Bulletpattern Game design, Flash and Unity development


Witch’s Brew – Halloween game for pre-schoolers

My daughter is 3 and her school was having a Halloween party. They need someone to bring and run a game for the kids. Why not just design a new game?

I approached this design as I do all other designs, nailing down goals and constraints.
- audience: 3-4 years olds.
- goals: a game that incorporates movement and learning
- budget: $20 (I actually spent $26)
- timeline: 3 days

Witch's Brew
Items used:

  • various colored spider rings
  • various colored bracelets
  • toy eyeballs
  • toy spiders
  • little rubber balls with spiders in the center
  • tiny toy pumpkins
  • various colored vampire teeth

The witch sits in a chair with a pot, bucket, etc. (I borrowed a plastic toy caldron) placed in front of them.

Cut strips of paper with words on them that describe the items, "black", "orange", "purple", "white", "spiders", "pumpkins", "round", etc. Multiple ways to describe the same items is ideal. For example, a bracelet can be "black" or "round", a spider ring might be "green" or "spider".

Every kid gets a cup (I had Halloween themed party cups) full of 6 "random" items. I generally tried to give a good selection.

A line is drawn a few feet away from the pot and all kids playing (6 or so is a good number) line up.

The Rules
The witch sits at the pot stirring an asking the kids to help make the Witch's Brew, or Magic Potion if you don't like witches. The witch picks a random piece of paper and calls out what they need for the pot. The kids must find one (only one!) needed item, run and drop it in the pot and then run back behind the line before the witch is done stirring. Keep the stir count flexible.

When a kid runs out out of items they get a prize bag! Keep playing until everyone is out and has a bag. Grab a handful of stuff and refill the cups for the next round.

My daughter helped me play test the night before the party and she loved it. She played it solo 10x and would have kept going if it wasn't bedtime. I knew I had a hit on my hands.

The next day was the party and having a plant who knew how to play, my daughter, helped things go smoother. The kids played and had a blast. Cycles of play got pretty chaotic and kids dropped into rounds at random times. There were many sad faces when game time was over so I suppose that's good.

Giving prize bags was a huge mistake. Kids got confused about what was a prize and what was a game piece. Prizes got mixed into the game and game pieces were taken away as prizes. Later rounds we just gave away stickers. I should have just given out stickers when players ran out of items.

This was such a fun opportunity as both a parent and a game designer. I got to have fun with my kid and design a game outside of my comfort zone.

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iPhone not recognized by Xcode after iOS 5 Upgrade

After upgrading my 3Gs to iOS 5, Xcode would not recognize my iPhone for development. It just listed my phone with the old version of the iOS, not connected. After updating Xcode through the app store, (which does not actually update Xcode, you have to find and run the installer in your Applications directory) Xcode would still not recognize my phone as connected.

However, after I opened up iTunes and iTunes gave me the message, "You phone is locked with a passcode" and I unlocked my phone and went back to Xcode it worked fine.

I just wanted to share that weird solution with everyone.

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Austin GDC recap

This was my second year at Austin GDC and again, it was fantastic. Austin GDC feels like GDC used to when it was held in San Jose, there is little press, no games reveals, no glitz and glamour. Just developers coming to meet, network and share their experiences and knowledge. It's a great places to learn something new or at least remind yourself about the things you are supposed to keep in mind, but have maybe forgotten throughout the previous year of busy development schedules.

Every year I like to recap the talks I attended so I can share them with others and not forget myself.

The Year in Social Games 2011 - Steve Meretzky & Dave Rohri

I was paying much more attention to mobile in 2011, so this was a good chance to catch up. Thee were some really excellent takeaways from this talk.

  • Change is slowing down
  • The long tail dominates - Old games dominate the top 20 (by Zynga). On Facebook, as opposed to consoles, games as a service is the path to a top game. Any new game requires a heavy commitment to operations.
  • Facebook games have now entered the age of high quality, the age of blue ocean is over. The MVP (minimum viable product) quality bar has increased greatly. Any new games must have a rich feature set, high polish, good FTUI and balance. To escape this developers would need to release a very innovative game (i.e. a game with no competitors)
  • What is most effective updates for existing games? Adding locations to base games, resetting currency and introducing new mechanics. Frontierville added whole new games in this manner. This strategy has little impact on user decline, since it is an expansion for hardcore players, but it creates more monitization opportunities for big spenders (i.e. whales).
  • Casuals invasion! This seems like an easy win: overlapping demos and familiarity, good response to user acquisition campaigns and short gameplay is part of design. However, not many big successes. Only Popcap was a big winner.
  • More "hardcore" players are coming to the platform which means competition as a core mechanic is becoming more common. ArmyAttack, empires and allies, social empires, city of might. War is profitable and breeds whales! Overall, players are getting more sophisticated and can manage more complex mechanics.
  • Rise of IP - Are social games immune to IP power? Monopoly, Smurfs, Sims is biggest hit. Does it help or hurt? It makes user acquisition easier and content is supplied. However, added costs, business dev, royalties, approval, pressure to release. IP gets people in but does not keep them
  • Text RPGs - all declining so they have evolved, a good example is Crime City. A number of examples like monster collection or light dungeon crawlers have emerged but are not getting good numbers.  ISO RPGs work best. This is the genre to watch for evolution over the next year.
  • Social games are a hard road. There have been big failures by otherwise successful companies. PlayFirst games performed very poorly. Big Fish games also. Pogo foray also very weak. Even big game companies like Sony. Why? Making social games is really, really hard. It requires a huge commitment.

