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Post-Mortem: Waves
by Robert Hale on 04/11/12 08:00:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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Level Designer


Robert Fearon
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I wouldn't say there's much meaningful in the Beat Hazard enemy behaviour. They sorta float around a bit, some of them shoot lasers occasionally but it's very stripped down behaviour wise.

That's not necessarily a bad thing and has its place, obviously. Just not entirely sure there's much to be learned from it.

Robert Fearon
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Hi Zack,

I'm definitely thinking in terms of both. Because there's little distinct about the enemy behaviours in Beat Hazard, in my experience there's little difference between having a screen full of one single enemy and having a screen full of the full roster. One might fire lasers but that's about it. You'll never find yourself with anything comparable to, say, Llamatron, Robotron or what have you. They're mainly things that wot are just there.

This is, of course, just one approach and a perfectly valid one too. But...

The core of most arcade twin stick arena shooters hinges around combining enemies of varying strengths to elicit various responses from the player. If you go back to the old Vidkidz school of design, the designer is also creating enemies that are designed explicitly to counter player responses. So, often, you're designed very much around content that rags out whatever emotion you want to elicit and combining enemies and their behaviour to get there.

It's one of the stalwarts from Robotron to Geometry Wars, my own stuff, Waves and on. I address some of this in the piece I wrote that Rob's linked to (it's under the picture of the cat if you want to do a fast scroll) if that helps.

Robert Fearon
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I'm not sure what that's got to do with the discussion as to whether the enemy behaviour in Beat Hazard is meaningful or not though.

On a mechanical level, it's incredibly basic strobing and some things that pretty much sit there. As Rob says, there's also the "you jump through my hoops" unlocks which I personally find unsound as a design crutch but that's by the by.

That you respond better to a series of simple enemy behaviours and a flashing light than you would to an alternate system is one of preference, surely? Emotional triggers differ from person to person. Some people find Space Giraffe painful, I find it sublime. And so on...

In which case, as I say, it's perfectly ok to find the systems Beat Hazard employs preferable (and the game too!) but they would be a pretty poor fit for Rob's goals with Waves.

(Also why when tasked with the challenge mode, I didn't rewrite one of my own games or some of the stuff I love about Minter's games into the framework Rob provided despite an initial 'I could do this' thought. Allowing games to -be- is pretty important. Acknowledging that some systems work better for you on a personal level than others, the same and sometimes never the twain shall meet.)

james sadler
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Thanks for the postmortem Rob. Game looks pretty good visually, though not my style of gameplay. There are a lot of good ways to get some exposure to the game, like doing this postmortem. There are also ads you can do for a lot less than a site take over. Banners and whatnot can do a decent amount of good. Like all marketing though it really depends on targeting it right as well as being a crap shoot as to cost versus gain. If you want to improve things a little try cutting together a new trailer showing the things you mentioned above as well as throwing in some of the positive review quotes. You could also try to get in contact with Total Biscuit and see if he'd re-review the game with the fixes you made. Not a 100% it would happen, but worth a shot.

If anything, use what you learned from this game and put it towards the next one. I agree that arcade type games aren't doing well on the PC. Those games seem to do better on the mobile or social platforms. A port might me a good move in that regard. Good luck with your next one.

Jay McG
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Robert, fantastic game, awesome soundtrack, and most importantly, from another indie dev... thank you so much for sharing your information, and advice with all of us... this info is definitely invaluable to other developers. If you want a theme for article number 2... how about "How I got on Steam" :)

Wendelin Reich
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I tip my hat to your technical execution of 'Waves'. I bought it on day 1, and although I must admit that the mechanics didn't keep me engaged for a very long time, I never regretted my purchase. The way you created a mindblowing, hyperstimulating yet oddly balanced visual experience was really inspiring - and it gave me more respect for the possibilities of UDK if you only have the know-how.

Thanks for sharing your story in this honest manner. I was surprised at the sales figures after all the hype that Waves had created on various developer sites and blogs, but at least it generated valuable lessons. Think "Lean Startup" and see it as an instructive failure. We've all heard by now how often Rovio had to try... :)

Travis Flynn
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I really enjoyed your game. I think Waves was really well executed but I have two criticisms which may or may not matter to you. First, the scoring system seems really deep, but isn't very well explained in the menus (unless I'm just missing something). I've put several hours into the game, and I still don't know what the 3 dots next to the inner ui ring mean, only that after the 3rd dot I get some sort of multiplier, and if I can kill enemies fast enough it keeps going up. Explaining the scoring mechanics would be nice, for me.

