• A Month in Review: June 2018

  • Devlog · 2018-07-01 · nightblade
  • With the end of Ramadan cutting through the first half of June, we made little progress in the first two weeks. That makes it even more exciting that we completed the prototype of our new game, tentatively titled "Abu Hamid!"

    screenshot

    Every prototype aims to answer a question. This prototype answers the question: "can a jetpack-toting samurai with a gun, flying around and killing hordes of enemies and giants, be a fun gaming experience?" We believe the answer is "yes!"

    You can see the core gameplay elements in the screenshot:

    • Running around, jumping
    • Flying with a jetpack with limited fuel
    • Attacking enemies with a sword
    • Shooting with a gun
    • Fighting giant, semi-invincible monsters (the juggling is a physics bug)

    For our Patreon supporters, you can download the prototype here. If you're not a Patreon supporter, consider joining us; your feedback shapes the direction of our games.

    Once we gather some feedback, we can plan the next phase and start on the actual game: planning, coding, art, sound, and more. (You can also follow us on twitter for more frequent updates.)

  • How Tiny Rails Quietly Normalizes Islam and Muslims

  • Other · 2018-06-25 · nightblade
  • Tags: Game Design Analysis

    One of our main goals at Deen Games is to represent the views of Islam and Muslims in games. Muslims have something of a negative image in games. To paraphrase one video from Extra Credits: "Enemies in FPS games have gradually changed from Nazis to Arabs [Muslims]." One of the games that casually but positively portrays us is Tin Rails.

    Credit: Tiny Rails Wiki (The Great Mosque of Djenne, Africa. Credit: Tiny Rails wiki)

    Tiny Rails is something of a cult hit on Google Play, with over a million downloads and more than 50k reviews averaging 4.5 stars. You play the role of a small up-and-coming mom-and-pop train company, working to build a name for yourself and grab a cut of the market from bigger, established railroad companies like RailCo.

    The game plays out as something of an idle game. While you can select upgrades, equip cars, plot your destiation, etc. most of the travel time takes place completely automatically with little or no intervention.

    Moments provide one exception to this. While travelling between certain cities, you can randomly stumble upon a real-world landmark, such as the Atlanta Airport or the CN Tower; snapping a picture of this (the in-game camera view automatically appears) nets you a few gold.

    Both of these mechanics subtly and humbly add Islam and Muslims to the mix. Tiny Rails includes eight different moments that document mosques in different parts of the world, ranging from Africa to the Middle East to Russia. Like any other moments to discover, you receive an in-game reward, encouraging discovery of these moments.

    You can also take a look at which passengers inhabit your train at any given time. Passengers include a visibly-Muslim cast.

    Credit: Mobile Syrup (Getting feedback from train passengers. Credit: Mobile Syrup)

    Both these gameplay elements normalize an otherwise negative image of Muslims and Islam in games. And Tiny Rails pulls it off without any fuss or fan-fare.

    You can grab Tiny Rails from Google Play, here if you want to give it a try. It's a great example of how a game can be positive and inclusive and part of their core gameplay.

  • A Month in Review: May 2018

  • Devlog · 2018-06-01 · nightblade
  • This month, we spent quite a lot of time planning and articulating our next project. It's a big one! Unlike previous projects, we decided to bite on something large and ambitous.

    screenshot

    We're in the early stages of prototyping, so I can't share too many details right now (as things are scarce). Our major Islamic/educational goal for this project is to show world events through an Islamic lens. How that will play out, we will see.

    As far as prototyping, we have our basic jetpack/combat system in place. You can fly around the screen and strike enemies, and they can harm you (sort of).

    There's a lot of work left to be done in prototyping, but we're fairly optimistic that this will result in a fun core game loop with lots of interesting side gameplay.

    We're also breaking from game development for a couple of weeks, as we're now entering the last half of Ramadan. You can expect game development to resume its regular schedule in mid-to-late-June.

  • The Brilliance of Bastion's Flexible Builds

  • Other · 2018-05-15 · nightblade
  • Tags: Game Design Analysis

    Bastion character upgrade choice

    In RPGs (especially those of the 90s and early 2000s), game designers typically increase difficulty by creating increasingly powerful enemies (and more dangerous groups). To balance this, player characters engage in combat, gain experience points, and level up. Obviously, you want the game should increase in challenge/difficulty over time, or it starts to bore the player.

    With this approach, players have an advantage: if stuck, players can grind (kill monsters over and over again) and be able to progress further (in contrast to remaining stuck in the same impassable area). However, it also includes a couple of drawbacks for the player:

    • Which Choice to Pick: When faced with multiple choices (eg. two options to upgrade your character), the player often lacks enough information to decide. Even if they know which option they want to pick, the player almost never has the ability to actually try both options and see which one works best.
    • Fixed Builds: Once the player chooses, there's no going back. This is partly the cause of decision paralysis where players take forever to choose. Worse, if your game is not carefully balanced to cover all possibilities, the player may end up making a series of decisions that leave them with an impossible-to-win build, although grinding can help here.

