• A Month in Review: July 2018

  • Devlog · 2018-08-03 · nightblade
  • July brought a lot of challenges. @Chemical_Ink's internet went down for several days. I ran into a very busy work schedule. All of this meant less time for Abu Hamid X; but walhamdulillah, we still managed to ship a lot of changes.

    Perhaps most importantly, we decided to drop the adventure/open-world concept and stick to what we prototyped and proved as fun: the arena combat challenge. This introduced a lot of story/worldbuilding challenges, but we managed to work something out.

    screenshot

    New features include:

    • Half-hidden assassins who lunge and stab from out-of-sight
    • Lava eruptions that mean instant death
    • Proximity mines that explode
    • Jumping enemies
    • Spike traps
    • And more!

    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 get feedback, our plan is to start the actual production version of the game. You can follow us on Twitter for updates.

  • 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

  • Game Development · 2018-05-15 · nightblade
  • 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.