Jan. 3rd, 2010

coryanotado: (Default)

Originally published at The Fast Money Round. You can comment here or there.

According to a study from the Casual Gaming Association released in 2007, the casual gaming market is huge. Loosely defined as games that are easy to learn without a large time commitment, the casual gaming industry is a multi-million dollar industry. Because of the low costs of development and the common method of digital distribution, casual gaming has become a haven for fledgling developers looking to get their foot in the door.

Working with that metaphor, my foot got stuck somewhere on the sidewalk.

Drop the Bomb is a trivia game created by a two-man development team of myself, Cory Anotado, and Joshua Roehrig. The game took six months to develop, and one month to test. The goal of the game was to create a popular trivia game which had a heavy replay factor and the ability to “go viral” and spread using social networking websites. Even with testing and development, there were problems with distribution and code that seriously hindered the success of the game.

The original design called for a challenging quiz game with stunning graphics and intense game play. To meet this design visually, I started with creating the graphics in Photoshop. I wanted the game to feel grungy and industrial, as an homage to the “bomb” part of the title. Distressed, scratched metals and steam are almost omnipresent in the design and layout of the game’s graphical user interface. The music used in this game was graciously donated by Craig Stuart Garfinkle, who composes music for television game shows such as Russian Roulette on the Game Show Network. The composition, entitled Black Box, is a hard grunge rock song with industrial distortion.

The gameplay was designed homage to two classic game shows by famous game show  creators and producers Jack Barry and Dan Enright: The Joker’s Wild and Bullseye. Drop the Bomb’s gameplay is split into two rounds: The Question Machine and the Bonus Plant. In the Question Round, the player must answer questions delivered by the Question Machine. Each contract of questions consists of a category, an amount of questions and a dollar amount. The player should then answer every question in the contract correctly to continue. If the player answers a question incorrectly, the player gets a strike and the contract ends. Three strikes and the player’s game is over. If, when the player receives his contract, a Bomb appears instead of a dollar amount, then the player must answer every question in the contract. If the player gets a Bomb question incorrect, then her game is over instantly.

If the player correctly answers enough questions to accrue $5,000, then he moves on to the Bonus Plant. Here, the game shifts from a game of skill to a game of luck. In the Bonus Plant, the player receives one spin for as many questions as she answered correctly during the Question Machine round. When the player takes a spin, the Bonus Plant machine’s windows reveals three dollar amounts. Those amounts are added together and added to the jackpot. The player can then choose to spin again if there are any spins remaining. If a Bomb appears in any of the windows, then the jackpot is reduced by half. The round ends if the player opts to bail out of the round, the player uses all his spins, or if three Bombs appear during the course of the round.

The game features extra features for social networking and monetization. With special assistance from Newgrounds.com founder and developer Tom Fulp, Drop the Bomb was able to add support for Newgrounds Medals, which are achievements linked to a user’s Newgrounds account. The same application programming interface, or API, used to access the Medals are also used in Drop the Bomb to serve advertisement to players. Using technology available from Mochi Media, an in-game high score board with the ability to use Facebook Connect to compete with Facebook friends was also implemented. The Mochi Media high-score board also allowed for tracking how many times the game was played.
On the content side of the game, 500 questions created between myself and Joshua in varying categories. Originally, the plan was to write the questions to maintain a difficulty level equal to a $8,000 or $16,000 question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. As time went on, however, the questions ranged in difficulty from simple, common-knowledge questions to esoteric, truly trivial questions.

After launch, several problems existed that truly hindered the success of this game, all of which were made clear by the many commenters worldwide at our release point, Newgrounds.com.

The first concern that a large part of the players of this game showed concern about was the American-centric nature of the questions. The World Wide Web is just that: worldwide. Despite the best efforts of myself and Joshua to write questions that were as neutral as possible to cater to as wide an audience as possible, many of the questions were based on American culture, such as American politics, American music and American movies. Even though I thought televisions shows such as Family Guy or influential topics such as World War II had mass interest, it seems as if a worldwide audience thought otherwise. “…there’s one thing that I very much dislike, and that’s the fact that it’s so US-centric. I imagine it’d be difficult for you to avoid for topics like ‘TV,’ but for ‘Movies,’ ‘Sports’ etc., it really should be possible to come up with questions that even an international audience will have a chance at answering,” says reviewer Schneelocke. Frustration ran deep for reviewer FFKonoko: “Christ, this couldn’t be much more biased towards America. How about some more questions that require knowledge of the rest of the damn world, please?”

The second content-related concern was that the questions were too difficult. Reviewer Vortigern noted, “However, there is no real progression of difficulty in this game. You jump in and BAM, you’re hit with a random, incredibly difficult question from out of left field.” Reviewer Nuse took the esoteric nature of some of the questions and criticized it thusly: “This game is crazy, does anyone REALLY know all these type of things? I mean really, how am I supposed to know what the guy down the street fed his dog last night at 11:52. Come on, these questions are soooooooo narrow it is impossible to really win unless you get lucky.”

One code-related problem came in the form of problems that only existed online. Glitches with the Newgrounds Medals and the Mochi Media high score board that never came up during development interfered with achievements during the game. Many complaints of not being able to achieve certain medals ran rampant in the feedback section of the Drop the Bomb page on Newgrounds.com. Although during testing, I was able to attain every medal, once the game was put online, several medals were unattainable. Also, an exploitable glitch came up when three bombs appeared during the Bonus Plant. The game would loop between the high score board and the Bonus Plant, resulting in multi-million-dollar high scores that are otherwise unattainable. That pads the high score board with fraudulently-attained scores, adds more work for myself to maintain the high score board and turns people off from trying to attain high scores by playing again.

Other complaints gave constructive criticism and suggestions for future iterations of the game. One major request was a choice of difficulty levels. People wanted a choice of difficulty levels in order to fully enjoy the game. To do so would require little more work on our part and is something that will seriously be considered in different games.

The game itself isn’t bad. It’s, for the most part, solidly coded and a fun experience. With 500 questions, it can take a while for a player to get a repeat question. The game rewards players who exhibit both intelligent skill and sheer luck. Drop the Bomb has excellent graphics and features that promote interactivity. However, the short-sightedness of anticipating our target audience in both knowledge base and knowledge level as well as unexpected errors with third-party software hindered the success of what could have been an amazing game.

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