Max Damage is the latest irRegularGame and perhaps my most successful to date. Its a physics-puzzle game where you shoot cannonballs at stacks of targets with the goal of causing sufficient damage to pass the level.
Bloons is the modern father of flash aim-and-shoot type games so there is an obvious influence from there. I’d actually been thinking about this game for a couple of years and was surprised no-one had made a physics-based version of Bloons, although since making Max Damage I discovered other games like Fragger, Crush the Castle and Roly Poly Cannon which are somewhat similar. The main differentiation in Max Damage is the idea of a damage level to targets, where these other games have a more black-and-white destroy/crush/topple mechanism. The inspiration for this was actually the car crash mini-game in Burnout (2 or 3?) that I had played on Playstation many years ago. This was a great little game-within-the-main-game where you crashed your car and tried to create the most monetary damage possible. It was awesome to watch the ensuing carnage after a crash and replay in slow motion, etc.
This was my first game using the wonderful Box2D Flash physics engine. I procrastinated working on this game for a couple of years because I first had to learn AS3 and then get to grips with Box2D! Once I had the basic structure working I built a level editor and started making levels. I tried to make each level a little different from the others and to gradually increase the overall difficulty (while keeping some difficulty variation so that players didn’t simply get frustrated that all the levels were very difficult towards the end). You could say that levels come in 2 types: puzzle levels where a particular strategy or trick is required, and more open levels where many different strategies could work. I added different cannonball types and basically thought up as many levels as I could where it didn’t feel like you were just doing the same thing over. The particle effects and flaming cannonball types were late additions that I think really added something.
At time of writing Max Damage has had approximately 3.8 million views on over 1300 hosts in about 5 weeks. This doesn’t include plays of non-exclusive versions (at armorgames, addictinggames, etc). This is certainly my most successful game in terms of plays/distribution so far. I think this one has been more popular because it has decent graphics and intuitive, fun gameplay. Some of my previous games have been somewhat niche and have either been more graphically basic or required more effort upfront to work out how to play. In my own view neither of these is necessarily a bad thing but in terms of flash game distribution shiny graphics and easy to pick up gameplay go a long way.
How not to implement microtransactions
Microtransactions are a hot topic in flash games right now with several providers having recently launched services. From a developer perspective the advantages are clear – they offer another revenue stream to potentially make a decent living. For players the value is less obvious, to some it appears that things that were previously free are now being charged for. And indeed in games where the microtransactions are not well thought out this can be the case. But microtransactions should allow good developers to include extra content and make more in-depth flash games as there is more incentive to make games that players want to play for more than 5 or 15 minutes. This should be good for the overall quality of flash games.
My plan with Max Damage was to make the first 28 levels free and the remaining 21 buyable. But some early release feedback convinced me that this would have been a mistake – there was simply not enough content in the game to be selling it. Mochiads version control proved invaluable here as I was able to quickly rip out the buyable levels code and have it updated in all versions regardless of where they were played. [On a side note version control also allowed me to change the timeout calculation (“calculating final damage”) from a time-based to a frame-based one so that it was consistent for all players regardless of their machine speed]. The end result was a game that had very minimal microtransactions – only a “level unlock” item that allowed levels to be played in any order. The rate of sales for this item is extremely low, but on the flip side it is unobtrusive and hasn’t produced any of the negative feedback that has come with most microtransaction games to date. The main thing I’ve taken from this is that you need to have the right style of game with sufficient content, and think carefully about any microtransaction implementation early in the design process.
Getting feedback on your games from portal comments is a funny thing. If something in your game bothers players you will most definitely hear about it. Many, many times. But a good design choice is unlikely to be commented on. You also really have to wade through the noise to find the valuable feedback, but there are usually a few well-reasoned comments to go with the dozens of useless ones (“sux 0/5”, “no mute button”, or even “great game”).
The main sticking points with Max Damage seemed to be the music, the Max character graphic, and the design of a couple of levels. Well, music is a tough one as it is so subjective; I think I’ll provide 2 music options in future games to cater for this, the only real downside being increased filesize. Aaron did a great job on the graphics, but I think the problem with the Max character was mainly that he looks kid-like and this might not appeal to the adolescent crowd (who are much too cool). I’m thinking of having a few customizable Max looks in the next version. Finally there were 2 levels in particular that produced a lot of complaints. Level 24 (Trick Shot) is a puzzle-type level that requires a bit of lateral thinking. I totally stand by this as being a good level and think a game needs a decent level of challenge. If a player really gets stuck it’s not too hard to find a walkthrough or buy the level unlock! Level 33 (Boxed Art) was also a contentious one, and in this case I agree with the complaints as even I don’t have a reliable strategy to complete it, and too much luck was required.
I already have some good ideas for Max Damage 2, but I’ll leave those for a future post…