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  • Book Excerpt: Creating Casual Games for Profit and Fun

    [04.19.07]
    - Allen Partridge

  •  Bells and Whistles

    One nice thing about all of the standardization of features such as customizable profiles and automated file loading and saving is that these elements are often reusable. While the interface will generally change, the basic functions can usually be implemented in a way that allows developers to easily port the functions from one project to the next. The file save and file load features are generally integrated into the data design for the game. Top scores also are generally integrated into these functions.

    File Save and Load

    Some of the basic functions and conventions of casual games are so ubiquitous that portals and distribution outlets literally require save and load integration as part of their beta test functions. Ultimately there are a few major questions you need to ­answer when designing a save and load file system for your game, and there are a few elements that must be built into your game to accommodate file loading. You must have some sort of data structure that allows you to start a game from various points with varied scores and other elements preloaded into the gameplay. You must be able to save the database on the player's computer, and be able to load the database from the player's computer.

    Data Design and Storage

    We usually build a text-only, flat file database to perform these functions for a game. There are some benefits and some drawbacks to this system. The nice thing about a flat text file is that it is small and requires no database support or binary manipulations. The data may be simply saved to a list or array, and then the array may be saved as a text file. It is important to note here that some languages will not easily support writing a text file with references to various types of data.

    Essentially we create a list of key information for the game and store that list under the name of the player. For example we might make a list like the following:

    CazPlayer
    #roundComplete: 7
    #roundAttempt:8
    #score: 7465
    #powerups: [1,2,4,6]
    #obstacles: [#badStuff, #moreBadStuff]
    #money:5860
    #soundPref:180
    #musicPref:190
    #helpTipPref:1
    #fullscreenPref:1

    While these arrays might be configured and manipulated differently depending on the programming language used, the concepts are universal. Information about the player's progress is stored in the list. If the game is stopped, the data can easily be reloaded at startup and the players can return to the game with all of their power-ups and points and in the round of their preference.

    We usually also store a separate list with information about the most recent player and a list of all the players who have ever used the game. It is also very useful to store information such as player preferences in these lists. That way the game can do things like recall and reset to the preferences of the last player, giving them the audio, full screen, and help tip settings that they chose the last time they played. Consider from the player's point of view how annoying it would be to have to reset the volume or disable help tips every time they play the game (Figure 1.29).


    Figure 1.29 Save is not fully automatic in Word Whacky.

    Top Scores

    Most casual games allow the players to compare their scores to the scores of other players. Because online connections are not presumed to be active while playing and many portals discourage network-­enabled features, most of these scoreboards are local. Sometimes they use the Internet to compare the scores to others online. The ones on the client machine are called local, and the ones online are often called global or online scoreboards.

    Local Score Systems

    The advantage of local scoreboards is that you don't have to worry about accessing the Internet or about what kind of language the players online might use to describe themselves. The disadvantage of local scoreboards is that the only players you can compare scores to are those who are playing on the same computer. Sometimes scores are included for fictional characters to try to give players a sense that they are competing with others.

    Online Score Options

    The advantage of online scoreboards is that the player can see how they stack up against others all over the planet in real time. The disadvantages include limitations from portals, loss of control over content displayed in your game, and connectivity issues. While online scoreboards are cool, there is very little evidence that they add any perceived value to the game in the eyes of the potential consumer.

    Success

    To successfully design and develop games for the casual games market, it is important that you create software that is accessible to a mass audience and that excites a diverse population of players. Like hard-core games, casual games must include rules and puzzles that reward players effectively. People like to be challenged. It is fun to solve problems and experience rewards for solving those problems. Making your games successful means hooking your audience on an easy-to-learn, addictive game that includes plenty of feedback and well-integrated help systems to guide the player through the experience. It should tease the player with the promise of bigger and better rewards. You'll also need to emulate industry standards and navigation conventions. [The full chapter includes Project 1: Make a Match-Three Puzzle.]

    Dr. Allen Partridge is Director of the Applied Media and Simulation Games Center at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Partridge owns Insight Interactive games and has developed a myriad of interactive 3D games. Partridge's games are featured on Reflexive Arcade and in international publications. He has written several articles and a book on Shockwave 3D games and was the technical editor for Paul Catanese's Director's Third Dimension.

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