Mommy's Best Games, Inc. is an independent game developer founded in 2007. Our seventh game, currently in development, is Pig Eat Ball on which we started working in 2013. This is behind the scenes thoughts about game development and marketing.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Level Design Talk: GDC 2018

Hi, welcome to a special edition of the MBG blog. During the Game Developer's Conference this year, I've had one of my talk proposals selected for the show! This is very exciting.
The talk is called "Set This Game in Order".
It provides lots of details on how methods and tools for organizing games with lots of levels and mechanics.
Games like Super Mario Galaxy, Ape Escape, Candy Crush Saga, or even Pig Eat Ball!

Here are some of the concepts I covered in the talk, along with lots of details referenced.

The Problem

Lots of levels and lots of mechanics! How to organize them all?

Difficulty Balancing:

good difficulty across lots of levels.

Mechanics Introductions:

Managing when ideas are introduced in a hours-long game.

Mechanics Changes:

Manage a giant list of levels and be able to shift them around based on enemy or gameplay changes.

If the code changes, or a bug is fixed, how do we know what levels to test?


Before all that, let's cover some fundamentals...

Level Design "Mind-sets"

These are different ways to approach level design. (This is not an exhaustive list.)
  • Environmental Story-telling: Bioshock, Hyper Light Drifter, etc.
  • Set Pieces: Call of Duty series
  • Transcendant: Bullet hell shmups, Rez, Thumper, Wipeout Fusion 'zone' mode
  • Mechanics-Driven: Super Mario Galaxy, Marble Saga: Kororinpa, Ape Escape 2, and our own Pig Eat Ball!

 Difficulty Curves

Most games have a "difficulty curve" which is a plot of how hard the game is based on how far you are into the game. A traditional curve has it going steadily up. The further you are into the game, the harder the game gets.
I propose my own "Heart-beat curve".

A curve that does not go up much, but is based on introducing new mechanics frequently. The mechanic is introduced, then twisted, then the player is challenged a with a boss! The game gets tougher! Then the game gets much easier as the next level is an introduction for a new mechanic. This method lends itself well to "mechanics-driven" designs.

There was also a talk on the game Jelly Splash that is free on the GDC Vault. They used a different difficulty curve.
You can find it here:

How to Organize Your Levels: Solutions


Write down level names, mechanics, layouts on paper.

Easy to rearrange.
Cheap, accessible.
Quick to change.
spatial layout that mimics game layout.

No computer search-ability.
easy back-up method.
to share.
While working on his game Semispheres, designer Radu Muresan printed his level screenshots on cards, and reorganized more easily.
Level screenscaps printed on cards to more easily shuffle the difficulty curve.


Radu also used Inkscape.
It's free and he said it was pretty good.

Windows Search

A Windows Folder search done on an object in the level data, after I set Windows to index the folder.

I tried this on Pig Eat Ball. You must index your folder to search your level files based on keywords for objects in your level files. It can be slow to rebuild.

Google Docs

If you're not using a Doc of Spreadsheet to organize your levels, you should be! They are easy to share, and great to get a quick glance of your game. The bad part is you have to update them manually.
Levels from Pig Eat Ball organized by world.
Another team using it is Rare Sloth. Austin Borden used on their King Rabbit game.

Custom Analytics

You should already know about Unity Analytics and seeing a "funnel" representation of your playthroughs. But designer Stu Denman, while working on Tiny Bubbles, does a custom analytics plot. He stores Quits on levels and Tries until they beat it. He uses this to know if a level is too hard or easy.
Stu Denman's custom analytics plot for Tiny Bubbles

Device Shared-Folder Editing

Tim FitzRandolph for the Where's My Water series used a method to let his designers change things on the fly more easily. Designers worked on iPads to playtest, but the devices were setup to pull data from a shared Dropbox folder.
"The levels themselves were made in-game with a special build of the game that had a level editor. It was entirely custom, with tools for placing the objects in the levels, and quickly toggling between editing and playing in order to easily test the levels. We had a special build that could pull files from Dropbox (instead of the files baked into the app), so that a designer could also change aspects of the level not exposed in the editor (such as the PNG image, or brand new level data features that existed in the XML but not in the editor GUI), by changing them on their computer, saving the files to dropbox, and then refreshing the level on device and seeing those changes."

Level Object Look-Up

Search for objects in your levels in Pig Eat Ball.

For Pig Eat Ball, John Meister worked with me to create a level design look-up tool. It's in-game and 
was built by using object-counts stored from levels, as they were played. The result is an easy to use tool that let's us inspect and filter levels based on objects-included, world-type, goal-type and more.

Google Docs Export

John Meister of Super Soul also worked with me to create a method to export level data directly to google spreadsheets, for easier to use forms. This lets anyone on the team quickly see all sorts of information about the game and levels without playing hours into the game. And it's all up to date, and not prone to error like regular human-entered info.

