The best art style for a logic puzzle doesn’t get in the way of a players ability to see and solve the puzzle itself.
Agent Tian and I researched what art principles were used in defining art styles for logical puzzle games. This information will be relevant to other small development studios, as well as artists and students of game design.
We gathered data about the audiences of various games from the Facebook pages and user reviews of those titles. We found that Train Conductor 2, being a score based arcade game, attracts a much younger and tech savvy audience than is common for logical puzzle games.
Here are two typical sets of demographic data we’ve gathered from users interacting on the games facebook pages:
If you’re unfamiliar with Quell it’s a fantastic logical puzzle game that is performing well on Android phones. On their website you can read about the Making of Quell where you can read their development story.
Train Yards is a successfull logical puzzle game developed by Matt Rix. In his postmortem at GDC this year he talked about the difference between developing for casual players and harcore players. The slides are available for free here and you can listen to the full talk if you have access to the GDC vault here.
When developing a game for gamers you can skip several levels of teaching. With 10 years of gaming experience comes vast a priori knowledge of computer interfaces and how they usually respond to player input. For example, I’m sure you have, at some point in life, been completely mind boggled by the inability of an old relative to move files across folders.
We’ve seen endless cases, while playtesting with a casual audience, where the play tester develops the most obscure theories of what the game rules are. The cause of these theories is simply miscommunication by us, the developers. By stripping the game of unnecessary art assets we can greatly reduce this problem: less art assets mean less objects for players to develop wacky theories about.
We can see a clear connection between logical puzzle games that value graphical prettiness more than usability, and bad chart performance. We see the opposite effect when usability is considered first. It is clear that puzzle games that value usability over art outperform on the marketplace. Sudoku is a good example because there so many Sudoku apps (Appannie gives 823 results).
The players top favorite Sudoku game out of those 823 competitors is the example to the right. Their secret? They have the largest buttons possible.
The GDC talk “How to make your player feel smart” by Randy Smith (available for free here) gives advice about puzzles in games. He references the book “The Design of Everyday Things” and further emphasises the following principle:
Look at the example on the right. Though you might not be sure of the rules or the objective at an initial glance everyone will know how a car moves and player will try to interact with the element in that manner. Logical puzzle games that stick to this principle are clear favorites among the players. For example, see Traffic Jam & Cross Fingers
I will hold off with the remaining slides of the presentation. They rely heavily on statistics and I don’t want to bloat this post with pie charts. If you like that sort of stuff send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can provide you with the whole presentation but you will have to draw some conclusions by yourself. I will publish the remaining data with descriptions sometime in the future.
This comic illustrates what happend to me when I really wanted to buy an app on my parent’s ipad when I was in China.
While in Australia you only need to type in your visa card details, the way the iTune’s App Store currently works in China can take ages – especially in my case where I don’t have a fixed phone number attached to my bank account, therefore I have to go to the bank to change my phone number while bringing my ID with me. The thing is, these banks in China will normally require your phone number so when you are paying for something that costs more than 200 yuan, they will send you a random password to confirm that you are the owner of the card and you are the one that’s making the transaction.
Here is a translated page of a tutorial on how to charge your apple ID in China – if something requires a tutorial, it already kinda tells you how troublesome it is, right? http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=auto&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fw2v.wistone.com%2Fpay_help%2Fappstore_rmb_help.html
Also, people in online forums are complaining about that after their bank got charged, it took more than a day for the money to be applied to their account.
So, if you want to buy a 6 yuan app in China, the only way to do it is that you need to pay 50 yuan (equals to 10 small bowls of noodles in China!!) in advance while going through all these banking details ( roughly 10~20 mins), then wait for a day to have the money applied to your account, and only then can you get the 6 yuan app you wanted! At the same time, buying a free app would take only a couple of seconds to type in your password. Which one would you choose? I happened to be the group that just gives up on the paid apps and just get the free ones. I believe most people would do the same thing.
I’ve also tried to gift an app from my Australian account – but guess what, after I spent the money and tried to get the app from the Chinese account, I found that the gift code is only to be used within Australia. XO
You might want to know why Apple has made the payment system so troublesome for the Chinese market – but I guess they were trying their best. In the previous system, people had to pay Apple via American credit cards only (as they charge American dollars), so that there were a lot of American credit card owners who had their cards stolen and illegally used by Chinese consumers who didn’t know that they are using these cards illegally (well, some of them know but not everyone). The thing is, there are a lot of online shops on Taobao.com (China’s biggest trading website) where people can pay these online merchants to get an Apple ID with a American credit card attached to it. Once the illegal use of the Apple ID has been reported, Apple would freeze that account and return the money to the credit card owner in America. However, the result is that lot of transactions that the app developers have worked so hard for are fake. *shattered dev hearts* Therefore Apple has recently changed their payment system in China and allow the Chinese to pay for apps using RMB – however, like you saw, it’s pretty troublesome.
