f2p needn’t be all bad

Whether you like or dislike the way any particular game uses f2p, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the concept.

For those not familiar, f2p stands for “free to play”, and is a shorthand for any monetisation system that gives the base game away for free, then seeks to make money through the purchase of additional stuff for the game.

That stuff can come in two main forms: “Consumables” covers things that have a one-time use in game, such as power ups or in-game currency. “Unlockables” are thing that can be used repeatedly, such as new levels or game modes.

price question

Unlockables are the easier to understand from a consumer perspective. I pay some money, and now I “own” the product I paid for. Not really all that removed from how games have always been sold. The difference being that the game is now atomised – split up into individual chunks of content, rather than simply sold as a single job lot.

This gives more power to the customer, letting them decide which parts of the game they want to play. If they’re just interested in the single player campaign, they pay just for that, rather than subsidising the multiplayer modes that they have no desire or intention to play.

From a developer/publisher perspective, it means they can see which types of content are more or less popular and concentrate on making more of that. It means they can get the game out earlier, then add content as they go. This helps both cash flow, and reduce risk, as if the game turns out not to be all that popular or good, they can cut their losses before having sunk vast amounts into making levels and characters for a game no one really wants.

Consumables by contrast are a little harder to grasp, as what they really represent is time using a service. In the past, customers might have inserted a coin to keep playing an arcade machine. They didn’t own the machine, but rather paid for the right to play on it for a certain length of time. The clever part being that the time length isn’t fixed, but rather depends on the player’s skill. This incentivises players to improve their skills at the game, so as to get more value per consumable purchased and used. And it sidesteps the feeling of resentment that the game is just for rich people, with no real skill, where you just “pay to win”. Whilst of course still letting people do exactly that.

Everyone wins, in theory. In practice, it’s very difficult for consumers to make an informed choices about their purchases. Developers usually have complete control over the in-game store and accidentally or otherwise, information can be obfuscated or left incomplete. In the past, independent review magazines and websites might have helped bridge the gap. But why spend time finding and reading a review when people can just download the (base) game for free and find out for themselves? With most f2p games, there are a vast number of items on offer, and those items are constantly being tweaked and changed by the developers, making reviews of each item impractical in any case.

It’s painfully obvious why developers take this attitude to f2p, but it really needn’t be all bad. My hope is that more small studios and independent developers get over their f2p hangups and instead innovate and push f2p in new directions. Whilst it doesn’t make sense for every game, f2p is the dominant model in mobile and PC gaming. I for one would like to see more discussion about how to improve f2p, and I hope to add my own experience to that in future games.

Quick Reaction

Totem Topple has now been unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and the initial feedback on the game is starting to trickle in.

To date, when I’ve watched people play the game, I’ve been able to approach them afterwards and quiz them on what they found the game to be like. Those observations have usually been made at gaming events, where there is a very different context to playing the game at home.

It’s been fascinating watching the youtube gameplay videos that have gone up so far. Most have been from reviewers or people I’ve provided with early demo codes prior to release, so they’ve all been around the 5 minute mark long for each mode.


The immediate take home has been that Classic mode is just a touch too hard in the initial phase. People are taking a few minutes to work the game out, but then typically start down a path of maximising rate of fire. People also seem to be using the help section to find the best combinations, which is encouraging.

There’s definitely a need to kill lots of enemies at the start, to build up a good stock of supplies, so players can explore different strategies a bit later. This isn’t necessarily a problem per-se, even if it’s a little prescriptive.

In practice though, it’s obviously a bit too high an initial hurdle to get over. I’ve watched people basically get it, and think to myself “Ok, here we go, they should be alright from here”. Only to be taken out by an unlucky low spawn that goes under their fire.

There’s a number of ways we’ll now look at to solve this:

Extra Tutorial Steps – Including information about wings and increasing rate of fire, so that in the process of jumping through the hoops, the player is pretty much given the answer, at least for defeating the first wave of enemies.

Changing the order of the Heads – During the tutorial, people tend to pick the top left head. And are then prompted to put a beak on said head. Unfortunately, that head is the Owl head, which gives a rate of fire penalty, and is probably the worst head to use.

Slowing Down the Enemies – Slowing down the first wave of enemies will make them easier to hit, and so allow people to at least get a little further into the game, even if their initial strategies aren’t optimal. It’ll also help reinforce the message of shoot enemies, collect supplies, build more stuff.