Grid Arrange Tool

Level re-arranging software for Escape Goat 2

For Escape Goat 2, designer Ian Stocker made a simple but useful tool to rearrange his level. His overworld allowed players to move on a grid and play levels. He made an editing tool that allowed him to drag and drop levels. He could balance the game much more easily this way.

Level Library

Level Library tool used for Candy Crush Saga

Jeremy Kang worked on the Candy Crush Saga game. His team uses Google Docs and also a 
simple, internal software to track levels, but also rearrange them to balance their difficulty curve. Designers there can also rate each others levels to help anticipate level difficulty. 
Kang gave a talk free on the GDC Vault too: 

Level Design Saga: Creating Levels for Casual Games

Game-Design Thinking Tools

Designer Katharine Niel gave a talk devoted entirely too all sorts of software for just thinking about design (not about creation tools, about design tools). 

For When Spreadsheets and Flowcharts Aren't Enough”

 Does My Game Need This?

Can you count your gameplay mechanics and levels on two hands? If you can, you're probably fine. If you *can't* and you have multiple people working remotely on your game, consider some simple things to keep track of things better! Google Docs, Trello, Inkscape and all free and easy to use now. 
Custom software may help you too, even for a small team. 


“Better Tools
 Can Help You Make Better Games”

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Crowdfunding and Pre-orders!

Wanna hear a secret?
Pig Eat Ball was accepted by Fig to do a crowd-funding campaign!

Yeah, it's launching soon, but I'm allowed to give you (my beloved blog reader) a secret link that lets you see the "back stage pass" version.

This lets you PRE-ORDER the game, where you can get access to cool reward tiers and even some discounts!
You can get a copy on Steam, Beta access, Alpha access, console versions and more.

There's even T-shirts and squishy balls! 

Make sure to tell your cool friends too. Thanks!

Here's that link again.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Multi-Use Mechanics: Soda Pop

We've spent the last two months polishing up world 4. World 4 is called "Kitchen Chaos" and I'll try not to spoil too much, but I'd like to share some of the development with you.

In the kitchen world, there are lots of different "ball types". Many different things to eat with different effects--more so than any other world in the game. One of those things to eat is the "soda can". You can't carry it, you simply eat it (or I guess drink it!) Once you do, you grow quickly in size as though you've just eaten 5 balls. This is a big deal! It grows your body up to the size that will cause you go get stuck in areas that are 1-block wide. So if you eat one of these in a small corridor, you'll get stuck. 
There's some yummy soda pop to the left!
Now that you've drunk a soda pop, how do you get unstuck? Well the same as usual, except instead of barfing, you burp out bubbles. As you burp, you'll shrink back down to size. This is additive, and the burps are always "on top". If you have 7 balls inside you, and drink a soda pop, you'll grow up to the 12 size. (7 balls + 5 burps). You still only have 7 balls, but you now have 5 burps in you. To shrink back down to your 7 balls size, you simply burp 5 times.  But try to burp again, once too many, and you'll actually barf out one of the 7 balls. If you don't press a button to burp, you will "auto-burp" back down to size after a time.
Oh no! You've ballooned in size! Time to burp back down.
For a long time we only used this as a penalty or trap for the player. We'd put it in spots to cause you to get stuck, or to grow so big you'd have problems getting away from spike balls. But we came up with a benefit to the soda pop!
In the lower right are some green super crates.
They are dark since they are "off" and you are too small to break them.
Because the soda pop grows you artificially fatter, it means you can break super-crates! Super-crates are breakable crates, but you must have at least 5 balls to break them. And the past month we've spent time combing over various nooks and crannies in world 4 levels and hiding some secrets here and there. Imagine powerups hidden behind a wall of super-crates, but no balls to eat to get big enough to break the super-crates! So occasionally there will be spots where it seems impossible to break them, but if you can find the hidden cache of soda pops, drink them down, then dash over to the super crates before you burp back down to size, the secret goodies are all yours!
Got the soda pop out of the side area. The crates are "on"!
Zip over and break the crates and gobble that powerup!

We've tried to do that as much as possible--ensure as many objects or balls have a pro and a con. Some objects may seem "obviously bad" but a lot of them have a benefit (possibly hidden at first). We've worked hard to increase the depth for players to explore the puzzles and possibilities. Not to mention to add more fun options and depth for when players make their own levels!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Are Long Convention Lines Good?

Hey everyone, back this week from our grand trip to Anaheim California. We saw smoke on the freeway! That was eye opening.. and lung-distressing. We didn't see the fires but it was in the back of everyone's minds.
For some milder, less fiery news...let's talk about games!


Sony invited us to show our next big action-puzzle game, Pig Eat Ball, at their Playstation Experience (read 'Sony-only game convention'). It was a great show! Wonderful space, lots of very eager gamers. We had a great time. Sony did a good job getting us everything we needed, including a PS4 devkit, booth, and nice TV.

