Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I’d like to start looking at what makes Triple-A games so successful and whether there is a lesson to be learned for designers of flash games and casual games.

I’m going to start with DragonAge Origins, because that’s what I’m playing at the moment. NOTE: Spoilers ahead if you’re not at least a few hours into the game.

It’s just another fantasy game. You know, elves, dwarves, humans, spells, you know the routine. But if it’s just another fantasy game, how come it’s up for RPG of the year?

I’ll pick out three things about this game and the first is pedigree. That’s right, DragonAge is made by Bioware and to Bioware fans, that already means the game is expected to be good. Bioware has developed (note, I didn’t say mastered) the art of crafting an excellent RPG experience. That means finding the right balance between a great combat system, a compelling story and character development. Bioware uses what has worked in previous games to make their current games better and that’s smart.

Speaking of a great story, that’s the second point I like about this game. The story is dark fantasy and takes chances. A standout point for me was becoming a grey warden – you went through the ritual of drinking demon blood with two other apprentices, but none of the other apprentices made it, they died in the ritual. I just thought this was a great twist and brought home the point that a lot of characters are going to die, including ones you have formed a bond with. And you can’t ignore the story and skip through the dialog because you will screw yourself up. DragonAge can be unforgiving.

The last thing and the one I wish to focus on is choice. Bioware obviously figured that giving gamers choice is a large part of what makes their games successful. So in DA:O, they give you a choice from the very beginning. If you haven’t played it yet, there are six different ways to begin the game. The story has a customized feel to it all the way through. Playing as an Elven Mage, I was constantly coming across dialogs and situations that I obviously wouldn’t encounter if I was playing a dwarf or a rogue.

Bioware has always specialized in branching conversations and they’ve taken it a step further here. You’ll find yourself having conversations that last for a good five minutes! And somehow they’ve made it interesting enough that you WANT to engage in a five-minute conversation with a computer-controlled character.

I think I spotted a trick, though. Many of the conversations have only two outcomes (for example, settle the issue amiably or fight) or even one outcome. But there are many pathways to get to these two outcomes. In other words, they are giving you the illusion of choice. Why is this a good thing? Because it lets you play the way you want to play and act the way you want to act. Here’s a made-up example:

Baddie: Are you threatening me?

Option A: That’s right.
Option B: No. Can’t we talk this over?

Then, no matter which option you have chosen:

Baddie: The time for talking is over! *trigger fight scene*

Okay, so my example is lame! But it shows the illusion of choice. If I want to play the good guy and settle it peacefully, I’m still satisfied because I tried that path. In my ‘real job’, I develop e-learning courses, and we use these types of branching dialogs with limited outcomes extensively. It gives the learner or the gamer a sense of control.

So when was the last time you played a Flash game and felt you had a sense of choice? In fact, when was the last time you played a Flash game and engaged in a dialog? An audio dialog is a stretch for an online game, but a text dialog or at least pop-up speech bubbles would help the player have more of a sense of interaction and immersion. Early PC games were full of these things. We’re starting to see more flash games with an actual story. Let’s take it to the next level!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Six Levels Done

The latest iteration of It's Not Toronto:

There are six playable levels. The finished game will have twenty.

Yet to do:
1 skipcodes so previous players can jump to a certain level
2 enlarge asset library
3 level design 7 - 20
4 smoother jumping movement
5 security check so it can only be played on my own site
6 debugging and testing

Negative Motivation

Tetris for me is probably the greatest game ever made. There is a great story behind the rise of the game, which you can view here.

One of the surprising things for me when I watched the documentary is when they talked about negative motivation in the game. We are usually taught that positivity is king and game design should always feature positive motivation. For example, you should big up the fx when the player levels up or collects a coin. When a player dies, don’t rub his face in it by glorifying the death with OTT special effects and a huge grinning skull.

Yet Tetris does it the other way around.

In Tetris, your failures are right there in your face, taunting you – all those gaps you failed to fill. Yet when you finally succeed, and you line up a row of blocks, your victory is short-lived indeed. The row of blocks disappears in an instant and you are back to your seemingly impossible task. You will never win; the blocks will always keep coming. Faster and faster until they consign you to your doom.

Recently, I was surprised to see my game Drench getting a lot of attention. When I thought about it, Drench is also based on negative motivation. Victory is fleeting – you clear the board and then, an instant later, you have an even harder one to clear. You start with 30 moves and the next level is 29 moves and so on. You can never win – you can never clear the board in 1 move or 0 moves. Maybe this is what makes Drench so popular.

Lesson learned.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Games of 2009

Here are the games I played in 2009:

1 The Force Unleashed
2 Fable 2
3 Medal of Honor: Airborne
4 Fallout 3
5 Gears of War 2
6 Batman: Arkham Asylum
7 Rainbow 6: Las Vegas
8 Command and Conquer: Tiberium Wars
9 DragonAge: Origins

All good games! The best for me were Fallout, Gears, Batman, C&C and DragonAge.

What a great year for games and next year there's even more gaming bliss. Borderlands and Assassin's Creed 2 are waiting to be played. Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2 will be out soon.


