Cat Rats from Space was developed within 10 very crunchy weeks. I developed a a prototype to test the basic gameplay and then I moved to unity an started all over again. Shooting by tapping on one side of the screen to hit target, spawning on the opposite side. Enemies would get harder and harder and the players goal was simply to achieve a new high score. The game that I shipped had various enemy types that the player would fight on 6 different stages.
Core Mechanic: Shooting
Goal Hierarchy: Get Highscore / Progress, Eliminate Enemies
Obstacles: Enemies ( Different Enemy Types, Bossfights, Increasing Difficulty)
Key Take Aways
Optimize Game Data Import
As a Designer, I want the Idea-to-Feedback time to be as short as possible. This basically is the feedbackloop on which a Game Designer operates on. Change the system / tweak a component or mechanic, test it in-game, evaluate the result, come up with the next step, and then repeat. Often these tweaks are done in excel. If I would be having the perfect setup & pipleline it would work like this:
I add a new enemy in excel, give him some HP, a shield with 5 charges and a speed of 3. I press a button, Unity opens up, loading a level with that enemy and I can fight it.
Unfortunately I am not there yet. And actually, in Cat Rats from Space I terribly failed achieving this this. But at least I had some learnings that will help me to get a bit closer in the next iteration:
- Don’t care about Data-Import in early Prototype mode too early
- The ingame assets should be simply recreated from the imported data (I had a mixed approach where I would UPDATE or ADD stuff to existing Prefabs and of course that when terribly wrong since the added complexity is prone to errors and problem)
- Only import data and create assets from code where it is actually needed. Naturally there will be parts of the game which you will iterate more, and some that you only touch a few times, setting up the data import is only necessary for things that are going to change often and that you want to test often. Evaluate first, if the means justify the effort!
Nail Down the Design
Changing direction once you are in production can set the project back quite a bit. So I can not stress this enough. You never want to change the design once you have starting building it. Yes, games are all about iterating, testing and improving. But, the heavy lifting in that regard, should be done in the prototyping phase. This is where you find out into what direction the game is going and define the very core of it. Long Story short. In the middle of working on the game, I switch from procedural enemy wave & level generation to an static one. This did not only affect the balancing and the design, also a huge chunk of the code had to be rewritten.
Tools Tools Tools
Since this was the first game that was actually planning to release – I was faced some unique challenges along the way that I hadn’t encountered previously. To keep iteration cycles as fast as possible it is crucial to develop and maintain tools for an efficient content creation and game-data import. Yes, it takes a lot of time out of the budget, but it will soon pay off. Even in this game, that doesnt haven’t have a huge amount of content I was glad that I had spent that time.
Post Launch is a full time Job
Not really news to anyone who is working in the business. But, just putting a game out there doesn’t mean that anyone will actually play it. Unless you hope on being as lucky as Dong Nguyen, the creator of Flappy birds, promoting the game after or while launching it, is tough job that requires full attention. And that work should start before the game is finished! The intention of Cat Rats in Space was never to reach a mass audience and generate any money – but by just uploading it to the store and telling friends / families / colleagues and fellow students, the game has got about 50 downloads in 1 year. Of which 30 were organic installs.