How to Make a Casual Mobile Game Pt 2: Uprising - Gameplay Elements & Balance

Read about gameplay challenges and balancing while making a mobile game.

Since the setting and presentation of Rise of Colonies: Uprising definitely fell out of casual presentation (yeah, no candies and color balls), so it became quite a challenge to add enough variety to this title. This article focuses only on technical mechanics in the game without touching visuals and sounds, though these assets are also a part of what is called the gameplay experience. We’ll discuss them in dedicated articles. By the way, don’t forget to read the previous article about making a casual game Rise of Colonies: Uprising.

Gameplay Challenges While Making a Mobile Game

Basically, our mobile game Uprising has a single level concept, so it means that users play in the same location over and over again, increasing stats in between. Such an approach can be called somewhat standard for the genre, but can quickly become annoying, so the task was to introduce a number of secondary mechanics to the process to make it more variable.

 

Gameplay challenges, that we had to solve, mainly included:

 

  1. Rewarding process for experienced players
  2. Sense of freedom – not to force players through the game in only possible way.
  3. Consistent gameplay experience

 

One of the main drivers of interest for the players is not only a game progression, but also a skill progression. Nothing motivates players that much as the sense of excelling in the game. So, we ended up with the creating following:

 

Primary gameplay mechanics:

 

  1. Tapping to shoot enemies
  2. Using special abilities
  3. Upgrading between levels

 

Secondary gameplay mechanics:

 

  1. Using different weapons
  2. Managing bullets in the clip
  3. Using Hot Reloads
  4. Using Mesh Glasses
  5. Perks that are combined well with abilities
  6. Different upgrade paths

Rewarding Process in a Mobile Game

Well, the strategy of simple tapping to shoot enemies will make hardcore players get boring quite soon, so we introduced hardcore mechanics, which are aimed towards getting a skill over time:

Different weapons

These are not just the weapons that have different icons and parameters – they ARE different to the point that even controls for them are not the same. To use a gun, players have to tap to shoot each bullet. To use a rifle, players can tap and just move finger over the gameplay area to unleash bulletstorm on enemies. Rockets are fired one by one and have long reloading time. Additionally, only the gun has infinite ammo, while other weapons should be used strategically.

 

Consistent Gameplay Experience This one is obvious, but quite challenging to make it right. Our game development team follows two main rules here: No paywalls, meaning you will be able to complete a game without spending real money, though some, but not desperate grinding will be necessary. To avoid paywalls, we followed this rule for the game (most likely, it cannot be applied to any other title, so it is here just for the reference): 1:7 Earnings to Upgrades Cost - this ratio doesn’t bring a paywall feeling and allows to advance the game, while at the same time gives a value to purchases. No random. No, of course there are some random parameters in the game, but those are mostly used to give visual variety and enemies starting position. However, when it comes to the game logic, there’s no random. Because, obviously, we want a consistent gameplay, not a random one. Upgrades Balancing in Mobile Games I personally don’t like games that approach upgrades effects using exponential curves (some modern idle clickers) as in my opinion, these upgrades don’t give a sense of progression, but instead just make you count big numbers. So, in Uprising, upgrades are more linear, so players know what to expect from them. For example, upgrading clip size from Level 3 to Level 4 will give extra bullet. The same is for going from L4->L5 - no surprises here. Most of the games I play and find interesting have a linear progression, so I follow this concept in my designs as well. So, all the upgrades have been individually balanced using custom-written script that generated config files for all 6000+ upgrades. Main challenge here, obviously, was to balance power, upgrade cost and impact on other upgrades as well. Since we decided to have a lot of levels for each upgrade for longer-lasting experience, it was crucial to get those numbers right. For example, let’s take one of the first upgrades - Gun Damage. