Nieuwe Aarde Postmortem

2010, May 3rd 5:22 PM

So. Nieuwe Aarde, that game I made for Ludum Dare in 48 hours.

This is going to be one of the toughest postmortems I've written.

What Worked

Well, first of all, it's fun. I'm getting a lot of commentary saying that they enjoyed figuring it out and that they think it's an enjoyable game overall. That's cool. I seem to have done a good job with the base game mechanics and the interface, I'm having very few people tell me that they simply couldn't figure it out.

The art, while not spectacular, is servicable and nonconfusing. The game feel is consistent. The tooltips work absolutely great for explaining the concepts.

I also appear to have nailed the difficulty. I've had a few complaints that it's way too easy, and a few complaints that it's way too hard, but the bulk seems to fall into the categories of "it's tough, but I beat it" and "it's tough, and I didn't beat it, but I think I could have if I'd put more time into it."

For doing it within 48 hours, it turned out great. Compare it to my earlier games – I spent a third as much time on this one, and I think it turned out better. My tools are maturing like you wouldn't believe and I'm just getting faster and more skilled at this whole thing.

So, in summary, I made a good game.

What Didn't Work

The problem is that I didn't make the game I wanted to.

The original goal was Desktop Dungeons meets Seafarers of Catan. Desktop Dungeons is a clever small-scale dungeon crawler which is designed so that almost every single move is critically important. Sure, you can get a nice lead, but that lead can be whittled down rapidly by bad luck. Doing "as well as you can" is critical, every step of the way, and each time you click it had better be the right click.

Nieuwe Aarde doesn't succeed in that. You'll spend a large part of the game clicking "Work" over and over, for example. Clicking a few too many times? Totally okay! Building the wrong thing entirely? You can probably recover! There's very little that has to be timed exactly, and the game design itself isn't conducive to the sort of miniature puzzle where you're trying to scrape out the last little possible iota of advantage.

I still think it may be possible, but if I want to do it, I'm going to have to start from basics again.

The Bottom Line

I made a fun game, but I made the wrong game. I'm not really sure whether I want to call this a success or not.

On the other hand, I made a fun game. If this is failure, I wouldn't mind failing more often.

Nieuwe Aarde

2010, April 25th 3:45 PM

The planet is dying.

Monsters raise themselves out of the ocean monthly. The skies themselves blacken.

You, and your civilization, have but one choice: amass enough magical power to leap across the starless void, to another, safer planet. But you're racing against time – every day the attacks get stronger.

The planet is dying, and it's taking you with it.

Ludum Dare competition page and voting

Windows (.zip version available)
Mac OSX (10.6 or higher)

Nieuwe Aarde was made for Ludum Dare 17, a 48-hour game development competition. Yeah, that's right, my normal week-long development process was compressed into two days.


The theme for this event was Islands, and so Islands is what I did! Nieuwe Aarde was inspired by Desktop Dungeons and Seafarers of Catan, and I feel like I've made a reasonably coherent little single-player strategy game with a whole pile of tooltips.

Postmortem up in a few days. Time to start on the next project!

3.5 Hours Of Development

2010, April 23rd 10:40 PM

Thought I'd give you a quick peek of my next short project, as well as an idea of what this stuff looks like early on.

I bet you want to know what those buttons do, don't you? Well they don't do anything whatsoever. You push them, they highlight, and then nothing happens.

But this is what 3.5 hours of development gets me. Tomorrow I'll hook the buttons up to work, and then see if the game design works. Might work. Might not. We'll see!

Robert Recurring Postmortem

2010, April 23rd 5:55 PM

I should probably get this done before I finish another game.

What Went Right and What Went Wrong

This was a very focused game. I started working on gameplay and I pretty much ended working on gameplay. There's no graphics, no sound, and the game does suffer from it a bit. The gizmos started to look too similar – many of them are based on the same texture, only differently textured and shaped, and that really isn't enough. They should look more different and they should stand out better than they do, the wall texture is just too distracting.

