Process and Progress on the Gamesalad Sim Game

Screen Shot of the game as it looked on 2013-01-14
I’d like to share a bit about my process and approach to building a sim game, using Gamesalad. I announced the project a month ago, and have since been working on it in my spare time. At this point I have a bare bones alpha version, with most of the basic features in place, but still no graphics, music or sound. And of course, I have a few more features to implement, bugs that need ironing out and content that could use some expanding.

As simple as it sounds, it started with wanting to make a game, I would want to play. It had to be about growth and maintaining balance, a game to immerse oneself in, with different strategies available but without the need for absolute micromanagement. I wanted a fairly confined game world, and decided that the story of settling and growing a medieval town would work perfectly.

I started by defining an end to the game, in this case if the town ever reaches population: 0, the game is over. As a result, a primary goal of the game is to grow your population (and thereby your town).

Next, I added a few parameters to play with. I started with just “taxes” and “happiness”, and defined a set of rules for how those would affect each other, and the overall population growth. This brought “resources” into play as well, as the in-game currency. Resources are gained via taxes and can be used for “upgrades”.

With the idea of “upgrades”, a new layer was added to the game. These upgrades (from eateries to workshops) are investments the player can make. By investing in a series of upgrades, special benefits are unlocked, on top of earning points. Invest enough in any one upgrade and you “max it out”, meaning you can no longer invest resources in that particular upgrade. Some upgrades require a minimum population to become available.

I decided to introduce another game element, and present the player with the occasional choice. For instance, you might be approached by a tribe seeking to settle in your town. If you let them your population will go up, but your “employment rate” will go down. By introducing these choices, I also ended up defining more parameters (like employment rate and average lifespan), that in turn would affect happiness and population growth itself.

For an element of randomness, I introduced the somewhat rarer “events”. From gifted artists appearing to earthquakes, these represent the world outside the influence of the player’s choices. Some events are beneficial, others are damaging – and their impact scale with the population (for instance, an earthquake will do more damage on a large town than on a small settlement).

From behind the scenes, these are the "actors" currently used in the game (click for large).
From behind the scenes, these are the “actors” currently used in the game (click for large).
With every new element introduced, the game balance is threatened. For that reason, I constantly go back and tweak various calculations, adjusting the importance and mix of individual parameters, and how they influence one another. This is by far the most difficult aspect of designing the game, because this is where all the elements come together.

I play the game a lot. I test run it for a few in-game years with every tweak, try different approaches and strategies, and deliberately look for ways to beat the game. Occasionally I will play a longer game, seeing how the math holds up as the numbers get higher. I also look for places where the game is too hard, or unbalanced, and try to decipher if I need to tweak the math or add yet another layer.

When the game reaches a point where it feels reasonably stable and balanced to me, I will ask others to prove me wrong. Which I am sure will be no problem for them to do. And then it’s back to the drawing board for more adjustments.

Gobbler’s Run – Thanksgiving Game Challenge

Two days ago I decided to challenge myself to make a Thanksgiving game in time for the big turkey day. I’m still not sure what possessed me to do this, but I did, and with a little help, I was able to pull it off with a decent result.

In the game, which is Mac only for the time being, you control Gobbler the Turkey (voiced by Kelly Cline), whose sole purpose in life is to not die. Not dying means it’s time to run, run, run! Also, eating lots of corn and cornucopias. Because apparently turkeys eat those. Ways to die include getting hit by arrows, hatchets and colliding with tree trunks.

You use the sideways arrow keys or A and D to steer and Space to jump.

There was supposed to be an online version via GameSalad (which is also the tool I used to make the game), but I never got it to render quite right. If enough people like playing it, I may polish it and add more platforms. There are a couple of details that I would have spent more time on, were it not for the challenge deadline, but all in all I’m very happy with the result.

[FREE] Download “Gobbler’s Run” for Mac (zip file, 17mb)


  • Mac OS X 10.7 or newer
  • Unsigned apps must be allowed (in your security preferences)

Update: Since creating the game, I have updated it with slightly lower music volume, and a bug fix.

Apart from the music – a track by Pitx called “See You Later” – everything in Gobbler’s Run was created specifically for the game, and all within the 2 days allowed. Huge thanks to Kelly, the GameSalad team (who were very encouraging on Twitter) and everyone who supported the challenge.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and please enjoy Gobbler’s Run.

Nebula Rescue in the App Store!

Nebula Rescue is finally available in the App Store! In this race against the clock, you tap and destroy UFOs, while collecting crystals and gunk! It’s my fourth app for iOS, and my first game. The video below shows exactly how the game works, and offers a few power plays tips.

Get Nebula Rescue in the iTunes App Store, for $0.99.

My personal high score, mentioned in the video, still stands. If you beat it, do let me know!

In Nebula Rescue, you play an awesome space pilot working hard for humanity, deep inside a distant nebula. In there, precious resources offer hope for our future in the form of Time Crystals and mysterious Space Gunk. Thousands of Drones remain trapped in the nebula, and your secondary goal is to rescue as many as you can. Powerful artifacts known as Zappers are being dispatched as quickly as they can be made – it’s up to you to activate them, which will send a few of the Drones back unharmed. In the meantime, try not to hit any Drones with your deadly fingertip.

Nebula Rescue was designed for iPhone and iPod Touch, using Game Salad. Apart from a couple of stock sound effects and the Game Center graphics, the game is 100% original, from the obviously hand drawn “graphics”, to the music and voice acting (by the amazing Kelly Cline). The graphics were kept in a sketch-like style, because I wanted the game to have a very innocent feel. Even though it’s all about destroying aliens and being a hero in the deep depths of space, at the end of the day Nebula Rescue is also just a simple, lighthearted and fun arcade game.

If you would like to support an indie game designer, get Nebula Rescue and let your friends play it, tweet your score and challenge your followers to beat it, or if you have a blog, consider writing about it (want to host a giveaway? get in touch!) – and please show some love to Nebula Rescue on Facebook, which is where I will be running a giveaways and keep you updated.

Get Nebula Rescue in the iTunes App Store, for $0.99.