And We Have a Winner

We have a winner for the FPS Creator X10 contest.

The idea of the contest was to guess what toy I got from an easter egg. There were plenty of well though answers such as these witty guesses:

“one of those gooey hands that you can sling against walls and such” (Code_wizard)

Heh, that’s exactly what I call them

“small deck of cards” (ElementCy)

Heh, inside easter egg? Oh well, I guess there are small cards out there :)

“did the egg was empty?” (eco)

Good one, but unfortunately wrong.

The TOY refers to

The 3D Game created from FPS
[after exporting it from FPS]

and EGG refers to

FPS Creator

This time nickname lostin3d got bit too philosophic here…

“pokemon plush doll (because you obviously are a fan of dem, wakokokokokokokok) (celeron)”

Fine guess, but unfortunately wrong ;)

There’s more fun guesses, and I recommend you guys go take a look at them in the contest announcement.

The right answer was pirate. It was a 50g Peter Pan easter egg (tasted yammy) and there was a pirate inside it. micjwelch guessed right first, and got a boxed copy of FPS Creator X10. The rest of you gotta go to FPS Creator X10 website and buy it from there.

Thanks everybody for your participation.

Contest: Win FPS Creator X10 by Guessing What I Got From an Easter Egg

NOTICE: THE CONTEST IS OVER, THE RIGHT ANSWER WAS ‘PIRATE’.

Win a copy of FPS Creator X10
It’s time for post-Easter Contest and fancy prize is FPS Creator X10 – a game making tool that uses DirectX10. All you need to do is guess what I got from an easter egg (not meaning the chocolate, but the toy I got from the egg). Thanks goes to The Game Creators for this fine prize.

Contest rules
You need to guess what toy I got from an easter egg.

You can guess as many times as you wish (maximum 5 items per reply, and you can have multiple replies: this is to ensure that somebody isn’t getting the first reply and writing lots of stuff into that reply). All you need to do is throw your guess here (or write a lengthy blog post where you list all your answers. Remember to mention your blog post URL here in this blog so I can include your guess into the contest).

The first one to answer right wins a copy of FPS Creator X10.

The contest lasts until somebody guesses right and I’ll be checking answers daily. If there’s no right guesses after couple of days, I shall give hints that will pretty much reveal the right answer for somebody to guess.

FPS Creator X10
FPS Creator X10 is basically an extremely simple tool that lets you create great looking action games with ease. If you watch out the following youtube video, I’m sure you get a pretty good idea what you can do with the tool (in very little time):

I agree that the voice in the video might go bit more in the funny side of things – but the FPS Creator X10 itself is very nice. The Game Creators offer many other products for making games: ranging from modeling tools to art packs to other game making software.

Let the contest begin
Now you have chance to win a copy of FPS Creator X10.

Simply guess what toy I got from an easter egg.

How to Publish Your First Indie Hardcore Game

The publishing path for casual games can be a pretty straightforward: you can concentrate on getting your game to portals such as Big Fish Games to publish your game and make sure you get them quality games over and over.

But what if your game is not a casual game?

What if you have created your dream strategy game that you really enjoy playing, and would like to get it out to the market? This article brings some ideas what you can do with your hardcore game.

Find a publisher interested in hardcore games
Sounds easier said than done, but there are quite many publishers that concentrate on non-casual games. They may publish all kinds of creative games ranging from hardcore strategy to flight simulations to role playing games and more. Here’s couple of them:

  • Matrix Games – a publisher of different genres ranging from strategy games to sports. I recommend checking them out in case you want them to help you with your hardcore game.
  • Meridian4 – a publisher that came to my attention when friend of mine from Frozenbyte told that their hit game Shadowgrounds (and the sequel) used Meridian4 in publishing the game in certain areas of the world.
  • Steam – Valve’s Steam might not be the easiest place to get in to, but their solid player base and technology should be considered anybody who does development for hardcore gamers.

Ask around in different forums (such as indiegamer.com or game producer forums) to find other sites.

Do certain amount of self-promotion
Depending how you want to get the word out of your game, and whether you want to do some self-promotion (to gain publisher interest), you might want to self-promote your game. It is optional to use these systems, and with a help of good publisher you might not need to do much self-promotion at all.