The other criticism is more aesthetic. I generally loved the soundtrack, but my slight problem with it was twofold: I wanted more songs, the songs you did have didn't "loop" very well, and sometimes the music will just end for about 30 seconds which is quite jarring.

Final thoughts, I think putting some sort of metagame on top of the game, aside from chasing high-scores would have been cool. Geometry wars had the most paper thin one: unlock the other game modes. I'm not sure what you could add on, but something like unlockable power ups are an option. For example, perhaps after getting to a certain level on survival you "unlock" the ability to improve your bullet time, or after getting a certain level on another mode you can unlock a shield in other modes like in the bombing mode. Then let players choose a single "power up" to play with at a time.

You've probably heard all of this before, but I truly enjoyed the game, and I wish it did better but I'm glad it did something.

Robert Hale
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The removal of a Metagame was a deliberate choice because I believed that the chasing of artificial extrinsic goals reduces the focus on enjoying the core gameplay for what it is. I still believe this to be true but I also recognise that whether or not the metagame reduces the fun people have while playing the majority of gamers need that metagame to structure their experience and give them a reason to play long enough to start to see the depth of the core game.

Essentially I designed a game specifically for the small percentage of the population that enjoys playing games to get better at them rather than playing games to complete them. I should have done both because the metagame never actually has to impact the core game and those that don't care about it can ignore it entirely if it's designed well.

Robert Hale
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Also I was one of the people who got annoyed at Geo Wars 2 for locking up the game modes the way it did and wanted to try them all straight away to see which ones I enjoyed. One of the things that amused me was that it didn't matter how good you were the unlock process was determined purely by time.

You had to put in a minimum of 30 minutes just to unlock the entire game. I wonder how many people never went back to it after they had unlocked the last mode and played it for a few minutes.

Steven An
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thanks for sharing! good luck in the future

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Had a blast playing the game! I love twitch games like these, not sure why Zack thinks its dull. I would buy it if I had the means.

Mark Venturelli
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Hi Robert,

Thank you very much for the insight and experience you are sharing. It's always good to see things like this in Gamasutra. However, I would like to respectfully disagree about your perception of where your game went wrong.

I keep myself a lot "in the loop" of new game releases and etc., and try to know about everything that is coming out. Your game has two problems in my opinion that made it slip under my radar (and probably a lot of other peoples').

The first one you actually considered "what went right": the visuals. Your game, to me, looks just like a lot of other "abstract shooting games" like Geometry Wars and such. There are quite a few of these in Steam, and frankly it's very hard for me to pick your game apart. I'm sure that the gameplay and movement must feel unique, but the screenshots (and it's very hard to get a feel for this stuff when you are so close to the project and know it so well) make it get lost in the crowd.

Second, what I've seen about the game (screenshots, video, this article) failed to communicate effectively to me exactly what was the "specialness" of it. What makes this different from other arcadey-shooty abstract colored-light fests?

The game looks very well-executed and fun, but I didn't touch it because of the two reasons above: looks like a duck and moves like a duck, and I already know ducks pretty well, so let this duck be on its way.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Its a problem of not communicating properly.

Here is a good article I heartily recommend to anyone on how to do it:

I swear your IQ will raise a few notches after reading that.

Kyle Redd
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There's a lot of interesting data in your post here, but right now I just want to issue a special "Thank you" for keeping on top of post-release support and updates like you have.

There have been, literally, dozens of games on Steam that I have purchased for the sole reason that they had lots of post-release updates to their credit. Even though I may have had nearly zero interest in the game otherwise, if I check the "Update History" feed and see lots and lots of improvements, the game either gets purchased on the spot or (if it's a little on the expensive side) it goes into the wishlist for a future sale. This is especially the case for single-player games, which generally get much less developer support than online titles.

Really, a lot more developers need to get on top of this habit as you have. I just started playing Avadon which has been sitting in my library for a while. Tragically, though, the game has serious interface issues - it seems to have been designed primarily for tablets and ported without adding even the most basic mouse support in the process - and the developer is absent from the scene entirely. I don't care how much a game's creator claims to love their fans; if they don't get feedback and work on at least minor improvements for a couple of weeks after release, they're showing disrespect for the same people whose support they claim to value.

Ilya Zarembsky
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thanks a lot for this super-informative and detailed post-mortem.

P.S. I loved Waves, thanks for making it!

Johan Hoberg
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Very interesting article.

Thank you for sharing your experience.