maandag 31 januari 2011

Level Design Pitfalls!

Hi all!

As you might know, we're in the middle of designing levels for our 2D/3D platformer. Here's my top 5 of biggest frustrations when playing through some of the levels that may require some more work:

5. Are we there yet?
If I stop to get a cup of coffee before I reach the end, your level is too long! Watch other people play your level and keep track of how long they take to finish. It's easier to add a piece of level than to remove if it's too boring!

4. I'm lost!
Some levels have areas that are so generic that the player loses any sense of orientation. A good remedy for this is to avoid scattering enemies, obstacles or background elements too much across your level.
It's best to create groups of particular elements in one particular corner so that player will remember and recognize it. Also avoid multiple paths that lead to the same place if you find your test players going the wrong way. If you have to resort to the use of big flashing pink arrows or minimaps to point players in the right direction, you're in trouble.

3. Dead end? WTF?
Have you ever walked through a level and suddenly reached an unexpected dead end? You probably took a wrong turn somewhere without even knowing it. A player should be able to guess that a path is a sidetrack and that it will hopefully lead him to some extra goodies. Important is that the goodies are there of course. Not a ...

2. Surprise death. Again!
If I jump of a ledge because there's nowhere obvious to go next, I don't expect to land in some sort of death trap. In fact, make sure I always know and see where to go next!

1. Unfair punishing of mistakes.
If I don't make a jump because of bad timing and need to make some jumps to retry, that's okay. When I need to redo the entire level, I will get annoyed very very fast. Come to think of it, being able to skip to the end of the level by falling down a platform is a bit of a problem as well.

To wrap it up:
For some classic examples of bad level design (and some good laughs), try to make your may through some review videos of the Angry Video Game Nerd on

For even more hilarious fun look at some videos of a game called 'I Wanne Be The Guy'. A legendary game that has multiple very surprizing deathtraps in each level.

-- Diederik

maandag 24 januari 2011

Nothing to tell you...

Hi all,

It has been almost two months since my last post… Oops :S Normally I switch posts with Diederik each week, but somehow this got mixed up. The holidays and some of my days off didn’t help either. Nevertheless, I am back with another post and nothing to tell you…

At the moment we have 4 projects in development. 2 of them are TOP-Secret. The other 2 are already regularly mentioned on this blog; Panic at the Zoo and our 3d-platform game (title will be revealed soon).

I am working on one of the TOP-Secret projects. It seems like I am always working on these as others can always mention or show something. They only thing I can tell you it is going to be awesome,.. once again… and that is related to racing and cars,… once again. This project shouldn’t take too long anymore as I am already on it for the last few weeks so hopefully some cool detailed screenshots in the next month or so.

For now I leave you with the most awesome water racing game on the web,.. with explosions!

- Pieter

vrijdag 21 januari 2011

Xform Interns

Xform isn't a huge EA like game company, instead it's a company made out of a handful of dedicated people who enjoy to play and create games. Because we're such a small team we always have a bunch of lucky interns who assist us in creating the necessary game art. Right from the start of their internship they're involved in creating game assets and that doesn't mean they only have to model crates and oil drums. We usually give them a task they can sink their teeth into like modelling, unwrapping and texturing a car or a character. They have to create it from start to finish, in the process we guide them and give our uncensored comments on their work (which means we stand behind them and shout "UGLY"). In some cases they have to start over, but always with a better end result in mind. For the interns it's always satisfying to see the art they've made in the actual finished game.

Right now we're working on a platform game and one of our interns; the bearded Remco, was responsible for modelling, texturing, rigging and animating a baboon enemy. He did struggle at some points, but instead of taking the work out of his hands we let him work on it until we we're happy with the result. Finally yours truly made some minor adjustments and corrections. You can see the end result in the image below.


woensdag 19 januari 2011

Almost time to panic!

As you might have noticed we've announced the time management game! Panic At The Zoo is pretty much done. I still have some minor tweaks, balancing and bugs left to do before it can be released.

We are probably going to launch the game (few weeks after the first release) in different languages too. This will be a last though job to complete. All of the text displayed in the game is dynamic. They are actually textures created through our 'Text Texture' generator made by Pieter. The system needs several variables before it is able to create a 'TextTexture'. For example, a font, text style, text size and of course the text characters themselves are needed. This texture is then drawn using a mesh which defines the text field. The system also supports automatic text wrapping, resizing and some other tricks to make the text fit inside such text fields. Which comes in very handy when dealing with texts in different languages. Something can be short in english.. but may be very long in another language, which causes trouble.

Before I get on with the localisation system, I'm going to create the final build of the english version of Panic At The Zoo.. Fingers crossed :)!

- Joep

Panic at the Zoo trailer!

Here it is, the Panic at the Zoo trailer!

Keep an eye out for the free Panic at the Zoo game, when it releases next week on all major portals worldwide!

-- Erik

dinsdag 18 januari 2011

Panic at the Zoo trailer and GDC 2011

This week I’m working on the trailer for our upcoming time-management game: Panic at the Zoo. I’ll make sure to do a dedicated post here once it’s actually finished, with a link to the youtube video on the Xform channel. The video is turning out very much like the game; hectic, but a lot of fun. As Xform is a company dominated by male employees, I’m very curious what the ladies think of this time management game (known as a genre dominated by female players) and the trailer I’ve made. Xforms’ strength lies predominantly in the production of arcade type genres, but definitely shouldn’t be limited to only these racing and shooting games. The true test will be when the game hits the portals next week and everyone will get a chance to play the game.