Furthermore, in Frantic mode, the bird beaks aren’t nearly as useful as in Classic because the enemies are simply moving that bit faster. In some cases, people have even commented that the game is broken, because the arrows look like they’re just passing through the enemies. In fact, the enemy hitbox is just it’s round core, and not the outer spikes, but try telling that to players. To them, it looks like a hit, but there’s no effect. So probably what we’ll do as well is just increase the hitbox size on the easier enemies.

Fortunately, the enemies are set up that changing the earlier spawning enemies won’t affect those spawning later on down the line, so the initial game can be made easier without reducing the challenge of the latter stages. It’ll mean the difficulty curve has a bigger step-jump in the middle section of the game, but that’s likely worth trading off for people to get more into the early game.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to patch at least some of the changes in relatively quickly, since we’re already working to fix one or two other minor issues (especially on the leaderboards). The first patch submission for the game is fairly imminent, so probably won’t include extra tutorial steps, as they would also require translating into French and Spanish. But the rest of the changes will take between 2 weeks and a month to process, and so hopefully be in the game by Christmas!




Totem Topple Release Date

Totem Topple to Launch on Wii U and PC on 19th November 2015

Totem Topple finally has a release date! It will come out on 19th of November on Wii U in North America and Europe, and worldwide on PC via itch.io. For those interested in getting a review copy, email contact |at| crystallinegreen.com Presskit also available

It’ll be interesting to see how the game fares, considering this time of year is traditionally not a good time for small independent titles to get noticed. Usually the airwaves (or twittersphere or whatever passes for mass media these days) are filled with adverts for the latest blockbuster hits hoping to worm their way into people’s Christmas stockings or, for those in the US, their Black Friday shopping baskets!


(now with extra Christmas!)

In many ways, the Wii U has arguably one of the stronger line-ups in terms of platform exclusives this year, with Xenoblade Chronicles, Mario Tennis and Animal Crossing all launching the day after, or in the weeks after Totem Topple. However, in terms of big cross-platform AAA offerings, the Wii U will be bereft of such titles as the latest Tomb Raider (technically a timed Xbox One exclusive), Star Wars: Battlefront, and Fallout 4.

How much difference that makes will remain to be seen. Perhaps Totem Topple will benefit from being in the new releases section of the Wii U eShop store over what is both a busy time of year, and an extended period when new releases trail off as everyone goes on holiday. Will Wii U owners be spending that time off from work mashing their way through epic open world of Xenoblade Chronicles and not much else? Or will those who are looking for something new (or simply aren’t fans of those existing franchises) take a punt with our little game?

Or do those Wii U owners also own PC’s, PS4′s and Xboxes, which will get booted up to Raid some Tombs or Battle some Fronts or 4 some Fallouts….

There’s also the looming “Nintendo Direct”, (Nintendo’s semi-regular live broadcast announcement show), which will no doubt whip the Nintendo faithful into a furious frenzy of fangirl/boyism. In many ways, it might benefit Totem Topple if the Wii U fan base are energized, but with key franchises like Star Fox still a few months away.


Equally, there’s still the odd bug or two we’ve spotted since the game was approved by Nintendo. In particular, one issue with the leaderboards we’ve already prepared a patch for, but are still waiting for Nintendo (who in fairness are very busy this time of year) to approve. In that sense, if the game doesn’t get reviewed immediately on launch, it may be the patch gets applied by the time reviewers get round to it, and it’s all for the better.

Whatever happens, its exciting to release our first game for Nintendo systems, and hopefully make some people smile.

Forward Progess

A brief update from here at Crystalline Green HQ:

Exciting times for Totem Topple. We’ve now submitted the game into Nintendo’s Wii U approvals process (aka lotcheck). It takes a few weeks for them to go through everything and probably they’ll spot one or two things that need fixing at our end, so our current thinking is that the game will be released around the end of October or maybe early November. We’ll keep you posted on when we have an exact date!

Meanwhile, we’ve switched back to working on Flight of Light. We’re currently rebuilding the game from the ground up in the latest version of Unity (5.2). After having fixed a few performance issues, the game is now looking better and better graphics wise. I personally feel that as more games come to Wii U using Unity 5′s improved graphics package, Nintendo fans will be pleasantly surprised at what the console is capable of.

FLight of Light WIP 02-10-2015

We’ve still got a way to go to make Flight of Light really shine, but we feel the game is now firmly back on track. Looking ahead, we’re hoping to get a beta of the game finished by the end of December 2015, for release early next year. It means we’ve got our work cut out for us in the meantime, but we’re looking forward to making the game the best it can be and letting fans finally enjoy an (albeit limited) version of the game.

