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Congratulations to Peter Freer of Squareheart Games, developer of our January GameSalad Game of the Month, ;Super Spin Tanks.

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Our January winner is a fast-and-furious 2-player head-to-head tank battle that feels like a lost Neo-Geo classic. The GameSalad team was impressed with the gameplay and polish of this game, especially considering it was SquareHeart’s first game!

Super Spin Tanks

Peter let us peek behind the curtain at SquareHeart and gave us some interesting insight into the development of his game.

GameSalad: Tell us a little about yourself and your experience as a game developer. How long have you been making games? What got you interested in GameSalad? How long have you been using GS?

Peter: Hi there, my name’s Peter Freer, I’m from New Zealand and I’ve worked in the games industry for 8 years – 5 of those as an Art Director. Before that I’d worked in graphic design and advertising. Even though that’s the case, as a game-maker, Super Spin Tanks is my first ever game.

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Over the last few years I’d been increasingly interested in game design and the overall process of making games – that may sound a bit weird seeing as I work in the games industry – but on a day-to-day basis, I only deal with one aspect (and from one viewpoint) of a very large and complicated endeavour of which I only had a partial knowledge of. Game design became a little bit of a hobby over time, and after a few failed paper design projects, I thought one of the best ways to really learn was to get stuck in, boots ’n all, and start making a game myself.

I’d discovered GameSalad two years back and was pretty excited to see that I could create a game without ‘actually’ coding. Programming back then seemed like something I thought I’d never really learn – or was going to take me a long time to do so; GameSalad looked like a way to ease my myself into this new world of logic and rules and stay focused on game design rather than getting lost in execution.

So I concentrated my evenings and weekends on exploring ideas and learning – before Super Spin Tanks I’d worked on about 7-8 GameSalad prototypes – starting off absolutely terrible but with each one getting a bit better than the last, with the last two looking not too bad at all (insert real surprise here). Of these I chose what I thought was the game I had the most chance of completing.

GS: ;The idea behind Super Spin Tanks is a really novel one, and we haven’t seen a lot of real-time, head-to-head games made with GameSalad before. What inspired you to go that direction? Have you been pleased with the final product?

Peter: ;I really enjoy face-to-face gaming – I own hundreds of board games and have found the most memorable gaming moments in my life to have come from playing with others in the flesh. I’d been attached to the idea of having a game that you could throw down for a few minutes and play with a friend, structured more like a sport than a video game – focused around a simple control scheme, but that required concentration and skill to master, and that would encourage individual tactics and techniques. If I could pin it down to one game that inspired me during development, it’d have been Super Pole Riders by Bennett Foddy (http://www.foddy.net/PoleRiders.html)

image As for the idea of tanks and the spinning, I’d seen an acquaintance learning to use Unity. He’d make a quick 3D tank prototype but had messed up the turret rotation, so all his tank-turrets were spinning wildly. He was grumbling about how to fix it, whilst I thought to myself how much fun that would be to play as it was. Straight there in my mind I’d combined a tank game with the hammer-throw section of Konami’s hyper-olympics arcade game (now I’m showing my age).

On a more practical level, I chose to make Spin Tanks because I thought it’d be simple enough to achieve, with having only a small amount of content to make, and without much room for it to feature-creep. I’m both very proud of the final game and also slightly embarrassed – It was a learning exercise that grew in importance for me as it went on, and I realised a lot of family was wrapped up in in for me emotionally. Really, the one reason it made it out into the world was because of the birth of our daughter – nothing like a hard deadline to inspire you.

GS: ;The art direction, presentation, and polish on SST was absolutely outstanding! Clearly you have an art background. How did GameSalad help you realize your vision?

Peter: ;As mentioned, my day job is the creative development of game art and visual concepting.
Spin Tanks was intended as a way to, literally, avoid doing in-depth art content, and I tried my darnedest to focus on the game rather than art, as I knew I could easily get lost in art directing myself to misery. Doing art-related work all day, the last thing I wanted to do was do more in my spare time.

I’d initially gone for a style that was very quick to implement, but when I got it playing, it really didn’t work. I went back to the drawing board and decided to go retro, and referenced Neo-Geo era arcade games. As the game developed, I found myself wanting it to feel like a complete product – trying to lift every aspect up to the same level of polish without going overboard.

Early prototype version Original Intended Art Style
Proto1 Proto2

The great thing about GameSalad is being able to very quickly generate animations, effects and interactions, and test them in-game (and on device!). One of the aspects of game art I find most interesting is the point where interaction and visuals meet, and how the visual (and aural) treatment of a thing can alter the experience of the interaction. A good effect can totally change the experience and feel of an action – the difference between satisfying and unsatisfying explosion/gunshot/damage can be only two frames of animation.

GS: ;Any words of advice or tips to share with fellow GameSalad devs?

Peter: ;Gosh, well the biggie for me as an absolute beginner myself is ‘Never underestimate the complexity of your simple game’. I’d jumped into thinking Spin Tanks was the easiest game to make, and got burned by completely underestimating the complexity of the controls and actor interactions involved. *Puts on bad Gandalf impersonation* ‘Keep it simple, Keep it small’.

From the art side, my advice is to make sure all your core game ‘verbs’ have really pleasurable visual feedback – especially on touch devices, as it’s the only way to express tactility in your game, e.g. if your game is about jumping and kicking – make sure jumping and kicking looks and feels awesome (because your player will be doing it thousands of times).

Also, Sin and Cos are awesome!

GS: ;What’s next for Squareheart? Do you have a follow-up game planned?

Square HeartlogoPeter: ; Currently my hands are full with our new addition to the family, and I haven’t quite shaken off the baby-brain yet, but I’d love to continue to make more face-to-face iPad games.

The ‘other game’ that lost out to Super Spin Tanks, called Cubulus, still haunts me, as I actually think it may be a better game – I’m constantly tempted to jump back into it and flesh out some more levels for it. It’s an extremely unforgiving ZX Spectrum-style physics platformer.Cubulus

Outside of GameSalad I have designed a unique word puzzle game that’s played on paper called Word Harvest and you should be able to find it on the web (as a Print n’ Play) for free in the next few months (it’s in the play testing stage).

Thanks, Peter! Congrats on such a strong debut and welcome to the GameSalad community!

Super Spin Tanks is FREE and available now for the iPad on the iTunes App Store!

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Game of the Month (Jan 2014): Super Spin Tanks