Steam Scouts: On Track Open Beta

Steam Scouts: On Track is in Open Beta.  Click here and go play it!  We’re still polishing, and tweaking so the game can change at any time.  The basic mechanics are in.  The art is (mostly) done.  We’re collecting feedback and making changes.

On Track is a really simple 2d puzzle game in HTML 5.  Which means that most folks should be able to play it.  Keep in mind that we don’t have touch controls on the web version.  We’re planning on moving to Android and iOS, which will allow for touch control on a phone.  As well as looking appropriate.

What you see in open beta was constructed by 1 full time programmer, 1 game designer (Me, part time), 1 contract graphic artist (Emily Lubanko), and 1 contract composer working from Jan 1st 2013 till June 1st 2013.  Less than 6 months.  On one hand its an amazing amount of work and polish to get to this point.  On the other hand the game looks like much more time was spent creating it.

The feedback from strangers has been positive.  At the moment we want to figure out if people would like physical merit badges as rewards for the game.  As it’s a game about a scouting organization it seems only fair that we reward players with badges.

We’ll be posting it around Reddit to gather feedback, and I’ll update them here.
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6/3/2013 /r/playmygame
6/5/2013 /r/webgames

Please do us a huge favor, tell people.  Spread around a few tweets.  Share these pages.  Click Like on Facebook and Reddit.  But also engage with us.  Post a review, ask a question.  Challenge us.  We really appreciate it.  Thank you.

Merit vs Acheivement

Most games track progress in some way. It could be a level system, a system of experience, a score, or some form of achievements. There has been controversy about the value of achievements in games. Although now they are basically accepted as part of gaming. For Steam Scouts we want to introduce a system of both achievement and merit. So what’s the difference?

As Steam Scouts is a game about merit badges, we want to explain our idea of the difference between achievements and merit.

Achievements: A system of demonstrating completion. Merit Badge: A system of demonstrating knowledge.

The famous example of a merit badge system is that of scouting.  Say what you want about it’s politics, the Boys Scouts of America had a great idea with merit badges.  Steam scouts is an attempt to take the good part out of a system which may or may not be suffering from its own immorality.  We can’t fix scouting as outsiders to the organization, but we can make a new version in games.

The brilliance of the Scouting Merit Badge system is that each scout determines what demonstrating knowledge means.  Maybe that means weaving a basket for your basketry merit badge.  Maybe that means making a wallet to demonstrate leather working.  A scout is first instructed, then studies, and then must demonstrate knowledge.

So we’re going to create a system for Steam Scouts: On Track, where the player can demonstrate knowledge, and be awarded a merit badge.  First they will be taught the mechanics of the game (by playing not by tutorial).  Hopefully they will study, by playing bonus levels, perhaps by developing a community.  Then they will demonstrate knowledge by submitting a unique puzzle or set of puzzles to us.

Much like crafting a wallet, or crafting a basket players will demonstrate knowledge by producing something that proves they have learned.  At least that’s the idea right now.  That could change at any time, for a number of reasons.  So keeping in mind that the design concept I’ve presented here is likely to change based on what we’re capable of producing so early in our company history.

3 great GDC Vault talks.

Or why I am a Luke Muscat fanboy.

The more I learn about Half Brick’s Luke Muscat, the more I like.  The company made some really great games.  Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joy Ride in case you’ve been living under a rock.  They were super friendly at Pax East 2012, their booth was directly across from The Tap Lab, where I spent most of that Pax.  Instead of this just being a blog post of flattery, lets get to the part about why you should care.

Luke gives some amazing talks at GDC.  Although we can’t afford the ticket price to go, the GDC Vault has been kind enough to post them for us.  They are great Post Mortem style presentations on what went well with Fruit Ninja and Jet Pack.  They are well worth the time to watch.

Another really great GDC Vault topic is the discussion of ‘intro levels‘ (Tutorial shall never be used here!) by PopCap Games George Fan.  We’ve already discussed why I don’t like the word ‘marketing‘ when getting the word out about games.  But I also don’t like tutorials thanks to George Fan.  George, Steam Scouts: On Track is a better game because of your GDC talk.

Steam Scouts Beta!

Dormouse Games has a functional Steam Scouts beta!  We’ll have a closed beta, followed by an open beta, coming up in the near future.  That means it’s time for the business guy to look to the future.  I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how we’re going to get the word out about the game.

As a gamer, I don’t like ‘marketing’ and ‘branding’ pointed at me because its weak-sauce when compared to what I really enjoy; a good game, with a good story, in a compelling setting.  So the challenge of coming up with marketing material is on the one hand kind of silly as you’ve just invested time and effort into creating an entire world.  But on the other hand, marketing and ‘the brand’ is super critical to grow the game beyond the scope of who knows about it right now.

We want to tackle ‘marketing’ and ‘branding’ at Dormouse Games by going that extra step beyond marketing to world building. At the moment we’re looking into the idea of awarding players achievement badges, and merit badges for the completion of Steam Scouts: On Track.  We’re going to skip the ‘swag’ and the flyers, and instead create actual merit badges for rewards in and out of the game.

I have this mental image from Pax East 2012 in my head.  The Tap Lab on one side of the isle, with buttons and stickers and flyers.  And Half Brick on the other side of the isle with fruit for sale.  Little plush fruit sliced in half, that stuck together with Velcro   Even Dave got a fruit at the Half Brick booth.  Which was more effective?  We want to give a token that people really identify with, but also something they earned.  With a game about merit badges the solution seems rather obvious.

Does that idea strike you as something compelling?  Or are we wasting our time?  What do you think?  Would a sash full of badges appeal to you?  This idea appeals to me, but then I was a scout as a kid.