Translation Topple

If you’d like to help with translating Totem Topple, you can do so here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16L93VAZys5cdselM08FRpWKwJoZsXb62kiMlBCRoO4Q/edit#gid=0

Totem Topple is the first game where we’ve gone beyond English and translated the game into different languages. It’s always great for people to be able to enjoy games in their native language. All too often, there’s a touch of cultural arrogance from English speaking developers in assuming that the rest of the world will just deal with the fact the game is in one language only, so it’s nice to break that for once.

Voice and text can add a huge amount to the playing experience, but for those games that don’t have a narrative focus (or maybe even some that do!) it’s often a good idea to design out unnecessary text and voice acting to save cost and effort when translating.

For Totem Topple, voice acting is way outside our budget anyway, and we’ve very much aimed to reduce the amount of text we use. However, in compiling a list of all the words and phrases in the game, we were actually surprised by just how much there was!


A lot of the text does not in fact come from the game itself, but rather from things related to the game. Store descriptions and legal notices in the Wii U e-manual in particular have caught us out. It’s easy to add in a few lines of cool sounding description to entice players to buy and download, but that all needs translating if the game isn’t going to look odd and out of place with its English descriptions in amongst everything else in another language. Not to mention putting people off who maybe don’t immediately get the game from the screenshots or box art and then can’t work out what the game is actually about.

The good news is that it’s been technically easy to put the translations in so far. Whilst not perfect, it’s been relatively untroubbling to put in the code that lets us detect different languages and swap out text appropriately. We’ll probably come up against some problems when it comes to German, with its famously long words, and we’ve yet to try out a system for languages written from right to left, such as Arabic and Hebrew. The hope is though, that we can adapt the game as we go along / as we add more languages in the future.

As for sourcing all those different languages, it’s been bitty to say the least. Excited by the prospect of getting fans to help translate the game, and on hearing other devs have good experiences, we’ve posted out the call on twitter and facebook to help. However, there is a lot of text, and some of it is especially dense (the store descriptions) or boring (the e-manual notices about COPPA compliance and privacy policies). Since we’ve been asking people to help us for free, it’s only understandable that they can only give so much time and effort before it loses the fun and starts to feel rather like work. Equally, when we’ve asked friends and family, we’ve tried to use them more for proof-reading and double checking translations from elsewhere (though for one friend, corrections and edits turned out to be rather more work than either of us was expecting!)

missing_some_accentsMissing some accents?

We’ve also tried using resources like Polyglot, which whilst useful, will only get you so far before specialist or theme specific words start to crop up. How many games are there where “Demon spirit enemies are trying to knock your totem pole down”? (I don’t know, but betting Totem Topple is amongst the best of them!)

We’ve also used semi-professional translators from sites like fiverr.com, though it’s always difficult to know just what the quality of the translation is like. Many of those on the site are not individuals but collectives who farm work out, so no guarantee you’ll even get the same person translating next time. It’s cheap, but their work reflects on us, so we have to be very careful.

One area where we’ve tried to go the extra mile is with regional variations. Unlike English, which doesn’t really have dialects and is generally fairly uniform in its grammar and spelling, other languages can vary greatly depending on where or by whom they are spoken. In particular, Spanish of Latin America can be markedly different from that used in Spain itself, so our initial release will in fact have Mexican Spanish for North and Latin America, and European Spanish for European version.


What we haven’t done is fully localise the game for specific target markets. Mostly because we feel there isn’t much that we could change beyond superficial stuff like red colour used to mean good things, rather than bad things in China. (We’ve actually tried to avoid using red/green anyway because it’s an issue for many colour blind people).

With any luck though, we can reach the most people possible and through translating the game, bring smiles to the faces of those who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the game.



Technical: Unity to Android

This will be a semi-technical piece, in a departure from the normal things I write about. It was initially a reply to a facebook post, but having poured all my knowledge into a single, comprehensive reply, I discovered I’d misread the initial question posed. So instead I’m posting it here. The question I thought I was answering was “What should I know about putting my Unity game on Android”

There are a few odd little technical things that can crop up when you first switch platform to Android in Unity. Mostly it’s solveable stuff though and no more than a couple of day’s work to get a build running on an Android device (or less if you’ve already downloaded and set up all the Android SDK’s, installed java sdk, set up environment variables etc). You may also find as you release, certain devices have odd bugs that are unique to them. They’re usually fixed after a quick search of stackoverflow but not before some user has got pissed off and left a 1 star review. You can head that off to an extent by looking up the lists of the most common Android devices, and using them against services that let you remotely test on different devices. But you’ll still be getting crash reports from your analytics package and/or messages from users of the most obscure devices for months after launch.