    The Brilliance of Bastion

    Bastion solves both these problems by allowing you to "re-spec" or change your upgrade decisions at virtually any point in the game.

    In Bastion, when the player levels up, they unlock a slot for "Spirits," which provide stats boosts; the player also receives a few unique choices per slot. The player can always return to the Distilliary building and change which spirits they've selected.

    With weapons, Bastion follows a two-step process: first, you find an upgrade item, and pay to unlock it. Once you do that, the game presents you with two options per upgrade; you can pick between them (and change your choices) at any time.

    Bastion weapon upgrades

    At a micro-level, the user can pick individual upgrades. However, with both spirits and with weapon upgrades, the player can create builds at a macro level. Many of the options harmonize well with other options; and between the choice of player upgrades and weapon upgrades, the player can craft a large number of builds that suit their particular preferences of playing style and their choice of weapons.

    Best of all, the player can test and tweak their builds, and change their minds at any time. This, in addition to the unparalleled flexibilty, gives the player a lot of freedom.

    But, it comes at a cost: some combinations are obviously more powerful than others, and some are quite unbalanced. This makes the game design a bit more challenging, because the designer needs to handle a wider range of possibilities.

    Takeaways

    As game designers, I think we can learn a lot from Bastion's design:

    • Providing a flexible upgrade system gives players the ability to tweak and test their builds
    • Flexible builds makes it less likely for the player to be really stuck (there are lots of alternatives to try)
    • But, flexible builds requires care to make sure some builds are not over-/under-powered, and that levels are balanced

    Finally, many games already implement flexible builds today, including League of Legends and DOTA 2, and even classics like Final Fantasy 5. We can see, from this, that the concept of flexible builds can apply to different game genres.

    If you think flexible builds can add to your game, try it, and see if the benefit of multiple progression paths outweighs the cost of slightly more complex game balancing.

  • Game Design in Open-World

  • Other · 2018-05-11 · chemicalink
  • According to many, open-world is fun. Perhaps it's the sense of freedom, progression, or influence upon the world which tickles a player's funny bone. Whichever it is, if there's anything we game designers know, it's that it's hard to pull off.

    Open-World?! What's That Mumbo-Jumbo's All About?

    Firstly, what is an open-world game? Trusty Wikipedia reports,

    A video game in which a player can roam a virtual world and approach objectives freely, as opposed to a game with more linear gameplay.
    

    Yet with such a notion of a player freely wandering into wherever they please comes bundled with a set of issues which, if not dealt with properly, will make or break your game. Most prominently...

    Player Power Level vs. World Power Level

    Imagine you're making a game with a linear main quest where monsters gradually get stronger as the player progresses and gains more power. You wake up one day and decide open-world is the one feature which has to be included in your game. So you go ahead and remove all travel restrictions, and add a bit of side content.

    The ingenuous player decides to delay your main quest and spend some time on side quests. "Those monsters sure keep getting stronger," thought the player. "I need to do some side quests so I can stay one step ahead of them."

    Lo and behold, your carefully crafted power balance is completely destroyed, leaving you with an overpowered player to wipe the floor with any poor monster who dares cross his path.

    I'm sure you can imagine an alternative where the player is wrecked in side quests meant for a more powerful player.

    The Solution

    So how do you solve this? Let me just quote a little thing I've read in the vast cosmos of the interwebz:

    Game design is pretty much one giant [CENSORED] ball of borrowing
    

    In other words, in order to do things properly, we need to study the work of others, and see how they've done it.

    Let's take a look at the amazing Skyrim. How does it handle its level scaling?

    Different locations in Skyrim have different inherent difficulties. In other words, some dungeons are designed to be too difficult for low-level characters to enter.
    

    That is to say, every location has a minimum and a maximum level. Say we have a dungeon from level 5 to 30.

    If the player enters before the minimum level at, say, level 2, they enter a dungeon with stronger level 5 enemies and better loot. If the player enters within the level range, for example, level 15, the dungeon would contain level 15 enemies. And if the player enters after the maximum level, that is, 30+ they get to wipe the floor with level 30 enemies.

    Such a system allows for intricate risk/reward balancing. As in, "Just defeated a horde of trolls 10 levels above yourself? Here's some awesome loot to compensate." and "Done wiping the floor? Here's your two septims."

    In Conclusion

    Well there you have it. You've learned to avoid a game-breaking problem with open-world games. And in the solution, apply a new fun mechanic giving the player choice; and lots of rewards for daring ones.

    What do you think of the proposed solution? Have you encountered other problems with open-world games? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.