Game design – you talk, we listen

Ronda RunningA few months ago, we had the super fantastic amazing opportunity to have some special guests in our game design meeting. These included a best-selling author, a programmer who had worked on two of the best-selling games on earth and two people who play more video games than anyone else I know. One of them is even a character in our game.


It’s taken us some time to incorporate their changes into Forgotten Trail, and other games. Some day I will write a blog on agile programming, lean start-ups and other theories that everything can be done in under a week. That is not today, though, because I promised Maria that I would minimize the swearing on this blog.

So … who were these masked people and what did they recommend?

Derek Landy gave us some good advice on the importance of character development, creating game characters that players will care about.

We’ve added a lot on that score, from bios, where you can click to hear each character tell their own story, to helping two characters playing a prank on another. There is more introductory material in each level, setting up the story.

I make fun of my friends who work in Hollywood a lot,

What is my motivation for running up this hill? Why am I here?”

However, they’ve contaminated me — aagh!

I guess they would say they’ve been a good influence.

As always, there is more to do on this front, but if you play the games today versus a few months ago, you’ll notice marked improvements.

Anonymous Programmer-Man made some insightful points regarding re-using code, while this is not as apparent to you playing the game, what it has done for us is enable us to make more game levels more quickly. You can check out the summer site demo, under development and see that there is a lot of overlap with Forgotten Trail, although right now the summer site math is much easier. The other point he made was that we needed to have a tighter integration of the math problems and the story, rather than “Do this math problem and you can play a game“.  We’ve always aimed for that direction, but you’ll find it even more in every update. Why do you need to convert kilometers to miles? Because you crossed the border to Canada, your aunt is telling you how far it is to the end of the trail in kilometers and, crap, how far is that in miles?!

farm full of cats

Ronda had some suggestions on using a more static background with moving characters, a la Paper Mario, a sort of 2.5-D solution we’ve been working on for a while. She and Sam also had ideas on side quests and bonus levels. These tied in perfectly with what many teachers had told us, which is that they have students in their classrooms at a range of levels and they needed more challenging math for the high achievers – but how to do that in a linear game? The obvious question was not to make it a linear game. We’ve bonus activities in both Forgotten Trail and Aztech and will soon be adding the ‘Genius” options to the summer site. Good at math? Need an extra $50 to buy that horse or toboggan? Earn it over here quicker.

I’m hoping to get this update out by Wednesday, so I better get some sleep and start on the last bug fixes in the morning.

We’re always interested in ideas from our users, so please feel free to post in the comments.

Also, if you want to compare the two versions, you better buy Forgotten Trail now before the new update. It will run on the web on any Mac or Windows computer. We’re testing it on Chromebook tomorrow.

As always, paid users will have access to updates forever because don’t you hate having to pay again for something you already paid for once? Of course you do, everyone does.

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