The big problem is resolution and screen size. In Unity you can force the game to stick in landscape or portrait, so you don’t need to account for both. But really, you need to have designed the game and especially the UI to be flexible and work at any given resolution and dimensions. (I prefer to do all my UI layouts in percentages of width and height when possible, but even then, things like text being too long for its surrounding box can easily crop up).


The game needs to work with a touch screen interface as well. Unity has Input.touch, which is fairly easy to figure out and Unity’s in built UI elements will mostly pick up touch automatically and treat it broadly the same as a mouse click. Some things will likely break or need some fixing from you though (e.g. drag & drop. Mouse hover doesn’t make sense either in a touch environment).

If you’ve made the game to use console controls, the good news is that Android supports many 3rd party Bluetooth controllers and Unity will automatically pipe through that stuff into your existing code, again using the Input class! Bad news is few people bother to connect their controller as it’s a pain to set up outside the game and can be really flakey in terms of reliability. So you’re going to have to do horrible stuff like virtual dpads (not recommended) or have a major rethink of your whole UI, both for gameplay and menus etc. As said before, Unity’s touch input is easy to get, but having to retrofit code to use it has potential to be a right pain depending on what you’ve done before and how much UI code their is to modify.

Performance is also an issue for many people with older or cheaper devices. You could pitch the game at the “check out how shiny this game on my brand new super expensive xyz phone that I just bought is!” Or you can, in the web portal you use to upload your game to Google play (app store), specify that you need a minimum Android OS version. Usually, lower end phones can’t handle an OS upgrade, so you naturally filter them out. You can also filter so only owners of particular devices can download the game but the list is as long as my arm and 5 columns wide, and you’ll always disappoint some users. Plus so many new devices are coming out, you’ll be continually be adding to the list forever after. I don’t recommend that approach.

There is no approvals process. You just sign up for an account with Google, pay a one time fee, upload your game, and a couple of hours later, your game is available to everyone in the whole world, from Poland to Pitcairn island.

There is some extra effort to put in In app purchase or advertising API’s, but it’s fairly easy stuff with a bunch of tutorials on the web on how to do it in Unity. (Forget premium pricing on Android. It just doesn’t work). Same with leaderboards and achievements, which take maybe a couple of days to do tops. You can spend more time putting in analytics engines, and again, all the good ones have quick, easy to implement Unity API’s or plugins you just download from the asset store.

Different countries also have different expectations of how to pay. India for example is all adverts and no one pays by IAP, whilst other countries IAP is the norm. Many places don’t have credit cards or don’t use Google Play, so telco/carrier billing is the way. Again there are a myriad of companies offering to help with that, all with their own API’s that if they’re worth their salt, will run in Unity.

Piracy is an issue. Even with Unity, it’s fairly easy for someone to reverse engineer your game, get hold of all your assets or hack the game to circumvent IAP checks. Pirating premium games is as simple as copy-pasting the right file from someone who has bought the game. You have to be prepared that once your game is out on Android, you may be unable to stop people using everything in it however they want.


Also, don’t forget stuff like Amazon app store and other odd non-google play 3rd party app stores, which can be more profitable than Google play (or totally useless depending). Don’t forget either Android TV stuff like FireTV or NVidia Shield or other Android set top boxes. They’re all a risk but could get you some good sales for just a few day’s work if your game is a good match. Again, they’ll all have their own API’s and plugins or packages you can download from the asset store or their websites, for Unity, with instructions, and should only take a couple of days to implement.

So overall, Android with Unity is easy to get started, but there are lots of little things to consider, depending on how professional / in deep you want to get.

On Apple TV (and why we’re sticking with Wii U)

Apple TV has been sat quietly at the back of Apple’s product line, ticking over for a number of years without the company making any sort of big, showy push for adoption typical of their other devices.

No longer it seems, with a large segment of Apple’s latest live show dedicated to the newly revamped set-top-box. They also demoed the remote control it will use, which includes amongst other things, gyroscope functions that make it very similar to Wiimote controllers used by the Wii and Wii U.

appleTV remote

For us, and especially for our game Flight of Light, that might sound almost too good to be true. The game is designed to use Wiimotes in a way that appears almost certain to work well with Apple TV. Moreover, the game is targeted at a more casual audience than the typical hardcore man-shooter fare sometimes associated with traditional games consoles.

All of which you’d think is great, and you’d be right. But not so fast! For now, we’re sticking with the Wii U, with a view to put the game on Apple TV at a later date. There’s a few reasons why:

Firstly, the Wii U is already here and we’re set up for development on it, whereas actually getting a game onto the Apple TV is still a way off for us. The game isn’t ready to launch yet anyway, so better to stick with finishing it on one platform before chasing others.