I’ve used my company’s own GameRelease.net system to promote this website and the games I’ve been producing. Due the press release distribution my Hightailed & Highpiled games made it to the PC Zone gaming magazine. After making a Dead Wake game press release, the game was presented in PC Gamer US zombie issue not long ago. I’ve also got journalist and publisher interest thanks to making the press releases. While press releases can be “hit or miss” type of promotion (you gotta have a good story to tell, or they are waste of money), they can work well if done properly.

Since I operate the system I’m biased to recommend GameRelease.net, but at the time of writing there’s around 50 other companies who have access the system and seem to think pretty positively about it.

There are other press release services that you can use, so do a little bit of research create and prepare to make some press releases about your product. Even if your primary aim is to get a publisher, a well done press release can attract not only journalists but different companies who might want to deal with you.

What can you expect from publishers?
There are no any strict rules that would be written in stone, and publishers tend to offer 30-50% deal. That amount can be from net profit, so expenses such as bandwidth or processing fees might be counted first.

I think there’s some guidelines that people could think about when approaching a publisher. I didn’t invent these guidelines: these are something I’ve seen other people experiencing and something I personally follow:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: Not always, but a healthy amount of skepticism is fine. Promises are easy to give, so when a company makes an offer for you take your time to check out different forums and see what other people say about the company. If nobody has ever heard about the company, then I’d be cautious until I see cash (and I mean cash: not only on bank account).
  • US companies can be as crooky (or good) as “foreign” companies: Let’s face it. There are good companies and there are bad companies all over the world. Some big companies might be ripping off small indies since they know “they can get away with it”. Some Russian companies might pay well for you to get game for them. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the nationality. There are honest (and dishonest) people everywhere.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to percentages, it’s the $$$ amount that counts. 100% out of zero is nothing, but 20% out of million is better. In the end you should be watching how much $$$ the deal brings, not concentrate only to the deal percentage.
  • Don’t make exclusive deals (unless you get paid well in advance): I think this is very important to remember. If you make a 2-year exclusive deal for 70% and realize that the company is doing nothing to make your game sell, you are in a bad situation. I would never make an exclusive deal unless I’d be paid a really well in advance. By “well paid” I mean maybe 80-90% of the sales I’d expect to ever see.

Bear in mind that these are just guidelines, not something that necessarily applies to your situation. If I were you, I wouldn’t read just one blog article to make up the decisions about my game. I’d read the article and then ask around other people for more ideas.

Good luck with your game release.

Have You Designed Core Values For Your Game?

Creating a core vision for your game is a helpful aid: by having a certain design objectives for the game, you can lead your project to the right direction on the focus you’ve taken.

Choose the core values for your game
One way to establish design goals is to pick 3 core values which you use when evaluating possible new features for your game. Core values can be anything fundamental in your game.

For example, a puzzle game could have the following core values:

  • Cute!
  • Brain over Reactions
  • Community

Now, when somebody gets an idea about putting exploding teddy bears and blood… you could say pretty quickly that it goes against the core values – and since your game’s focus is to have an extremely cute puzzle game, you could decline having that feature. If somebody suggests and action sequence where you shoot to get points, you could say this kind of feature would require quick reactions and you want a slower tempo for the game (“Brain over Reactions”). When somebody suggests that after player has completed a level, the game should send email to those players who lost their rank saying “Player X just beat your score by 706 points – perhaps you should play a round right away and reclaim your rank?”. You could tell that this feature would be good, since it enforces the community aspect.

Those 3 values are just examples, and core values could be anything from “having 5,000,000 different weapons” to “player customization” to “survival” to “physics” and so on. It’s really up to you to have a focus and values for your game. Bear in mind that you can have game with core value “Must Require Different Skills From Player”, and then having action sequence, brain puzzles, hidden object puzzles and so on would be a good idea. It all depends what you focus on.

The importance of values
Having core values (whether there’s one or ten of them) is no use if you just write them down somewhere and forget them. The idea of these values is that it makes it easier to make gameplay decisions. It helps you focus on the fact that you are doing and “first person shooter” which won’t turn into “real time strategy” just because somebody got a fancy idea that you could command your troops in FPS mode.

