I released Bugbury on the Google play store on March 1st, about a month and a half ago. Since then I have been testing it with people, showcasing it at events (most notably the Berlin Talk&Play!) and gathering as much feedback as possible to try and improve it. I believe that to provide as great a gaming experience as possible a developer should iterate on their product as many times as necessary to make it an experience players want to have. And so I recently pushed an update with more features, polish and other changes.
The general consensus was that the game was too difficult and punishing on players right from the get go. Even level 1, despite it being fairly slow paced and easy to survive through, was very hard to get 3 stars in. I was told time and time again that it was disproportionately difficult; that the 3rd star was unreasonably hard to get compared to the first and second. It is true: to get the 3rd star one had to get a near perfect run, no misses and all far shots. The reason it was designed like this was to prevent players from getting 3 stars without getting far shots - in other words to stop players from waiting until the bugs reach the bottom of the screen to shoot at them. Of course this makes the game very boring! The player must be motivated to get far shots to make the game interesting. And so I made it so that the player had to get far shots on top of a high streak number, making it very difficult. I managed to fix this problem by giving the player more points for getting a far shot, so that it was easier to get 3 stars and the player would still need to get far shots to do it.
Another significant change I made was adding a shot predictor, or “pointer”, which shows the player where their shot would go before they’ve actually shot anything.
This made it much easier for the player to aim and shoot successfully. Of course, I believed it made it too easy, removing the joy of figuring it out yourself. I decided to compromise by making the pointer shorten over time. In the later levels, as the number of total bugs increases, the player must spend more time without the pointer. I like this system as it shows the player how to play; it teaches them how to aim to start with but leaves them to do it on their own after they have had time to learn. I now understand it’s important to ease the player into your game: make it easy to start with and teach them how to play it, and once they’ve learned, give them challenges to apply that knowledge.
Finally, I decided to add a survival mode. This was a very interesting exercise. Here I changed it so that the bugs would never stop coming until the player dies. It was difficult for me to decide how to increment the difficulty without making it boring or impossible to play: on one hand, I didn’t want to increase the speed of the bugs until it was impossible for the player to kill them in time, but I also didn’t want to keep them at the same speed because it would just get boring. I had to test the game with a bot to see what the “maximum possible play speed” was, in other words what the highest speed of the bugs could be for the player to still have enough time to kill them. It was in fact much higher than I had anticipated! This made it much more interesting as, at the top caterpillar speed, if the player even made one mistake they would probably lose a life.
Overall I am happy with the changes and hope that it has improved the experience. The next step is to add more levels to the game: I would like to increment the difficulty more slowly, and to do that more levels is certainly necessary. I’m glad the people around me encouraged me to continue developing this game rather than go on to make a new one, as it is more valuable to be able to maintain one large piece of software than simply create a bunch of small, messy ones.