As I’ve said before, Wii U is also a much smaller, more manageable market for us. Whilst it is unlikely to ever bring in mega-bucks like the mobile app stores, it also means the damage is limited should we make any missteps when launching.

The Wii U’s smaller market, combined with its history, also means almost every game on the Wii U is guaranteed a certain level of coverage by specialist Nintendo and gaming press, and a good title has a real opportunity to shine and get noticed in a world where 2 or 3 games come out per week, rather than the hundreds per day as on mobile.

screenshot 2 08-08-14

At time of writing, we don’t know what the situation will be with the Apple TV store. Whether it’ll be a free-for-all like mobile iOS or whether Apple will take the opportunity to curate the store and hand-pick those games they want for it. Either way, visibility is king, whether it’s appealing to the consumer directly, or to Apple as gatekeeper. A Wii U launch gives our game that extra chance to do be seen. It’s a strategy others have made work - Start with console, then head to mobile later.

Apple TV is an opportunity for sure, but not simply because it’s a new device and virgin appstore territory. Rather, because we have the right product for the right platform at a time when we can take advantage of that. There’s still a lot of work to do on Flight of Light, and the game has taken a bit of a back seat to Totem Topple in the past few months. However, Apple TV is still an exciting development, even if not a “drop everything” moment.


Frantic First

Frantic mode is in many ways the “original” Totem Topple game with other modes coming later. In fact, Totem Topple was first forged in the fires of a 48 hour competitive game jam, meaning that there wasn’t time to implement many of the typical features of a tower defence game.

Instead it became an exercise in stripping back all extraneous elements and focusing on a single question: “What do I build next?” Place more wings now or try to build the totem pole up a bit further? Concentrate on damage dealing beaks or health boosting wings?


Once the decision is made though, it’s a simple case of pressing the right button. Unlike many tower defence games, the single tower concept means geography isn’t so much a factor in the game. There’s no need to navigate around different parts of a battlefield. There’s far less emphasis on building the right turret in the right place.

These combine, along with fast moving enemies and rapidly ramping up difficulty levels, to accelerate pace to the game, pushing the player to make their decisions faster. The overall effect creates the frantic, arcade style action of Totem Topple, offering a fresh twist on a genre usually associated with developing complex strategies and careful planning. (Don’t worry though, as that stuff can still be found in “Classic mode”).

Like Day and Night

One of the most fun things when making a game is adding the little details and touches that make a game feel alive. One of those is the day / night system in Totem topple. It wasn’t in the original plan for the game, but when doing the environment art for the later stages of the game, we ended up with some extra silver and blue scenes. With a bit of additional editing and few modifications to existing background elements, we were able to create a full set of night-time assets.


Similarly from a programming perspective, it was relatively quick to do a time-of-day check and depending on that, simply swap out the current set of mountains, clouds and background gradients with equivalent night time assets. The rising sun was replaced by a moon, with the rest of the game remaining otherwise the same.

Whilst certainly not as sophisticated as in some games, the day / night system adds a touch of variety to the game, and a nice little surprise for players to find.


Theme America

Totem Topple’s distinctive art style is one of the things that makes the game really stand out from the crowd, but how did the Native American theme come about?

It was in fact one of the earliest decisions we made when creating the game. After having settled on the initial design of a tower defence game, but in a single tower, there was a strong desire not to default back to the “usual” video game themes. No spaceships and lasers, no pseudo-medieval Europe fantasy worlds. Not because those things aren’t cool, but because they’re overdone and cliche’d.

concept art _1

The idea of a totem pole made a great fit conceptually with the game mechanics, which naturally lead to the native American theme.

Of course, we often talk about native American culture as a single thing, but there are significant differences between different tribes and regions. Totem poles have their origins in North West USA and Western Canada, and are not universal to all tribes.

Unfortunately the desert setting used in the game’s backgrounds doesn’t really match that, the mesas and mountains in the game being more akin to those found in the South West USA. Whilst we may add alternative background environments in the future, the more important thing to get right is to not accidentally cause offense with inappropriate use of what for many people is important and meaningful stuff.

In particular, we’ve avoided directly copying real world totem heads, wings or other artifacts and pieces of art. Often, they can represent specific spirits, Gods or ancestors, something that applies not just to Native Americans, but also other cultures who have totem poles or similar wooden sculptures. Of course, we’re always looking for feedback. Our hope is that even if the game is more “inspired by” native American culture more than being a true reflection, it’s at least inoffensive and maybe enough to inspire a few people to find out more about the real culture.