Gem Eater

My first mobile game

It took me long enough, but last year I finally decided to make a mobile game.
The main reason being that I felt I should make a smaller game for once, and fully finish it, rather than the heap of unfinished (bigger) game projects I have.
I also wanted it to be accessible to most people, so a mobile game seemed like the best choice then.

I have to admit that mobile games, and casual games, are actually a bit out of my comfort zone. But that only makes it more of an interesting challenge to design such a game.
I didn’t have to make it a casual game, but I felt like I should make it as easy to get into as I could (to a degree), and IMO that seems like one of the key-aspects of a casual game.
(This because I noticed that the games I made before often required me to explain to people how to play, rather than people understanding it immediately themselves.)

The game

In Gem Eater you play as an underground gem-eating snake. Just drag the snake’s head to move him around.
You eat your way through a screen filled with dirt, stones(blocks) and gems; trying to eat as much gems while making big combos, without getting stuck.

You gain points by eating gems, these come in 3 colors, red, yellow and blue.
Each time you eat the same color as the last, you increase your gem combo, earning you more and more points each time. But eat a different colored gem, and the combo ends.

At first the screen is only filled with dirt and gems, you’re free to move around carelessly, but as you eat your way through, stone-blocks will fall down among the dirt and gems. These stone blocks are impassable, and slowly but surely the screen will fill up with these, making it harder for you to get around, until eventually, you get stuck. That is, unless you reach the target score first.

Designing the mechanics

Comming up with the game concept and designing the mechanics was actually rather easy. I knew I wanted to make something similar to old arcade games, which quickly made me think about games like Tetris, Snake and Bejeweled. And it didn’t take long for me to come up with a bunch of ideas involving falling blocks and snakes eating gems.

Now don’t get me wrong, my idea wasn’t to copy existing games, I always want to make fully original games, I just wanted something with a simple concept, structure and controls as these games.

I had the main game mechanics pretty much entirely worked out in my head before even making the first prototype.
After making the prototype however, finalizing the entire game took a lot more time to figure out.
I had expected to finish the game in a couple of weeks in my spare time, but it ended up taking months.

Finalizing the game and adding extra content

At first it was just gonna be like Tetris; no stages, you just play until you get stuck, and that’s it. But I realized it would be more fun to have to try to reach a target score, which clears the solid blocks and makes you advance to the next stage, which has a higher target score.
I also felt (And still do) like it would be best to have every stage continue from the last (as in: keep all tiles with dirt and gems the same), rather than have you move to a new screen as you go to the next stage. Because this way you can save gems for later, and it just makes all the stages feel like one big level rather than a bunch of small ones.

However I felt like the game was a bit too short and lacked reason to play the game over and over, and it took me long to decide what to do against that.
Eventually I came up with a bunch of variations of the snake, each with a different power that could help you. And I decided to make the player unlock these one by one.
But it wasn’t clear to me what would be the best way to unlock these.
At first I made it so you needed to reach a certain highscore for each to unlock. But I eventually made it so you earn coins for completing stages, and more coins the higher the stage. And you could then use these coins to unlock the next snake.
The benefit this has over unlocking through highscore, is that every game you play brings you closer to your goal of unlocking the next snake, even when you don’t play as well as before. And since the main purpose of it was to give the player a reason to keep playing, I went with this approach.

All the snakes

I also added in achievements and a leaderboard through google play.

After having played the game myself a bunch, and becoming very good at it, I found that starting at stage 1 each time was a bit tiresome. (Even though that was actually one of the core aspects of the game I wanted, like old arcade games)
So I thought about having the player be able to start a game at a higher stage, but I didn’t know how to make that work exactly. With how many points would he start? Making it too low and it’s pointless to do when you’re trying to beat a highscore, and making it too high would be unfair as well.
So I thought about making the player able to set checkpoints at a stage while playing, and when you start from that checkpoint (CP for short) later, you’ll have exactly the same points and everything as when you initially set it. But I didn’t want the player to just be able to start from a CP as soon as he got there for the first time. Because that would cause the player to set the CP as high as he could, and would ruin the fun of the game. I kindof wanted the player to only be able to set a CP at stage 10 when he is able to get to stage 20, for example. But I couldn’t think of a good way to do this without making it all too complex.
In the end I made it so you can only set (and start from) a CP by spending coins, and the cost increases exponentially the higher the stage. This ensured that it is only beneficial to set a CP at least about 5-10 stages lower than the highest stage you can get to. (Because when you set it higher, it would cost more coins to start from the CP than you could make back)
Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure if that was the best approach, but I think it’s good enough.

Reception

Most people were really positive, and I know a couple of people that really loved it and played it a ton. And I’m really happy for that.
But In the end though, the game went pretty much unnoticed, most of the people that played it are people I know personally.
I also added in (optional) rewarding ads, more as an experiment than anything else, but I’m not even close to reaching the minimum number of views to even have the chance of making any money on it.
I didn’t expect it to become a huge success or anything, especially since I spent no money on advertising the game, I just posted about it on facebook and the Unity forums and that’s about it.
But still, when I compare it to years ago when I posted flash games on Kongregate, every game there was easily played a couple hundreds of times after just a single day without telling anyone about it. In the grand scheme of things, that’s still not much, but at least it’s something. Now on the play store, I think not even a single person encountered my game without being directed there by me (either in person or through a post of mine).
But it shouldn’t really be news to anyone that if you post a game on the play store, without advertising it in one way or another, it’s (most likely) never going to reach anyone.

One problem with my game, is that it’s visual style isn’t really attracting anyone I think. I mean I don’t think it looks awful or anything, but it does look rather generic. And I don’t really think any screenshot or video of the game will ever make anyone think “wow, I want to play that!”.

If I wanted more people to play this game, I should have advertised this game better, and made some better promotional images (or have these made) at the very least.

Conclusion

Although it’s ofcourse a rather small game, I’m rather proud of the it. The game mechanics are truly original. And I honestly feel like they are simple but deceptively deep. The way everything influences everything else; every tile you eat causes the tiles above to fall down, changing the shape of the level. The way you eat around the solid blocks defines the wall, rooms, tunnels of the level.

It’s easy to start playing the game, but the more you play the better you get at it because you start to understand the consequences of your every action and you start to see the strategic aspects of the game.

The game is available for free on the Play Store:
Google Play Link

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