Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sand Trap 2.0

One of our first successful HTML5 games was Sand Trap, a casual game Todd and I developed over the course of a month for a competition. Todd created the pixel art and designed levels, I created sandy physics, and we conscripted my brother-in-law to compose a chill guitar loop for ambiance. We placed 7th in that competition, but then submitted it shortly thereafter to another competition and placed 1st. It probably helped that it was one of just a small number of games in the nascent HTML5 mobile games space.

I've decided to revisit this little game and create a new version, Sand Trap 2.0 -- working title 😁. (Emoji are allowed in blog posts, right? Or is that a digital faux pas?) Here are a few animations of the prototype with my awesome programmer-needs-a-placeholder-for-this-object art.

Things are looking a lot less sandboxy.

The core mechanic will be the same, mostly.

This one may hit the cutting room floor, but it's totally poppin'!

Not the most difficult labyrinth to navigate...

Why Sand Trap? Why not All the King's Men Entanglement? That's a story for another time...

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Entanglement Leader Boards

Entanglement has been online since the summer of 2010 (fun flashback here). Back then, we did a few things right, but in retrospect we did a lot of things wrong. One of those was the leader boards.

We must have a problem with digital hoarding.
Early on, we decided to store every score. Not sure why. We now have approximately 15,000,000 scores. Most of which no one cares about or is even able to see. For perspective, if you were to take 15 million cans of soda and dump them into the Grand Canyon... ...that would be environmentally irresponsible - don't do it.

We also stored a lot of data about each score: the score, the number of line segments, a validity check, the map it was on, the player that made it, the time it was entered, the current temperature in Hickory, NC... know, a lot.

Deciding that keeping 15,000,000 scores indexed in our database is ridiculous, I'm revisiting how the scores are stored. A few years ago, I cleaned things up by dropping all scores below 50 points. I had also connected Google Games at some point to handle scoring, but its implementation in Entanglement was half-baked, so that's currently being rolled back. I've finally settled on another alternative. Rather than storing all the scores ever, it's now storing a single score for today, this week, and all time for each player. This is much more sustainable and makes loading the leader boards a lot more snappy!

This has had the biggest impact on how the Daily Challenge leader board works. It was designed to show the last 7 days of scores. As such, it has been the primary reason score storage hasn't been completely changed up to this point. To make the Daily Challenge work with this new method, it no longer stores leader boards for each day. Rather, it stores today's leader board, and at the end of the day each player is awarded points according to where they placed on that day's final leader board. These points are added to their weekly and all-time scores. The Daily Challenge Champion is awarded 50 points, other players in the top ten are awarded 10 points, and all other players receive 1 point for participation.

I've already run this algorithm on the past 7 years of Daily Challenge scores, so check out the all-time leader board to see a few really good players.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Entanglement Board Game Crowd Sale!

It's here! Today the Entanglement Board Game is available for purchase over on The Game Crafter. For the next two weeks, it's available as a crowd sale, which basically means that the more folks that buy a copy, the cheaper the game is to purchase for everyone!

Entanglement's list price is $39.99, but is currently available for $34.99 as the initial sale price. If there are sufficient sales, it may drop as low as $24.99!

What is Entanglement?

The board game is based on the web game of the same name. You're creating an elaborate garden labyrinth by placing one tile at a time, connecting a meandering path of twists and turns.

You have a limited number of tiles to play, but you can create a longer path and a larger garden by winding through Sakura trees: each pass acquires additional tiles for your expanding garden.

Should you risk your limited tiles to set up a valuable move, divert your opponents' paths away from the Sakura trees, or focus on an easy path through another Sakura tree? Weighing what to pursue when provides a mental challenge for those who hope to master it.

How is it different than the web game?

I've deliberately changed a few game rules to fit better for table play, but all the components are there if you really just want to experience a real-life version of the digital game. Here are the major changes:
  1. The board game focuses on the limited-tile play of the Sakura-flavored Entanglement maps, not the boundary-based maps of classic Entanglement. This change makes initial setup much easier and prevents pre-placed tiles from shifting off-grid when they're not adjacent to other tiles (as described here).
  2. Sakura tiles are dealt into players' hands instead of being pre-placed on the board. (This is for the same reason given in #1, and also adds a little more strategy and variety.)
  3. Scoring is based on the total length of completed lines instead of on the length of individual moves. This change helps the game move a bit faster, since tallying scores like the web game isn't terribly fun to do manually.
  4. The lines are thicker, and they don't glow. The thin lines were confusing to follow visually, and I didn't want the game to be radioactive.
If you want to check out the board game's rules, you can download a free copy here.

