April 09, 2009

Polar Games: Breakdown

I’m slowly rolling a simple new game out to portals called Polar Games: Breakdown. This was actually a prototype I’d had lying around for ages and ages (originally done in Processing a couple of years ago, then ported to Flash), but never gotten around to finishing. Mochi and Whirled were both running contests that finished at the end of March, so I needed something simple that I could do in about a month. I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground here, but I just loved the idea of wrapping a traditonal grid-based tile game around a circle. I’ve got a few more of these “Polar Games” prototypes that I’ll probably finish up at some point.

Puzzle Mode

The game’s main game mode was always going to be puzzles. I’d hoped to do 100 before releasing the game, but writing the puzzles by hand just proved too time-intensive. Forty puzzles are in the game now, and assuming the game doesn’t tank completely (cough Nibblets cough) I’ll think about continuing on with the final 60 puzzles. In the meantime, though, I hit on the idea of adding a “Daily Puzzle.” Using the date as a random seed, all players will get the exact same puzzle each day. There’s no guarantee that the puzzles will be solvable (most won’t be), but hopefully that adds a little more strategic competion than the longer, more-luck-based Score mode.

Score Mode

The basic mechanics for Score Mode are really not that different from Collapse. I wanted to break away from using a game timer, though, and create something more meditative. Instead of having new blocks come “up” every time a timer finishes, I just have new ones fill in infinitely. The polar bears “judge” your every move, and based on how many tiles you clear will either give bonus health or take away life. As health fades from 25 down to 0, the sky darkens and the music slowly gets quiet. Once you hit 0, the whole thing goes red and you’ve got 5 turns to get back into positive territory before the game ends. As you clear various colors, the meters on the right side of the board fill up. Clicking on them clears all tiles of that color, which allows you to build some pretty monolithic color groups. This transforms the mechanic from a frantic “click any group of 3″ to something a little slower, where the goal is to methodically build up giant chains while keeping an eye on your health.

Multiplayer Mode

To play the multiplayer version, you’ll have to check the game out on Whirled. The multiplayer mode plays much like the Score Mode, save for the fact that the board is split into four quadrants. Each quadrant is the home base of one player (empty seats are filled by AIs), and players take turn making moves. Tiles cleared in your own quadrant replenish your health, while tiles cleared in an opponent’s quadrant take away health. Every 10 rounds, a damage multiplier increases the amount of damage players do to each other. Using one of your “clear all” powerups doesn’t count as a turn, meaning you can set up an epic clear to heal yourself or attack your opponents. If your life falls to zero (or lower), you will be unable to deal damage to other players until you get your life back above zero.

Whether the game is a hit or not, building it has been incredibly valuable. The first few games I did were in “pure code” and compiled with MXMLC. Filler 2 was the first time I used Flash, and the process was… rough. This time around I had a much clearer picture of what I wanted to accomplish in Flash compared to what I wanted to do in raw code, and the actual development process was a breeze on this one. Pieces of a generic Flash game engine (and, just as importantly, a build process) are beginning to fall into place (sound and data managers, game boards, UI classes). Prototyping is still my favorite part of the game building process, so the more I can shrink the window between prototype and launch the happier I’ll be as a developer. =]