Capstone Game Postmortem: Overclock
Full Sail University
December 10, 2016
Game App Icon
iOS and Android
Unity 5.4.2 / C# / Git with Tower
Primary: Boys and Girls Ages 12-20, Secondary: Men and Women Ages 35-45
Overclock! Fast-paced alien lane defense!
Overclock is a lane defense game in which the player is able to reposition its units after initial placement. The player can place its attack units next to power converters in order to become overclocked. Becoming overclocked provides different abilities based on which power converter type is affecting the current attack unit. Position your attackers in coordination with your defensive units in order to hold off the incoming alien threat.
I wanted to make something similar the gameplay found in Plants vs Zombies but with a twist. I also enjoyed the cartoony light-hearted aesthetic that it brought. I was also very heavily inspired at the direction of design as is explained in the GDC Vault video How I Got My Mom to Play Through Plants vs. Zombies by George Fan.
I was hoping for 10-12 levels that introduced unlockable levels, hero types, special abilities, and 7 enemy types. I was also hoping to have included some more custom assets so as to play with assets that required more that one tile at a time and enemies that wore earmuffs to protect themselves against audio debuffs. I also wanted to keep the heroes robot themed so I could play more with the wording of overlocking. The rest of the design details seemed to go well.
The Critique: What Went Right
Design and Aesthetics
The final design seems to be well-balanced and the bigger design decisions made to distinguish itself from other lane defense games seem to have paid off well. The two major decisions I want to point out are the ability to move your units at will after initial placement and the positioning of attack units next to power-converters. Separately these features may not have worked well, but together they allow for interesting gameplay as the player is able to cover their bases while still focusing on the pattern they'd like to build. Even more than that, their pattern can improve as the game continues.
Aesthetically, the end result turned out to look very sharp. Although I was unable to get exactly what I wanted from the Unity Asset Store, I found some assets online that fit the theme I wanted, light-hearted and approachable but still with a slight edge.
The in-game visuals look familiar and still new at the same time. I was happy with how professional the game itself looked despite art not being my forte. Initially I thought I would need to go with a faked 3D perspective in a 2D game world, similar to that of what Plants vs Zombies did, but I was happy that the idea of corridors worked quite well. Although I wasn't able to stick with robots for the final aesthetic, I was happy with the compromise of android-like figures.
I was happy with the idea of currency being earned as each enemy was defeated which borrows from the idea of sunlight in Plants vs Zombies but does not require any units specifically for income. It also requires the player to defend themselves before being rewarded with additional means to fortify their defense.
While I did not develop any of the assets myself, the layout and animation presentations were completely developed by me.
I relied somewhat heavily on the issues tracker in Underdog to help with my backlog of items I wanted to complete. It was also helpful for tracking and resolving bugs as they arose.
I hadn't worked with Unity 2D Sprites before, but I found them to be quite simple to work with. The scripting itself was fairly familiar to me, and the core features of unity, such as collision detection, physics, and the low-level memory management were all handled for me. This was nice because it allowed me to focus on gameplay programming as I wanted to focus more on design than development for this project.
A lot of my testing was trying to get it in the hands of as many people as possible and watching them play. There were several bugs that I was able to find out myself by simply trying to get the game to break, but since I was the sole developer on the project, it wasn't difficult for me to diagnose the root of the problem typically. The non-design bugs were very easy to fix in a short amount of time.
The premium model seems to suit this game very well as no design aspect particularly sticks out as prime ad placement or the need for microtransactions. These could be added with a few small design changes, but they were never a part of the original plan.
The Critique: What Went Wrong
Design & Aesthetics
While the end result turned out nicely, there were a number of things that weren't able to be added. I would have liked for the levels themselves to unlock as you completed each level. I wasn't able to cap off the last round with a boss battle either. That is something that would have been nice to be added.
After some of the last feedback received by play testers, the game seemed to be too difficult from the second level onward. For the most part, this was not an issue of the mechanics themselves not being able to provide a path to victory, but rather that the game did not slowly walk them through each ability the different units were capable of. I would have like to have included a more progressive tutorial that introduced one unit type at a time over several levels as each new unit was unlocked. Instead, the game introduced 3 out of 5 character types and delivered all types at the very beginning.
