Game Analysis: Elemental

I think I’ll settle into a weekly Game Analysis for now. Have to head out of town for a week, so until next week, here’s Elemental. It’s a very polished little tetris-esque game. The most puzzling technical aspect is that it’s limited to 640 x 480 resolution. That’s pretty unusual these days.

The game works hard to give you that “you are playing a polished game!” feel, which is crucial, especially during the first 5 minutes of gameplay. The menus, though simple, feel really good because of the sound effects they use. It almost sounds like you’re playing a melody as you traverse the game’s menus. Very nice!

On the other hand, the multiplayer simply didn’t work at all when I was trying the game. That was a couple weeks ago, so maybe it’s fixed now?

Read the Full Analysis of Elemental

�Elemental Screenshot

Elemental screenshot

Game Analysis: Galapago

Today we analyze a pretty little match-3 clone called Galapago. It’s nothing too special, just a clean and simple match-3 clone. By far the best thing about this game is the easter egg on the main game screen: the heads can talk, and one of them says very funny things. I was surprised at how much improved my opinion of the game was just due to this entertainment factor.

Another interesting aspect of Galapago is its menu — the main menu also doubles as a level-selection screen. After you beat a level, you return to the main menu, where you can pick another level, or quit your gaming session. It feels very clean, albeit simple.

I ponder this and much more in the full analysis of…

Galapago

A quick casual game clone earns you $30k to $40k?

Gamezebo points to an interesting article on casual game clones. One of the most interesting things in it, to me, is an off-hand comment made by someone in the article:

“You feel a little bit dirty, but you know that if you can make some money — maybe $30,000 to $40,000 on a clone, which is actually a pretty decent return on your small investment of maybe $5,000 to 6,000 — you can then go out and build the game you really care about.”

Really? $30k to $40k for a straight clone? That’s awesome. One of the most frustrating things about the casual game market is that if you’re a new company publishing with a big portal site, there’s no way to know how much money to expect. Nobody will tell you. And the thing is, they can’t. Their contracts disallow it. So even when I find out how much my game makes, I won’t be able to tell you. That’s why I am always on the lookout for numbers that give any sort of clue about what a high-end, professional casual game might make.

The article has other tidbits — read it here:

In casual games, imitation is no flattery

Do’s and Don’ts #1: Do Support Left Handed Mouse Mode

And now I can start dispensing advice and criticism! Woo. I feel bloggy already. First up, a bug that was mentioned in my analysis of Treasures of the Deep, but one which is present in many 3D games: they don’t support left-handed mouse users! The Control Panel option to swap mouse buttons isn’t new or wacky; it’s been there since the early 16-bit Windows versions. Not all lefties use this option, but many do.

When I start playing a game that doesn’t support swapped mouse buttons, I don’t realize it at first. I think, “that’s weird, the game isn’t responding.” I click on buttons and nothing happens. It takes a bit to realize what’s wrong. In the mean time, my first impression is that the game is broken.

I would never consider buying a game that didn’t support left handed mouse mode. It’s not spite or prejudice or anything … but think about it from the right handed point of view. If you downloaded a game and the mouse buttons were reversed, so you had to right-click on buttons to use them, your impression of the game would be pretty low, wouldn’t it? That’s how I feel.

If you use mouse messages like WM_LBUTTONDOWN for input, you don’t have to do anything to support lefty mouse mode. The operating system will take care of it for you! This is why 2D games tend to support lefty mouse even if the author didn’t think of it. However, if you’re using DirectInput for your mouse data, you have to check for swapped mice manually.

It is incredibly trivial to support lefty mouse mode in DirectX applications. You just make one single function call:

BOOL IsMouseSwapped = GetSystemMetrics(SM_SWAPBUTTON);

If this boolean is true, then simply swap the logic for your left mouse button and right mouse button handlers. That’s it! Ta da, you’ve made your game not suck for left handed users.

Next game analysis: Treasures of the Deep

I have a bunch of conclusions I want to share about the various games I’ve analyzed so far, but it seems silly to talk about the conclusions before I’ve posted the data. So all this week I’ll be putting up game analyses. It’ll be a while before there’s enough games up that I can draw conclusions from them, but I would at least like to have example games to talk about when I make various points!

Here’s analysis #2: a break-out type game called:

Treasures of the Deep

Treasures of the Deep

Treasures of the Deep

Hello world!

Hi! I’m Eric Heimburg and I’ve been creating video games for the casual audience for about a year, give or take. Before that, I was a developer of larger video games. During my time in the games industry, I’ve been an engineer, a producer, and a systems designer, so I found I had a lot of ideas about how to make casual games. When I had the opportunity to try my hand at it, I took it!

As of this writing, I do not have a game published. My first game is finished, and the publishing contract is signed, but it is in limbo awaiting QA. My fingers are crossed that I’ll soon have a million bazillion dollars. Actually, I don’t even bother to hope that. I just hope I make enough money that I can afford to make a second game!

If not, it’s back to the massive game teams for me. No more waking up at 11pm and working until 2am… well, okay, I guess I did that a lot on actual game teams. But it’s different now! Trust me. We’ll explore all about how it’s different, and why, in this blog. But more importantly, we’ll explore how to make casual games, and we’ll examine casual games and see what makes them tick.

I’m a big fan of learning by example, and there are plenty of example games to study! Every week I’ll put up an analysis of a different casual game. But these reviews have a special target: they’re aimed squarely at other casual game developers. They will use lots of screen shots and technical details to help give you a solid picture of the game’s innards. Let’s get started, shall we? Time for the first game analysis!