The gameplay I think I pretty much nailed. Or, rather, I nailed it as much as I could within a week. I'm actually still coming up with ways to mathematically describe the levels, and I think I could make even more interesting game layouts. I managed to abuse Lua in some exciting ways that I hadn't done before, and it turned out really really well – I'm finally getting my dev environment set up so I can do extremely complex stuff easily, and that is just damn cool.

The Bottom Line

I continue to be excited about this game, and this is one of the few that I've felt possibly worthy of being fleshed out into something bigger. That said, I've got like two other games queued up before I'll have a chance to come back to it, possibly more. So we'll see! We'll see.

It's on the Short List.

Robert Recurring

2010, April 14th 12:53 PM

It's that time of month again! The time for games.

Robert Recurring is a side-scrolling puzzle game that is arguably about time travel. No, I did not remake Braid. It is about a different time travel gimmick than Braid.

Windows (.zip version available)
Mac OSX (10.6 or higher)

I know what you're saying. "Oh, this game looks terrible! He must have given up again." No, on the contrary – I ended up spending the entire week working on really fascinating game mechanics, and I've got half a dozen ideas that I didn't have time to get to. Lots of design ideas = no graphics. You don't get graphics.

Graphics aren't for you.

Let me know what you think.

GT Multitude

2010, February 18th 5:53 PM

I had an idea for a game design. It turned out to be . . . shall we say . . . dubious.

Windows (.zip version available)
Mac OSX (10.6 or higher)

I'll just write up a postmortem here.

The theme for this month was Rejection. The idea I had was to take some basic swarming behavior, then make the creatures in the swarm gradually pay less attention to you. Your "livelihood" depended on influencing your friendly swarm creatures, and thus, as they ignored you, you'd die.

The problem with behaviors of this sort is that it's tough to accomplish both "interesting behavior" and "sufficiently controllable with the user". Even in the current version – the best balance I was able to get – some of the interesting swarm mechanics go away when the user gets close. I had some versions where the player was fundamentally unable to interact with the creatures in a predictable manner, I had some versions where the creatures essentially became mindless slaves of the user.

Fundamentally, I wasn't able to come up with any really interesting mechanics. Nothing I did was fun, and I didn't find myself enjoying playing my own game. That's a bad sign.

I don't think anything really went directly wrong with this – it was an experimental concept, and it didn't pan out. These things happen. Hopefully next month will be a little more successful.

So hey been a while. Let's get this thing wrapped up.

I've gotten a curiously small amount of commentary on this game, and I'm not quite sure why. Doesn't give me a lot to go on, and it worries me that, perhaps, I did something wrong that I will be unable to figure out.

Who knows!

What Went Right

I decided to tackle hardware shaders and higher-end graphical effects in this game. Overall I think this was an amazing success – there are a lot of effects in this game that are done entirely via hardware and on the graphics card, and the game comes across much better thanks to those. In fact, even something as simple as the lit-up paths are hardware processed. Wonderfully powerful and I'll be using similar stuff in the future as needed. Huge success.

I feel that the sound effects turned out great as well, which is surprising because I maybe spent two hours on sound for the entire game. I wasn't intending to end up with such a meditative soundscape but that's kind of what happened, and I really rather enjoy it. Happy accident there.

The basic game design . . . I'm a little uncertain. I've had a few people suggest that it would be better with a touchscreen interface and a countdown, and I think that might be true – the "falling tiles" behavior doesn't lend much of interest to the gameplay. However, the actual idea, linking things via wires one way or another, seems to be pretty dang fun. I think it's got potential for tweaks and improvements.

What Went Wrong

Nobody anywhere has commented about the achievements. Did people not notice them? Did people not care about them? I have no clue! Tell me what you thought of them, or even if you noticed. The idea was to give people suggestions towards things that might increase their score, or towards things that they might not have thought of – essentially encouraging people to explore the bounds of the game mechanics. Hopefully it worked.

The hardware shaders ended up turning into a huge code and efficiency problem, and I ended up spending a week before the game making them work, plus a week after the game making them work fast. Ugh. On top of that I'm still getting frequent crash reports. I'm not sure if this is thanks to the hardware shaders or what – I'll have to instrument some codepaths better to figure out where this crash is coming from. It may simply be that a lot of people are trying to run this game on low-end graphics systems.