The core values are also part of the marketing plan, since they help making judgements on “who is your audience”. The core values might not give exact answer, but they can help defining the audience – which then can lead to better conversion and more sales.

The bottom line is: core values can help you have a clearer focus and help answer to the question “what your game is all about”.

Does your game have core values?

How (Not) To Handle Your Interview.

One of the things we’ve been doing a lot lately, is recruiting new folks to fill some project-specific and general positions we’ve had open.

You’ll hear plenty of interview advice from a wide range of sources, but I figure I’d pipe in with my own thoughts on the subject, spurred on by various hiring experiences over the past few years.

- Let’s start with the cover letter. In Juuso’s recent post about 3D artists, he hit the nail on the head regarding intro/cover letters. Unless otherwise specified, keep it brief, to the point, and relevant to the job. If you can make a personal connection (for example, if you know the person’s name), definitely do so. And make sure to spell their name right!

- If you don’t know anything about the person you’re writing to, don’t automatically assume they’re a “hiring manager”, “human resources manager” or any other title. Just address them as “To whom it may concern” or something along those lines.

- For your cover letter and resumé, make sure you spell- and grammar-check! Some folks will not even bother looking at your resumé if they start tripping over your language. Now if English is not your first language, there’s of course nothing wrong with that – but it would behoove you to ask someone to check your text. Even someone in the forums!

- Make sure the items in your submission – resumé, cover letter, relevant additional materials – all line up in terms of your experience. Putting this in terms of a 3D artist: don’t say in your cover letter that you’re “an incredibly talented artist with over five years of experience at major companies” if your portfolio contains nothing much beyond your first-year final exam character skeleton test that you think happens to look pretty nifty. The folks doing the hiring need to see product. What happens is, they read your cover letter, then check your portfolio – if they don’t match up, it’s a red flag.

- Don’t take the above to mean that if you’re just starting out, you’re out of luck! The thing to do is speak to your experience. Talk about your experience in your cover letter, talk about what you want to be doing in five years, etc. Don’t lie, don’t oversell yourself – if you cheat your way into a serious position and then can’t deliver, you’re outta there, and fat chance on any sort of referral or recommendation. We receive resumés and portfolios constantly, and I read and check all of them out – there’s a folder full of people who are new to the industry or looking to break in, and we’ll give them the opportunity when the proper positions need filling. So, you heard back from the company that you applied to? Great!

– Make sure to stay humble in any subsequent communications – don’t be the one giving orders… Actually, this isn’t coming out the way I have it in my head, so how about an example: I was communicating with a candidate via e-mail, receiving nothing but one-line replies. For me, not really a big deal, but the curtness was off-putting. One of the last replies to me read “Let’s say the 20th and we’ll take it from there.” That’s it. What this candidate did not understand was that he was one out of a huge number of candidates, and assumed that I could just rearrange my entire schedule around his uncertainty. This is wrong to assume. Consider the person you’re writing to as a dictator with a full schedule, and that at least 50 other people are applying for the same job.

- In fact, if you’re asked when you are available, give them a few dates that are completely free for you. When they get back to you with an exact time, take it and say “thank you.” If you need to reschedule, that is okay but make sure to let them know as far in advance as possible.

Now it’s time for the interview! Make sure to pre-game this bad boy.

- Find out the company’s exact address, and make sure you know at least two ways to get there. Do not be late. Do not be too early, either.

- Bring the phone number with you in case you get stuck somewhere and need to let them know that you’ll be a few minutes late, or need to reschedule. Better yet, do not be late.

– Have the answers in your head for common questions, and generally practice everything you want to say in the mirror. When they ask you “do you have any questions for us” or “where do you see yourself in a year” or really, any question, the worst answer you can give is “I don’t know.” Consider your interview tanked if those words come out of your mouth.

- Further, the worst things to say in an interview are “Um” “Hmm” “Uhh” “Like”. Know what I mean?

- Don’t be late!

That’s just the pre-game! Onto the actual interview.

- You’re ready to go? Alrighty. No matter what company or what position you’re interviewing for, make sure you dress nicely. I can’t stress this enough. Just because they make games and dress like bums in the office doesn’t mean that you should do the same for your interview. Even if they say explicitly not to dress up, get dressed up. You have one chance, and one chance only, to make a first impression – and if there’s a queue of twenty other candidates who will dress up, you’d better believe that you in your cargo pants and Nikes aren’t sending the right message.