Contrary to popular opinion, it is actually not all that uncommon for Chinese consumers to pay for virtual content. In fact, the free-to-play style MMORPG have earned A LOT in China. People could spend more than 100,000 yuan (roughly AUS$17,000) on a sword in a popular MMORPG and it’s not that unusual. These super rich and hard-core players just want to show off their wealth by owning that sword and walk around in the virtual world. On the other hand, a recent research has found that in China 95% of young females reject buying pirated products – and that’s quite true, because of ‘vanity’. How? Well, let’s use a conversation as an example.
Girl A carries a new bag to work.
Girl B: ‘Ah! you have a new LV bag! It looks great!’
Girl A: ‘I got it from Hongkong, it’s really expensive but I got it with a discount.’
Girl B: ‘OMG!’ looking at the bag inside-out.
A few days later.
Girl B and Girl C are going shopping.
Girl B:’You know Girl A? She bought a fake LV bag and tried to pretend that it was real. Disgusting!’
Eventually everyone knows that Girl A once used a fake LV bag and Girl A never wants to use it again.
This kind of psychology would also work on these girl’s phones, even though it’s not that much similar. At the same time, some of the girls might not even know what jailbreak means but they just get it as the other people recommended them to do so. If these girls think that jailbreaking their iPhone equals to using a fake LV bag, then at least among girls, the chance of people jailbreaking their phone will be reduced. It is quite sad for me that it seems playing on people’s vanity is the best way to make profit from Chinese, but I can’t do anything about it – the simple reason is just that there are way too many rich people in China, while there are also a lot of poor people.
In 2011 we made loads of prototype games; some small, some funny, some that sucked, almost all ugly (except the lucky few that receive Tian’s touch ). Here’s a visual tour of 20 of the 24 games that we made in five months. Together they paint the picture of what Voxel Agent games look like when they’re born – a mish-mash of squares, circles and terrible colour schemes!
Back in 2011 we had a problem – How were we going to fit a 6th desk into our tiny (4.5 x 5 meters) office space.
We had the following equipment, and the option of an extra desk (we could pick large or small)
- 4 Large Desks 1800 x 900mm
- 1 small desk 1200 x 600mm
- 1 Whiteboard 1900 x 500mm
- 5 Happy smiles
I wanted to start moving stuff around to get a feel for the space, but Simon – being the super game-designer that he is wanted to prototype the solution before we started turning off computers, knocking over monitors and generally making a mess. So he opened up flash, made some boxes and started dragging and dropping.
We had some pretty creative layouts, involving putting everyone around a central island (Cabling would be a nightmare), or maximising empty space by getting cosy with 2 people to a desk.
At the end of the day, we easily had 40 different solutions. Some ideas were much better than others, and we came up with some pretty crazy layouts.
That’s the awesome thing about prototyping, once you start messing around with ideas, you find things that you never expected. The simple tool allowed us to do things that would have been simply too-hard in real life. The end result? It’s actually not that different from our original layout, but it’s actually a much better use of space. Even though we added another small desk, the room actually felt more spacious.
Which desk layout do you like?
Hi, how’s it going?
I’m Sam TC Wong, the latest addition to The Full-Time Voxel Agent’s Dev Team and one of Melbourne’s Resident Game Jammers. I’m also a recent Computer Science and Multimedia Graduate from Swinburne University of Technology. During my studies I made a bunch of games in my own spare time, outside of work.
So…Hey! I was thinking, I’d share about them, but FIRST…
…here’s my personal experience with games in a highly paraphrased format!
The first ever video-game I played as a kid was a Tetris variant, titled ‘The Blocks Game’. In primary school, my Dad and I would always fight over whose turn it was. To this date, Tetris is still one of my favorite classic games. *THUMBS UP!!*
Before jumping onto my first console, my Mum used to bring home games from work off of Floppy Disks that her colleagues lent to her. I played them on my first ever PC, which I won in a shopping centre raffle when I was in Primary School.
