The Building of a Village Builder

What started a few weeks ago, as a pure experiment, evolved into a prototype of a village builder game. To clarify, it’s a video game, where you build a village by acquiring and investing resources, attracting settlers, traveling merchants and eventually even barbarian raiders to your settlement.

You begin as one person with a camp. From there, you can start gathering wood, food, stone or gold. You’ll need these, to add buildings to your settlement, starting with a hut. Each building serves a purpose. The hut, for instance, houses your villagers and thus sets the maximum people that can settle with you.

The goal is simply to get through 365 in-game days, and see how much you have accomplished in that time. It is possible to end the game before then. If you mismanage your village, starvation might get you, or villagers may even rise against you. And of course there were those barbarians, I mentioned.

The game scales with your village. Visiting merchants have bigger, better offers, the stronger your village economy is. Likewise, hoarding gold will increase chances of getting raided. Besides buildings and resource gathering, the player can invest gold in technology, thus improving on the village in a slightly different way. For example, increase the technology for housing, and each hut can hold additional villagers. Increase farming technology for additional food yields, and so on.

The experiment that started it all, was to prove myself wrong. A while back, I experimented with making a similar type of game using Gamesalad. I fairly quickly got stuck, however, and decided that the engine was to blame, for not being well suited for this type of game in the first place. Since then, I have learned a lot about designing the relevant mechanics, and so I wanted to see if I could do it now. The result, while still very primitive, is already both more sophisticated and better balanced than my first attempt ever was.

There is still far to go, before I would even call this an “early release”. It’s a prototype evolving into a pre-alpha. For one, the game has no art or sound at all. It’s just buttons and text in black and white boxes. There are many bugs and things that need tweaking and rebalancing, and I really want to integrate some sort of procedural storytelling device, which I will likely tie in with the villagers themselves, somehow. I haven’t fully developed that layer yet.

Working in layers has been my approach all along. The resources you gather is one layer, buildings add another, the technology and trading represent new layers as well, and so on. I try to design each layer to be as independent from the others as possible, to make things easier to balance and change, as the game evolves. This is where I felt that Gamesalad fell short before, and though it does have its limits, working within them adds a challenge and structure too. I often find inspiration from having to work within a limited space, regardless of whether that space is technical or creative in nature.

Along the way, I tweet updates and occasional screenshots (I’ve included a few examples in this post), both as a log of how things progress, but also to put it out there for early feedback, support and a feeling of having committed to the project. Last time, I gave up when things got tough. This time, things just seem to be get more fun as I go…

Mobile Game: Balloon Run

Balloon Run (screenshot)
I love simple, fast paced games. They are fun to play, and they are fun to make. I have made a few endless runners in the past, and now I give you “Balloon Run”.

Keep your hot air balloon flying! Stay in the air for as long, as you can. Gravity will pull you down, and using the thruster will make you go up. Birds, planes and more will come at you, and may damage your balloon. Get hit one too many times, and you fall out of the sky. Game over.

While I admit being inspired by the Flappy Bird phenomenon, I wanted Balloon Run to be its own and not just another clone. For one, here you find your own path past the obstacles coming at you, as opposed to trying to stay within a single, narrow path. It’s up to you, to find the safest route. Secondly, since you are controlling a ballon, it made sense that as long as you hold the thrust down, you should keep ascending. It’s also not super fast going up, so thinking ahead is necessary.

I also added a few other favorite game elements, like health (“hearts”) and power-ups. There are three small balloons that occasionally appear on the screen. The blue one gives you a 20 point boost, the red heart-shaped balloon restores health, and the green balloon gives you a protective shield, lasting a few seconds. Each game is different, randomly generated within increasingly tough parameters.

Balloon Run (screenshot)
Birds, hang gliders and air planes are all out to get you!

I wanted a game that took a more than just a few seconds to play. For inspiration, I thought of pinball, in terms of how long each game might take, and the practice-makes-perfect element. Practice will make you better at playing Balloon Run.

The game took about 30 hours to make, including the time I spent looking for royalty free sound effects, doodling graphics in Photoshop, and writing this blog post. It is available for free in the Apple App Store, it does have ads, and an option to get rid of those ads with an in-app purchase. Naturally, global leaderboards are supported. The game will also be available for Android, once I have a setup for ads on that platform.

Balloon Run came about as a side project. I made it fueled largely by surplus (nervous?) energy, coming from being in the final phases of putting together my much larger game, Salvage Trader. I was waiting for some of the last graphics to come in, during which I felt creatively restless, and that sort of made me crank this little gem out. Still, I’m surprised it came together so quickly.

Balloon Run - prototype
Here is a very early iteration of Balloon Run, when it was mostly a test of the concept. Almost everything was redone and tweaked several times.