Mobile Game Review: Quantum Cheeks [iOS/Android]

I came across Quantum Cheeks on a fellow developer’s blog on WordPress, and decided to review it. It’s the first game from a small team of developers who are learning Unity, and the tone of my review takes that into account. The game is out for Android, iPad, and iPhone. I only played it on iPhone 6.

The concept of the game is simple – guide a hamster through a series of radioactive barrels. The controls are very simple: click anywhere on the screen to make the little thing jump out of his (her?) current barrel and hopefully into another one. Many of the barrels are in constant movement, rotation or translation along some path, and the core gameplay element of this title involves getting the timing right with respect to the barrels on screen. Each stage ends when you reach the ladder at the end of it. There are also some seeds you can collect along the way to get extra lives, similar to coins in Mario Brother.

The graphics are fairly simple but sufficient to support the gameplay. There are some little visual touches that caught my eye, like the fireflies on the first world. There was clearly a bit of effort put into this effect since their paths seem dynamic and there are different sizes of fireflies, plus a fading effect in and out. There is also a nice parallax effect with multiple layers of background, but I had to really pay attention to notice it. One minor nitpick is that the resolution of the barrels on the first world is too low and could use some refinement. The barrels on the second look pretty nice, though those on the third stage have a weird design, maybe a space ship?

Because of some issue I wasn’t able to hear sounds or music, although I think it is supposed to be there. Will update this post if I get that figured out.

My favorite thing about this game is element of shooting a hamster back and forth between barrels. It’s challenging, a little addicting, and adding the “hamster” idea gives life to what would otherwise be a dry physics simulation. I am not sure if the team plans to keep working on this game, but I think it would be interesting to expand on the concept, with more barrel types (maybe ones that explode after a single use) and more interaction with the world, for example bouncing off walls and such. Since they already have a physics engine I think some of these additions wouldn’t take that much additional development time.  I also like how you can just randomly shoot in one direction and have a chance at hitting a barrel in the distance, and I think if they can foster this sort of experimental play the game could be even better.

My biggest issue with this game is the bugs or inconsistencies I saw, which I notice even more being a software developer. I’ll give a detailed list here because I think they can probably fix these in a follow up release if they like.

1) Sometimes clicking on a barrel doesn’t seem to do anything. I noticed this mostly on barrels that are rotating back and forth 180 degrees, since it requires nearly perfect timing to eject the hamster at either endpoint. I would allow ejection at any point, and if the designers really want to limit this, queue up a click and eject when a valid point is reached.

2) Sometimes a rotating barrel will start ‘twitching’ back and forth for several seconds, after which it eventually stabilizes again. Seems like something has gone awry with the physics engine here. 

3) Once or twice it seems like a barrel ejected me before I touched the screen, though this is hard to reproduce.

4) There was at least one barrel (pointed up and to the right 45 degrees) which seemed to have less power than the others, so the distance the hamster was projected was unexpected.

5) At least once, I saw the game end before my character was completely off screen (on the right side). It would have gone off screen eventually, but the timing caught me off guard. This one is very minor, though.

6) I usually played the game in landscape mode, but there seems to be several issues with portrait mode which automatically triggers upon device rotation. Rather than go into all of them here, I recommend just disabling portrait altogether since it’s probably not worth the effort of supporting it.

In spite of these issues, the game is still fun to play, and I recommend you check it out. If you do, please consider giving their team feedback, since as a developer I can tell you this is one of the most important things for them (:

Link to the game’s release blog post with download links: https://rhyskucharski.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/quantum-cheeks-has-launched/comment-page-1/#comment-7

Inspiration/motivation for creating PTF and being a hobby game developer

In the past I’ve briefly touched on how Play The Field was inspired by classic Real Time Strategy games such as Age of Empires and Starcraft. I was especially into the latter of these for many years (including expansions and follow up games), and for me when I really enjoy something I tend to want to make my own version of it.

Taking something like Starcraft, which typically takes several hundred people (including artists, developers, sound engineers, testers, managers, etc.) several years to make, honestly I would never have a chance to make anything close. Having said that, I enjoy game development (and software development in general) to the extent that whether my game would be popular is secondary, and in my college years I created a pretty detailed RTS game for the PC. In retrospect, it wasn’t that great but if you search around you may be able to find it online.

