Developers Journals are special parts of the website that tell people what it took to develop the dark realm games. You can find Images to go with the journals on the website.

Journal 4 August 10 2009 Pandemic American SwineEdit

Pandemic: American Swine has been out on Kongregate for approximately two weeks now which marks this journal as the third and final Pandemic: AS related journal. This time I'll be primarily talking about what went right and what went wrong with the game from both my perspective and the perspective of gamers.

Within 24 hours of releasing the game on Kongregate over 100,000 plays were recorded, instantly making the game popular. After the first 15,000 thousand plays the game had an average score of 4.10 out of 5, declaring it a well received game by players. But unfortunately the score didn't last past the first day and it began to drop. It is now resting at 3.5 out of 5 which begs the question: why did the score begin to drop after being established at 4.10 out of 5? After spending some time reading though the various comments left by players, two common issues were beginning to emerge. One of the issues was completely due to an oversight I had, which in hindsight should have been obvious. The second issue was something I had anticipated during the early stages of the game's design but unfortunately was not something that could be resolved.

As I said before, the first and primary issue was directly due to an oversight I had while developing the game. By forgetting that some people may not have the luxury of time or that others may simply become bored easily with certain aspects of the game, the game was set to one universal "game speed" that could not be changed by the player in any manner. This forces players to sit through phases of the game that hold no interest for them which inevitably leads to poorer ratings from players. Happily this issue has been addressed as of version 1.45: clicking the "clock" now displays a new window that allows the player to modify the game speed.The second largest issue players have had with the game is something I considered and joked about while I was crafting the initial concept for Pandemic: AS. It could even make an interesting case study for psychologists: players in general are less enthusiastic about Pandemic: AS simply due to the fact that they are no longer killing people, but are tasked with saving them instead. Obviously there is no solution for this without completely re-working the entire game.

Despite these two issues and a small minority of players who don't enjoy management games, Pandemic: American Swine has been a huge success. Reviewers and gamers alike have admired the huge number of options that are available allowing players to form their own unique strategies or tactics. Others have complimented the game on its unique gameplay and over-the-top presentation of the Swine Flu.

Pandemic: American Swine is going to be released on many of your favorite websites sometime over the next few weeks which will give those of you who have yet to play the game the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

Thanks to everyone who enjoyed the game and has provided helpful feedback so far.

Journal 3 July 23 2009 Pandemic American SwineEdit

Welcome to the second Pandemic: American Swine journal. Unlike the last journal, this one will be focusing primarily upon game design and will discuss some of the obstacles I ran into while developing the game. The third and final Pandemic: AS journal will be written and released approximately two weeks after the game's release. Speaking of release dates...

Pandemic: American Swine will be released (this) Friday the 24th, on Kongregate! Recently a lucky member of our forums got the chance to play the game and had this to say about his experience: "In conclusion, I think this game is the best of the series... least on par with Pandemic II." And soon you'll be able to judge the game for yourself, but until then this journal will have to do.Before any in-depth design could take place, I first needed to create the game map and populate it with interesting objects. The previous Pandemic games influenced this portion of the games development more so than any other. It also happened to be one of the most tedious aspects of the games development as well. While building the United States and populating it with airports, seaports, cities and hospitals was not difficult work, it was definitely very time intensive. Maps of the U.S. and it's interstates had to be merged and then aligned with maps of Canada and Mexico in order to allow me to render a realistically scaled game world. The largest cities, busiest airports and seaports and best hospitals were researched and then had virtual versions of themselves inserted into the game in their real-life locations. City and state population information was used to accurately populate the map. All-in-all, the first step of the game's design required very little thinking in comparison to the later work.

