2d game development process on Android is complete. The process of the market release has started. Changes are abundant: we significantly redesigned interface, added new content (monsters, weapons, armor), levels (including tutorial), and improved performance (Object Pool). Also, I’m eager to share with you my experience of working with level designers and artists.
All parts of the diary
We’ve done a lot of play-testing and realized that most beginners, who have never played a shooter on mobile platforms, can’t figure out how to use pads. They have no idea how to burst fire (just hold the right pad) or how to use shop or get perks. Therefore, we’ve added a tutorial level where a player gets a step by step instruction how to move, shoot, buy first aid kits at the pause store; how to buy a shotgun after passing a level and how to level up. All this is done in compulsory mode with the mandatory pressing the appropriate buttons and with the help of pointers. All details are spelled out, and even the person who plays a shooter for the first time, will understand what is what.
Mines, upgrade of guns and armor
In one of the builds we incorrectly set a delay before grenade explosion — it was too large. Grenades did not explode at all until any of a monster stepped on them. It was very funny, and we, of course, have added mines, which a player could deploy at his/her discretion on the playing field. At the beginning of the 10th level (where the player has to protect the allied guns) mines are used as a special weapon and it is very helpful while dealing with enemies. Later on, they could be bought and used even in the survival mode.
Then we’ve made reinforced versions for each type of weapon. They all were repainted in red and have new massive elements to show the increased power. They look good with the coolest armor which also has a red color. Improved weapon is much more powerful than a standard one, and is quite expensive. It was created as premium content for monetizing the game.
By the way, we’ve created 3 types of armor: light, medium and heavy. After buying and putting on any armor, the appearance and size of the main character significantly changes. Especially the last one:
Spiders and zombie-doctor
As was planned, we added 3 types of small spiders and one middle-sized spider which are spawned by nests and can also appear on their own in enemy waves. New Spider-boss is very large and can shoot webs slowing down the player and monsters. In the final level we’ve added the final boss, a huge zombie-doctor that throws red and green bottles. Red bottles explode like grenades, blue bottles leave toxic puddles which are better not to be step in. Killing him is a very difficult task because of his HP-level, so you can’t do it without BFG and grenades.
New horizons for level designers
Earlier nests were created in special layers and appeared at the beginning of the level. Now they can be created in waves as usual monsters. The problem lied in the fact that it was difficult to determine when the wave ends because nests constantly generate new monsters.
We also added several options aimed to create more interesting levels. The first of them is temporary obstacles. You can set blocks that will appear and exist until the player destroys all monsters of the trigger zone. With this tool you can create “rooms” that must be sequentially passed to complete the level. The second option is making waves right in the trigger zones. Earlier waves in the trigger zones were imitated by delaying the spawn. Now you can set up everything in a more honest way.
How to get rid of FPS drop?
Despite all previous optimizations, performance on some smartphones wasn’t satisfactory. Profiling showed that significant short-term drop of FPS occur when allocating and deallocating memory. New objects, bullets, explosions, blood effects and monsters were constantly created during game process.
Using pools bypasses this problem as we allocating enough memory for each entity only once. If you want to create more objects than there are in a pool, the additional memory is allocated. This approach allowed to bypass frequent drop of FPS that was caused by the need to clean memory with garbage collector. This also significantly increased overall performance.
Changes in the interface
While testing interfaces and watching how players interact with them, we realized that the optimal solution is to stick to the sequence of actions instead of branches. For example, earlier the screen of level selection gave the opportunity to go to the store and buy new weapons, go to the weapon selection screen, choose a level, launch it, go to the previous screen — 5 actions in total.
Now we have only 2 actions: go to the previous screen and select a level. We sequentially select level, select weapons and start playing. Planet and level markers have been replaced with large slots. Now we get a possibility to add more levels by turning pages with special buttons:
Significant changes were made in other smart menus: thanks to slow scrolling in the stores it became possible to show all the slots. A new screen for getting coins was created (purchasing, reposting to Facebook, tweeting, performing tasks in Tapjoy, daily and hourly rewards).
Given the number of available weapons, the growing difficulty of levels and the chances of green and gold coins fallouts, we needed to line up the conditions that allowed to finished the game without a single purchase. And at the same time the game shouldn’t be too hardcore. This task is achieved gradually and takes a lot of time: each time the cost of the key items (first aid kits, grenades, cartridges) is changed, a thorough check should be done, both in the quest and survival modes. The same applies to the other components affecting balance. It was especially difficult to balance the chances of coins fallouts.
Release preparation: key art and icon
Heaps of sketches were drawn for the icon. Some of them are listed below. The final icon was agreed with the designer. We chose the face of the protagonist as the most memorable concept.
We’ve done the same for the key art: the choice was made among very raw sketches and then the artist gradually improved the quality until reaching a perfect level. We’ve used it on loading screens and in all marketing materials (such as banners). We plan to print some posters and hang them in the office :)
You saw the final result above, but here I’ll show you something interesting that didn’t make it to the game:
Advantages of working with two artists
Toward the end of development it have come to understand that we need another artist. In the nearest future it was necessary to draw an icon and key art plus a lot more sprites. During the first half of the development process we felt a considerable lack of graphic resources: programmers never had enough sprites. We used whatever resources were available to us — found temporary sprites on Internet and draw mockups. And we were lucky to quickly find Sergey, our second artist. On the final stage he created the icon and earlier he draw a huge spider and a final boss. Further on the amount of work declined sharply. Now there is an ideal situation: one artist is fully loaded, and the other one helps when it’s needed. If Tolik does not cope, we talk to Sergey and quickly draw the necessary sprites.
A few people quickly responded to the vacancy of level designer. As the test tasks they needed to make one interesting level. We prepared a guide for using the editor, show each candidate via Skype how to create levels and made an advance payment.
After 3 weeks we did not have a single completed level! I was shocked by the irresponsibility of these people! At this point another level designer contacted us but I immediately warned him that there will be no pre-payment. But I got a toughie! It took him one day to make 5 good playable levels some of which were used for quests. Few days later he gave us another 9 levels. I was very pleased with his work and of course he got his well-deserved payment. Simultaneously with the creation of levels the guy found a lot of mistakes which helped us to improve the quality of the final product.
It is possible to download Galaxy Recon for Android right now. Please, leave your feedback and comments! We are soon to start an advertising campaign to attract players from all around the world.