Land War is out there in the wild now (buy it today, it makes a great gift!), and in these post-release days I have quickly learned a couple interesting lessons about indie game design and development. Rather than write a lengthy, high concept post-mortem analysis of the game, I thought it would be best to distill everything I’ve learned into a series of easily digestible articles.
LESSON ONE: Nobody reads the manual.
While I never thought of Land War as a particularly complicated game, I did recognize that there were some unconventional gameplay mechanics in there. Specifically, the mechanic of creating troops to fight for you and upgrading them is not something you see very often in an action game. To this end, I made sure to display the icons that dealt with that business very prominently on the HUD. Still, I knew I had to do more to inform my players how my game works.
This is where I had the brilliant idea to include a “how-to” section in my game. From the main menu of the game, the player can press the “How To Play” button and be given a step by step run down of how the game works. I went with this idea mostly because this is how I had seen it done on most Xbox Live Arcade titles that I’ve played. Indeed, it is Xbox Live store policy that all titles must have a “how-to” section. This made a lot of sense to me, but at the same time I failed to realize something very important: Out of all of the Xbox Live Arcade titles that I’ve played, I have never once actually pressed the “how-to” button.
So it was with my game that nobody who played Land War ever pressed the big “How To Play” button on the main menu, and then would give me the exact same feedback about the game, namely that the game is too hard. Only the game isn’t particularly hard at all. Indeed, I toned down the difficulty significantly for the phone version so that it would be a very casual game. However, if you don’t know about or understand the troop creation mechanic, then even the very first level can in fact be quite difficult or even impossible.
What Land War needed was a first level with a number of HUD popups that would tell first time players what buttons to press, and when to press them. Again, my “how-to” section actually goes over these concepts in detail, but no player is ever actually going to see that so it is a moot point. Lesson learned.
Land War has officially gone on sale on the Windows 8 App Store, the Windows Phone Store, and the Google Play Store (Android).
I made a late term decision to postpone the iPhone variant of Land War. Or, more accurately, I didn’t realize that an actual Mac OS is required to submit an app to the iPhone app store until very, very recently. Worry not, though, as I have my sights set on a Mac Mini in the near future, with which I will be able to port all my games over to the iPhone platform.
What an incredible learning experience this entire release has been. And I know/fear that there will be more learning to come as the release goes on and the game gets into people’s hands. In a week or two I’ll do a postmortem write-up about everything I learned while making and distributing Land War.
What’s next? I will be in full support mode for a few days, I wager, after which I will shift into the final development push for Silent Station (you remember that game, right?).
What a ride this has been.
Oh, how about some links:
Windows Phone Store Land War page: http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/en-us/app/land-war/844d6005-2c51-4b5a-a060-f288b0e26ec3
Google Play Land War page: LINK FORTHCOMING.
Also, now announcing the introduction of an official home for Stingy Hat Games discussion forums. Sign up now: http://stingyhatgames.freeforums.org/
After long last, Land War has finally entered into beta status and is fully feature and content complete.
I’m going to send Land War out to the Windows Store people shortly, who will QA it and get me on track to having it up for sale. As such, this will be the final update to the playable build. On Friday, November 1st, I will permanently remove the playable build from my website. You’ll have to wait for it to come to a device near you to play it after that.
Check it out here (link), and get your feedback in soon!
As a note, the size of the build is starting to put a strain on my website’s bandwidth. The download might take a little while, so be patient.
Another week, another Land War playable alpha. Check it out here.
This week I concentrated on laying some more AI ground work. The AI should path around obstacles on the ground, and just about get around altogether better than before. I still haven’t decided what I want to happen in terms of AI flag defense.
I’m continuing to rework the HUD, only to remove it the next day. I just can’t come up with a style for the HUD that I like, so for now it is very much pure utility and ugly. Mind that.
Also new this week is a reworking of the map select screen, and several different levels can be played.
Perhaps the coolest new feature of this week is the addition of a new unit to call down, the melee unit. You only have access to this unit in the second set of levels (level 6+), so beat the first four levels and the boss stage to start playing with those. The melee unit is faster than the base soldier, but slightly more expensive. He is good for rushing the enemy flag down, but his effective weapons range is extremely low, so he can be a risky purchase.
Check it out.
What can you expect for the next build?
More levels, surely. I also imagine that the AI will be finalized by the end of this week, so expect them to bonsai rush you and defend their flag much smarter than now. There will also be one more new unit for you to play with, and ten more levels.
A new build of the Land War playable alpha has gone up (link).
Changes for this week include a map selection screen. Just click on any of the red ‘X’s and you will load the one and only level. Other additions include the ability for you to upgrade your troops and flag carrier. To upgrade your soldiers or flag carrier, click on the ‘+’ icons on the lower portion of the HUD. If you have the resource points, clicking the ‘+’ icons will spend the points to permanently buff your units.
Right now upgrading your soldiers will allow them to take an extra bullet before going down, while upgrading the flag carrier will make him generate resource points for you at a faster and faster rate. The upgrades system is a major component of the game design, and will force the player to make tough decisions. Saving up for an upgrade is risky, as it means the opponent will be able to field more troops than you and may be able to overwhelm you. On the other hand, an upgrade is a major force multiplier, and a well timed upgrade can absolutely turn the tide of battle in your favor.
Give it a shot and, as always, your feedback is welcome and appreciated.
The Land War public alpha has been updated (link).
This small update includes some minor bug fixes, and adds a major new gameplay component, the Flag Carrier.
Now both teams can spawn a Flag Carrier unit at regular intervals. This unit will run, screaming, across the screen from friendly to enemy territory. The further they get, the more resource points they score for their team.
Check it out!