The first real step in designing the gameplay required acknowledging that most of the game mechanics found within the previous games had to be discarded. The player needed a more direct, more reliable method of input than any of the previous games provided. Otherwise there would be little need to form strategies or make decisions and the game could become extremely frustrating for the player. This line of thought lead to the general idea of having the player interact with the game through "operations". The idea of player launched "operations" was later refined into two different categories: "recurring operations" (operations that never stop but require daily payments to keep active) and "one-time operations" (operations that require just one payment but only last for a short period of time). With the concept behind operations established, it was time to give them a purpose. The most logical place to start was with the design of the disease game mechanics.With the map already completed, designing the disease gameplay was fairly straight forward. The disease would obviously be able to spread across the map via interstates, airports or seaports. Neighboring countries would create a possible risk as well. As the disease was nearing completion it was becoming very clear that in order to make the game challenging and entertaining realism was going to have to be suspended when it came to infection and mortality rates. The main reason for this was due to the fact that the game map's population was based on real-life figures. If the disease was simulated completely realistically, the game would take hours upon hours to play. Knowing that I wanted each operation within the game to have a very clear purpose, I could only think of six to eight well defined operations that could allow the player to combat the disease. Since the game would quickly become repetitive with so few operations I was required to design and additional game mechanic that would require player intervention.

I knew a "news system" was required just as it had been in all of the previous games, but I was curious as to what occur if it played a more prominent role in Pandemic: AS than it had done in any of the past games. Out of this thought the panic gameplay mechanic was born. Inspired by certain real-world "journalism", every news event found in the game would have an effect on public panic. The higher public panic got, the more difficult it would become to play the game. If panic got extremely high the government would lose control of the country and the game would end. This relationship between news and panic definitely made the game more challenging and also happened to present an opportunity to create a number of new operations for the player to exploit. With the majority of the gameplay nearing completion it was time to implement the final element of the game.The need to include an economy was evident as soon as my preliminary work on the player managed operations was completed. An economy would provide the player the means to launch new operations and maintain existing recurring operations. It would also add an interesting new element to the game's core gameplay. By implementing an economy I was also able to provide a clear purpose for seaports, airports and neighboring countries. Seaports, airports and other countries now became risky objects of opportunity the player could take advantage of. Now instead of being closed immediately, the player would be forced weigh the pros and cons.

With all of the game essentially completed there was just one last major step in the development process: tweaking and game balance. Unfortunately balancing and tweaking the game can only be done one way: by making small changes, then re-compiling the game and then playing the game. Hours upon hours upon hours were spent solely devoted to balancing the difficulty of the game. Panic, news reports, looting and riots all had to be brought together to create a challenging but manageable game. A large amount of time was also spent balancing the three different available government transparencies (players can choose between open, average and closed when starting a new game) to ensure that each were balanced and fair. I'm confident that although you may find the game challenging at first, you will have no trouble mastering given enough time.That's the end of my second journal for Pandemic: American Swine. Hopefully it has given you some insight into the basic development process that went to making Pandemic: AS a reality. I look forward to seeing your response on Kongregate as well as on our forums to the game.

Journal 2 May 29 2009 Pandemic American SwineEdit

This is going to be the first of a three journal series designed to give you some insight into what goes into developing a game like Pandemic: American Swine. This first journal will be primarily covering the topic of graphic user interface (GUI) design. The next journal will be covering game design and will be available on the day the game is released. The third and final journal will be a post-release wrap up and will be released roughly two weeks after the game has been released.

Before I speak about the GUI, I want to give you a quick description about the game. Pandemic: American Swine is unlike any of the previous Pandemic games due to the fact that you are no longer operating as the disease. This time around you are working as the United States government and are tasked with saving the country from the impending doom of the Swine Flu. The game takes place entirely within the United States and features an immensely detailed map. Instead of evolving a disease you will now be deploying quarantines, road blocks, military support and more.

I knew going into this game that the GUI would be far different than any previous Pandemic game. The GUI would have to work for the player more than ever since the player was going to be required to manage so many different things at once and often on different sides of the map. Meticulous planning and testing was required to ensure that players wouldn't become overwhelmed later into the game when there is a lot of activity going on. Below is a screenshot taken very early into game development where I'm doing a rough design for the main GUI.

Once the primary GUI was established it was time to start adding the other GUI elements that would give the player the necessary tools to eradicate the Swine Flu from the United States. Naturally the most important window in the game was the first on my to-do list. In order to keep the player focused on the game rather than flipping through menus, it was essential to group all related information in one location that was easy to access. The Nation Window is (surprisingly) where all nation related information can be found. The overview screen displays the country's population information, vaccine related information and allows the player to launch new national operations. Through the Nation Window the player can also find detailed information on the Western, Central or Eastern states. Below is a screenshot of the development of the overview tab of the Nation Window. The left side is an image of the window while it was still early in development. The right side is the finished version of the overview screen.After completing the Nation Window I decided to relax a little and get to work on one of the game's five trophies that can be unlocked. In Pandemic: American Swine, trophies are actually fairly important since three of them unlock actual game content. The "Under-Achiever" trophy should likely be the first one you unlock while playing the game and also happens to be visually the simplest of the five trophies. The next image summarizes the design of the trophy in a three stage process.

