Agent Matt

Ping! – A satellite dish in the making.

Ever since I dropped a ping-pong ball into a satellite dish as a child I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the parabolic dish.  It doesn’t matter which part of the dish the ball hits, it will always bounce back up to hit the focus point. Allow me to steal an image from wikipedia to explain my point.

In a parabolic antenna, incoming parallel radio waves (Q1 – Q3) are reflected to a point at the dish’s focus (F), where they are received by a small feed antenna.

As you can see in the above image, a ball dropped from any point above the dish (Q1, etc) will always bounce in such a way that it hits the focus point. This is the same way satellite dishes receive incoming data (and why you need to make sure you point the dish in the right direction!).

I was trying to work out if I could use this concept to make a game. Being a satellite dish is no fun. Nor is being the focus point (you just stay in one spot right?). What if it was up to you to catch the data on the correct angle to make it hit the focus point? Now we’re getting somewhere! …and so ‘Ping’ was born.

Screenshot of the first playable build.

In the first version, there was a veritable wall of data raining down from the sky. You were the little panel you can see on the right-hand side of the image, and whatever hit you bounced off. It was made extra difficult by the fact that the panel was straight (i.e. not a parabola). So data wouldn’t bounce back to the right place unless you caught the data right in the center of the panel.

When I passed this build around the office, the other Voxels didn’t quite share my joy for the game. This is understandable, given that even the best player in the world could never catch more than 20% of the falling data – there was just so much of it! My solution was to add power-ups to the game. (Because power-ups solve everything right?) And that resulted in Version 2. It was definitely better, but it still had a ridiculous rain of data that you had to catch, and it lacked a strong reason to return to the game.

Rough draft UI design.
Upgrade menu up the top.
Big Grab button down the bottom.

I sat down with Agent Simon to discuss the problems the game had, and these were the major things we outlined.

  1. The game doesn’t explain what to do or how to play.
  2. There is still too much to catch – it’s distracting
  3. Why will a player return to the game?
  4. The game is kind-of ugly! (I’m a programmer – what did you expect?)
  5. What actually IS the player? Some kind of rectangle?

Making the game self-explanatory was all about encouraging the player to put their finger on the screen and start moving it about. So we added a big GRAB area on the screen. Reducing the amount of data to catch was easy – just remove the fluff data (And add in some scary RED packets that hurt the player and need to be avoided)

Screenshot of the final game!

Getting the player to return to the game was a bigger problem. The solution was to create an upgrade system where you can earn bigger satellite dishes, faster movement, etc. The idea is that you can’t get ALL the upgrades at the same time. So if you want to get a high-score, you need to find out which combination of upgrades works best for you. This means you have to play through the complete progression several times before you can be truly high-score competitive.

Solving the art was a much easier problem for me. I just got Simon to do it all! Thanks Simon 😉

Play ALL the versions here!


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