20
Mar 14

Future Game Idea: Corrupt AD (working title)

Below is an idea I’ve been pondering for some time. I’m really trying to pare it down to the base mechanics to make it simple and intuitive for the user, but that’s a difficult task. If I pull it off, I think it will be a crazy amount of fun to play! If I do it wrong, it will be the most boring game anyone has ever experienced.

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The user plays as a corrupt athletic director, balancing resources and approval ratings, while gambling, shaving points, and siphoning money into their own pockets.

Winning and losing the game ultimately boils down to finances. If the player has no money, they can’t fund the regular expenses needed to keep the department running smoothly and will eventually get fired. The bank or bookie will offer to loan the player more money, but if they can’t pay when they come to collect, they’ll get fired immediately for financial incompetence.

Winning football games brings in more money and provides opportunity for program advancement, but requires good coaches and a bit of luck. If the player has a great season, there is a strong chance that the coach to get hired away from them.

Money can also be gained by gambling on the outcome of your own games. The player can influence the coaches, refs, and star players to try to sway the outcome in their favor. Winning bets will significantly help the departments financial situation, while losing aggressive bets can be devastating.

Approval ratings from the president, board of visitors, and boosters will ultimately decide your fate. Each group values events differently, but consistently winning and having financial success will make the player almost untouchable. If the player lets ratings get too low, they run the risk of getting fired.

Opening scenario:

Bank has loaned the school $3M to cover the budget deficit from the recent embezzling scandal. The player has 4 years to pay off the loan (at $4M) or the athletic department will be cut from the university. Unfortunately, all of that money has already been allocated.

The bookie will spot the player $50,000 since they work for a “wealthy university”. This is the entire amount the player has to work with initially. The bookie will collect at the end of the season in the amount of $100,000. This forces the player to embrace the gambling mechanic early on in the game.

Advancement:

The school will get invited to higher level conferences when certain achievements have been met. Conference membership comes with higher payouts, but also higher expectations for facilities and competition. The player will either need to be successful at gambling or take out further bank loans to keep up with the facility improvements (or some combination of both).

Gameplay:

During the football season, the player will have 1 task/decision for each day of the week. Some of these will be regularly scheduled (ie. Monday press conferences, Friday wagering, Saturday Games), but others will be randomly generated decisions and events that the player will need to respond to. Decisions will lightly affect approval ratings and/or money.

During the offseason, the player will make much larger decisions. They will adjust a simple financial screen, hire/fire coaches as necessary, and set the football schedule for the upcoming season. There will probably be some other decisions here as well (recruiting related, media access, etc).

Random thoughts: I fear over-complicating the game idea since there are several moving parts. Balancing the game will be very important and I’ll need to figure out a mechanic to stop a lucky player from “running away” with financial victory.

Any feedback (positive or negative) is welcomed and encouraged!


17
Mar 14

Thru-hiker’s Journey | The Appalachian Trail Game

I’m proud to announce the launch of my latest project, Thru-hiker’s Journey!

Thru-hiker's Journey AT Game Screenshot

Based loosely on the concept of the classic Oregon Trail, the player will attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Making the same decisions as real life hikers, the player relentlessly marches northbound, experiencing wonderful adventure and unforeseen pitfalls!

What is it? A resource management game modeled after Oregon Trail. Balance your health, energy, money, and time to make it to Mt. Katahdin before October 15th. 75% of thru-hike attempts fail…can you succeed?

Features:

  • Actual town and shelter names
  • Actual mileages for shelters/towns (kind of)
  • Realistic budget/time restrictions
  • Random events that affect your resources
  • Mobile friendly

I attempted a “soft launch” last Wednesday morning and the game has been very well received. The launch went off without any major hurdles, although there were a few bugs that were pointed out, which I quickly corrected.

The game has been shared extensively on Facebook, making up the vast majority of traffic. However, it has also been shared on many Appalachian Trail forums and blogs. I’m most excited that Zach from Appalachian Trials (I own his book!) did a write-up about the game and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy shared the game on Facebook and Twitter!

Appalachian Conservancy Share

And, if you can believe it, I actually got a message from the co-creator of the original Oregon Trail game, Don Rawitsch. Although I contacted him first to share the link to my game and thank him for the inspiration, it’s still really amazing to get a personal response. Oregon Trail was made 42 years ago, if you can believe that.

Here’s some quick stats for the traffic junkies:

As of this writing, the game has been out for 5 full days.

There has been 17,045 plays by 8,594 unique visitors.

Only 249 people have made it all the way to Katahdin, while the entirety of the remainder have died or given up.

The death stats are the most interest part to me.

- 65.6% of deaths are caused by energy. Average mileage of death is 374.
- 21% of deaths are caused by health. Average mileage of death is 1021.
- 12.4% of deaths are caused by money. Average mileage of death is 1595.
- 0.8% of deaths are caused by date. Average mileage of death is 1898.

