Mobility! Thoughts after launching an accessible precision platformer

April 21, 2018

Two years ago, I had an idea for a plat­form­ing game. I love the genre, and it wasn’t the first plat­former I had made. I had already made a dozen games, from jam games to mul­ti-month projects, but none of them real­ly man­aged to get a lot of atten­tion. Would my design skills final­ly be good enough to make a game that would reach an audi­ence, unlike my pre­vi­ous twelve games? Lit­tle did I know that it would take more than two years to get the game to release, and even less that the game’s recep­tion would go well over any expec­ta­tions I had.

Development


Orig­i­nal­ly, I had three ideas for a plat­former: Hit every plat­form, get with­in a radius from them, or dis­ap­pear after col­li­sion. While I was pro­to­typ­ing these three, I real­ized they were all nice to play, and allowed play­ers to choose the dif­fi­cul­ty that suit­ed them best. I was aware of game acces­si­bil­i­ty, and this helped me to dif­fer­en­ti­ate Mobil­i­ty from oth­er pre­ci­sion plat­form­ers, sim­ply by allow­ing play­ers to con­trol the dif­fi­cul­ty more flu­id­ly. This became the main sell­ing point that I used to pro­mote the game, for exam­ple in its trail­er.

It took two years from that ini­tial pro­to­type to the final game. In the mean­while, I kept a devlog of the game. Now I can refer back to deci­sions made dur­ing devel­op­ment, and gath­ered over 3000 views. It also allowed me to recruit Luke (who did the music for Mobil­i­ty and my puz­zle game Tahira’s Tow­er), as well as get noticed by Leaf, the lead devel­op­er of itch, who would put the game on itch’s home page upon release.

What hap­pened over those two years of devel­op­ment? The game was almost con­tent com­plete after one year. After that, pol­ish­ing! Par­ti­cles, inter­faces, move­ment tweak­ing, dia­log, art, code, cam­era move­ment, playtest­ing, unlock­able char­ac­ters… In ret­ro­spect, most of these wouldn’t real­ly be nec­es­sary, but I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly regret it—Mobility has taught me a lot about devel­op­ing and fin­ish­ing a game, and the expe­ri­ence will help me avoid fea­ture creep on my next project.

Some oth­er tips from me: make sure you know how to pitch your game. Your game name, descrip­tion and thumb­nail are your pitch on a game por­tal. That’s why the game got the “Acces­si­ble pre­ci­sion plat­former” sub­ti­tle, and a game­play GIF as thumb­nail. Make sure you show what’s cool right away—first impres­sions are impor­tant! Next, get play­ers start­ed with the game quick­ly: opti­mize the file size, and make a brows­er ver­sion so play­ers don’t have to down­load. Sim­ply put: reduce the fric­tion as much as pos­si­ble, and get to the cool stuff more quick­ly.

Playtest­ing fre­quent­ly was part of that progress, and I wrote about that here as well. In sum­ma­ry, test dur­ing every major design iter­a­tion, and pre­pare a struc­ture so you can set up playtests and get feed­back as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. Make tons of notes, and make sure you don’t make the wrong con­clu­sions from your feed­back.

Accessibility

Chances are that Super Meat Boy is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a pre­ci­sion plat­former. That was my anti-exam­ple for Mobility—it’s masochis­tic and very, very dif­fi­cult. That’s why the dif­fi­cul­ty selec­tion per lev­el is so important—it allows play­ers greater con­trol over their lev­el of chal­lenge. Play­ers can use it to negate dif­fi­cul­ty spikes or dips, or real­ly in what­ev­er way they like. You can still make the game super hard, but only if you real­ly want to.

Anoth­er impor­tant choice is the abil­i­ty to play the lev­els of a world in any order you’d like. I can still con­trol which lev­els are more like­ly to be played first (plac­ing them clos­er to the world entrance), and gen­er­al­ly, the hard­er lev­els are in lat­er worlds. If there’s a lev­el a play­er can’t beat, they can decrease the dif­fi­cul­ty, or move on—they are told they don’t have to beat every lev­el to progress in the sto­ry.

The set­tings pro­vide some extra set­tings for those who like it. Play­ers can enable a slow­down that allows them to have a larg­er tim­ing win­dow. Or they can change the dia­log font—the text is already quite big in those, but this can be an extra help for peo­ple with dyslex­ia. Or dis­able the par­al­lax back­grounds, for those who need high­er con­trast between game­play and set dress­ing or expe­ri­ence motion sick­ness eas­i­ly. But­ton remap­ping is also a real­ly help­ful option in Mobil­i­ty, but one that was hard to imple­ment prop­er­ly.

But there are also tools for com­ple­tion­ists avail­able in-game! The glob­al game timer allows peo­ple to time their speedruns, and can also enable a dis­play of which but­tons are pressed and which state their character’s move­ment is in. There are some cheats as well…

Reception

I hope you love stats. I do. Let’s dig through them, and see what we can find.

itch.io

Here are Mobility’s pageviews & down­loads on itch.io so far. The game’s page has 5200 views (and hosts the brows­er ver­sion), and sits at 700 down­loads, and was includ­ed in one hun­dred col­lec­tions.

