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Coconut Dodge’s Journey From Flash To PSP

Hello Again!

This is my third and final post in the series, and today I’m going to describe how we evolved our very first Flash game to a level worthy of publishing on PlayStation Store!

CONCEPT
Back in 2005 we were working on less-than-exciting Flash projects, and I was dreaming of making games.

One day I decided that it would be best to just start making a Flash game, so I started making Prism; a hugely complex project to attempt as a first game. Ambition and stupidity are hard to tell apart sometimes.

Meanwhile, Dan (Bibby) was watching me bang my head against the wall with all manner of collision detection horrors, and decided to go the opposite way and make a very simple Flash game instead. About three hours later he had the essential foundations of Coconut Dodge up and running. There was a crab, on a beach, dodging coconuts.

Despite the fact Dan firmly believed it looked beautiful, it wasn’t very pretty:

FlashVersionTitleScreen

Seems we had the puns sorted early on.

BonusRound

Not sure how big we expected our scores to get. Scores only expand width ways don’t they?

Still, it was our very first game, and it taught us many important things, like how to mix colours badly, how to implement unfair collision detection and how to create irritating sound :)

Regardless of these drawbacks, I played the game a lot. I even got good at it, with a high score in the hundreds of thousands. I remember thinking why wasn’t anyone else enjoying the game as much as I was? After all, our small web company was mainly comprised of gamers…

Ah, of course, the gameplay sucked even more than the graphics.

In fact, we are so embarrassed by the Flash version we will never let you play it. Ever.

GOT CRABS
So, five years later, with a much clearer idea of how to make a game fun, why on earth did we think of returning to Coconut Dodge for the PSP?

To tell you the truth, we’d just had our first PSP game canned; a highly innovative music puzzle game that was cancelled for financial reasons. We desperately wanted to get a game out, and rather than try and finish the music puzzle game ourselves, which would have cost a lot of money that we didn’t have, we looked at the simplest and quickest game we could make.

All eyes on our little crab friend.

FLASH TO PSP
Before we get into the details about how we developed the PSP version, I should say to anyone wishing to take their Flash expertise onto console, it’s certainly possible to migrate all your skills, but unless your programmer can eat C/C++ for breakfast, I would encourage you to hook up with a ‘proper’ programmer, as there is a world of difference between Flash scripting and programming for the PSP.

Now then, the Flash version of Coconut Dodge had no mazes, no bouncy beach balls, no Viking helmet for invincibility, and actually no distinct game design whatsoever.

It started hard, and then got harder and harder until you died ;)

It was clear we needed to do something to improve the experience, so once we had a prototype up and running with coconuts falling and treasure to collect, I would stop other people in the office and ask:

“Would you pay £1.99 for this?”

This is a good question to ask a helpful creative person, because if the game is lacking, they will invariably say something like: “Hmm, I might if it had [COOL FEATURE].”

Of course, not all of the ideas offered were awesome, and it was my job to decide what to ignore, and what to politely nag our programmer Robin (Jubber) to implement.

ColumnBounce

This process led to all the features you now see in the main game, including the bouncy beach balls, maze patterns and the Viking helmet. Thanks to James (Whitwell), John (Griffin) and Kirsty (Rigden) respectively :-)

Invincible

Adding all of these features took about four months in total, which is a long time when you think about the simplicity of each feature. However, we couldn’t have planned for it any better; we simply had to play the game over and over whilst trying to keep a fresh perspective on what people would expect from a minis game, and I was working on other Flash projects alongside to keep the bills paid.

EUREKA (and OH, *@!%)
Once we had all the features implemented, I started designing the levels. This was about six weeks ago.

I used a simple level editor that Dan created in Flash to design the mazes, and would set the game to start at the beginning of each maze so that I could test it. When I could get through a maze easily, I would make one of the routes harder. Then, if I couldn’t get through it the first time, I would play it again and again until I mastered it. If it took me 10 attempts, I considered it a cool maze, and moved onto the next one.

Play testing the mazes in this way was the most fun I’d had playing the game so far. I watched other people in the office consumed by the challenge of mastering a maze, and I suddenly realised that this aspect of the game was the thing that would elevate the experience from being kinda-fun to being extremely addictive.

This realisation made my heart sink; players weren’t going to be able to skip to any level and replay a maze over and over like we were doing. Additionally, I was making the difficult routes in each maze so challenging that if a player reached a maze and attempted the difficult route, they would likely die the first time, and would have to start again from the beginning. Not cool.

We needed a maze challenge mode, so that players could practice each maze and use the skills they learn to get further and further into the game, with each attempt rewarded by more treasure collected in the difficult routes. That’s the kind of game that is addictive.

However, we realised this only four weeks ago, with just one week before we were due to submit the game to Sony. Experienced game programmers like Robin, having been around the block a few times, can spot feature creep a mile off, and so he understandably put his foot down to any more features.

SUCK IT UP
Despite the nagging feeling we weren’t making the game the best it could be, I moved on and arranged for some students from City College Brighton and Brighton University to come along for a day of focus testing. My hope was they would enjoy it without the maze challenge mode.

Our plan was to let them play the game, and then give them the chance to design some mazes for it as a thank-you. This is guerrilla games publishing at its most transparent :-)

They played the game for a while and really enjoyed it. They battled it out for the high score, and then had a go at designing some mazes. Thumbs up we thought!

After lunch we put their mazes into the game, and suddenly the studio exploded into life. Laughter, frustration, lots of swearing and the kind of restless excitement that you hope to see created by a game. They were starting the game from the beginning of a maze, and attempting to master it over and over…

At this point I was convinced we needed the maze challenge mode and fortunately Robin felt the same.

