Improving Zapster Solitaire’s Game Design

Zapster Solitaire is a game made for taking just a few minutes to play something light, and I’ve been dogfooding it a lot in that capacity. In all my playtime, I’ve found a strong point in the game’s design as well as several weaknesses, in addition to the “false coin flip” I discussed previously:

  • ๐Ÿ‘ Jacks are by far the most interesting element of the game’s challenge. Their varying badness depending on which numbers you have, as well as their ability to introduce duplicate cards in your cells, creates a lot of space in strategizing how to use your zaps.
    • ๐Ÿ‘Ž However, they’re made a little less interesting when they use an ace and add only one card.
  • ๐Ÿ‘Ž It too often feels like the RNG (random number generator) just hates you and doesn’t want you to win. I accept this as inevitable to an extent due to this being a highly luck-based game, but I think things are tilted a little too strong in that direction right now.
    • ๐Ÿ‘Ž This is especially true in the early game, when all ranks are equally represented in the draw pile and you have only six cells.

I want not just to address the weaknesses, but build on that strength. I’ve got a draft of a redesign that could do all those things: Cards of rank 10 will be put back in the game, aces will go out, and starting cells will be increased to 7. In theory, the early game will be more survivable and the false coin flip gone with the extra cell, and the higher 10-cell maximum will improve overall survivability. Jacks will keep the game interesting despite that by drawing at least two cards, and an average of one more (when they have numbered cards to use at all).

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Signs of Life Intro/Roadmap

(x-posted from the Community)

Signs of Life is a puzzle game where you’re given a math equation where all the numbers are known – but the signs are missing, and you need to fill them in!

Or, I should say all the โ€‹digitsโ€‹ are known – you can leave a space unfilled and let the digits be one big number.

You can play version 1.4.1 right now on pikadudeno1.comโ€‹. v1.5 will be released both there and soon, and the game will be considered 100% complete when v2.0 is released later this year.โ€‹

Right now, I’m working on improving the account system (which is optional to use, but you can carry your game data across devices if you do) so that you can log in from in-game and use your account. Once that’s done, I’ll put the finishing touches on v1.5, including mobile support.

v2 is an ambitious project where I plan to include:

  • Many more puzzles, most of which will require payment, but I’ll leave at least 33 free
  • Puzzles with 7 or more digits
  • Sounds and music
  • A redesigned interface that’ll be much more lively and have a variety of puzzle backgrounds
  • Gamepad support & improved keyboard support, including the ability to enter specific signs with their given keys/buttons
  • Offline support, whether or not you use the app
  • An easy way to compare scores with friends, including fair comparisons with friends who have bought more/fewer puzzles

I hope you’ll enjoy Signs of Life, now and in the future!

2018 Web Wonders Goals

I’ve posted about specific improvements I want to make to my Web apps before, but I have some overall goals for all my Web Wonders that I’d like to write down now and get down throughout 2018.

  • Release a new game! This will be partially or entirely a paid game, as per my previous post on monetization.
  • Every app should be mobile-friendly, so that users can enjoy them no matter how they browse. (Depending on which idea for my new game I work on, it may require the controller fidelity of a keyboard or gamepad, so for now it is exempt.)
  • Every app should be a Progressive Web App, working even without an Internet connection. (This doesn’t make sense for Cookie Hunt, so it is exempt.)
  • My apps will have FAIRIES, and fairies will be a part of my signature style. Because fairies are cute and lovable and endearingโค๏ธ (Non-game apps other than Logo Creator will be exempt.)

Here’s all the above in table form, because I’m nerdy like that. Items marked with โ— are planned for completion by the end of June.

Released Mobile
Web App
Signs of Life โœ”๏ธ โ—
Wackyland โœ”๏ธ โœ”๏ธ
Zapster Solitaire โœ”๏ธ โœ”๏ธ
Wacky Bingo โœ”๏ธ โ— โ— โ—
Cookie Hunt โœ”๏ธ โ— N/A โ—
Logo Creator โœ”๏ธ โ— โ— โ—
Magic Puddle โœ”๏ธ โ— N/A
Reverse Metronome โœ”๏ธ N/A
[New game!] N/A

Big, beautiful buttons for everyone~

These days, user interfaces will often need to accommodate not just precise pointing devices like mice, but also touchscreens, which means larger, less compact target areas. It’s another constraint on design, but something interesting I learned recently is that interfaces designed to better for touchscreens can also be aesthetically better as well.

This is the UI I made for accessing a given DeviantArt user’s profile, gallery, or faves in Deviant Love 2.x:

It was designed to take the minimum amount of vertical space needed to look good, and it certainly fits that goal. But since a goal of Deviant Love 3.0 is to support touchscreen users, I wrote 3.0 Alpha 1 so that mouse users continued to get the same compact look, while touchscreen users got this (with additional UI for Deviant Love’s subaccounts feature):

And I found I liked the UI I had created for touchscreens quite a lot. It needs better vertical rhythm and possibly other tweaks, but overall it strikes me as prettier and friendlier, to the point where I want Deviant Love looking like this regardless of the input device. For Deviant Love 3.0 Alpha 2, I’m going to change it to work as such, and see how well it’s received.

Reflections on Zapster Solitaire’s Game Design

With the release of Zapster Solitaire last week (and the bugfix release today), a game I first dreamt up somewhere around age 10 is finally available for the public to enjoy. While it had potential that I think is now being realized, it’s a relic from when I was much less experienced in game design, so it took some tweaking to get there. Modern-me did a lot of playtesting and made some adjustments:

  • The first thing I did was remove cards of rank 10. This nerfed queens a bit and makes it easier to make matches, and also ensured I could fit the draw pile, current draw, trash, and the maximum number of cells into a 4×3 grid.
  • Next came increasing the number of starting cells from 5 to 6. This made the early game less frustrating.
  • Extensive playtesting in Quick mode made me feel overpowered having 3 zaps. 1 zap felt too weak, so I adjusted it to 2.
  • After the above change, further playtesting in Marathon mode made me realize that kid-me had a point when it came to 2-deck play, so I implemented allowing the starting zaps to vary between modes, and brought Marathon back up to 3 zaps.

