Diner Match, a Success Story

Diner MatchAs someone who enjoys reading video game post mortems, I thought the time had come to share a bit about one of my own games. Let’s begin with some stats. Diner Match is my third game for mobile, and so far also the most downloaded of the three. Currently, that means around 400 downloads in just under a month. Not exactly staggering numbers, but still, it’s around what I expected.

This was always a micro production, it’s free, and the only income I get from it, comes from players clicking on ads. Last I checked, I had made almost $0.50. Obviously, if I was in it for the money, I would have failed miserably.

Currently the game is out for iOS. An Android version is coming, eventually.

How Diner Match Succeeded

I am happy. Did I mention, it’s my most downloaded game? No matter what the actual numbers are, that’s awesome! I check the Game Center leaderboard from time to time, to see what scores are needed now, to get into the top 20 or top 10. Seeing names climb up the list, tells me there are players who are addicted to the game, and that’s just about the best news possible. Because it means that game is fun!

In Diner Match, the goal is to swipe food items onto the right plates, before the food slides off screen. If you miss, or make a wrong match, you lose a life. Occasionally, a bonus “tip” appears, which you can tap for extra points. The whole thing gets faster as you go, until you can no longer keep up. When your 3 lives are up, the game ends.

So, Diner Match is a success because it’s fun and at least mildly addictive. Why then, was I expecting relatively low numbers? For one, I’m not great at promoting my games, getting it out there on all the cool websites, and so on. I tweet about it, I post about it, but if you are not already following me, chances are you won’t hear about anything I create. Most often, I hide behind the excuse of not having enough time, and while I do have a full time job as well, I still find time to both play and make games, so it’s not really much of an excuse. Let’s say, it’s a great argument for working with a team of diverse skill sets.

The Inspiration

Diner Match is a based on an extremely simple game mechanic: match the food item with the correct plate. It’s essentially the same as the classic match-the-square-peg-with-the-square-hole game, that’s been dominating the toddler segment for generations. In my case, I was more directly inspired by my friend Joel Telling, who was making Orange Banana (available for iOS and Android). It’s similar in the sense, that you have to match two things, but in a way they are also opposites. In Diner Match you’re trying to stay alive, as long as possible, whereas in Orange Banana, your goal is to finish matching the fruit as quickly as possible.

I love Joel’s concept of a game you are trying to end, as fast as you can, and I think he described the difference between the two games best, calling Orange Banana a sprint and Diner Match a marathon. For the record, a “marathon” in this case typically takes a couple of minutes to finish.

As I was working on Diner Match, I had several conversations with Joel. These were a huge motivation for taking the game past prototype stage, and making it public.

Production and Design

The Diner theme came through conversation with my wife, Kelly. She calls herself a foodpornographer, so it’s no surprise we ended up there.

Actual production was very fast. The game came together in just a few days. Much of what you see in the game, is made with stock assets. Since I was planning on giving the game away, I had a limited budget. Altogether, the assets costs me around $50 to license (so, with the current income of $0.50, that leaves me $49.50 in the red – not really worth crying about either way).

Finding art that went together with both the theme, and the overall feel, took as long as constructing and balancing the game mechanics. I made the sounds myself, using the excellent Bfxr tool. Altogether, Diner Match took about a week and a half to make. Not counting the 9 days it took for it to be approved for sale in he App Store.

Diner Match started as a small side project, and ended up as probably the most polished looking game, I have put out. My expectations were low, but I did not let that be an excuse for half-assing the design, and in the end, these are the reasons Diner Match is a success story.

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.

Nebula Rescue 1.1 is Live!

It’s a happy day! The first update of Nebula Rescue – my debut game for iPhone and iPod Touch – is live in the App Store today. This update is important to me personally (here’s why), but still would not have happened without the encouragement and support of people who play the game, like it, and wanted more!

The update includes 20 in-game achievements, ranging from the easily obtained to ones only the most hardcore fans will unlock, and a statistics screen. The stats part was inspired directly by requests from players who liked the old end game screen, which told you how many UFOs you’d shot down, how much space gunk you’d collected and so on. More stats were requested, so I made it keep track of averages and totals across multiple games.

Nebula Rescue 1.1 is available in the iTunes App Store for $0.99. If you enjoy it, I would very much appreciate a rating/review there. Or better yet, gift a copy to a friend.

Here’s what the achievement screen looks like, showing what I’ve managed to unlock between updating the game and writing this announcement.

Several people have asked about an Android version. One is in the works – a beta version has been compiled, but not yet tested. I am taking my time with it, partly because I don’t have much time to spare, and because I don’t have any Android devices of my own to test on, and thus I’m relying on helpful friends. For that reason, there is no official release date for Android (yet).

Show your support by liking Nebula Rescue on Facebook.