Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gumball Fall Needs a Facelift... STAT!

Version 0.10.0 Released:

GumBall Fall v0.10.0: Web Player | AndroidGoogle Play BETA | Google+

Functional is great. Pretty and functional is even better...

Major Changes since v0.9:

  • Complete visual overhaul (except for Tutorial Screens. They’ll be revamped in a future revision)
  • Player and Leaderboard stats reset
  • Scoring scheme tweaks:
    • 4 Chain = Omni Ball. Omni ball can be added to any chain
    • 5 Chain = Bomb Ball drop. Select a Bomb Ball to collect all gumballs around it
    • 6 Chain = All gumballs of selected color removed from board
  • Bomb Ball
    • Blast radius reduced
    • Model updated to actually look like a bomb (thanks Bryan!)
  • Number of gumballs in game reduced from 63 to 56

I've openly admitted on more than one occasion that art is not my calling. Whenever I set out on a new game creating adventure, one of the things that I know will always be lacking is the artwork in my game. With that said, I find joy in attempting to push my artistic boundaries to make the best art I'm capable of making. Part of the fun of development is to see what I'm capable of creating with the talents that I have.

The Facelift:

Phase One of my art upgrade happened several releases ago. My art moved from a stale all-black motif to a gumball-pink motif complete with Frank, the (lovable? annoying?) gumball-corralling bunny. If nothing else, the game took on a bit more personality and was a (small?) step in the right direction.

Needless to say, the art was far from perfect. The pink drew many comments along the lines of "that color hurts my eyes!" The font was deemed difficult to read, in part, due to the various font sizes I was using as well as the fact that some words were (accidentally) using the incorrect font face. And, the background (in all of its pink glory) was "too bland."  To make things worse, folks were still having difficulty navigating through the GUI.

As a result, I've gutted and revamped the entire GUI. While the jury is still out on a few aspects, early feedback is positive. The presentation is nicer. The font is consistent in both size and face across the game. And, most importantly, folks are having a much easier time navigating through the GUI.

They say a picture's worth a 1,000 words. So, here's 5000 words worth of before-and-after screenshots:
The Main Menu

The Summary Screen seen after you've wrapped up a round

The Scores and Stats screen where you can check out the leaderboards

The revamped Moves Chaos game in action

The revamped Timed Order game in action

Scoring (v0.4):

Release v0.9 introduced version v0.3 of my scoring system. Instead of a potentially difficult to understand rolling bonus, I introduced the idea of receiving Bonus Balls for creating long chains. After just a few days in the wild, and thanks to a great set of testers, I quickly discovered that the scoring system was woefully unbalanced. Under the correct set of conditions, folks were getting scores in the 200,000+ range while others were stuck in the 1,000 range. Needless to say, this situation couldn't stand. While it was great to see high-score strategies emerge, the system let to comments along the lines of "there's too much thinking involved now," and feelings of never being able to compete with the top players.

As Gumball Fall is geared toward being a casual game, "thinking too hard" isn't something I want to hear. With that said, I still like the concept of the more tangible Bonus Ball rewards vs the old rolling bonus system. As a result, the reward system has been tweaked in an attempt to add more 'casual fun' back into the game as well as reduce the unbalanced nature of the previous scoring system.  Only time will tell what more tweaks will need to be done to the system... or if the system will have to be scrapped and stated anew.

Shout Out:

After several hours of attempting to learn the basics of the 3D modeling program Blender, I had all but given up hope of ever being able to create even the most basic 3D models for my game. I barely succeeded in UV unwrapping a simple sphere and had several failed attempts at creating a simple 'cartoon bomb' to add to my game.

What took me hours of work to attempt, my friend Bryan was able to whip together in 10 minutes. Thanks to him, I now have a proper looking 'cartoon bomb' in my game. Maybe one day I'll master (or at least become competent in) using Blender. Until then, I'll just have to keep bugging Bryan for my simple 3D modeling needs.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bonus Scores (v3.0) and Usability

Version 0.9 Released:

GumBall Fall v0.9: Web Player | Android | PC | Mac | LinuxGoogle Play BETA | Google+

Here's an obvious statement: An unhappy player is a player that isn't going to stick around very long. My goal for this latest round of updates is to directly address some of that player unhappiness.