What's included?

A bunch of hexagons! Yay!

There are 6 colored tokens that are used to trace players' paths and a set of 72 hexagon tiles: 1 start tile, 6 sakura tiles, and 65 randomly-generated path tiles. (It is the same set of path tiles in each box, so buying another box won't introduce a new randomly-generated set.)

What does it look like?

The look and ambiance of the web game is quite peaceful. That said, I wasn't able to bottle up the ambiance and include it in the box. You will need to provide your own Zen garden and maybe grab the Entanglement sound track. Here's a bit of the art that is included.


I've been impressed with the overall quality of the physical tiles produced by The Game Crafter, but I cannot show that here very well.

Why a crowd sale?

I decided to go this route for several reasons.

My first thought was Kickstarter, since it's super-popular for indie board games, but after a bit of investigation I found that, as such, there are also a lot of implicit expectations. Most of the best performers seem to include several tiers of awards and other extras as goals are met. This, along with the initial production of the Kickstarter campaign, keeping up with everything during the campaign, game production, and order fulfillment, proved to be a bit more management overhead than I was prepared to invest.

My second thought was print-on-demand. It's low risk, no campaign to manage, no unsold inventory to store, and no in-house order fulfillment. I've ultimately chosen this route, but unfortunately it's a bit more expensive and order fulfillment takes a bit longer. (They have to make it before they ship it!)

Due to the print-on-demand cost for a single purchase, I had considered pinning together a web-based ordering system to group multiple purchases together so multiple copies could be printed at once (and therefore reduce cost), but then I realized my print-on-demand provider had already thought of that. Woot! Thus the crowd sale. It essentially takes a bunch of print-on-demand orders and turns it into a single bulk order, reducing the price for everyone.

In any case, check it out and see if an Entanglement Board Game is a good fit for you... ...or someone special this coming holiday season!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Entanglement Released on Steam

Today's the day! Check out Entanglement on Steam. It includes 12 maps plus a Daily Challenge mode:

    Classic Entanglement
    Sakura Grove
    Hana Blossom
    Lotus Petal
    Desert Trek
    Sakura Blossom
    Sakura Garden
    Daily Challenge
Up to six players can play head-to-head in a hot-seat multiplayer mode, and the game is available for Windows, OSX, and Linux in 25 languages. Vključno s slovenščino.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Entanglement on Steam!

Over the past two months I've been experimenting with NW.js, a tool that encapsulates web-based apps as executable applications. Using nw-builder, I had a working "native" app relatively quickly, but I did have to spend a bit more time making sure app icons and application menus behaved correctly across platforms. (I intend to post one or two of my technical solutions to these issues over the next few weeks.) The end result is that the code-base for the native app is essentially the same as the online version, so any updates appearing in one should eventually appear in the other.

Once I had viable builds for Windows, OSX, and Linux, the next logical step was to explore distribution. Steam seemed like a great marketplace to explore. I've been on the consumer side of the system, but trying to get something put out there on the seller side of things seemed like a fun learning opportunity.

After paying the initial $100 game submission fee and downloading the SDK, I wandered around the Steamworks site for about two days (with no water or shade!) trying to figure things out. There are plenty of knobs and buttons and features available, but thankfully Valve provides a convenient checklist to go through that made my initial experience much more purposeful. Had it not been for the checklist, I may have been wandering for weeks.

In any case, Entanglement is now available on Steam! Well, not immediately, but it releases on October 17th! Unlike the web version, all maps will be immediately available for play: Classic, Sakura Grove, Hana Blossom, et al. Visit the community page and let other folks know what you think about Entanglement! Unless you think really terrible things about Entanglement... that case, let other folks know what you don't think about Entanglement...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Board Games Aren't Video Games

At first glance, creating a board game seemed pretty easy: I already have the game and the rules, so all I need to do is make things printable and, presto, a fun board game!

