Tiny Tactics - Post Mortem

At the start of the year I set myself the target of making four games, with the plan to release one each quarter. Tiny Tactics was first game I started on and was due for release today. The big red "failed" label on the game page is a pretty good sign that things didn't go to plan.

What went right

Slim pickings here…

I got a lot of other things done

By mid-February I had a pretty good idea that things weren't going to work out. I kept going for another week, but my enthusiasm quickly disappeared so I turned my attention to other things.

I did manage to complete some game-related code:

  • Built a movement range calculator. This was quite fun to make, and the finished version supports multiple movement profiles and land types. This makes it possible to have characters that are fast on some types of terrain (such as paths) and slow on others (such as forests or sand).
  • Added autoloading of components to the Pangolin entity system. Previously components had to be declared in a configuration file, which was a pain when trying to quickly test things out. Component date can now be extract directly using reflection.
  • Built a tilemap and tileset converter for working with Tiled maps.
  • Created system for animating UI elements. This is something I've continuously struggled with, so I'm happy to have a slightly better way of doing things.
  • Created NPC's that walk around a map at random.

Still, I would have preferred a playable game at the end of everything.

What went wrong

Aiming too high

I haven't released an original game since "Mini Shinobi" at the start of 2017, but for some reason it seemed smart to try and build a collectible card game.

Not playing to my strengths

I can't draw. Collectible card games have a lot of art.

I can't design user interfaces. Collectible card games have a lot of UI.

It seems obvious when it's written down.

Not planning my time

With a 48-hour game jam, you have no option but to work hard and quickly. Three months seems like an eternity, but those hours quickly disappear if not properly scheduled.

Taking an "I'll work on it when I feel like it" approach was not successful.

Lessons for the future

Even though things didn't work out (at all), I still created some useful bits and pieces and learnt some new lessons. It's still a game I'd like to revisit, but next time I'd like to have a more complete plan.

Tiny Tactics - Update #1

Research took up most of my time for the last week, although I didn't spend as much time on it as I would have liked. A couple of questions kept cropping up:

1. How should energy be handled?

Every card game I looked at had some kind of energy system to prevent powerful cards being played too early. Hearthstone has mana crystals, Pokemon has energy cards and Card Fighters' Clash has "SP". In some games cards in the hand can be discarded to generate additional energy.

One challenge I'm expecting is how to balance energy gains at different stages of play. Because of the tactical battle elements, players may go several turns at the start without ever being in range of an enemy. Combined with discarding cards for energy, players could be in a position to play high level before the other team has even reached them.

2. How large should a deck be?

Deck building is an integral part of collectible card games. Decks need to be large enough to last an entire battle, but not so large that they end up being mostly filler cards.

I'm thinking around 35-40 cards for a deck, but that may change during balancing. One thing I want to do is make this configurable so it's easier to experiment with.

3. How should characters move?

My initial plan was to give each character a movement range (e.g. 6 squares) and limit them to that each turn. I think it makes the map more interesting and makes it possible to have movement buff cards.

I'm also considering having a central character that moves one square each turn, and then goes into a separate battle mode when they meet an enemy. This would make combat more like Final Fantasy, Grandia and Evolution.

4. How should attacking work?

Should attacking require a card to be played, or should all playable characters be able to attack each turn if they are in range?

Requiring attack cards means the deck has to be balanced a little differently and reduces the chances that a player will start with a large number of high power cards.

Next Steps

A third of the project time has already elapsed and I don't have much to show for it. There are plenty more questions to be answered, but those are the big ones on my mind at the moment and I need to start actually building something.

The next step is to get a small battle up and running so I can experiment with different mechanics. My plan is to have that complete in the next few weeks.

Visit the Tiny Tactics hub page for a more detailed view of the project's progress.

#1GAM 2019 - Initial game ideas

I've always struggled with what do with a blank canvas. Once I get going I'm usually fine, but the initial decision on what to create is always tough.

The same is true when it comes to creating a new game.

Coming up with ideas isn't always the challenging part. I have a bunch of notes for games I'd like to make, but sorting the good ideas from the bad (as well as the realistic ones) is a little tough.

Reading through my ideas there are some themes that crop up frequently. Two of the most common are turn-based strategy and collectible card games. So for my first game of 2019 I'm going to try and combine the two.

Game One - Tiny Tactics

For now I'm referring to this project as "Tiny Tactics", although I expect that name to change as time goes on.

Strategy Games

Right now I'm still collecting ideas for how to structure battles and merge the different elements. Games I'm looking at include:

Shining Force CD Shining Force CD
The first tactical RPG I ever played. I have a fair amount of experience with how the mechanics work so it will be a good starting point for whatever I end up creating.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Final Fantasy Tactics
I played the GBA version a long time ago, but that's about it. The job system is an interesting way of managing skills and attributes.
Tactics Ogre Tactics Ogre
An isometric turn-based strategy game.
Evolution Evolution
This isn't a turn-based RPG, but I quite like the combat system. Enemies can be knocked back a turn by using certain moves, so there is some strategy in lining moves up correctly.

Card Games

For card games there is a lot of choice. I'm looking at some of the more popular ones - Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! I'm particularly interested in how they handle turns, card strength and any limits on what can be played and when.

One Game a Month - 2019 Edition

I've taken part in "One Game a Month" for the last couple of years. Sadly 2018 is the last year for the contest, so for 2019 I'll be setting my own challenge.

The #1GAM challenge was pretty good at getting me motivated for the first months of the year, but over time I'd fall behind and then stop. I liked the quick turnaround on games, but it didn't give me much time for reflection. Post-mortems aren't always easy to write, but they're an important part of the process for me.

So for 2019 I'll be making two changes to my usual process:

  1. Each game will be developed over three months. This gives me extra time to prototype, write post-mortems and learn more.
  2. I'll be documenting the entire process, rather than just dumping a game online at the end of the challenge period. Prototypes, design sketches and everything else will be posted on each game's page.

Games and updates will be posted to the #1GAM 2019 hub page.

#1GAM 2017 - March's Entry: ZAP 2000

I spent most of March working on my game framework, which didn't leave a lot of time for my #1GAM entry. I still wanted to enter something, so I fixed a couple of minor bugs in Zap and added "2000" to the title. Exciting!

Changes made:

  1. Scores stopped saving correctly after the switch to https. Now fixed.
  2. Enemy explosions now match the colour of the enemy. No more green particles for red enemies!
  3. Enemies can no longer spawn on top of the player.

Play `ZAP 2000`