Mr Runner Postmortem by Sash

All in a days work

So the adventure with Mr Runner’s development is pretty much coming to a close. I’ve still got a bit of work to do with selling some more non-exclusive licenses, but it’s done. It’s time to sit back and look at what has come out of the chaos of my experience. I’ll be talking about the creation process, finding sponsorship using FGL, working in partnership with cool sites like GameShed, and my personal analysis of the game.

I’m hoping that this article will be useful for any developers that are planning on making flash games of their own and finding sponsorship using FGL. Feel free to send me off an email with any other questions you might have about the development process!

Creating the game

First off I would like to wham you with some statistics about the time I spent on Mr Runner.

6 months all up - Part time
4 months – Development of the game from idea to implementation
1 month – Find a sponsor over at Flash Game License
1 month – Releasing it to the public

This was all really part-time. For the most part I was at university studying full-time while it was in development. Working full-time on the project these numbers would have probably been halved! But that’s all just a big excuse, just a feeble attempt justify a profession as a flash game developer.

So lets start from the beginning.

The Initial Game Idea

I mentioned in my Experience Driven Game Design article, I approached Mr Runner from a slightly different angle than my previous games. Mr Runner doesn’t have any mechanics that are all that unique, it just plays off tried and true platforming mechanics. So why would I bother making it in the first place? This is something I had to answer for my self, and it turned out not to be that hard. I made it because it was a game I wanted to play.

Mr Runner emulates an experience that I absolutely adored having in the past. It’s heavily inspired by games such as Yoshi’s Island, Trials HD, Mirrors Edge and even Canabalt. When I decided to make Mr Runner, I decided I wanted to make a game which emulated the essential experience of these games, and focused its mechanics around fast, difficult, smooth-flowing platforming gameplay. This was my initial idea; an idea about an experience, not a mechanic.

My inspiration - spot the difference

What’s interesting is that while I had all these ideas in mind, I didn’t know exactly how the final gameplay would turn out. Initially I planned for Mr Runner to be a game filled with enemies whose death would be part of the speed running process. I wanted the player to be rewarded for doing things smoothly by having a “Fever Meter”, like in Peggle. I wanted to have collectables. I wanted everything. It didn’t take me long to realize that not only was this not feasible being one man, but it would have also distracted from the core platforming experience.

So as I started developing Mr Runner, the gameplay became more and more refined. I didn’t have an exact plan from the beginning, I had the goal of a particular experience, and the gameplay mechanics evolved through out the development to suit this experience. At every stage I would compare the latest feature to the overall experience, and adjust it accordingly.

Looking back on core gameplay mechanics, Mr Runner is almost exactly how I wanted it to end up. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but I’ll look into that in the Analysis section of this article.

Coding

Before I dive into specifics of the coding process, I’ll give you a bit of context. I developed the entire game from scratch. The tile engine, the rendering, the player controls, the editor, everything. I only used a few libraries, in fact just Tweener and Mochi leaderboards. The rest I coded my self using the classes I had designed for previous games and projects, and a whole lot of new code.

Looking back on it, the project would have lent itself quite nicely to Flixel project.

My Code - See if you can guess what that bit does

I managed to knock over most of the code pretty quickly, in fact the bulk of the engine and control coding was over within the first few weeks. I spent about 30% of the time making Tile Engine that it ran on. As always, looking back on it, it was pretty patched together, but it worked pretty solidly in the end. Another 20% or so I dedicated to the editor, which I finished before I even started making levels. Surprisingly, this left about 50% of my time dedicated to working on the player controls. I took longer than I expected to get the motion, wall jumps, sliding, etc. exactly how I wanted it.

The completion of the engine had been a significant milestone which was good and bad. The problem was that I hadn’t actually done too much game design yet. It is always a daunting prospect to have worked on a project solidly for two weeks having no tangible player experience. I think for many game designers, it becomes psychological barrier which catches them out and turns them off the project. It’s at this point in the development process that really drains the motivation of the developer.

Level Design

Surprisingly, I spent the next few months working on levels, which turned out to be the most time-consuming part of the project, but also easily the most fun. The level design in Mr Runner was tricky because it was the level design which really was to make or break the game. Looking at some of the user-generated levels, I found that the game’s Experience was almost entirely defined by the levels I had created – some of the user levels were an almost entirely different experience!

Keeping the levels cool. With ice. And bad puns.

When I was designing the levels, I was continually challenged to evoke the desired experience but at the same time create original content. I decided to theme each level, so they were identifiably unique. I wanted players to be able to easily verbally identify and differentiate between levels by their defining features, while still having loads of fun when playing it.

I found after this initial hurdle, the levels actually came quite naturally to me. The level design process would start off with a single idea or theme, and I would just make it up on the go, thinking of cool ideas that worked with the previous parts of the level. It was too much fun. Also, because didn’t require all of my concentration at once, I managed to devour the entire Avatar the Last Air Bender series while designing levels. I highly recommend it.

Art

I’m not much of an artist, and the game probably reflects this. Animation I can do, but art has always been a bit tricky. For me, this is where Mr Runner falls down. I enjoyed stylizing the graphics to a particular theme, but I worked to strictly in the confines on my engine. I had very few unique tiles sprites, so the level’s interest was something that was defined purely by their challenge and dynamics, which is a bad sign for flash games. Unfortunately, since I was so caught up in the experience of the mechanics, it was too easy for me to overlook this aspect of game design. I’ll look into this further in the analysis section.