- For guys, this means at the very least slacks, longsleeve button-down shirt and nice shoes – if you have a jacket, wear it. If you go the jacket route, you can rock a Polo shirt, just make sure it matches and isn’t wrinkled. No sneakers. Don’t wear a t-shirt underneath your dress shirt that has some sort of design on it that shows through. Tuck your shirt in. Wear a belt. Comb your hair. Check your breath. No stubble. No backpacks. No hats (unless it is winter) and no sunglasses. Do not put on any cologne or scented sprays! Why? Because the person you meet might be allergic or very sensitive. For girls… actually, I think most girls are aware of this “dress nice” rule; definitely mores than the guys. But ladies, you’re not exempt – same basic rules apply!

- Introduce yourself! Sure, they know who you are, but so what? It’s proper etiquette. “Hi” doesn’t cut it.

– Don’t think you know the person that is interviewing you. You may develop a good rapport, which is fantastic, but be careful not to take it too far into “friendly” territory.

– To reiterate, watch your “Ums” “Hmms” “Uhhs” and “Likes”. If you need to think about a question, be quiet and think about it. Or even preface it by saying “I need to think about that a moment” instead of “Hmmm, hmmm, errmmm, ahhh, hmmmm.”

- It is okay to admit that you don’t know the answer to a question. Saying “You know, I’ve never heard of that before, but I’ll be sure to look into it” is so much better than guessing – because if you guess wrong, you end up looking a bit foolish. Plus, no one wants a “guesser” working for them – they want someone who will do the legwork if they need to fill a gap in their knowledge. You’ll never know everything there is to know about a subject, and this is okay – don’t pretend to.

- Make sure you have copies of your resumés on hand. Don’t bring copies of your cover letter – if you’re being interviewed, you’re beyond the usefulness of it. The exception being if your cover letter covers additional experience that might be relevant, but doesn’t fit anywhere in your resumé.

- Confidence is your friend! If you believe in yourself, that confidence will project outward to others, and they will in turn have confidence in you.

Those are my tips for anyone applying to any job, at any point in their professional career. Ideally all of this should be common knowledge, but you never know. Follow the basics and you’ll be set to tackle any interview!

Note: opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Casual Games Technology Hurdles for Newcomers

Before Lex Venture, my previous experience on game development was mostly on Flash/Shockwave small games and a 3D playable demo of a DirectX 9 game (which never came close to Alpha, but it was nice).

This article is aimed on developers of other game trends and markets (core 3D, indie, mobile, etc) who plan to give PC casual game genre a try on future projects, like we did. When you are going to develop quality casual games using hardware accelerated technologies, the following hurdles must be considered early on the project.

1. Integration with the OS

Many casual players talk on instant messengers, send e-mail, write on Facebook and things like that while playing the game. They ALT+TAB frequently, they use the windowed mode frequently, and everything must go smoothly when an IM window pops in. The present “Internet generation”, by the way, is much used to multi-tasking, so this behavior will only be more present in the future. Therefore:

  • Players like windowed mode. Make sure it’s in your game options.
  • The memory usage must be low, to avoid OS hangs when the user ALT+TAB from your game on a 256-RAM computer.
  • If the user is on the windowed mode, the game must be completely paused – including music and particles – when someone poke the player on IMs, or when the download manager pops a message, etc. If the user is using full-screen it’s open to debate if the game should minimize or keep the game running and allow the “blip” sound of the IM warn the user.
  • Unpausing must be also very straightforward, the user must simply click on the window.

2. Old computers / on-board video cards

Casual gamers don’t update the hardware often. In fact, since they also play while working, they will use terrible on-board video cards. Expect hardware compatible with old DirectX 7 or 8 – on some cases, not even that, and the game will need software-render. Remember that “Windows-ready” computers with on-board video-cards tend to not support OpenGL very well – some of them completely suck on OpenGL mode. So if you’re running under Windows, don’t risk: use DirectX or software render.

RAM limitation is also and important topic, especially if the on-board video card is using a piece of it through some shared video memory schema. Commonly, it will reserve 64 MB of RAM.

