So I have ads working in my game. But where do I put them? You might think this a simple thing. Until you yourself actually start designing something that needs ads and have to find the space and time for them. So lets go through the three types of ads and discuss where I might put them.
Firstly we have the most simple of the ad types: Banner Ads. They are very simple, a bar at the bottom of the screen displaying an ad. Somewhat like a billboard on the side of the road, but in a game. The simplicity of this ad spills over into the simplicity of where I will use it. Banner ads will appear in the game modes, but not on the main menu. Putting them on the main menu feels tacky somehow, but just passively having them sit at the bottom of the screen during play feels fine. Next up is an ad type that took some thought.
The next type of ads are called interstitial ads. These ads are full screen video style ads that can be skipped, usually after X seconds, much like ads you see at the start of YouTube videos. These are a bit harder to figure out as they need a real trigger to play, and I don’t really want them getting in the way of the play. What I settled on is having them play when you go from a game mode back to the main menu. That way they don’t interrupt play (as the player was interrupting play to change things up anyway), don’t pop up an annoying amount of the time, and can still be skipped. And now for the annoying one.
The final ad type is rewarded ads. These ads are very much like interstitial ads with two big differences. Firstly, these ads can’t be skipped, they play to completion every time. Second is that, as the name suggests, after the ad plays the player is supposed to be rewarded with something. But the big question for me was always: what could I possibly reward them with?
For a while I just thought I wouldn’t use them. Not like they are required right? But then I figured out something I could “reward” the player with: the hint system. I haven’t figured out the specifics yet, but a way it may work is that you start a session and want to unlock hints. So you watch the ad and get hints unlocked. The real questions are: Does this unlock ads for all modes this session? Does it unlock X hints? Hints for X levels? I still need to figure this all out… and then program it.
One of the greatest strengths of my generation (and the following generations) is that, by and large, if we don’t know how to do something, we just look it up. The internet has put most skill sets a few searches and minutes or hours of research away. Don’t know how to format that file for your presentation? The internet can tell you. Don’t know how to make a resume? The internet has plenty of examples. Don’t know how to change the oil in your car? The internet has plenty of tutorial videos, probably even has one for your make and model.
So why do I bring this up? Because there are plenty of programming things that I have no idea how to do. And so I go look it up. And I usually find a way to do what I am trying to do. Or a way to do a similar thing that gets the job done. Along the way I usually find at least one thing I wasn’t looking for, I didn’t know, and could be very useful.
So, onto the point. I have been getting close to the finish of my game… and finding these last few steps the most annoying, mostly by virtue of going in blind. The step I am working on now is integrating adds into my game, so that I can hopefully make some money from this. But, as the title suggests, the first tutorial I found to do this was out of date. The tutorial was less than a year old, and at first it only looked like some cosmetic UI changes had been made in the process since the tutorial was made. But… once I got to the coding part of the process, everything started returning errors. That is when I knew something was wrong.
But As stated above, I just searched again. Quickly I learned that the tutorial I was using was for version 3 of the integration and the current version was 4.3. Understandably the process had changed significantly. But a new tutorial was quickly found, and the fundamentals were largely the same. It just used different tools to accomplish the same thing. Importantly the new version did allow for more control. However even the old tutorial was not a waste of time. As I learned a useful bit of programming to do something I didn’t know how to do (but which I knew must be possible). And, as with the old tutorial, the new also taught me something I didn’t know. But more importantly this new tutorial explained why it would be useful. After all, simply knowing something is no where near as useful as understanding it.
What should a game designer study?
But what experiences are beneficially to my game design?
All of them.
This was one of the more memorable conversations that took place in my game design class. Student was asking what supplemental courses to take (art, programming, animation, history, etc.). The teacher’s response could be boiled down to this: There are no experiences that can’t be useful to a game designer. So, what does that mean?
There are two main aspects to this, experiences and skills. I will start with experiences. Any experience can be used to influence game design. Perhaps a scene from a movie you watched gave you an idea for that nagging mechanic you are trying to figure out. Maybe your experience extending your running range influences how you design level up mechanics. Or you could even design an entire game to get across the sense of peace you experienced when sitting on a hill on a sunny day and got a whiff of some flowers. A designer, of almost any kind, draws on their life experiences to inform their design. So the more experiences you have, the more paints you have in your design paint kit. But where do you get the brushes to apply that paint?
That is where the skills you pick up come in. The broader your skill set the more of a game you can influence. For a very simple example a programmer with some basic art skills can make temp assets without going to an artist every time. Similarly a UI designer with some programming experience can figure out what the programming flow might look like while they are making the design. In short if you can expect what the next step in design is the better you can prepare for it and possibly save everyone’s time. Or even (as I am doing) create something completely by yourself.