I played a lot of Paganitzu, and it was another favorite childhood game!
My first ever console was the PSX during my Late Primary School Years.
It currently sits inside of its home (a cardboard box next to my bed).
In Secondary School I moved back to the PC. I joined an online community of players in Starsiege: Tribes and quickly started making maps. I got a really big kick out of interacting with players as a level designer. My parents weren’t too happy about this huge distraction from my studies, but for me it was heaps of fun.
Here’s a Tribes Legacy video for those who may be slightly interested…
During High School, I was always thinking in the back of my mind,
“Oh Hey! Imagine how cool it would be to make levels or even games as a day job!”
I always enjoyed programming in VB 3.0, VB 6.0 and played around a lot with animating in Flash. At this stage in my life I was looking to head down the web design/development, software programming career path…
BUT THEN…The penny dropped and in late High School, I found out that there were Universities offering courses in Games Development.
I decided on doing University to better my programming, design and art skills. Eventually meeting a fork in the road where I had to decide which discipline(s) I would try to focus my attention on. In the end, I picked programming because I always enjoyed it the most and I always wanted to build my own games without having to rely totally on other programmers. Previously in High School, I always looked up to the cool kids that included scripts in their Tribes maps.
University did have an impact on my tastes as a gamer; I eventually switched from being a hard-core gamer to a more casual/indie gamer…
I’m now more inclined to consume games in the video above than the typical AAA content.
In 2009, I attended my second Freeplay Independent Games Festival and I met Tom Killen at the After Party, we exchanged emails and the rest is pretty much history. Between that time and today I’ve made a heap of games outside of work, here are some I can share with you.
Attributed to Sam TC Wong
This game is a love-child between a SH’M'UP and Air Hockey!
Reason for Occasion: Games Programming in C++ at University
Cooking Utensils: C++ with SDL, x2 PS2 Controllers, x1 Controller Compatibility Adapter
Cooking Time: 1 Month
Attributed to Sam TC Wong
A SkiFree-inspired game where the player attempts to delay their impending doom for as long as possible!
Reason for Occasion: Just another distraction from University.
Cooking Utensils: AS3 with Flex, x1 Optional XBOX 360 Controller
Cooking Time: 24 hours
Attributed to Team Sideways
A 2-Player survival game between two genders (Male and Female). Each player takes control of forces of attraction between males and females. The winner is the gender who out-lives their opponent.
Reason for Occasion: Global Game Jam 2011
Cooking Utensils: AS3 + Flex, x2 XBOX 360 Controller
Brew Time: 48 hours
Attributed to Sam TC Wong
A 2D Hex-Puzzle inspired by 3D Logic Puzzle Flash Game.
Reason for Occasion: Holidays overseas in Singapore!
Cooking Utensils: C++ with SDL
Cooking Time: 1 month
Attributed to Wanderlands
A 2D connect-the-dots action game, based on the theme, ‘Rout.’
Reason for Occasion: The first-ever #squidprobro Game Jam
Cooking Utensils: AS3 with Flex
Cooking Time: 24 hours
Attributed to Wanderlands
A variation of sokoban with magnets, based around the theme, ‘Counterpart‘.
Reason for Occasion: The Last Jam of 2011!
Cooking Utensils: AS3 with Flash IDE
Cooking Time: 48 hours
We actually went to the beach for a day to brainstorm and found this very dead-looking blow-fish that washed up…
Leave Me Alone
Attributed to Sam TC Wong
A 2-Player Top-Down-Face-Off-Poke-Em-Out game based around the theme, ‘Alone‘.
Reason for Occasion: Ludum Dare #22
Cooking Utensils: AS3 with Flash IDE
Cooking Time: 24 hours
Agent Sam is a mad-keen programmer who was actually one of the very first Voxel Agents. He started with us waaaay back in 2009 doing 1-2 days a week – which was as much as his university schedule would allow.
When Sam started, we were just winding up on the original Train Conductor, and starting to prototype new ideas. Sam got straight to work on an awesome shooter game that we were calling Thumb-Shooter. The premise was simple – your thumbs control massive guns, and you fly through the galaxy shooting stuff up.
The concept didn’t really take off. It seems obvious now – but apparently trying to fit 2 fat thumbs on an iPhone screen, as well as a whole screen full of stuff that you want to shoot is pretty tricky, and your thumbs tend to get in the way of each other.