3. Save game / Load game

Save games on casual games works differently from core titles. The save game is associated with a player “account”, not with a save slot. More important, since casual game sessions are short (10-15 minutes) but frequently (more than 5 times a day), the user must be able to quickly quit and return later with the very same state he left. So, save games must be recorded every game turn or every couple of minutes without hanging the gameplay.

4. Loading screens

Load screens should present smooth animations that indicate the amount already loaded – like filling bars and walking characters. It helps to keep players waiting. However, to successfully implement smooth animations during loading times (which, you know, hangs a lot!), we will spell the magical word: “multithread”.

Multithread is not easy! Even when implemented only for these loading times. By the way, don’t multithread on casual games for anything else – dual core PCs are still not as widespread as the casual market requires. An exception would be if you are aiming for XBOX Live Arcade or other present-gen console network.

5. Mini-games variety

On the present standards of casual games, you should think on adding variety to gameplay – mini-games, bonus levels and special levels with different mechanics. You have to foresee the possibility of switching the gameplay mechanics between stages. Don’t overlook this analysis – it will really add to development time and force you reworking many codes if you later decide to integrate mini-games on the project without planning for it since the beginning. In our case, implementing the Boss Battle of Lex Venture later added roughly 2 months to the schedule.

6. Switch fullscreen/windowed

On a number of 3D games, you have to restart the game if you want to make the fullscreen/windowed transition. game developers already know why – the game needs to destroy the fullscreened 3D video device and create a new windowed one, hence re-creating every mesh, texture, scene nodes, particles of your game state. Hence some core games tell the player to restart the game so changes can “be applied” and the whole thing will be re-created naturally on the next load.

Asking the core player to restart his 3D game is acceptable on some cases – asking the casual player to do the same is not. Either your engine support switching, or you will have to program an engine wrapper and make the game on top of it, to facilitate the switch fullscreen/windowed feature.

7. 3D technology and 2D graphics

I like 3D graphics! But casual players don’t care if the graphic is either 3D or 2D. Graphics just have to give the game the proper look, make it unique and allow the game to run on casual players’ machines. That’s the tricky part, because they could be using a crappy video card and have DirectX 9 fancy graphics slowly emulated on software – or, more commonly, not even rendered!

Put as much 2D graphics as you can, even if on 3D billboards. Use 3D meshes for specific objects which will provide that unique feel on the game – but always keep poly count under control. Those old days of obsessively counting polygons are back. :) On Lex Venture we used 3D for letters and board platforms, which were cubic and rectangular forms with very few polys.

Also, take a look on my previous article on fancy and lightweight 2D graphics.

8. Security Wrappers and Setup Packs

That is a must on a market dominated by the downloadable try-before-buy model. The technology – engine or framework – you chose must be completely compatible with the main DRM solutions for casual games. True there are many proprietary DRMs you won’t have access to test your technology, like PlayFirst’s, Big Fish’s and Mumbo Jumbo’s. But others like Softwrap, Trymedia and Game Shield are available for use after signing up.

Also, wrapping things and creating setup packs takes time. Specially if you are trying to use the most advanced security functions, which might demand changes on your code. If you don’t have a publisher to do it for you, reserve yourself at least two weeks on that, not counting the approval time of the DRM provider if it’s necessary (like with Trymedia).

How Winners Think

Yesterday I watched a fighting clip in a television for a few minutes. In that clip, it strike to me what goes in the mind of mixed martial artists. Those who are winners. One of the winners told that he hates losing and he’ll do anything (legal) to win.

I started thinking that I had heard that comment before – but in different context.

I’ve heard some self-made millionaires saying that they hate losing money, and do anything (legal) to win and to make their business successful. And they did.

I remember reading years back one game development team lead answering to the question about “what objectives they have for their game”. The current CEO of the company commented that “Our aim is to get the boxed version in the stores. We won’t stop until that is done.” Their game became a success story for the company.

There’s no word “impossible” for winners
Almost a year ago I wrote about how nothing is impossible where bit similar thinking is clearly seen. To me, I believe, it’s more about what we think is possible that matters.