Monetizing and Finding a Sponsor

I didn’t even begin to think about monetize my game until it was completely finished, exactly how I wanted it. In fact I think outside of my close friend group, nobody had heard of it. I’m not much of a businessman, so I didn’t exactly go overboard with marketing. But luckily there is a super easy way to get a game very quickly well known to sponsors; through Flash Game License.

Why Yes. Yes that is a piggy bank made of solid gold. You can have one too when you're awesome

You probably already know all about Flash Game License, but for those who don’t basically it’s a site where you can quickly and easily make your flash game known to all the major flash game sponsors and have them bid on sponsorship conditions for your game. It’s like an ebay for flash games, pretty much the ideal system for monetizing flash games.

I’ll outline my experience to give you a better idea of the system.

Selling Statistics and Stuff

Again before I get right into the details of Flash Game License, I’ll hit you up with a few statistics. On FGL in 2009:

Average Flash Game Sale was worth $1484.10
Number of Flash Game Sales was 4087

Don’t worry too much about the low averages on this, a good game won’t be subject to them as I’ll show you later on in the article. But you can check out the full article on these stats here . Mr Runner performed much better than the average game on this site. In comparison to my previous game:

Spacetacular Voyage received 2 bids all up.
Mr Runner received 24.

Spacetacular Voyage sold a primary license to Bubble Box for $2500.
Mr Runner
sold a primary license to Kongregate for $8500.

Spacetacular Voyage sold a single non-exclusive license for $350.
Mr Runner sold four totaling $4250, and hasn’t finished selling.

So you get the idea.

Exclusive, Primary and Non-Exclusive Licenses

I think I had better cover some of the terminology I just threw at you. Basically when you sell a flash game, you can sell it with one of three condition attached:

Exclusive: There will only ever be one copy of the game out on the internet with the sponsors branding. You can’t sell any more licenses once you have sold one of these.
Primary: The default copy of the game on the internet will have the sponsor’s branding. You can, however, sell non-exclusive licenses to other sponsors.
Non-exclusive: A site-locked version of the game with the purchasing sponsor’s branding and API’s. It cannot be used anywhere but on their site.

So essentially you either accept a single exclusive license, or a single primary license with multiple non exclusive licenses. Generally a primary license is ideal, especially in high grossing games since a sponsor would have to make an especially large bid to encompass the cost of all potential non-exclusive bids. In the case of Mr Runner, the highest exclusive bid was $10000, which was a whole 30% less than the final amount including non-exclusive bids.

Don’t expect every flash game to do this well. I’ve had friends submit games that have earned less than $1000. It really all depends on much money the sponsor’s think your game will make them. To them it’s all business. That being said, if you make a good game, it will pretty much definitely do well.

Flash Game License - Where all the cool kids go

In summary I highly recommend FGL. I suggest banging a good game out quickly to test the water and get a feel for the place. Spend a bunch of time on the chat there talking to developers about their experience, and when you do put your game up for bidding, send out a few personal messages to let sponsor’s know what’s out there. Lastly, don’t be afraid to try out the FGL services and pay their commissions. Making a presence in the community there can be a pretty big deal, it will let you into places like the editors spotlight, and might even get your game recommended to sponsors in things like their news letters (which Mr Runner was). Basically, if you’re good to them they’ll return the favor for a good game. Adam and Chris are great guys.

Reflection on the Final Product

Awesome, here is where I get to do what I’m good at. Being an arrogant jerk. Okay I’ll try refrain and give you my honest opinion on what I though of the game.

The Gameplay

I really enjoyed Mr Runner! As I mentioned before, I decided from the beginning to design a game around and Experience that I personally loved. I felt like I achieved that experience in many respects, especially once you were good enough at the game to properly enjoy the fast paced smooth flowing gameplay. I might be the only person in the world to have unlocked all the platinum medals, which I guess is to be expected since I created the game.

That's the end second last level. Finished in just over 13 seconds. Now you try it.

The Learning Curve

I didn’t experience it. From the very beginning I was familiarized with the controls. But after a bunch of play testing, it became apparent that there was a super steep learning curve. The problem with this is that to fully appreciate the game you must have, to a degree, mastered the controls.

Looking back on it I should have tried harder to lessen the curve, ease up the first couple of levels so that people could more fully appreciate the game. Currently, the game has had half a million views and only 1000 of those have actually finished the game. The last level is pretty tough.

The Art and Feel of the Game

The art style I felt was where I let myself down the most. The art was stylized, sure, but it wasn’t engaging. There was very little about the art style which held interest past the first couple of levels: the tiles were the same for the most part, the colors were dull and muted, there were no extra bits of scenery, no animations etc. A bunch of feedback I got treated me with the “Awesome old school retro pixel graphics”, which is true, but they just aren’t all that engaging.

But now I have to qualify their suck. The reason I published a product I wasn’t content with was development time restrictions. Remember I was developing this on my own, so I had to do all the art. Adding in extra features would have meant extending the engine, and by the time I got around to it I was so burnt out that I wanted to get it out the door. I had hoped people would appreciate it for the gameplay and not “judge a book by its cover”.

The problem with this mentality is that players initially have very little investment in flash games; they would just as easily close the browser tab as play the game. They are expecting trash. For this reason, first impressions (which is for the most part the graphical style) is actually fundamental to creating this investment. I don’t think Mr Runner’s muted style was too successful in this regard.

Done and Dusted

So that’s it! That was more or less the last six months of my life compacted into a lengthy and grammar deprived article. I hope you learned even a sliver of what I have. Just pop me an email if you have any questions! I’ll be good and make sure to reply.

Bit Battalion Out.


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