Apparently my last post alarmed a few people, who read it and immediately wrote me mildly annoyed/disappointed emails asking if I was really going to stop working on Distant Star so soon.
No! Of course not!
That really isn’t what I meant — all I meant was that I’m at a loss for what to do next. I’ve got a couple of other projects I want to work on, but Distant Star is definitely one of the more fun things I’m doing right now, and as long as six or eight people are still enjoying it, I’ll keep making it better. Deal?
Anyway, the answer to the ‘what to do next?’ dilemma was obvious, once I thought about it. Why don’t I just…ask? So without further ado: which features should I focus on next for Distant Star?
I’ll leave this up for a week or so, then I’ll tally up the results and get cracking on, you know, whatever wins.
After an initial rejection by Apple (apparently games aren’t allowed to use Game Center at all if they don’t have achievements or leaderboards?), the 1.2+ update for Distant Star is finally live on the App Store. It brings all of the updates I’d talked about before (a new race, color and game speed selection, usability tweaks) plus a fix for the autosave memory leak — meaning that it should crash much less often than it might have done in the past. Hurrah.
Unfortunately, I’m sort of at my wits’ end vis-a-vis Distant Star: I’m enormously pleased with the game, but I just don’t know what to do next. I’ve got quite a few projects on the horizon: the prototype for Polarity is pretty much complete, and getting rave comments from playtesters; my on-again-off-again collaboration with Drunken Monkey Games is still bouncing around; and I’m talking with barista-turned-XNA-ninja DriveByBaptism about putting together a clever little XBLIG platformer. So much to do! So little time!
Oh, and there’s that PhD I’m supposed to be working on…
In a shameless effort to avoid actual work, I’ve dusted off an old prototype for an iPhone game. It’s a quick little physics/rhythm/platform-y thing — can we use ‘Canabalt-like’ as a genre? — designed around a one-button interaction mechanic.
In other words, you tap. The idea grew out of my frustration with Levelheaded, an experiment into how short you could make a game and still have it be worth playing. It was basically a polished, iOS-ported version of my Global Game Jam game Jarhead from a few years ago. I might have gone a wee bit overboard with the rapid-play idea — games of Levelheaded take anywhere from two to fifteen seconds — but it was a fun little experiment. Unfortunately, it tried to cram in several non-obvious mechanics and a reasonably complex little simulation into those few seconds; obviously, it did a terrible job of communicating how it should be played, almost no one spent enough time with the game to really understand the mechanics. My bad.
Reverse Polarity is my attempt to return to the rapid play idea, but with greatly simplified mechanics and interaction. In fact, there’s exactly one mechanic (you’re attracted/repelled by things in the world) and one interaction (tapping swaps between attraction and repulsion). You can see where the name comes from (also, I was re-watching old SG-1 episodes at the time). Runs of Reverse Polarity tend to take under two minutes; the longer and faster you run, the more difficult it gets to continue. For the most part, gameplay is going to be mind-bogglingly shallow, with the focus on leaderboard-style competition. I’m tracking all kinds of stats for each run (e.g. speed, distance, air time, tap efficiency, &c), each of which will have its own distinct leaderboard. Mastered the art of building up crazy-fast speed? Ok — how about maximizing air time, or minimizing the number of times you reverse polarity?
Mmm, Game Center porn.
This whole not-owning-a-retina-display-device thing is getting ridiculous — this needs to be an iPhone game, instead of iPad-only. Poor little iPhone 3G — I love you, but you’re hopelessly out of date. Anyone got a newish iPod touch I could borrow for a few days?
So it’s been a few weeks, and the woefully necessary 1.1 update for Distant Star has long since live. 1.1 added a fleet management screen, an autosave feature, and the option to disable/enable the audio, plus fixed a number of distressing crash bugs. It’s been well-received (and the game’s average review rating on iTunes has certainly improved!), but definitely wasn’t the kind of content expansion to which I’d been looking forward.
1.2, which should go live in the next few days, is. It adds several gameplay features, including:
I’ve been on the hunt for memory leaks lately, and while I did track down several in time for this release I couldn’t pin down the largest two (on the build queue screen and, ironically, in the autosave system) before my self-imposed deadline. With my first meaningful update (1.1 shouldn’t really count) out of the way, my next focus is going to be solving the game’s crashtastic problem once and for all.