Take a look at the following clip. In that clip, you can see a guy breaking multiple bricks in a very quick strike. In fact, the strike is so quick that you possibly need to check it couple of times to really see what’s going on. To me, that looks impossible.

Many things indeed look “impossible”
And I’m sure many things are impossible – until we decide otherwise.

When somebody is determined to create massive success in the field of gaming, I’m sure he can reach it. I’m not saying this would happen in one night (creating overnight success requires decades of work). However, I’m saying that if you take a 5-year or 15-year perspective, those dreams can come true if one doesn’t give up and works hard.

Man that brick breaking looks motivational.

How to Increase Your Casual Game Conversion Rate

In this article I hope to shed some light on what are average sales conversion rates for casual games, and how useful (or useless) figure that can be – and most importantly: how to increase that number.

A sales conversion rate here means simply the percentage of users who purchase a game after trying it. If for example 1000 players download a game, and 17 of them purchase the game, the conversion rate would be 1,7% (17/1000).

The problem of average numbers
I wrote about the problem of averages in a blog post Averages are useless – on average where it’s basically said that average numbers won’t exactly apply on your situation, since your specific situation can be very different.

Since some guy said that average conversion rate is 1%, it really cannot be applied to your situation.

More on that problem in the blog post, so let’s jump to the next key point.

Some average conversion rates
I’ve seen games with conversion rates from zero to 0.1% to over 5%.

After talking to these developers, I have to say that getting to the 5% is not impossible.

Those games that convert more than 5% are simply crafted to the people who enjoy playing them. They are polished and offer superb value.

1% is not the average conversion rate
You can do sales estimations based on the fact that “your game would convert 1%”, but there’s one key thing that might be missed: quality and targeted customers. Conversion rate – from my experience – depends more on how well the game suits for specific audiences rather than only about the quality.

A game that gets 73% review (out of 100%) can convert a lot better than game that gets 92%. The reason: because the 92% game might be marketed to everybody. The 73% game might not be something that a reviewer likes (or something that most people like), but it could be very much fun for a certain tiny group of people.

If we only look the quality of a game, and how other games have sold – we might forget that there actually must be an audience who is willing to purchase. The preferences of those customers must be met to get game convert well.

What conversion rates tell us
If a game has 1% conversion rate, then the authors can make conclusions whether to try different markets and audience to get better conversions, or whether to improve the game. It’s quite easily forgotten that improving the quality (which is important) is not the only thing to think when people go through forums and say “why my game is not converting well”.

How to increase the conversion rate
When we want to increase our games conversion rate, there are a few metrics to pay great amount of attention:

  • The website: Website doesn’t quite likely affect on how well a game converts after downloading, but I include this point here to remember that getting people to download is important as well. Making sure that the download button is visible helps increase the download conversion which then can increase volume, and sales.
  • The demo or trial version: The trial’n’buy version of your game has a huge impact on whether people will download the game or not. Portals tend to use the “60 min gameplay” limitation, but in some games limiting the number of features, or having different time limitations or giving special discounts can increase the conversion rate.
  • Improving the quality: When you improve the quality of your game (it can be anything from smoother user interface to new levels to new features to bug fixes), the conversion rate should eventually increase as well.
  • Selling to those who want to buy: This point is often forgotten. Hardcore players and casual players have different ways to play games. Social players look different things than non-social players. Those who enjoy single-player over multi-player might have different requirements. The key here is to figure out whether you are presenting your game to the right audience.

Selling warm clothes in a desert won’t get anybody interested, but selling water might be just what people are after.

Techniques for Fancy and Lightweight 2D Graphics

So you are going to use lots of 2D graphics on your next game project, targeting lower-end machines. It’s a casual-oriented game project, or maybe just a 2D indie game that should run on the most number of PCs possible (which is a smart move). You need:

  • Beauty
  • Performance
  • Fast download

Hardware-accelerated and software-rendered 2D graphics can be both fancy and lightweight. Even if your hardware-acceleration is an old one, like DirectX 7 or 8. You can make lots of effects (“Beauty”), use few video memory (“Performance”) and consume less disk space on the game final size (“Fast download”).