So, three weeks ago, and the weekend before we submitted the game to Sony, Robin worked like a madman to get Maze Master into the game. Three cheers for Robin please.

We also used two of the maze designs created by the student testers. Thanks to Shaun Baker and Steve Marshall for having some very cool ideas; your ideas are in the last two mazes in the game!

Anyone who feels the urge to throw their PSP against the wall whilst attempting to master these mazes, blame these guys ;)

That’s it folks, I’ve probably left out a ton of things that you’ll want to know about our experience making Coconut Dodge, so please ask any questions you like, and I will do my best to answer them. If you would prefer to ask them privately, feel free to email me or PM me, and I will endeavour to provide candid answers!

TitleScreen

THANKS

I would like to say a big thank you to Shahid Ahmad, David Amor, Andrew Eades, Phil Gaskell and Markus Glanzer for putting up with our incessant nagging for attention. If it weren’t for you guys, we’d have found other people to nag ;)

Thanks also to Jem Alexander, Ross McGrath, Mike Kebby and Jade Tidy for making our first game publishing experience painless (and great fun!).

Most of all, thanks to Robin Jubber, the razor-witted chief technical overlord, without whom this project would never have begun.

I hope to be back here at some point talking about our next game. In the meantime we hope you all enjoy playing Coconut Dodge as much as we enjoyed making it for you!

Coconut Dodge is released throughout Europe next week on PlayStation Store at the special launch price of £1.99.

28 Comments
0 Author replies
sharpenedpixel 12 May, 2010 @ 09:41
1

Excellent blog entry! Invincible golden viking helmet, like the one in ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’. Spear and magic helmet! Love it

PurePoison1 12 May, 2010 @ 09:51
2

This blog series was very insightful and interesting. Coconut Dodge looks addictive and seems like the perfect game for the one hour commute to work!

Does the European release next week include Australia? Looking forward to playing it :)

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 10:10
3

@PurePoison1

Hiya, I’m afraid we haven’t had a chance to rate the game for Australia yet, but we will get onto it asap. We’d like everyone to be able to play Coconut Dodge :p

Thanks for your supportive comments!

Any chances for the music puzzle game to be released if this sells well ?

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 10:35
5

@Bilouze

Absolutely, please see here: http://bit.ly/cR4dN2

Fingers crossed!

James

RavetodaGrave_ 12 May, 2010 @ 10:48
6

I just finished my first year in programming and learnd the basic for java,next year il be doing sum C++ etc. But if you guys can go from making java games to psp minis. I think thats really cool good luck with game

7

I really enjoy the frankness and honesty in these posts. A great insight and a great read. I’ll look forward to the game next week as all my exams will be over by then too.

8

This is so good written, that I think to support you and buy the game

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 11:11
9

@RavetodaGrave @LeChuckie @thorgrimm

Thanks so much for your support folks, we’re very excited about Coocnut Dodge, and also very excited about the prospect of continuing to make games for miniS!

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 11:14
10

Coocnut? whoops!

Darkscorpius 12 May, 2010 @ 11:17
11

Another interesting read James. I’ll be picking CD up for sure next week, it’ll keep me amused/frustrated while traveling to/from work. Good luck with the launch guys.

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 11:25
12

@Darkscorpius

Happy that you’ve enjoyed reading about our experiences, and double-happy that you’ll be buying the game, thanks a lot!

13

Has this game Highscore table?

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 12:17
14

@djax-djax

It has a high score table with 100 entries with our scores in there. But the score table is not online, as miniS games are restricted to no online functionality. If Sony decide to change that, we’ll add it :)

igotmy9milli 12 May, 2010 @ 12:47
15

Australian minis are covered by PEGI I believe….

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 13:42
16

@igotmy9milli

It is PEGI, but it’s a separate application, which we will have to pay for again. We’ll get onto it as soon as possible.

I’ve loved reading you posts, and to show my support I’ll be purchasing Coconut Dodge when it goes live on the store! I hope everyone follows suit :)

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 14:37
18

@Adwil24

Thank you! I’ll do my best to have something cool to write about again soon :)

BalramRules 12 May, 2010 @ 17:05
19

GREAT JOURNEY! XD
(Flash to psp), hopefully it can come on the ps3 =P
(soz i aint been payin attention, but unless its a mini, hence meaning ignore the second line of my comment XD)

20

Fantastic to see you and your teams dedication. I’ll be definitely be purchasing CD, looks brilliant.

On a sad note I’ll miss your blog posts James as everyone of them were fantastic to read.

I really hope this sells well and that you release your next title.

21

Forgot to include: I wish you and your team the very best of luck as you all deserve it!

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 17:32
22

@DANNY3194

That’s great to hear, and we’ll definitely post updates on our developments via Twitter & Facebook :)

Thanks again!

sp33dking89 12 May, 2010 @ 19:17
23

Do you know what the price maybe? May get if in a good price range!

James Marsden 12 May, 2010 @ 19:54
24

£1.99 for the first month only, it says at the end of the post :p

James, have you ever thought about a career training people how to post WIN articles on the blog? :b

I refuse to buy your game unless you post at least one more article… ;)

Another great read, cheers. Count me in, looks like a perfect mini game. Its starting look like mini’s really need online leader boards, for certain games anyway.
Hope all goes well. Keep us posted on your next project please.

James Marsden 13 May, 2010 @ 12:23
27

@Bonyman

Haha, thanks :)

@bap10

Cheers, will do for sure!

28

I will buy it. Great game.

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