Operation Overhaul I

Alright, first blog post! It’s about time that I got this thing started, so here it goes:

Alpha Swarm was and is a commercial failure. Now, there are a lot of shortcomings that I could blame it on, but ultimately they’re just excuses. I didn’t spend enough time marketing, and I allowed glaring pitfalls in gameplay to continue, even ones that had been present early on in development. However, I’m still a newbie in this field, so it has been a great learning experience. Such is life, live and learn, yada yada.

Alpha Swarmin' in an updraft.

So, what am I doing about it? First off, I am making Alpha Swarm free for a week to get feedback from you guys on how to improve it.

As a solo indie dev, one of the hardest challenges for me comes from gauging the difficulty curve on my games and making them accessible to a fairly wide range of customers. I’m so close to the product from inception to completion, that of course I can beat every level without much effort, but the same can’t be said for the players.

Why not start a new game from scratch? Alpha Swarm is a rather unique blend of elements from strategy, platforming, and various other genres of games. Frankly I’m in love with the idea, and just feel I fell a bit short on execution.

Here are a few aspects of the game I think most need improvement, and as I said I’d love to hear what the players have to think, as well.

The levels are needlessly large. If you’ve played Alpha Swarm, you’d see that at the beginning of a level, you can zoom out and see the layout and position of the enemies. What I noticed when doing this, though, is that the characters are still easily recognizable and no real detail of the game is lost. Often times when you are trying to shoot at enemies in game, they aren’t visible until after you’ve already pressed and dragged your finger to aim your weapon. I am pretty confident that this control set up made it difficult for newcomers.

A level zoomed out... yet all is recognizable!

The scoring system is convoluted. There really isn’t much to say about this. You get points for combos, finishing a level quickly, and having abilities left over when finishing a level. Great right? I could try explaining the intricacies of it, but I don’t even remember them exactly. Time to scrap it.

The character lacks character. I feel the game as a whole has a quite a bit of character to it, minus the main freaking character. It seems that most successful games of this nature are overflowing with character and style, and I don’t want mine to be an exception. The main character needs to show emotion when landing hard, crouch down before jumping, etc. If it would require motion to execute in real life, it should in-game too.

The HUD is bulky. Just look at how much of the screen is occupied by icons at the top! Or even in the pre-game menu. The HUD obstructs the game view far too much. This should be a fairly easy improvement to make.

More bulky than a pocket full of tennis balls.

I was planning on going over a few elements I’d like to add in, and these will actually step Alpha Swarm up to the quality of the big leagues. However, this post is already longer than I intended, so I’ll have to save something for the next post!

Thanks for reading, and remember to comment if you have something to say!

Download Alpha Swarm


6 responses to “Operation Overhaul I

  1. No 2nd gen support? 😦

    • Afraid not. Alpha Swarm was created with a 3rd party tool that creates quite a bit of overhead. On the next project I’ll most likely be moving on to a different SDK, though.

  2. Looks great I’m looking forward to your updates on the blog. Also you could create a thread on toucharcade (upcoming iphone and ipod touch games) called Alpha Swarm 2.0 or like alpha swarm revisioned… something like that… the people on toucharcade have so many ideas its FLIPPING CRAZY 😀 anyways good luck on ur revision 😀

  3. Great idea, I’ll definitely do that!

  4. I took a look after seeing your blog post, Jovial. Props to you for opening up for comments – I hope it’s not too brutal.

    I actually really like the little power core character and the in-game graphics. There’s always room for improvement, but I don’t think these are hurting you.

    I think there’s a fundamental design issue with the preview-loadout-attempt-repeat flow of the game, in that it seems to actively impede you from doing what you know you need to do. That’s just no fun.

    For example, having to specify all your operations in advance just limits your ability to respond to the game situation as it develops. For example, if you find that one jump suffices where you thought you’d need two, well, that’s too damn bad – you still fail (or waste a move) and have to start over. More broadly, at least in the early levels that I tried, the loadout doesn’t qualify as any sort of “puzzle” – it seems pretty obvious what you need to do.

    Having a preview only on the loadout screen is similarly dysfunctional. Clearly, the design of the level isn’t supposed to be a secret – so why can’t you zoom or pan at any time?

    Get rid of loadout and preview, and you eliminate the need for the loadout screen entirely.

    Since the game design is “perfect or bust”, restarting should be painless. Currently, you have to go through a snarky “defeat” screen AND the loadout screen, neither of which is of value. Just zap back to the start of the level. Better yet, allow undo.

    Hope this helps!


  5. Thanks a lot Garth!

    One suggestion of yours that I really took to heart was the number of menus encountered in order to restart. I’ll be implementing the main restart button to jump you back into the game with the same load out, but you can also navigate to the ability select screen.

    I feel selecting every move in advance is a large part of the strategy of the game, and without it would just be another 2D platform shooter. I do like the idea of some faster paced action levels though, perhaps I could implement an alternate level type like that.

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