Although the game included an interactive tutorial, it also required a more detailed tutorial. This tutorial, however, was a bit too detailed as most people didn't care to stop to read everything.
This particular screen also didn't adhere very well to the inner 80% screen space rule.
Initially, I had planned to work with an artist friend of mine who works in the industry. After finishing the three items in the bottom left of the image above, the artist was forced to admit that he could not keep up with the time commitment required in order to complete this project. After that, I was forced to search online for assets to fit my theme. I was a bit disappointed that I could not implement some of my more custom ideas such as the enemies wearing earmuffs or robots that fit the right level of cartoony I was looking for.
Towards the end of the development cycle, I implemented a scoring system. In an effort to better give the players an idea of what actions were earning them points, I implemented the idea of floating points. The problem was that points are earned for each successful attack and the players thought the floating points were readouts of damage dealt. After not coming to a quick alternative solution, I made the decision to remove them as to not confuse the player.
I didn't make very good use of the GANTT chart made available to me in Underdog and mostly stuck to the issue tracker. The technical design doc helped me keep my items of highest priority in order, and the issue tracker was able to help me organize my features into sprints three at a time.
Something I would have loved to put more time into was developing some flashier visuals. It was difficult for some players to tell that the power-converters could be used in combination, meaning that the damage power-converter could be used with the speed power-converter to produce both extra damage bullets at a quicker rate. Something as simple as having the tiles cycle through their currently available power ups or displaying the colors in a split view would have been very helpful for the user, but in the end I had to prioritize other things such as the tutorial and the core aesthetic looking sharp.
I don't care too much for the way managers needed to be implemented in Unity, by adding a script that needs to keep state to an object in the scene that will never be destroyed, but it got the job done for spawning enemies and keeping track of tile allocation and power ups.
Something that came up in testing as unnatural was the idea of tapping the characters on the bottom of the left to build them before dragging them from the build bench onto the board itself. Every player wanted to drag the characters straight from their icon on the bottom left to the board directly. This seemed like a good change to make, but by the time it became prioritized, it was too late in the development cycle and affected too many other aspects of the game. I eventually determined that it was too risky to change so late in the development cycle.
The premium model is a hard sell for this game as other games such as Plants vs Zombies 2 are free-to-play, and is backed by a much larger development staff. For a commercial release, I'd have to look at a pricing model with a lower risk to curious players.
I'm happy that I was able to stick pretty close to what I had originally planned. Other than the change from robots to androids, I was able to develop the game I wanted to with the exception of a few missing features. I'm also happy with my choice to focus on design rather than development for this project. As a graduate of the GDBS program, I wanted to switch it up to focus on some different aspects of game development.
There are some things I'd like to do with this game before a commercial release, however. While I feel it's on the right track to being deliverable, it needs to be adjusted with some of the missing features I referenced above. It should also adhere to a more progressive tutorial system to teach the players how to best play the game while still providing a good level of challenge. I'd also like to experiment more with an artist who can be dedicated to the project in order to provide the charm the game requires.
Although this is not the first game I've developed, I feel like I've learned a lot focusing more on design. It's a difficult thing to find that right level of balance for a game when trying to help the player teach themselves how to play. It was also nice to stretch myself in making more artistic decisions than I expected I'd need to make. I feel more comfortable approaching game development as a team of one, and while I would definitely do a few things different next time, I was happy that some of my design ideas turned out well.
Tower. (n.d.) The most powerful git tool for Mac and Windows. [OSX Application]. https://www.git-tower.com/mac/
Unity. (n.d.) Unity - Game Engine. [OSX Application]. https://unity3d.com/
(Fan, G.) (2012.) How I Got My Mom to Play Plants vs Zombies. Retrieved from http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1015541/How-I-Got-My-Mom
PopCap Games. (2009.) Plants vs. Zombies. Retrieved from http://www.popcap.com/plants-vs-zombies-1
PopCap Games. (2013.) Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's about time. Retrieved from http://www.popcap.com/plants-vs-zombies-2