All five Pandemic: American Swine trophies are shown below. The "Under-Achiever", "Inoculation" and "Patriot" trophies are the three trophies that unlock content. For dedicated players there is the "Operation Iceberg" trophy which is going to be especially difficult to unlock.

After completing work on the trophies I decided it was best to get back on track and tackle the Finance Window. Since money management is such a crucial aspect of the game, the Finance Window had to be exceptionally clear while still being extremely detailed. I decide it was best to reuse the basic layout of the Nation Window once more in order to stay consistent and provide players with an easy to remember GUI scheme. Once again the overview screen displays all finance information on a national scale. For those interested there is a graph which displays the latest information on revenue, recurring expenses and onetime expenses. Below the graph, revenue and recurring expenses are thoroughly described to give the player what he or she needs to ensure a balanced budget is maintained. The player can also view detailed financial information on the Western, Central or Eastern states through the Finance Window.
That concludes both my first journal, and the first of the three Pandemic: American Swine journals. It touched upon just a few portions of the GUI but it should give you a good overall idea of what goes during the development of a GUI. I hope you enjoyed reading it and cannot wait to give you the opportunity to play the game. Pandemic: American Swine is stated to be released late this June.

Journal 1 May 18 2009 Kingdom KeeperEdit

Kingdom Keeper started development back in about August of 2008. Seeing as Mike (Riggsninja) and Myself (CCullen) are totally useless at drawing, Dan (Blips) ended up spending the better part of August and September drawing. It was my job to write the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Mike's job to write the physics.As you can see, I had the AI up and running before Dan had finished drawing so I used my expert drawing skills to test the AIs. Everything progresses as expected from there on, Dan gets more animations done, Mike gets the physics working and I continue to work on Artificial Intelligence. So October comes along and we start combining all of our work together. Dan makes a shift into gameplay and Mike started to work on the Graphical User Interface (which is a fancy way of saying the stuff the player clicks on). Unfortunately near the end of October everything started to fall apart. The game had become so large that flash would no longer build it which effectively destroyed our end of October deadline. It was about this time that bug after bug after bug started to show up as well... and if we couldn't build the game, it was impossible to see if we had fixed the bugs or not. We were effectively coding blind.

It took sever weeks of frustration and attempt after attempt to solve our problem before we came up with our solution - Break the game into 4 parts: the Main Menu and the three levels... unfortunately this turned out to be as much a pain as it was a blessing. We now had 3 copies of the same code for each level, which meant that if we fixed a bug in level 1... we would have to fix it in level 2 and again in level 3. It was quite common find bugs in levels 2 and 3 which we had already fixed in level 1 and becoming extremely frustrated because we would spend a day or two chasing down a bug that had already been killed. Over the next several months bugs and balance issues very slowly start to disappear and we could continue to develop the game... which made it become bigger and bigger until only one of our three computers could build the game. Eventually April 2009 rolls around and we finally have a game that we aren't embarrassed by. For the first time in a long time, it became fun to develop Kingdom Keeper again... even finding bugs was a minor annoyance because I knew we were done.

We came to the conclusion that we just had to do it... otherwise all those months of frustration and headaches would have been a waist and we now officially own our own server. Kingdom Keeper is currently hosted on that server and we are just waiting to implement some of the sponsorship content so that the game can be released. One interesting side effect of now owning a server is that the idea of online multiplayer games doesn't sound so strange, I personally have been looking into what would be involved in creating a flash multiplayer experience.

So there is a long story made short (ish). I know I speak for everyone else when I say we are looking forward to Kingdom Keeper's release and hope you all enjoy it. Also leave comments on the new journals... tell us if you like the idea, hate it or just hate my rambling on for so long. Feedback is good!

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Journal 1 Journal 2