While I’m largely proud of what the game evolved into, the combination of the first 2 changes above resulted in a new flaw: If you fill all your cells without getting any matches at the start of the game, intuition tells you the next card has a 50% chance of matching. In fact, due to each of your cards having 1 less match in the deck, it’s only 43% in Quick and 47% in Marathon. I’ve been thinking of how I might eliminate that tempting false coin flip – perhaps I’ll increase the starting cells to 7, or remove Aces. I’ll have to do more playtesting and see what works…

A feature I have planned for version 2.0 will let you try out your own adjustments to the game and share them across the Internet, as I have. I look forward to seeing how players change the game further.

Mar 2017 Near-term Website Roadmap

The last time I wrote one of these, it became a handy checklist of things to work on, but got increasingly divorced from reality as my short-term priorities changed. Nonetheless, it’s useful for setting goals and focusing on them, so I’ll give this at least one more go.

Overdue Deliveries (scheduled for this month)

  • New game: Zapster Solitaire v0.8, an original Solitaire game. It’ll use your Superspark Account if you have one.
  • Magic Puddle v3.1: A better mobile experience, plus “Learn more” will be replaced with a much more concise menu.
  • New page: Gaming Profiles, showing where I can be found on Steam and other gaming websites.

Fairies Take Flight (scheduled for April or May)

  • Wacky Bingo v5:’s first Progressive Web App! It’ll finally be a proper Bingo game with square boards, featuring a cute fairy as the hostess.
  • Cookie Hunt v4.1: Mobile-friendly, with a serious-mannered (but still cute) fairy replacing Generic Invisible Text-Spewer as the head honcho. Some text will be rewritten to create a consistent character.
  • The aforementioned fairies will also appear in the site UI to promote these updates, and will occasionally be replaced with other new fairies to promote other new content.

Superspark Groundwork (scheduled for June or July)

  • At least one app will become a Progressive Web App that connects to your Superspark Account. Your account data will be available even when offline.
  • At least one app that either already has or will gain Superspark connectivity will allow logging in or changing users from within the app.
  • Candidates for the above include Signs of Life, Wackyland, Zapster Solitaire, Magic Puddle, and Reverse Metronome.

The road to profitability

One of my goals with is to make it a primary source of my income. Payment-optional methods of making money like asking for donations haven’t worked, and I don’t expect them to (although Patreon has worked out for some people, and I may yet give that a try). The main plan is to charge for access to new content, and convince people that it’s worth it.

Before I try any of that, though, I want to make my website something I can proudly show off, so I can start sharing it with wider audiences and get some of my future customers hooked. Most of the pieces for that are in place by now, but I still need to release non-OpenID login options and Zapster Solitaire. Though Zapster Solitaire isn’t my most interesting game, it is far and away my most polished, so will be good for setting the tone on what my players can expect when I start charging money.

Once that’s done, I plan on writing the code to enable players to buy things. To test this code, Magic Puddle v4.0 will feature a name-your-own-price In-App Purchase. After that, I’ll make Signs of Life v2.0, adding puzzle packs that require set-price IAPs to play. I’m aware IAPs have a bad reputation with many players based on how mobile game developers have abused them, but I have ideas on how to communicate to players that my IAPs aren’t those IAPs, inspired by this article by Thomas Baekdal.

Eventually, I want to make new games that require upfront payment, as players already expect to do for high-quality indie games found on Steam and such. People will find it strange at first to have to pay for a browser game, but I have a few ideas on how they might be warmed up to the idea, and of course actually releasing on Steam is a possibility thanks to Web app wrappers like Electron. For now, I’ll keep the games in question a surprise~

Nov 2016 Near-term Website Roadmap

Well, between the daydreaming of all the cool new things I should be able to finish soon, and the Content Update not coming out on time, I think a revised roadmap is in order.

Content Update (coming by November 17)

  • New game: Zapsterย Solitaire, version 0.8
  • New page: Gaming Profiles
  • NEW: Updates Showcase, an upgrade of NewsWave with a better user experience

Superspark Update (coming by November 23)

  • A bit of rebranding: Instead of a type of game, “Superspark” will refer to the account system. Web Wonders organization will simply be “games” and “non-games”. Future updates will add Superspark features to non-games.
  • As the Persona service will be shutting down, e-mail sign-ins must be changed to become a bit more of a hassle, but other sign-in options will be provided.
  • NEW: Logo Creator v1.1, mobile-friendly and offline-enabled

Fairies Update (coming December or January)

  • Logo Creator v2; changes will include a new fairy icon
  • Wackyland v2; changes will include a new Wacky Theater cartoon with stick figure fairies
  • NEW: Wacky Bingo v4, mobile-friendly and involving fairies somehow
  • Fairies
  • Fairies!
  • FAIRIES ๐Ÿ˜€

Ungrouped Updates (coming whenever)

  • NEW: Cookie Hunt v5.1, mobile-friendly
  • Revised sharing options; Reddit will be included
  • New Subscribe page, making it easier to follow my creative doings

A few notes on the personal reasons I chose those November dates: November 17 is the day before a local anime/cartoons convention that I want to enjoy guilt-free. November 23 is the day before a big road trip where Internet access will be spotty, so having something of mine work offline, even if it’s just that silly little Logo Creator, will be fun.