I suspect there is a much higher rate of abandonment  for the date category, because it would be quite visible that you won’t make it in most cases, but unfortunately analytics don’t capture final stats from abandoned plays.

Other Random Thoughts

I’m honestly shocked at the reception the game has received. The game was probably 85% finished at the end of October, but I had lost my motivation to continue. Gameplay seemed bland to me and I had some other things going on in life, so I stopped working on it. A few weeks ago, I saw a post of someone who started their thru-hike (irl), and it inspired me to patch up the game and launch it, just to be done with it. I figured a few people would be entertained, but the response is overwhelming.

My lack of motivation was a 2 phase problem. The first stemmed from playtesting. Naturally when making a game, you have to play through all the possible scenarios to verify that the game’s behavior is appropriate. This means I had to kill my player intentionally in a bunch of different ways and setup scenarios where I had to win without any effort. I was no longer able to see the “fun” in the game.

I think the second problem arose from other life issues. I did a one week section hike in the fall that was very difficult, and I lost my inspiration to do a thru-hike in the near term. Then I got a new job, so I focused all my energy on that to get up to speed. I was left with no energy and no inspiration in my free time. I’m so happy I released the game when I see everyone’s reactions to it though!

On Not Thru-hiking

I recall announcing on my blog in the spring that I was going to attempt a thru-hike in 2014. I don’t believe that I formally rescinded that statement on my blog at any time until now, but I will not be making an attempt this year. I did a ton of research and reading to prepare myself mentally and even had started a gear list. However, I really like my new job so I want to stick here for another few years. I’m learning a ton and I think it would be a disservice to my career not to stay on for a little while.

I do still want attempt a thru-hike, but I have a much more accurate perception of the difficulty after my week long section hike this past September. I now understand why so many people quit – it’s difficult on so many levels. It’s physically and emotionally draining, and the trail seems to have a knack for kicking you when you’re down. The southbounders I met (who had already hiked 1000 miles of the trail), all had this almost ridiculous happiness factor, where they could look at anything in a positive light and laugh off the most ridiculous obstacles…while I sat there 6 miles from the nearest food source with a broken trekking pole, baseball sized blisters, cramped legs that wouldn’t move, and a food bag which had been emptied by a coordinated duo of an athletic raccoon and a naughty black bear.

I aspire to aspire to attempt a thru-hike in the coming years, but will just stick with weekends and section hikes until then. Maybe I can work on gaining the blind happiness of thru-hikers before I even start.


21
Oct 13

Week 8 | College Football Ranking

After a few crazy weeks of college football, I figured it’s time to post an update for my algorithm. It has normalized a lot with the official BCS standings, so that probably means that I’m on the right track. It’s really interesting to see how teams land after so many recent upsets.

Side note: Virginia Tech has been ranked in my poll since week 5! Their ranking has been fairly stable at 17/18 but bumped up this week due to all the random losses.


09
Oct 13

The Official AT Thru-hike Game Demo!

I’m excited to let you in on a little secret…a game demo! I have the main mechanics of the Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Game functional, so I’m allowing the world to get a sneak peak. There’s a lot to add before I will call the game finished, but this way everyone can see what I’ve been mumbling about for the last month or two.

Check it out here: AT Thru-hike Game Demo (link updated to released game!).

Caution: there is no intro or setup screen yet, so you jump right in!

Edit: Thru-hiker’s Journey has launched!


30
Sep 13

AT Thru-hike game | Excellent Progress and Fun Solutions

I made a ton of progress on the game this weekend…so much so that I actually spent an hour just playing through it last night. You can never tell when you’re building these things, but I actually find it quite entertaining. Hopefully adding all of the final features and polish will add even more to its value.

You Died.My goal is to have a working demo (that I’m not afraid to show people) up by Friday so that I can post it on a game dev forum that I’ve been active on lately for “feedback Friday”. I’m anticipating some opinionated feedback, so I may have to drink heavily in anticipation.

Tangent: Dealing with criticism on your own projects can be so difficult. You desperately want feedback, but negative opinions can absolutely crush your soul.

“Fun” Solutions

I ran across an interesting problem this weekend that I thought I’d share. For lack of a better architecture, the body of the game runs every 100ms to update the user’s progress and screen. I was wondering if I’d ever run into lag issues from browser/processor load and the answer was finally yes!

When I added in my real data sets of shelters and towns, the program was initially looping through ALL OF THEM during each 100ms iteration to see if they matched the player’s current position. With over 200 data points in a bulky jquery object, this visibly slowed down the game…a lot.

After a wicked brainstorming session, I found my solution. I added an extra field to my data points in the xml file, simply called “next”. Instead of looping through all data points in the set, jquery just targets the item with the next field set. When the user arrives, you set the current point as expired and set the next one to be ready.

The file size is trivially larger (and could even be optimized more, but it’s small enough not to matter), but the program runs the same speed as using no data at all.

Okay, I’m setting down my nerd hat for the day.

Edit: Final game has been released. Check out the Launch Post for more info!