What I have heard this skill distribution referred to is a T skill distribution. Meaning you have a basic understanding of everything in the pipeline, maybe even enough skill to help out on occasion. BUT that you have one or two specialties. The broad “base” of the T vs its tall central pillar. In this way, no skill you learn is wasted in the design space. Even seemingly unrelated skills can surprise you when they come up and are invaluable.
In game design it is an all too common thing to get an element 80% working, and then decide it doesn’t fit. Or perhaps it doesn’t mesh with who you are doing something else. Or you go in an entirely different direction. The point is that you will have many ideas that get left in the dust. Many might even be fully functional before you discard them. But how you discard them is important.
One piece of writing advice that has always stuck with me is to write the first draft. Then delete that draft and write it again. This stuck with me because I can see the logic of it, but it is so antithetical to how I do things. The logic is that now that you have done the thing it will be easier to do it again, but better this time. And it actually makes a lot of sense. But, a part of me is violently opposed to destroying my old work. If I ever try this piece of advice, instead of destroying the old work I would seal it away out of my reach.
Back to game design, I am a strong believer in making multiple “save states” of my work. These save states are snapshots of different points in development. Often when I make these I need to duplicate all the scripts and prefabs I use so that I can leave the old version alone and largely functional. But what does this have to do with reviving discarded ideas? Simply put, when I discard a piece of code I have written I very rarely delete it. Perhaps I comment it out. Or I leave it in an old version. Or I simply remove the script without changing it at all, just leaving it in a file somewhere for latter. What this means is that if I discard something. Then decide I need it after all later on. It’s always there, ready to be revived.
Eventually, I’m going to have a hell of a time cutting out all the extra files I don’t need in the final build. But in the mean time, I have the entire history of my design process at my fingertips. And that means that while an idea might be discarded, it isn’t gone.
When I need to add a new feature to my game I need to code it in (Duh). But it isn’t always as simple as that makes it sound. Each scene is it’s own world and what I do in one scene does not always translate to another scene. No, if I want something to carry over I need to set it up special. Thankfully I long ago created an object that carries over between scenes, its entire purpose is to carry variables between scenes. But interacting with this object can get a bit weird at times.
One of the main reasons for this is that each time I load a scene my scripts have to go and find that object (Named dataHolder). And you might think this would be simple: “On start find thing” and it is… until it isn’t. You see I discovered something about the Start part of scripts. If you have more than one in a scene they all try to run at the same time. Doesn’t sound too bad, until Script B needs Script A to have set something up, but Script A hasn’t gotten there yet.
My solution? Have only one Start section in my “controller” script and have it access functions of the other scripts that run what their Start sections would have run. But how does this relate back to my dataHolder?
I needed a new variable for volume control, so obviously I would shove that in the dataHolder. But what would access it? Now the solution should be obvious to you, after all I just spent two paragraphs telling you why it is the solution. But my first instincts where to have the script that needed that variable go looking for it. But when that one variable turned into 2 or 3 variables and one needed to be translated from one form to another… not a viable solution. So shove it in the controller.
And I went to do that. And everything just seemed to work. Nice and simple, barely any programming involved. Makes me suspicious any time the solution is so easy. But this time I think it really was that easy. Because I put it in the right part of the interconnected web of scripts.
Often times, when I design something that works I have a tendency of just using that over and over again. One example of this is to copy and paste parts of working code into new code. Usually I need to change something, but it makes for an excellent starting point. But this also applies to UI design. When I find a design that works I have a tendency to try and copy paste it everywhere else. I usually have to tweak it a bit for things like space constraints, but this has the upside of a unified design.
However… as you may have surmised from the title, there is a downside to this. And that is when the old design just won’t work for what I want. Now you would think the answer is simple “Just do something different” and yes it should be that easy. But then comes the “rigidity”. You see, I like the idea of the design being “unified”, of everything looking and acting similarly. So the idea of changing a design that has worked up to this point is a hard one to accept. And I struggled with first one idea that just would not work, then another that was somehow worse. But eventually I got it through my head to “just change the layout of the design”. This gave me the room I needed and actually helped differentiate a specific part of the design so that it wasn’t confusing.
So I guess what I have to say is this: Don’t get stuck in one way of doing things. Even if it works it isn’t always the best choice.
Something I have been putting off for a while was a settings menu. I kept putting it off because “How hard can it be?” I figured it would be easy to slap together. And I was half right. The buttons and mechanics of the menu are/will be fairly easy to make. But… the ever looming questions of how to design the thing and what to include are a bit harder to answer.
Lets start with one of the simple ones: Volume Controls. Once I actually started thinking about it I was struck by a seemingly obvious question. The primary target platform for this game is mobile devices, and people tend to just use a phone’s inbuilt volume control when playing games. So… Do I really need a volume control? Or would a simple mute/unmute toggle suffice? Another question: Do I have enough distinct sound effects to warrant individual volume controls? And all these questions for one of the simpler parts of the settings menu.