The three main techniques you use to accomplish that are:

  1. Tilemaps;
  2. Real-time draw deformations;
  3. Particles.

Tilemaps

Tilemaps will allow you to have a large amount of 2D sprites on a single 512×512 or 1024×1024 texture. Perhaps even all the graphics you need for the game! :). You load a small amount of tilemapped textures on your video memory and “mount” game graphics drawing pieces of it in the screen. Check this basic tutorial.

Some tools, like Torque Game Builder, generate tilemaps by slicing a texture on a matrix of equally squared tiles, mainly for frame-by-frame animations. But tilemaps can be more powerful. With a custom tool, you can optimize every single pixel of a texture for a different game assets, not space-wasters equally-sized squares! Consider, for example, what Bookworm Adventures did:

http://www.igda.org/casual/quarterly/2_2/index.php?id=2

With a very small set of textures, hundreds of different monsters could be generated with “pieces” of those textures! The outcome was a very small-sized game download (20 MB), but with lots of aggregated values and a tag price of 29 bucks at the time of its launch.

For Lex Venture, we used tilemaps for user interface and in-game sprites taking advantage of every possible available pixel. Loading times got faster than previous projects that used one texture file for each sprite, and disk space and memory usage got smaller.

Tilemap LexVenture

Real-time draw deformation

On hardware-accelerated 2D drawings, engines render sprites by creating a 2-triangle, 4-vertexes primitive rectangle mesh textured with the sprite image, right into the frame buffer. Think it like a 3D plane right in front of the camera (actually, thats exactly how Blitz Basic do it).

Draw deformation is the ability to modify sprite draw by manipulating this primitive mesh. With a good tool-set, you shall be able to change colors of vertexes, deform, scale and rotate the sprite.

For example: you have a white butterfly sprite. Before rendering you could modify the color of the vertexes of the primitive mesh to green, purple or anything else. You will then be able to draw the butterfly with a different color on the white tones using conventional vertex-color technique. Now draw the same sprite many times and you have lots of colorful butterflies in your game with just one single image file!

Deformations on scale, rotation and overall alpha transparency are quite good for GUI transitions. Almost all casual games today use them, and so should you. Pick tools and engines that allow you the vastest range of real-time draw deformations.

2D Draw Deformation 1Draw Deformation 2

Scale + alpha transition

For software-rendered graphics, draw deformations are more limited. For example, you can’t scale with bilinear filters without making the graphics look badly crispy. So plan ahead what the game will and will not be able to do considering the software-render technology you picked.

Dynamic applied alpha masks

Dynamic applied alpha (transparency) masks is a technique to make 2D graphics even lighter on disk space, extensively used by PopCap Framework. You use web-image formats without alpha – JPG and GIF – for your game graphics. For each image that requires alpha, there is an equivalent gray-scale image with the alpha mask needed. The engine loads the GIF or JPG image, and then modify the texture on the video memory applying an alpha channel based on the gray-scale information.

The sum of those two files is smaller and loads faster on software rendering than an image with the same content on a format with native alpha, like PNG. Works best for GIF images. (Note: you should study the differences between GIF and JPG to pick a format that fits into your game graphic style)

Particles

Particles are a important part of any game, but key ingredient to for casual / light 2D titles. You only need a handful of 16×16 textures to create amazing effects on screen! Don’t you dare not considering the particle system on your decision of the which framework to use!

You need a powerful particle system. It would be better if it could draw 2D particles, where particles will be drawn as regular sprites. Most 3D engines features however only features particles using 3D elements like PointSprite, Billboards and Meshes. They are beautiful, but they are also, well, 3D elements! They will consume more CPU with culling / render ordering calculations, and are not as precise for a 2D-based game.

For casual games, aimed on lower-end machines, I advise you to try engines that supports 2D particles. Specially if you are going to support software rendering. If they ain’t available go with PointSprite particles, which are 3D but optimized for 2D drawing at the DirectX device. Billboard and Mesh particles are heavy on rendering if the user don’t have a good video card.

If you can only choose between Billboard and Mesh, go with Billboard. But maybe you picked the wrong framework/engine!

As the last advice, don’t you get too heavy with particles! Low-end machines suffer if you push too hard. Emitters should not emit more than 20-40 particles at a time. I would say 50 on a very particular case, but try to keep the particle count under control . Remember that each particle is still something to be drawn.