I’ll let Sam introduce himself in another blog post – but for now Welcome Aboard! Now that we have 3 programmers on the team, maybe I can join the art department! (Just kidding)
We’re proud to announce that Train Conductor 2: USA is finally available for android phones! Launched in early december, the new Android version is double the size with twice the content of the iOS version. We’ve spent many months creating cool new unique content for this release. It’s the biggest update to the Train Conductor series that we’ve ever attempted. So what’s new?
The existing survival mode feels like you’re running a marathon compared to the fast paced, action packed new Challenge Mode. In Challenge you’ve got to deliver as many trains as you can in about 2 minutes. One thing we noticed about the old survival mode is that you can draw out the experience by stopping lots of trains and dealing with one a time. This is fine, and we’re leaving survival mode as it is so you can continue to play that way, but in Challenge Mode if you leave a train waiting for too long, it will signal to the train network that there’s a delay and all new trains will stop from entering the screen. This keeps it fast paced and rewards players who can “Enter the Matrix” of Train Conducting with finest of crash-avoidance skills.
If challenge mode sounds stressful to you – don’t panic! You can toy around and make mistakes without stress as you’ve now got three lives up your sleeve in Challenge Mode. We all love the new three-lives feature, and in the later challenge levels, you’ll need it!
Updated Game Icon
If you look at all the best icons, they feature just one element and look very clear when miniaturised. Finally I think we have a very distinctive and clear icon to represent the game, also it looks HAWT
New location: Chicago – the six track demon
Like Challenge Mode, Chicago is not for the fainted hearted. Players have always asked for six tracks, and here it is – it’s a demon!
During the course of a typical day on a busy city train network, there will be peaks and troughs in the flow of trains as commuters pour into the city in the morning and out again in the evening. Agent Henrik and I were trying to recreate these peak times of the train network in this new design.
We found that six tracks is at the EXTREME limit of human train conducting abilities Seven was out of control, to the point where it’s hard to target the right track because they were so close together, whilst also being hard to find the right track instinctively without having to count down from the top every time. So this is it, the maximum number of tracks we’ll ever put in a level.
Android Exclusive: New Train Droid gives extra points
This Android character is one cute little robot. We couldn’t resist putting her into the game. You’ll find Train Droid in Challenge Mode levels, but she can’t be everywhere at once – so keep an eye out for which level she’s in each day.
Deliver Gold Trains to unlock Challenge Mode
Existing players of TC2 are thinking, “Gold Trains? They already exist!”, but what I mean is Double Awesome Super Special Gold Train, it’s just a bit long of a name. In this update there’s a new “golder” train, maybe its 24 carats? In all levels except Miami, you can deliver Gold Trains (or Gold Ghosts at night) to collect Gold Tracks, and with enough Gold Tracks you’ll unlock Challenge Mode of that level.
The Gold Trains are rare, and boy when one appears, you do not want to stuff that up!
New Nashville level art and special FX
Previously we redid the Miami art because it just wasn’t up to standard, now Nashville has also had a make over too!
We’ve also updated the colours on the ghosts. Previously, the ghosts and demons were similarly coloured (i.e. white), and users were smart to complain. It most adversely affected the Nashville level, and you can see the results of Agent Tian’s touches.
Improved score screen
We always felt that the score screen didn’t really reflect your excitement each time you beat your high score – it didn’t erupt with awesome like a cream filled awesome cake. Hopefully now when you break that high score, you’ll feel like a king. We’ve also added some great feedback in-game for when you deliver that trains that puts you in the record books. But you’ll just have to play it for your-self to experience it.
Keen conductors will notice that we’ve also brought the score screen over the level. This means it takes less time for you to hit the ‘retry’ button. Some players are playing levels hundreds of times over in one session and we don’t want to waste their time jumping between screens.
Improved “Level Unlocked” Screen
Unlock a new level and be showered in awesome
New Level Select Screen
The previous level select screen was entirely superfluous once you’d played the introduction. It really didn’t do much for you. Although I don’t think the new design is without it’s own flaws, you now have access to both modes (an unavoidable decision making step) and the introduction button is appropriately de-emphasised. Also, you don’t have to jump into a level to see the leaderboards anymore, it’s right there on the next screen.
Not to be forgotten. we created a whole new Lite Version that will bring the game to a wider audience. If you’re not sure if you will like connecting trains, test out the Lite Version and see what you think. It’s got the first three locations there and will keep you busy for hours. Almost all of the changes above are in there, with the exception of Challenge Mode.