Now that I am into mobile development, it was only natural to try and make a RTS game for the iPad, but this time around my time is mostly taken up by my great job and my great family. However, I still have an hour or two in the evenings, and some time on weekends, so I decided on creating a very minimal game which captured some of the essence of RTS games. The fact it was made on a shoestring budget (both in a money and time sense) is why the graphics are also so simplistic. And due to the smaller scale and shorter timeline, I decided to group this game in the “RTT” (Real Time Tactics) category rather than RTS.

Just as with my RTS games on the desktop (I actually made a few if you go back far enough), the joy of coding a game is my primary motivator, but if people happen to download and enjoy my game, all the better. The game is completely free with no ads or in-app purchases.

To be honest, with a app store oversaturated already with nearly every type of game and app imaginable, I count every download as a tiny miracle (:

At some later point, I may talk in more detail about how I developed the game quickly with limited time, as it may be of use to some aspiring game developers.

[PTF on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?ls=1&mt=8]

Play The Field 1.1 released with iPhone/iTouch support

Version 1.1 of Play The Field, the minimalist RTS game for mobile, has just been released on the iTunes store!

While this is technically an update, containing some minor balance tweaks, bug fixes, and menu refinements, it is effect also a release of a new game since iPhone and iTouch support has been added.

Originally it wasn’t my plan to make a iPhone version so quickly, but when thinking of how to get my game out to a wider audience I did some research and discovered it wasn’t so hard after all. I did face some challenges which I’ll discuss in detail in a future post.

Because of the smaller screen sizes on iPhone/iTouch devices, the difficulty of the levels can vary from the iPad version, sometimes increasing and sometimes decreasing. Because of that, In a few places I modified the level to make it a bit easier on the iPhone/iTouch version. Nevertheless, I think the best experience will be on the iPhone 6 or 6 plus, though all device types are supported.

I also have added a short (~20s) app preview for the iPad version as well as some of the device types for iPhone. Here is the game on iTunes for those interested:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?mt=8

Play The Field: What kind of game is it?

In my last post I showed a brief demonstration of the gameplay for my iPad game Play The Field. However from that alone it may be hard to tell what is going on, except that there is some sort of action happening. So in this post I’ll talk in detail about what the game is about.

For each stage in Play The Field, there are only two objectives: never go down to zero units, and try to reduce the enemy to zero units by capturing theirs. At any time during the game if you have zero units on screen (except the start of each stage) you immediately loose that stage, and if the enemy goes to zero you pass that level. It’s as simple as that.

In order to achieve said goals, you have two actions to take: placing new units and managing ones already on the screen.

Placing a unit is as simple as clicking on an empty space on the map. If you have enough money to create the unit it will automatically join the game at that location. Money comes from two places, an initial amount given at the start of the game, and an amount received from capturing each enemy unit.

Except for the first few stages, there is usually a choice of several different types of units, and the ones available are shown on the top of the screen. The currently selected type is highlighted, and to change that simply tap on another type.

Units on screen are managed by issuing commands. This is done by first selecting a unit by tapping on it, and then clicking on either an enemy unit or a location on the map. There are a few more advanced commands, but I’ll leave those for a future post.

Units will typically attack enemy units in range, unless they were commanded to attack a different unit. A unit without any commands will also move towards the nearest enemy unit. When a unit takes damage, it’s HP (hit points) will decrease a certain amount, and if any units HPs reach zero (or below), they will disappear and be considered as captured by the opponent’s team.

The gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre, with it’s well known classics like Starcraft and Age of Empires, and without a doubt these game were a major influence. However the gameplay is vastly simplified (as well as the graphics – more on that later) so it’s much easier to pick up as a casual game. In fact, the short stages, some of which have a “trick” to solve them quickly, have some similarities to the puzzle genre.

Play The Field – quick demo video

Due to a problem with the app preview video for 1.0 there is only static screen shots viewable at present, show in this post I’ve included the video which was supposed to be included in iTunes.

When you see a line of units being spawned quickly, that is done by simply moving your finger across the screen to create any sort of formation.

Play The Field 1.0 released on Apple app store!

I’m very pleased to announce Play The Field, the minimalist real time tactics game, has been approved by Apple and is now available on the app store, free of charge. The game is currently only available for iPad, but with enough interest I may create a iPhone version as well.

Here is the link to see it in iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?ls=1&mt=8

For anyone who is curious, it took roughly 9 days (including the weekend) in the queue before Apple began reviewing it. The review itself was pretty quick, lasting around three and a half hours.

In the near future I’m planning on making some posts on what inspired the game, it’s gameplay, and how it was developed, so check back sometime soon.