Most of the traf­fic and impres­sions on itch.io actu­al­ly came from itch itself, the home page in par­tic­u­lar. Oth­er traf­fic comes in from the peo­ple search­ing for html5 or brows­er games. A prob­lem with pageviews on itch.io is that they don’t dis­tinct page vis­i­tors and play­ers of the brows­er ver­sion. If I had known how many peo­ple would play the game, I would’ve added a basic ana­lyt­ics sys­tem to track how far peo­ple would get. Mobil­i­ty gained me 50 fol­low­ers on the plat­form that I can noti­fy when I push out a new game.

GameJolt

GameJolt’s stats are also pret­ty inter­est­ing. It has less page views (around 2800) but more down­loads (~1600), mean­ing the game’s played one in every two page vis­its! Here’s the graph (page views only for this one):

Notable is the amount of Brazil­ian vis­i­tors: per five US vis­i­tors, there’s one Brazil­ian vis­i­tor, mak­ing it the sec­ond most vis­it­ing coun­try. I obtained fifty fol­low­ers on this plat­form as well, so my reach over­all has expand­ed quite a bit by releas­ing Mobil­i­ty. It’s aver­age rat­ing is a 4.1 based on 47 votes.

Armor Games

After release I got the offer to put the game up on Armor Games. Upload­ing it there result­ed in a lot of new eyes on the game, a lot of hon­est feed­back in the com­ments. I don’t have graphs for the 40.000 pageviews on Armor Games, but I do have a break­down of it’s rat­ings: 115 up and 43 down.

Note the “I just don’t like it” votes. Mobil­i­ty is cer­tain­ly not a game that will appeal to every­one, no mat­ter how acces­si­ble I’ve intend­ed it to be. Oth­er than that, the upvotes have result­ed in a rat­ing of 7.3/10 that I’m real­ly hap­py with.

Donations

I spent most of my free time over two years mak­ing Mobil­i­ty. It prob­a­bly shouldn’t have been free, but since I’m finan­cial­ly sta­ble & in order to make it as acces­si­ble as pos­si­ble, I chose the pay-what-you-want sale mod­el. On the store page, I put this text:

I made this game over two years, in my free time dur­ing my game design study. While I am not charg­ing for this game, if you enjoy it con­sid­er vot­ing with your wal­let to sup­port me with mak­ing more games in the future.”

There’s also a sim­i­lar text in the game’s cred­its, and a “Donate” option on the set­tings menu. The sug­gest­ed amount to donate was $5, and over eight dona­tions, the game made around $50 this way. This prob­a­bly doesn’t seem very impressive—but for me, it made Mobil­i­ty my first true suc­cess. And to be frank, this isn’t even the thing that impress­es me the most.

Response

And I wouldn’t for­get to men­tion the list of love­ly com­ments placed on Mobility’s itch.io, Game­Jolt, and Armor Games pages. Over a dozen Youtu­bers, vol­un­tar­i­ly play­ing and rec­om­mend­ing my game. Armor Games, want­i­ng to pay $300 for a spon­sored ver­sion of my game on their site, and the result­ing expo­sure. A Brazil­lian (!) art exhi­bi­tion want­i­ng to show­case Mobil­i­ty at their year­ly games fes­ti­val. Some­one speedrun­ning the game prop­er­ly. And the list goes on.

The response has been over­whelm­ing. I had hoped releas­ing Mobil­i­ty would’ve allowed me to relax a lit­tle, regain some free time. I under­es­ti­mat­ed how much emo­tion­al impact (both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive) releas­ing this would have on me. I’m doing fine, but I haven’t got­ten start­ed on a new project that quick­ly as a result.

What’s next

I’d love to dive a lit­tle deep­er into Mobility’s ana­lyt­ics in a future blog post, once it’s long tail has become evi­dent. I’m still work­ing on trans­lat­ing Mobil­i­ty, but no news on that yet (if you want to help with that, check here). I’d also love to talk about the trail­er some­time, too.

And like I men­tioned before, I doubt I’m inter­est­ed in doing anoth­er two-year devel­op­ment cycle. It’s drain­ing and real­ly hard to keep up moti­va­tion for such a long peri­od of time. There are times I just had to take a break of work­ing on it, for exam­ple to work on anoth­er game. Being cre­ative on com­mand can be real­ly hard and drain­ing.

I’d love to dive into more exper­i­men­tal games. Mobil­i­ty was an attempt to make some­thing I like a lot, and twist that a bit to make it more acces­si­ble. My next per­son­al project will prob­a­bly not be very game-like as to appeal to an audi­ence that nor­mal­ly doesn’t real­ly play tra­di­tion­al video games.

And I real­ly do want to try my next game to be com­mer­cial. I think my game design skills, as well as being able to make a game that actu­al­ly has an audi­ence, has final­ly devel­oped enough to be able to try this next. This might be con­tra­dict­ing my pre­vi­ous two points, but find­ing a way to make these three work togeth­er will be my next big chal­lenge.

But per­haps… You’ll still see more of the Mobil­i­ty in the future. In the mean­while, you can play Mobil­i­ty on itch.io, Game­Jolt, and Armor Games. Or check out the web­site.