Sony also sent all devs a "press list" of who was coming. And there was some press there! It wasn't amazing, but we had about 6 different small sites come by and play. I also managed to snag Greg Miller from Kinda Funny because I recognized him, and talked up the game to him. 

We augmented the PS4 with a laptop to create two "demo stations". This was good because we literally got double the players during the show. But honestly, if I knew better (or was thinking more clearly) I would have rented/bought a second TV and put that in the back of the booth. It just would have looked a lot more professional. Sony did require all game demos to use PS4 controllers but that was easy to change from Xbox controllers to PS4 controllers with our PC build of the game.
Look past the big TV to some people in the back of the booth. That was our second demo station.

Our booth included our custom "two-hole cut-out" in which you could be a barfing pillbug from the game, who spews chunks onto the player character Bow. Couples loved to come and take a picture in it. It was a big hit!

This is 3 different shots. Yeah, that's Greg Miller (from Kinda Funny) on the bottom right!

The show ran two days. The first day was definitely long. It ran from 10AM to 10PM, 12 hours of expo. But we had people playing the entire time and though the crowd did dip after 6pm, it never slowed down enough that we didn't have players. The second day, Sunday, it was 10AM-6PM which is pretty easy to do.
Two days of an expo... I can do any time. Three days is tough. Four days (I'm looking at you PAX) is murder.

How to Get Long Lines

Sony organized a promotion where devs could offer digital PS4 goods in a real-life meta-game in which players visited booths to play the digital games on display, then scan codes, and then collect the goods. I think over half the devs participated (or more?). Players were lining up at booths in a BIG way for these giveaways.

Here at Mommy's Best Games, we've been discussing if we should have done this. First: we didn't have any digital goods made yet (avatars, themes, free past PS games), so this would have been new work. But should we have pushed to do it?
We did have people playing both stations *almost* constantly throughout the show (both days). This is good. Occasionally we had crowds of 3-5 people standing around watching, some waiting to play. This is better.
But we never had lines of 20 people waiting. The important distinction is the crowds and people playing our game were entirely organically driven to play our game. They had full interest in Pig Eat Ball. They didn't care about a meta-game promotion.

On the flip-side, if you participate in an expo meta-game, and you have lines of 20+people waiting to play, it's very possible some of those people waiting to play *would not* have made it a priority to visit your booth but are NOW interested in playing your game. So basically the meta-game allowed them to learn about your game, when they may have missed it before.

Are Long Lines Good?

And once more, on the flip-flip side, (a 3-sided coin?), does the new long line dissuade organic interest? If I had an interest in the game, but didn't care about the meta-game would I stand in line?

I think if you balance out the entire show--in which many booths were participating in a meta-game, and players know this and are accustomed to long lines, it is okay to do the meta-game. You'll probably get a few more authentic players at your booth, who enjoy your game and remember it.
If we get to show another game again at PSX we'll probably try to do the meta-game.

Going Forward

People being made happy, by playing our game. This feels good!
In any case, the show was a blast, we had hundreds of players very happy with the game, lots of new mailing list sign ups, so we're pumped! We are still busily working to finish up Pig Eat Ball for Spring of 2018 for PS4, Steam, and Xbox One!

Have a great holiday break people, and make sure to wish-list Pig Eat Ball if you've not already!
Playstation store:
Steam store:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Controller Prompts and Lots of Achievements

The past few weeks of work on Pig Eat Ball has been dedicated to coding in dozens of achievements and to getting controller-specific button prompts to show up.

Oh, and we released a snazzy trailer for the PS4 announcement!
Check it out:

This may change, but currently we have around 50 achievements possible in the game! Programmer Matthew Barnes has been working for weeks coding them in, and while some of them are mundane like "eat 1,000 balls", some are going to be tricky like "shoot yourself with your own dart"!

Now you may be wondering: why include mundane achievements? I like a few of those "stat-based" achievements. And in Pig Eat Ball you will definitely be eating lots of balls! We do have a few stat- based achievements. And I think we'll all get a fun, little smirk when we see the achievement pop for "Barf 10,000 Balls".

As for "will there be any *actual* achievements?", of course! There are definitely some designed to be tough to do, and impressive to have actually achieved them.
I like to include different achievement types in my games: Tutorial-Style (they help teach you something unique or tricky about the game), Stat-Based (satisfying to watch your numbers increase), Skill-Based (these are tough to do).

In other news I've been adding button prompt art to the game for the Xbox version, but also for the PS4 version. It feels amazing to see the two controller styles working! I think it makes it feel all-the-more real that the game will release on both platforms.
Xbox controller!

Playstation controller!

And for even more controller fun, you can see them pop up, in action, in this short little video:

That's all for now.
If you're in the States, make sure to enjoy some good pie during Thanksgiving!
I made some apple pie on Tuesday, and I plan on making several pumpkin pies next week.