Reflections on Zapster Solitaire’s Game Design

With the release of Zapster Solitaire last week (and the bugfix release today), a game I first dreamt up somewhere around age 10 is finally available for the public to enjoy. While it had potential that I think is now being realized, it’s a relic from when I was much less experienced in game design, so it took some tweaking to get there. Modern-me did a lot of playtesting and made some adjustments:

  • The first thing I did was remove cards of rank 10. This nerfed queens a bit and makes it easier to make matches, and also ensured I could fit the draw pile, current draw, trash, and the maximum number of cells into a 4×3 grid.
  • Next came increasing the number of starting cells from 5 to 6. This made the early game less frustrating.
  • Extensive playtesting in Quick mode made me feel overpowered having 3 zaps. 1 zap felt too weak, so I adjusted it to 2.
  • After the above change, further playtesting in Marathon mode made me realize that kid-me had a point when it came to 2-deck play, so I implemented allowing the starting zaps to vary between modes, and brought Marathon back up to 3 zaps.

While I’m largely proud of what the game evolved into, the combination of the first 2 changes above resulted in a new flaw: If you fill all your cells without getting any matches at the start of the game, intuition tells you the next card has a 50% chance of matching. In fact, due to each of your cards having 1 less match in the deck, it’s only 43% in Quick and 47% in Marathon. I’ve been thinking of how I might eliminate that tempting false coin flip – perhaps I’ll increase the starting cells to 7, or remove Aces. I’ll have to do more playtesting and see what works…

A feature I have planned for version 2.0 will let you try out your own adjustments to the game and share them across the Internet, as I have. I look forward to seeing how players change the game further.

Behind-the-scenes things to do

Work continues on the latest Near-term Website Roadmap items, though obviously behind schedule. Lately I’ve been thinking about what behind-the-scenes changes I should do to make things go more smoothly for my webdev work and the people who come to see the results. I think it’s worth writing down some things of that nature, even though it’s mostly interesting only to fellow webdev nerds.

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Kalosian Fashion

I like it when a game allows you to dress up your avatar, allowing you to mix-and-match various features of your character’s outfit to find cute/beautiful styles. I’d like to show off some of the outfits I put together for my girl in Pokémon X.

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Mar 2017 Near-term Website Roadmap

The last time I wrote one of these, it became a handy checklist of things to work on, but got increasingly divorced from reality as my short-term priorities changed. Nonetheless, it’s useful for setting goals and focusing on them, so I’ll give this at least one more go.

Overdue Deliveries (scheduled for this month)

  • New game: Zapster Solitaire v0.8, an original Solitaire game. It’ll use your Superspark Account if you have one.
  • Magic Puddle v3.1: A better mobile experience, plus “Learn more” will be replaced with a much more concise menu.
  • New page: Gaming Profiles, showing where I can be found on Steam and other gaming websites.

Fairies Take Flight (scheduled for April or May)

  • Wacky Bingo v5: pikadudeno1.com’s first Progressive Web App! It’ll finally be a proper Bingo game with square boards, featuring a cute fairy as the hostess.
  • Cookie Hunt v4.1: Mobile-friendly, with a serious-mannered (but still cute) fairy replacing Generic Invisible Text-Spewer as the head honcho. Some text will be rewritten to create a consistent character.
  • The aforementioned fairies will also appear in the pikadudeno1.com site UI to promote these updates, and will occasionally be replaced with other new fairies to promote other new content.

Superspark Groundwork (scheduled for June or July)

  • At least one app will become a Progressive Web App that connects to your Superspark Account. Your account data will be available even when offline.
  • At least one app that either already has or will gain Superspark connectivity will allow logging in or changing users from within the app.
  • Candidates for the above include Signs of Life, Wackyland, Zapster Solitaire, Magic Puddle, and Reverse Metronome.

Things I learned bringing Passwordless to PHP-land

When I wanted my website’s Superspark Accounts to allow users to use their email address to sign in, and my previous method was a discontinued 3rd-party service, Passwordless looked like a fine replacement. The only problem was that it’s a Node.js package, and my site’s backend up until this point had been pure PHP. I got around this by making a RESTful wrapper around Passwordless that my PHP code could communicate with over local HTTP. I got some interesting takeaways from this project I wanted to share.