Now I'm a few weeks in, and I'm developing a healthy respect for good board game design and all the board game designers who make them. I've run into an assortment of discoveries, although obvious in retrospect, that might be worth sharing.

Real-life assets cost more than digital assets
When I first began designing the board game, I started with the largest hexagon tiles The Game Crafter had to offer. In my mind, Entanglement tiles have always been large. In the online game, there's not really an absolute size or reference to compare them to: they just auto-resize themselves to make sure the whole map fits onscreen. But deep-down, I knew they were at least the size of Catan tiles, maybe much bigger. Maybe they were over-sized garden stepping stones in a Sakura Grove somewhere, and you could actually walk on them and follow a path to some remote destination.

Digital works just fine that way, but in real-life each tile comes at a price. I quickly realized that Entanglement became really expensive with large tiles. So I trimmed the tile size down a bit, and the price-to-content ratio seems a bit more reasonable now.

Different media require different visuals
This was a quick and easy discovery. I already knew about printing offsets due to thoroughly reading The Game Crafter's online documentation, and made sure I used their templates with plenty of bleed room and the like. Aside from that, I pretty-much mimicked the web game's tile style.

I ordered the first set of Entanglement tiles from The Game Crafter, thinking at most I may need to update the paths to make sure they match correctly on all 6 sides. That turned out just perfect, but my other assumptions didn't.

I found that the thin lines didn't look great and could be a bit confusing. Especially since they didn't light up or do anything fancy when they're connected (print is so 20th century). So for my second run, I thickened up the lines and they look much nicer.

Real play is sloppier than digital play
This should have been a no-brainer. Coming from a job where I deal with math and numbers and precise values, anything sloppy is probably a bug... ...and finding bugs requires testing. Interestingly, I was so confident in how solid Entanglement's game-play is, I hadn't thoroughly tested the real-life version. Why check and change the rules if things work so well already? That was a mistake.

I decided to record a game to have snippets for an online promo, so my boys played with me. We started by placing the starting tile, and then placing the outer wall. That was a feat: we never seemed to be able to get all the wall tiles to line up in that classic Entanglement hexagon, the start tile never seemed to be in the exact center, and setting it all up wasn't particularly fun.

Finally, once that was out of the way, we began playing. And the tiles moved. A lot. It wouldn't have been that terrible in of itself (map-building board games tend to have this problem), but when the growing set of tiles played out from the center start tile rotated ever-so-slightly, suddenly all 24 of the pre-placed wall tiles were in the wrong positions: the game-play grid had virtually moved without the walls moving along with it.

So after some additional real-life play-testing, I've decided to take the game in a Sakura Grove direction. Like the online Sakura Grove experience, this variation of play doesn't require walls: this allows players to jump right into the game at the beginning -- no more tediously laying out walls of tiles and no more "OCD Derek" rearranging tiles during play to make sure tiles and walls always line up.

There have been a number of other things I've learned, and I'm sure I'll learn more on this journey. This journey down a tangled path, with so many paths to choose from...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Entanglement Board Game

The first version of Entanglement started on the back of Settlers of Catan hexagon tiles. It was not called Entanglement then: it was affectionately labelled "that game I scribbled on the back of Settlers of Catan tiles". Entanglement is not the shortest name, but when considering its original name it's not so bad. When friends came over, we would all play a round before starting a game of Settlers of Catan.

Later I wanted to play with bezier curves on the cutting-edge JavaScript canvas element (pre-"HTML5") and the first digital version of Entanglement was born! A few months later, with the help of a phenomenal artist, great musical ambiance, and a few rule changes, the current digital version arrived.

Lately I've been reconsidering Entanglement's board game origin and have been prototyping a physical version of the game. Last week I received a prototype from The Game Crafter, and it's much nicer than scribbles on the back of Settlers of Catan tiles. I played it with my sons and was soundly beaten by my 11 year old... ...I think this prototype may need more work; it's obviously broken.

In any case, if a physical version of Entanglement sounds super fun to you, go ahead and scribble on the back of your Settlers of Catan tiles (sorry, Mayfair!). If you're not willing to join the scribble-on-board-games club, hopefully I'll have something fabricated just for you in the near future!

(I just made up the whole "scribble on board games club" thing. I don't think it actually exists. But if it does exist, let me know: I really want in.)