One of the other problems I am having with the settings menu is another simple question: Where should you be able to access it? Seems simple and straightforward right? Que hysterical laughter of a man losing his mind. At first I was just going to put it on the main menu and be done with it. But some of these options feel like they should be accessible from the play experience (mostly the volume setting). The problem with that is this: The play scenes are already using 80-90% of the relevant screen real-estate and the remaining parts are so desperate that is might as well be 100% use already.
So where would I even put the settings? The two options I can think of are to have the play area temporarily vacate the screen to make room. And alternatively for the settings to just sit on top of everything else with a semi-transparent backdrop to make the settings stand out from the play area. And I don’t really like either option. So that brings up the question: Do I really need the settings to be accessible from the play scenes?
In my game I have a hint system, standard in puzzle games. But my system always gave the hints for a given puzzle in the same order, top down, left to right. I felt this was stale and uninteresting. So I decided to add a random element to the order in which the hints were given. So I tried a method I thought of, involving a nested while loop, several variables, and a random number generator. Everything looked fine… until I tried it out.
It would work for a few presses of the hint button, and then the entire application would freeze. Most frustrating of all however was that when it froze it would not display any of the debug commands I had put into the code. So it was very hard to figure out what was going on. Then I had a brain wave. My first method was selecting one of the hints to display at random, then finding that hint to see if it had already been chosen. In the new method, I chose a random square and checked if it had a hint to display. Basically getting the same result by doing the process “backwards”. In fact this new function was half the length of the failure attempt.
All that to say. Sometimes I get stuck on a solution that I assume must be “the best” and refuse to see other solutions. And often times I see this solution as “the best” because “It is so complex it must give a good result. When I really need to remember an anecdote I learned in High School. The K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
There is an old piece of advice I remember for writing. It goes something like this: If you aren’t ready to name a character don’t give them an actual name as a placeholder. The reason for this is that if the placeholder stands for long enough you will just attach that name to that character and never rename them, or have great difficulty doing so. You can imagine the clash that can arise in a high fantasy story with Grognar, Lethewin… and Steve. I purposely over exaggerated that example to make a point, but the point stands. But what does this have to do with game design? Everything.
But not directly. It doesn’t really matter what you name things as long as the design team knows what is going on. However, What names you put on buttons, what names you give to play modes, what text you put in descriptions, that all maters. And unless you are careful your subconscious may latch onto the “temporary” element and not want to revise it. For instance, when I put a temporary title on my game’s main menu I also put “Name WIP”. Turns out I used the placeholder name anyway… and don’t regret it, it led me to a theme I like.
But with all that said, my main point is that this can also apply to other elements. More than once I have jury rigged a solution to a programming problem and been reluctant to replace that solution with a more elegant one. Similarly, design elements can be hard to replace because of how long they have stood or how long it took to make them. (That second part is called the “Sunk cost fallacy” and deserves a deep dive of its own.)
The primary solution to this problem is to be aware of it and account for it in your thought process. If you need a temp name use something nonsensical or something like “title goes here”. If you are putting in a temporary element, first ask yourself “Do I really need this now? Or could it wait?” When jury rigging a solution perhaps take the time to just learn to do it right the first time. (deadlines might make this one tricky.) Just remember that “temporary” solutions have a tendency of becoming permeant if left alone too long.
So… I have been working on this game for a while. Naturally, during that time updates have come out for Unity. And almost every time I downloaded the latest version as soon as I could and updated my project. With one glaring exception. I am still using the 2020 build of Unity.
That build is still getting updates, and I install those whenever I can. But there is now (what appears to be) a fairly stable 2021 version and even a 2022 version available for download. So why wouldn’t I use the latest and greatest version of the engine? For a few reasons as it turns out.
Firstly, when you are in the middle of development you don’t change up the version of a program you are using without a very good reason. Updating always has risks. Perhaps that system you are relying on got tweaked just enough to break one of you mechanics. Or maybe a feature you relied on got changed out for a new one that works differently. Learning these new systems and idiosyncrasies takes time and can bog down a project to the point of an all out stop.
This is not to say you never update a program to a new version. Sometimes those changes that can bog you down? They might be exactly what you need to make something work or speed up production. Or perhaps your target platform changed somehow and the new version can handle that change better. As such, one shouldn’t dismiss newer versions out of hand. But only done after long consideration.
With all that said, even if the newer version had something that would benefit design work game, I wouldn’t update at this point. The reason is quite simple: I am too close to the end. It makes no sense to refamiliarize myself with the new placement, layout, and controls of the various Unity systems at this point in development. Updates to the current version? Certainly, in fact I downloaded one as I wrote this. But, frankly, rather than speeding up development, at this point the time taken learning new systems could as much as double time I need to finish this project.
So the newer versions of Unity will simply have to wait for my next game.