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New old blog posts

Waaaay back in the spring of 2013, I took a game studies class run by my college’s art department. Part of my coursework was to maintain a blog, which I kept separate from this one. I went through that one and found 3 blog posts worth keeping, so I imported them here with the tag “for game studies class”. As they’re years old, they may not be 100% reflective of my current self, but I like ’em so I’m keeping ’em.

The road to profitability

One of my goals with pikadudeno1.com is to make it a primary source of my income. Payment-optional methods of making money like asking for donations haven’t worked, and I don’t expect them to (although Patreon has worked out for some people, and I may yet give that a try). The main plan is to charge for access to new content, and convince people that it’s worth it.

Before I try any of that, though, I want to make my website something I can proudly show off, so I can start sharing it with wider audiences and get some of my future customers hooked. Most of the pieces for that are in place by now, but I still need to release non-OpenID login options and Zapster Solitaire. Though Zapster Solitaire isn’t my most interesting game, it is far and away my most polished, so will be good for setting the tone on what my players can expect when I start charging money.

Once that’s done, I plan on writing the code to enable players to buy things. To test this code, Magic Puddle v4.0 will feature a name-your-own-price In-App Purchase. After that, I’ll make Signs of Life v2.0, adding puzzle packs that require set-price IAPs to play. I’m aware IAPs have a bad reputation with many players based on how mobile game developers have abused them, but I have ideas on how to communicate to players that my IAPs aren’t those IAPs, inspired by this article by Thomas Baekdal.

Eventually, I want to make new games that require upfront payment, as players already expect to do for high-quality indie games found on Steam and such. People will find it strange at first to have to pay for a browser game, but I have a few ideas on how they might be warmed up to the idea, and of course actually releasing on Steam is a possibility thanks to Web app wrappers like Electron. For now, I’ll keep the games in question a surprise~

Self-sweetness

It’s the end of the year, and none of the stuff on the most recent Roadmap post has been released. Yup. I’ve had a mentally rough time lately, so I’m trying to take good spiritual care of myself, which means no beating myself up for missing artificial deadlines. But at the same time, I want to motivate myself to get this stuff done and shown off to the world, so I need to work out a way to do that that’s both gentle and more effective.

Part of taking care of my spirit is finding what victories I can. For example, with this post I’ve extended my “months with a blog post” streak to 4, a new personal record~ Keeping that up is good writing practice and helps keep y’all in the loop, so let’s see how long I can stretch it.

Nov 2016 Near-term Website Roadmap

Well, between the daydreaming of all the cool new things I should be able to finish soon, and the Content Update not coming out on time, I think a revised roadmap is in order.

Content Update (coming by November 17)

  • New game: Zapster Solitaire, version 0.8
  • New page: Gaming Profiles
  • NEW: Updates Showcase, an upgrade of NewsWave with a better user experience

Superspark Update (coming by November 23)

  • A bit of rebranding: Instead of a type of game, “Superspark” will refer to the account system. Web Wonders organization will simply be “games” and “non-games”. Future updates will add Superspark features to non-games.
  • As the Persona service will be shutting down, e-mail sign-ins must be changed to become a bit more of a hassle, but other sign-in options will be provided.
  • NEW: Logo Creator v1.1, mobile-friendly and offline-enabled

Fairies Update (coming December or January)

  • Logo Creator v2; changes will include a new fairy icon
  • Wackyland v2; changes will include a new Wacky Theater cartoon with stick figure fairies
  • NEW: Wacky Bingo v4, mobile-friendly and involving fairies somehow
  • Fairies
  • Fairies!
  • FAIRIES 😀

Ungrouped Updates (coming whenever)

  • NEW: Cookie Hunt v5.1, mobile-friendly
  • Revised sharing options; Reddit will be included
  • New Subscribe page, making it easier to follow my creative doings

A few notes on the personal reasons I chose those November dates: November 17 is the day before a local anime/cartoons convention that I want to enjoy guilt-free. November 23 is the day before a big road trip where Internet access will be spotty, so having something of mine work offline, even if it’s just that silly little Logo Creator, will be fun.

“Raaa, I’m a pumpkin!”

So HiveMC recently released a wonderfully whimsical Minecraft minigame called “Pumpkinfection”, in which some people are pumpkins and want everyone else to be pumpkins, too. Whenever I play it, I start hearing this bit of video in my head, which only adds to the experience.

“Take me seriously as a pumpkin, please!”

(FYI to peeps from the future, HiveMC says this is a temporary game and might not stick around after Halloween.)