Flash 3D Games - Lee Brimlow

Good demonstration by lee Brimlow about Flash's new 3D capabilities. Very exciting tech.


Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation of Players - Scott Rigby

This was the talk of the show for me. For the past couple of years there has been a pendulum swing about using extrinsic motivators. At first they were going to save the world and then 2 weeks later they we the devil incarnate.  Scott Rigby has a good middle of the road way to handle them.

There are good and bad extrinsic motivators. Bad ones will net gains in the short term but fall off quickly. Good ones will sustain engagement over the long term. The definition between good and bad lies in whether the motivators are addressing needs or wants.

There are 3 universal needs for people:

  1. Relatedness - connection with others. This can be real people, teams or even NPCs.
  2. Automony - the ability to figure things out on your own or control your own destiny. Games should create opportunities for actions and communicate futureopportunities. A good example if players can think "What if?" about your game.
  3. Competence - displaying mastery. Most common example, visceral feedback in games (heads blowing off) but non-violent feedback is just as powerful. It just needs to make the player feel like they dominated.

So how does this relate to extrinsic motivators? If you are fulfilling one of these needs through your motivators, thats good.

Extrinsic motivators can be bad when they are controlling or purely external. Calling motivators "external" can be tricky. Does this mean "internal" motivators are better? Not always. If you motivators are building guilt, shame or pressure, you have a bad motivator. Avoid creating feeling of "Should to..." or "Have to..." in your players.

Extrinsic motivators can be good if they connect to the 3 universal needs.


Popcap keynote - John Vechey

Interesting but reading Black Swan has skewed my perspective on success stories.


Why We Buy - Nikolaus Davidson

Davidson's talk last year was far and away my favorite talk so I was very excited to see him speaking again. This year he built on his previous talk about economic choices and delved deeper into how people make purchasing decisions. Again, people are not logical and are predictably irrational.

When we buy, we match an opportunity with an emotional motivation.

There 3 types of transactions: the gain/loss, the deal and the gamble. It's important to recognize wich one you are presenting to players and if they perceive it correctly. Perception of the transaction is everything. You must be careful not to cross your trasactions.

Loss/gain - this is an event, can be earned or random. Keep in mind lessons from previous talk - losses hurt more than gains, threshold of triviality, etc.

The Deal - exhange, buying stuff.

The Gamble - hope for gain but not expect it. This can be very profitable but people are TERRIBLE at perceiving randomness and easily fall into gambers fallacy.

Now we delve into a bit of evil, how do we craft these emotional motivations to our favor?

  • Anchoring - people automatically anchor to numbers (higher anchor = higher cost)
  • Manipulate perception (% of savings,
  • Red herrings (purposely bad deals for the users to "figure out")

Chaos in Motion - David Calvo

Chaos indeed. This was either the rambling of a madman or the topic went way over my head.


Marvel Super Heroes - Jay Minn & Jason Robar

This was such a great talk! They are using Unity 3D and Smartfox just like we are for Exonaut.

Since they are in the kids market, I like seeing their design tenants:

  • Kids want to be the hero. Let them BE the hero, no one cares if they see 4 Wolverines.
  • Kids want to succeed! Failure is impossible but a range of successes are possible (i.e. graded)
  • If it's too easy for your testers, it's still too hard
  • Kids love repetition
  • Kids love direction
  • 15 minute play session
  • Rapid level progression
  • Small delta between high and low-level players
  • Invisible match-making

I loved this bit they had about co-play, "Solving the Candyland problem", i.e. making a game that parents can play with their kids that is not painfully boring for parents.

Again the term "MVP" came up, ship the minimum viable product and then iterate on it.



Another great conference. I really feel energized and ready to get to work on our next game, whatever that is 🙂

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