I also still don't have OSX crash reports working.

I didn't have time to play around with the game mechanics much further. I wanted to have things like "score doublers" that you could drop in, that would double any points gotten "through" that link. Didn't happen. I had some ideas about ways to modify the board layout after placing pieces, or letting the player stash a piece. Didn't happen. This game was a huge time crunch from beginning to end, and I'm glad I did it because I ended up with some great infrastructure in place, but the game design suffered.

The Bottom Line

I feel like I've made my prettiest and most atmospheric game yet. That's cool. I feel like the game design itself was kind of a failure, and I'm pretty much just gonna be moving on to whatever's next.

Which, lately, has been an iPhone port. Getting close to the point where I can (relatively) easily build iPhone games!

My word this one was tougher than I'd expected.

Windows (.zip version available)
Mac OSX (10.6 or higher)

Things I've learned: hexagons suck.

This game makes far heavier use of graphics card hardware than any I've done before. Report any problems! With luck, there won't be any. Luck is not something I have had during the design of this game.

I'm tweaking the terms of my Monthly Game slightly. March is going to be insanely busy thanks to GDC and PAX, both of which I'll be attending, so I might not get a game done in March. If I don't, I'll get two done in April.

Leave commentary on the game. As usual, I'll be posting a postmortem in a week or so.

Andre Copperman Picture Panic! Postmortem

2010, January 4th 3:20 AM


The original goal for this game was to rip off the Drawing minigame in Kirby Canvas Curse, then play with it a lot to see if I could come up with neat variations.

Fundamentally, I couldn't. Ironically I've gotten a lot of really good ideas since finishing it. SO IT GOES.

One problem I hadn't anticipated, however, is the issue with the user's control scheme. People who use trackpads didn't generally like the game or do well. People who use tablets generally liked the game and did really well. Tablet users might be, in general, more artistic in the first place, but I think some of this is thanks to trackpads being really really awful for this game style.

I'm not sure what a solution to this is. I should maybe just have added a screen at the beginning saying "plug a mouse in you doofus".


The game balance is more subtle than you'd expect. Scoring is done by taking the average distance-squared between each of your drawn points and the closest point to it on the pattern, then adding the reverse of that, from the pattern to your points. I quickly realized that the big simple patterns ended up vastly harder than the small ones due to how large errors tended to be. The solution was to send a beta copy to all my friends and get them to play through all the levels, then average their scores for each level and use that as a scaling factor.

The spiral ended up being the "toughest" in terms of scaling, while the rabbit crouching next to a bed was the "simplest".

However, once I'd done this, it just worked. A was tough, A+ was very tough. User balance: it's a good thing!

The background color. This seems like a silly small thing, but the game completely opened up when I added the background image and I was no longer making gameplay while floating in a sea of black. Every other game I've made has started with a black screen. I think I'm going to start with a non-black screen on the next one and see what happens.

This is going to sound silly, but I really feel like the big thing I got out of this game was the background color issue. I think that's been a recurring issue in a lot of my games, and I'm going to fix it, starting now. And by "starting now" I mean "I already know what my next game is, and I'm going to start working on it real soon now, no more five-days-before-the-end-of-the-month for me!"


I'm getting better at this. I think I did a good job of the atmosphere in Andre Copperman, and the game ended up roughly how I intended. I didn't come up with clever gameplay elements but I made a fun game and that's what I was going for.

As a side note, can anyone with OSX 10.5 let me know if the build worked? I've gotten a bunch of reports of it working on 10.6, and exactly one report about 10.5 (didn't work.) I don't yet know if this was a fluke or some actual incompatibility.

Andre Copperman Picture Panic!

2009, December 27th 12:44 PM

Well, here we are again. This month's theme is Art Game, and I've provided you with a game that is all about the process of making art.

And appropriately, this is the first game of mine that includes OSX support. We now have even more download options than we did before!


Windows .zip for those who dislike installing things.

Let me know whether the OSX version works, and what version of OSX you're running it on. It hasn't been very extensively tested.

As usual, commentary coming in a few days.