

So what now? Well, people played the game, they found it fun and we got some feedback on what people didn’t enjoy. With the first of our questions answered (is it fun?), we could commit to trying to increase that enjoyment. If people hadn’t liked our prototype it would have been crushing but we could have at least either a) taken their feedback and tried to make it better or b) canned it completely and focused on making another one. Getting people to test early helps to let you know if you’re on the right track. So far, it felt like we were.

So next we added more weapons to increase the variety as well as increase the frequency of weapon upgrades and ensure a change in pace. We are huge fans of the Super Crate Box method of continual upgrades and changing of weapons that mean you have to learn how to use them all. This also varies strategies and makes for more gameplay variety. Some weapons feel much more powerful than others and some are more fun. We are in the process of narrowing down what it is exactly that we find fun (flamethrower is still winning!). But we are hoping to get some more testing done in the next couple of weeks and have set ourselves a milestone for a semi-public test on November 24th, 2013. We are hoping that in that testing session we’ll be able to get some really good constructive feedback.

A few variations on character concepts for STDM based on pop culture icons and friends.

As for graphical style, we have gone for pixel art. Despite the saturation of the market, we’ve never tried it before and we still feel there’s room for creative expansion (especially where particle effects are concerned). So as we breach those new territories we’ll be sure to keep you up to date on the learning process. At this stage we are hoping to have a large variety of avatars to choose from. Ambitiously looking at having up to 20 characters. Why do that to ourselves? Because we love Street Fighter and that has like 40 characters to choose from. It could be a stretch with each character requiring at least 72 frames based on the current set of chosen weapons. But there are only a few ways to find out! One of which is to try making them. Wish us luck!

We have been a little behind with blog posts so we would like to apologise that firstly. But secondly we’d like the say that you can now find Piñata Games on Facebook right here. We have kind of been using our Facebook as a dev blog for our upcoming title so all of our Vine videos, etc have been going up on there. Anyway, rest assured we’ll have a dev blog for our next title and we’ll be sure to keep it well updated!

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Wow! What an awesome 9 months for Piñata. We’ve just been awarded another FWA award for our latest title, Revolve for iPad. We are flattered to receive the award and would like to thank everyone for their support. Bring on 2013!

http://www.thefwa.com/mobile/revolve

Okay, we weren’t expecting this one. Magnetix has now had 60,000 downloads and reached number 1 in both Spain and Brazil over the Xmas period! Thank you so much to everyone that downloaded, reviewed and rated it. We sincerely appreciate the support and hope we can give you even more fun and enjoyment with our next title.

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Revolve for iPad is now available free on the iTunes App Store.

Revolve is a new spin on the age old paddle and ball formula. Manoeuvre the paddles around a circular track to keep balls in play while avoiding obstacles, building multipliers and using powerups to slow down time and create forcefields. Earn bunts by scoring points to buy powerups in the store and bling your paddle!

Features
• Two game modes:
⁃ Split Mode: Control paddles independently or play with a friend
⁃ Fixed Mode: Control both paddles on a fixed axis
• Unlock achievements
• Bling your paddle
• Challenge your friends with Game Centre

Watch the trailer