SRG Update #4

This week was 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.

The general theme was to have a solid, playable phone demo.

To that end, I spent a couple days polishing the touch UI for mining. Previously, I had been using a downward swipe gesture to do the “land” action – throws the block down to wherever its shadow is and immediately locks it in.

Thus far I’ve been unable to get that feeling right, so I decided I’d remove it for now and introduce a clunky “place block here” button.

In general I don’t think touch UI + gravity + precision gameplay works well. So, first, I removed gravity while mining. You can move blocks upwards at will, and the game won’t automatically lock-in or land your blocks.

In short, timer-style mechanics like block gravity make the imprecise nature of dragging blocks around feel dramatically worse than it is. Without gravity, the UI feels fine, if a little tedious.

It’s of course a risk to stop using a mechanic that’s quite common across the genre, but I feel it actually matches the flow of the game quite well.

Some reasoning in favor of this:

  1. Strategy, Not Twitch-y: Twitchy gameplay works well on PC, less well with mobile-native touch input. It also requires small decisions: “How do I place this block on this playfield to get a solid line?”
  2. Digging is a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Players will dig regularly, since it’s the means to most other ends. Players will want to mine as quickly as possible – there’s already time pressure, adding more is redundant.
  3. Multi-Clear Obscures Outcomes: The simple multi-clear mechanic I added early last month makes it hard to anticipate the exact outcomes of placing blocks. There will be more complexity added to this soon, and taken together, players will find it prohibitively difficult to make optimal snap-second decisions. Being asked to will just cause frustration.
  4. Depth Matters: Mine depth affects resource types and frequency. Players may want to return to the same mine repeatedly, to make progress. Being kicked out of the mine because of regular gravity-based failure is just an annoyance.

Time will tell whether playtesting feedback agrees with this.

Otherwise, I spent literally every other minute of work this week contending with the fact that my UI turns out to not be properly “responsive”, in the web design sense. Sadly, this translates to “no screenshots this week”.

Unity provided a fairly powerful GUI layout engine starting in release 4.6, and though I thought I was using it correctly, reality disagrees.

At the core of this is that it’s tricky to get the editor and phone to behave identically. I set my editor view to match the phone’s resolution, but most modern phones have more vertical screen real estate (in pixels, in portrait mode) than a desktop/laptop. So even maximized, it’s still being shrunk some, and this seems to have a real impact on the end result.

This will be the main ticket next week as well, unfortunately. But hey, once it’s done, the game is pretty much phone-ready!

I’ll also try to get a web-based demo up, though that will likely come with its own challenges.