Major Changes since v0.8:
  • New scoring scheme:
    • 4 Chain = Omni Ball drop. Omni ball can be added to any chain
    • 5 Chain = 2x multiplier drop
    • 6 Chain = Bomb Ball drop. Select a Bomb Ball to collect all gumballs around it
    • 7 Chain = 3x multiplier drop and all balls of same color cleared
  • Cancel move implemented. If you start a chain then decide you no longer want it, simply drag above or below the play area and all will be forgiven
  • Initial Round End warnings - Audio cues now trigger with 10 seconds remaining. More to come
  • New screen layout during actual game play
  • High scores will attempt to re-upload if the server is down (until you exit the game… they they will be lost)
  • More gumballs added. The total now sits at 63 (up from 48). Subject to change!
  • After a move, your score for that move is now displayed

The last couple weeks of work can be broken down into two categories:


Much of the the feedback I've received lately has revolved around usability. Among all the feedback, some general themes stood out: (1) What!?! You have more than one game mode?, (2) I'll love to cancel a move I've started to make! and (3) Dang... I didn't even know my round was almost over!

Many players never realized they were only accessing 25% of my game. Three of the four game modes were left untouched simply because my UI to select these modes wasn't immediately obvious.

The picture on the left shows the 'old' UI, the one on the right, the 'new' UI.

'Old' Mode Select
'New' Mode Select

My hope is that the new UI will draw more attention to itself and hopefully the white vs black motif will aid in understanding what mode is selected and, more importantly, that different modes even exist. Time will tell if more drastic measures need to be taken

The other two themes, canceling moves and round end warnings are, in hindsight, pretty obvious issues that should have been addressed long ago. While I don't feel either is in its final state, they are both functional

There's actually a fourth theme that I've yet to touch on: How the hell did I get that score? That last theme leads me to...

Bonus Scores (v3.0):

Early on, I had a goal to reward players for creating long chains of gumballs. Iteration #1 had the player getting rewarded with a rolling bonus score that would be added to any future chain when they created chains of 4 or greater. Over time, this bonus would automatically decrease which required players to make moves quickly lest they lose out on the bonus. Iteration #2 was an evolution of that system. the rolling bonus grew based on long chains, but, it now only decreased when a player made a move of less than 4. The time pressure was removed from the system, but, the player could now be cheated out of bonus simply because the game board lacked any 4+ size chains.

In addition to the above problem, players simply didn't know what their bonus was at any given time. Sure, it was flashing for them to see at the top of the screen, but, looking at it meant they were losing precious time by not looking at the board. Moreover, players didn't quite understand how the bonus was calculated or why it was decreasing. This resulted in players feeling frustrated.

Introducing Bonus Score System v3.0! I don't know if this will be the final system, but, I think it has a lot of potential. In lieu of implementing any sort of rolling bonus score, I've introduced Bonus Balls into the mix. Creating a chain of 4, 5, 6, or 7+ will drop a unique gumball type associated with that chain length into the game. Additionally, each bonus ball does something different. One type, will let you match it with any other color, another type will multiply the score of the chain its connected with, and another type will simply blow up a bunch of gumballs around it. I'm hoping that this new system will (1) be easier for the player to understand and (2) will add depth to the gameplay as the player now has more choices to make. Like everything else, only time will tell how this change pans out.

My Artistic Abilities... or Lack Thereof:

This blog entry wouldn't be complete without at least a quick mention of the hours I've spent struggling with 3D models and Blender. As mentioned several posts ago, in attempt to take advantage of Batch Draw Calling, I had to abandon the built-in Unity 3D sphere mesh for a lower vertex count version I created in Blender. What I didn't realize at that time is that, by default, Blender doesn't export (or perhaps Unity 3D ignores?) UV map info. So, in Unity 3D, if you attempt to apply a texture to an exported model it won't texture correctly unless you manually unwrap the UV on your model in Blender.

To make a long (and boring) story short. 3D modeling and me are like oil and water, no mater how hard you try to combine the two, we'll never properly mix.