Here's a preview of the game I'm working on:

It's a platformer, yay, I've always wanted to put together a decent platformer. And it's got blocks, of course.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Spack Invaders

I'm working on a new retro space game called 'Spack Invaders'. Hope to post an advanced prototype within a day or two.

Command and Conquer 3

I'm playing the second of my bargain basement games: Command and Conquer 3 for the 360.

People told me that it wouldn't be fun to play a RTS game with a controller and I had my doubts. It is tough, but doable. Like everything else, you get used to it.

As for the game itself, I breezed through the levels on Medium difficulty until I got to Croatia. Croatia killed me. I'm always worst at the defend-against-the-onslaught missions and this one has a double whammy. You're told to hold out for two minutes until reinforcements arrive, but when they arrive, you have to actually go and rescue them on the other side of the city. You can't build any more buildings until you do.

I got creamed a few times, so I'm taking a breather and I'll try again tonight.

Tiberium wars, ladies and gentlmen.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rainbow Six Las Vegas

After finishing Batman: Arkham Asylum on the 360, I picked up a 'bargain bin' game called Rainbow Six Las Vegas.

It took me a while to get into it, but once you get going, this is a good game. The graphics show the game's age, but the gameplay is tight. You command a three man squad and you have to get your tactics right to defeat terrorists who have taken over several casinos in Las Vegas.

The fun part of the game is setting up assaults using your team. You can storm a room using a variety of explosive devices and you can outflank enemies on two sides using your squad. Like Gears of War, there is a run-and-cover system that gives you time to plot your next assault.

The main weak point in the game is that the checkpoints are spaced far apart. It should autosave after a major battle, but it doesn't, which is annoying but also gives you more to play for.

This was big release back in the day. If you can spot it in the bargain bin like I did, pick it up - you won't regret it.

Agent Orange

Finally, I've completed a new game: Agent Orange.

Like Escapoids, it's based on the Drench game model (which got good reviews). You guide the hero around the maze, this time turning blocks orange as you go along.

It's an original idea for a game. Will people like it? Let's see.

The game can be played at

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

I was planning to buy Prototype but the guys at my local games shop talked me into buying this instead (and those guys know their games.)

I'm not a big Batman fan but I love the gothic feel of the game. Essentially, Joker has taken over a lunatic asylum and is throwing a 'party' for Batman. The game is a lot of fun and it's easy to pick up and play; it's got a short learning curve.

My only gripe is that it is a bit easy. I'm 28% of the way through and I haven't faced any real challenges, even though the boss fights are ... tricky, but not tough. You get lots of hints, too. I guess I should have played it on difficult level.

Anyway, it's not enough to put me off the game and the storyline is pretty cool. All in all, I would suggest this game for people like me: people who don't play superhero games but would like to try something different.

Playing it on the 360, of course.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Current Projects

I'm working on two current projects:

1 A tutorial on how to set up a word scramble game in AS3

2 A new game that involves manipulating blocks in order to roll across an obstacle course. It's in its early stages. Previous to this, I worked on a couple of game concepts but decided not to flesh them out.

I'm still trying for that 'killer game': the next Tetris.

Speaking of Tetris, this documentary is an absolute MUST for game designers. It's awesome:


Escapoids is a game that I completed a short while ago.

Although it is based on an earlier game, Drench, I redid it from scratch because Drench was done in AS2, and Escapoids in AS3. Escapoids is the first game for me where all the code is held externally in .as and class files. It felt odd to code that way at first but I'm getting used to it.

Play Escapoids here

Play Drench here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tutorial: How to build a quiz in AS3

Right then, for those who are interested in this sort of thing, I have written a detailed tutorial on how to build a quiz in AS3.

You can access the tutorial here:

This tutorial also shows a practical way to read data from an XML file into a quiz. It would make a good hands-on project for someone who knows a tiny bit of flash but wants to learn more.

The source files are all there, so anyone who wants to 'help themselves' can go ahead. Feel free.

Ciao for now.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I've been putting together a new game and the prototype can be viewed here:

It's still really rough. Trust me, it will look better when it's done.

I've been wanting to post tutes as I learn more AS3 myself, but I have to admit that I still don't feel confident enough. Before AS3 came out, I thought I had mastered AS2, but AS3 is a real shock.

If anyone has no idea what I'm talking about, flash games are programmed in Actionscript 3. And it's a bugger for even the most simple things. The payoff should be better performance. I've always wanted to program a 'bullet hell' genre game, but AS2 couldn't handle it in terms of performance.

Back to Voxx, my new game. The original concept was to have a cross between a block puzzler and a shooter. That didn't quite work out, so it's going to be a good old-fashioned space shooter, top scrolling. Fun!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gameloop Tutorial

Okay, so it's time to post the first of what I hope will be many game design tutorials. I thought I would start with the game loop, which is a basic building block of just about every game.

Rather than post the tutorial here, I've just put it up on my site along with the fla file.

Click here to check it out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nanopedes is finished

I have finished my 'reinterpretation' of Centipede and you can play it at

I estimated that it would take about ten hours to finish; well, it took a little bit longer but not too much. I'm happy with the finished product. The controls are smooth and the gameplay is nice. I'll get some feedback from players and decide if any more tweaking is in order.