I’m also working on a Xform show reel for the upcoming Game Developer Conference 2011. This will highlight some of last year’s best Xform releases in a very short trailer. If you’re planning to attend the GDC, please visit the Holland Pavilion for a glimpse of Xforms’ latest work or if you have any business you would like to discuss, contact us at directly

Stay tuned for the Panic at the Zoo trailer!

-- Erik

vrijdag 14 januari 2011

Stick to the path

Dear readers,

As I mentioned last week I'm continuing work on the boss level of our platform game. One particular problem I was facing is that the boss has to follow a certain path. This path is shown in the image below.

The purple line shows the path the boss should follow in this level

In physics straight paths are fairly easy to do, but paths like this are a lot harder (as far as I know). You might apply the correct forces at every point on the path so the boss exactly follows the path, but when the player character is blocking the path, the boss will slightly be pushed off the path. Then you'll have to compensate in order for the boss to continue to follow the path. I suppose it's not impossible, but I do foresee many fine-tuning problems. Therefore I chose to use a spring-like solution. But first we have to get the path into our program. For this I use a bezier curve. Unfortunately the program we program in does not support bezier curves. Instead I create the curve in a 3D editor (the same with which we design our levels) and at every X distance along the curve place a marker.

Markers placed at every 0.1 distance along the curve
Then in-game I read all markers and use these to attach a spring between this point and the boss each frame. As a result the boss will follow the path and even when it gets slightly off-path because the player is in the way, the springs will automatically pull it back to the path.

-- Stijn

dinsdag 11 januari 2011

Developing our business

At this point in time there’s a lot that might happen for Xform in the coming year. Two new games are coming up that don’t fit in the traditional Xform line-up, because they’re not racing/shooting or even post-apocalyptic jetski games (this genre composed at least 10% of last year’s lineup :). As has been mentioned on this blog a lot by the developers already; we’re working on a time management game: “Panic at the Zoo” and a traditional platform game in the style of Super Mario Bros 3.

To get these out there in the world of gameportals and all those crazy flash game sites can be a real challenge. For a start, most sites only deal with Flash-based games and Xform games are made for the Shockwave plugin. The difference between these two is mainly that shockwave handles 3D games a lot better, whereas it’s a lot faster to develop in Flash, the 2D games that you see for this plugin can be as basic as they come. With gameplay consisting of banging the space bar repeatedly.

The market for high quality 3D browser based games is confusing to say the least, but the market is definitely there. Our upcoming games have been met with a mixed reception online, but there are people interested. We hope the gamers will enjoy these so much when they come out and appreciate the difference in quality with other, crappier games that they’ll become avid Xform fans. As for what might be in store for the company this year, there’ll be more high quality games in different, but also the tried and trusted Xform genres. Games for new platforms and new ways to play our games are also coming up! A good way to see our latest games, wherever they might appear online is through our website or on our facebook page!

 -- Erik

vrijdag 7 januari 2011

Alas, no moving platforms

Dear readers,

In about 6 weeks from now the platform game should be finished and there is still much to do. Yesterday our interns Ruben and Remco started working on levels for the platform game. They will have to make levels with the current available functionality. We noticed however that some more functionality would make the game more fun. After having a meeting about this, one of the desired functionalities was moving platforms. I have experimented with moving platforms before and written a blog about it before. Of course back then the program was much simpler. The moving platforms work, but there are little things like animations going wrong when on a moving platform or being pushed off the platform when it starts moving the other way. All these things are fixable with some amount of work, but with the risk of messing up other things which previously worked fine. For this reason and with our deadline in mind we decided it's better to leave moving platforms out. If there is time left then I'd like to look at again because moving platforms definitely make the game more fun. But it's better to have a game with few features that works decently than a game with many features that works crappy. So I'll be working on other features instead and of course more boss levels.

Here is one of the levels Remco is working on:

-- Stijn

donderdag 6 januari 2011


Today we can finally reveal you guys the official title for the "Time Management Game" we've been working on the past few months. It's called......Panic at the Zoo! Right now it's seems the game is just about done, but as you might know it only seems that way. There are always loads of small things to adjust, fix or add and all those things can keep you quite busy. While Joep is perfecting his code I'm finalizing the textures, cutscene images and doing some miscellaneous adjustments. I also need to create and compile some assets which will be used for marketing the game (banners, posters, thumbnail images etc.). Luckily I can use a lot of the game's original artwork which have been made as high resolution images and are scaled down for the game. Scaling down artwork for the final game also has another advantage, it will look much sharper then when it's created in the original size.

Finally I'll treat you with a screen of the Main Menu of Panic at the Zoo. Enjoy!


woensdag 5 januari 2011

Balancing the zoo

I made good progress with the so called 'Panic Mode' in the time management game. Currently it is fully playable from start to end. Also all of the trophy functionality in the panic mode is done.

From now on I'm going to work on the balance and tweaking of the panic mode. This is harder than it may look. There are a lot of variables to set to make everything work. Imagine all of the animal timelines and visitor timelines to be written down. We want full control of the game with a random feeling. Therefor we use pre defined 'demand' timelines for the animals. These timelines determine their demands during the game. For example; We want the monkey to ask for a banana after 10 seconds. The visitors are also semi random. The amount of visitors and visitor types are pre defined per game session. But the moment when the visitors need to be spawned, is influenced by the player's descisions and play style.

Working with partly fixed data gives me a lot of control over the different game situations while playing. It does make the game less random though.

-- Joep