- Sparkles and Fireworks - New celebration for players who beat their high-score
- When you beat your high score, you want to know about that in-game, not just at the end. Break a high score and you’ll see it, hear it, and feel it.
- Menu backgrounds and buttons are more pretty
- Simply, we let Agent Tian loose on the graphics, and she worked her magic.
- Added a screen to let you know that “You finished the game!”
- It just seemed odd that you spent so long unlocking levels, and then suddenly there were no more to unlock. At least you can feel good now that you’ve unlocked every location! (and now go collect Challenge Mode levels )
- We made the sound effect and music mute buttons bigger.
- Tutorials are shorter and more to the point.
- All buttons are now blue.
- This helps show what you can click, and what you can’t. There are a few minor exceptions, but the major pathways through the game are cleaned up.
- Twitter and Facebook integration have been rewritten to improve the login and posting processes.
- The pacing of the trains appearing in Miami has been made more interesting, less repetitive and more friendly to new users.
- The fonts in-game throughout the HUD, menus and in-game are more consistent.
- Numerous graphical elements were upgraded to HD.
- Improved the induction process of welcoming the player to the game.
- Bug fixes galore.
And this is just the latest in a long history of improvements…
This is the sixth major update to TC2. Here’s what’s been added in the past:
- v1.5 – Massive “high definition” update, prepared the game for iPad’s big display.
- v2.0 – Added world and friend leaderboards
- v2.1 – Added a new level: Roswell
- v2.2 – Added a new level: Seattle
- v2.6 – Update for Retina Display, including the new Miami art.
- v3.0 – Everything mentioned above!
So this is an awesome prototype that I worked on earlier in the year. It’s been sitting on the shelf gathering dust. Dust is boring – Players are fun! So now I’m setting it free.
Hit the image below to start playing, or skip ahead for the long story.
The fire game started long long ago. Regular readers will remember last year when we competed in the 48hr Game Making Competition 2010.. The three keywords were Dinosaur, Revenge, and Bar. So we came up with a game, where you drop raptors into a bar, and try to kill as many people as possible.
We eventually dropped the ‘Raptors in a Bar’ idea, and ended up making a game we called Egg Basher, but the idea of setting things up in a room, and then trying to kill as many people as possible stuck with me. However, there was one major problem with the idea.
Problem: If a player is going to invest their time setting up the scenario, then the outcomes needs to be predictable, and 100% repeatable.
Solution: Replace unpredictable dinosaurs with Scientific Fire.
It has to work. It’s Science!
I remember an episode of C.S.I. (or some similar show) where a house burned down. The police expected arson, because of the strong burn pattern up the front stairs. But some clever investigation showed that the fire actually started upstairs, but when a neighbour came to help, they opened the front door. The sudden gust of fresh oxygen caused the fire to rush down the stairs, and blast out the front door.
I was envisioning a series of traps and tricks that The Player could set up in order to make the fire spread faster. A game with complex timing mechanisms, technical oxygen measurements, and scientific fire!
What we ended up with was an interesting prototype. A very fun toy to play with, but ultimately, not a game.
Play the Fire Game in it’s own window. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as we did making it.
Everyone knows when you release stuff into the wild that players will leave some pretty interesting reviews. But we have a story that I think puts the icing on the cake….
When we launched TC2 on the marketplace our first few reviews were coming in, and it looked like everyone was loving the game.
“Great variety of levels.“, “Awesome visuals“, etc…
But then we got a couple of odd reviews saying the second level of the game was too scary for children.
Now, if you’ve seen the ghosts in our game, you will know they are quite cute and relatively harmless. Ghost trains provide a fun and fast paced twist on the usual ‘avoid-the-crash’ gameplay. We quickly called an emergency meeting at The Voxel Agents to think about how we could respond to this issue, and save our star rating! Meanwhile… Fans of Train Conductor were coming to our rescue.
“I see nothing wrong with demon trains” – 5 Stars
“I bought it for the demon trains!” – 5 Stars!
“‘Demon trains’ hahaha! (…) GREAT GAME!”
And finally Katie chimed in with the Gem:
“I have a large preference towards games with demon trains in them. In fact they are the only type of games I will purchase. 5 out of 5 demon trains”
Thank you Katie! We love demon trains too!
Check out the game for yourself and let us know what you think about the Demon Trains.
Get Train Conductor 2: USA on the Android Market