A few posts ago, I mentioned I would post some code, but I decided against it in the end since I coded this in AS2 and I think everyone has switched to AS3 by now. Me, too. Starting from now, all my projects will be in AS3 and I promise to post some code and hopefully some tutes, too.

Here are some pics of the game:

Fallout 3

My latest obsession on the Xbox360 is Fallout 3.

Set in the post-apocalyptic surroundings of Washington DC, you play a character who has only recently escaped the underground vault or fallout shelter that you grew up in to brave the perils of the wastelands for the first time.

An RPG with a compelling story and lots of tongue-in-cheek humor, Fallout 3 is a blast of a game. The gameworld is huge and I reckon a full playthrough without exploring everything would take 80 - 100 hours. In other words, know what you're getting yourself into before you start on this game.

The combat in Fallout 3 is a kind of real-time turn-based system called VATS that allows you to target parts of the opponent's body and uses 'action points' as a means of controlling the turns. It's a bit hard to explain here, but it's a lot of fun and it doesn't become tedious (compared to the combat in Fable 2, for example).

I, personally, was a big fan of Fallout 2 and surprisingly Fallout 3 is very similar to Fallout 2 in many ways. If you played the previous game and liked it, it's a sure bet you'll like the new version.

I give this game a 9.7 out of 10, I think it's awesome.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Progress on Nanopedes Game

I found the time to do a bit more work on my Nanopedes game. The latest working version is at:

What I have done since the last time is:

1 Add an instructions page
2 The player can die and has three lives
3 Add a scoring system
4 Add a mechanism to control the level - how many nanopedes, what type and what speed
5 Add a feature that when the head is shot, the next section regenerates as a head - this was a tricky bit

The next things to do will be

1 Add a mechanism for levelling up
2 Come up with more enemies

At the moment, when you lose all three lives, you go to a page that says Game Stats. Game Psychology 101 states that it is not good to end a game players experience with failure - the classic 'you lose' screen. So I hope by adding a game stats page, I can shift the focus to what the player has achieved in the game rather than the failure of having been killed. A bit touchy-feely, I know, but this stuff is important.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Game in Progress: Nanopedes

I've started on a new game for, which I'll call Nanopedes. It's based on the classic centipede game, but with a twist, of course.

The first thing that I did was to see what other Flash adaptations of Centipede are out there and surprisingly there's not much. A quick 'digg' turned up this version which is faithful to the original, but seems to be too fast and why is the screen size so small?

My idea was to have smoother motion, vector graphics and a 'lazy' kind of gameplay that casual gamers like. I thought I would call it 'nanopedes' and instead of one big centipede, I could have lots of small ones on the screen at the same time. Then I could play around and have different types of nanopedes in different colors with slightly different behaviors. When you level up, you meet different 'pedes and the speed increases. Sounds like fun and not too difficult to do. I estimate it will take me about ten hours to complete.

About 1 - 2 hours into the process, this is what I have:

So far, I have designed the 'hero' (but I think it needs redesigned), the basic nanopede and the mushrooms I got from a vector pack. I have done the movement of the hero (unfinished), added the ability to shoot 'lazy' bullets, the ability of the bullets to hit the mushrooms and hit the nanopede. I have put in the basic AI of the nanopede (unfinished), and I have designed a basic logo and into page.

So far, I think it's looking good. It has a nice feel to it and I'm happy with the speed and the playability. The only difficult bit is the movement of the nanopede around the mushrooms and the basics of that is done. And would you believe that it weighs in less than 7K?

I want to add some tutes to this blog, so I'll be posting snippets of code later. But that will have to wait for another day, since it's almost lunchtime!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Balloon Headed Boy

Because I have a flash game portal at, a lot of people send me games hoping that I will put them up on my site. Although I only feature my own games (made with blood, sweat and tears) on flashbynight, I thought I might post links to games of interest here.

Here's one I received the other day. (Click the image to play the game.) It's called Balloon Headed Boy.

I'm a real sucker for platform games and, after an overly long intro, this one looks pretty slick. The movement and interaction has a nice feel to it. It's not without its issues, but if you're looking for a platform gaming time waster, this could be it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Medal of Honor: Airborne

I just finished playing Medal of Honor: Airborne on the 360. It's a bit of an older game (in gaming terms), but it's one I always wanted to play but never got around to. I got it from the bargain bin.

The two previous MOH games I tried were top notch and Airborne was excellent, too. The developers put a lot of work into the enemy AI and it showed. It's not the kind of game where you can run through blasting at things. Do that and you'll get your head blown off in a matter of seconds. You have to take your time, strategize and work with the rest of the team.

The standout level was the last one: Der Flakturm. See the pictures below; the one on the top is the real Der Flakturm (flak tower) and the one on the bottom is the game version. Cool, huh? It's a massive tower that you have to fight your way through and it's filled with elite troops at every turn. You can start the battle at the top, bottom or middle of the tower, since you drop in by parachute.

MOH: Airborne is highly recommended for hardcore WWII action, especially if you see it sitting in the bargain bin, like me.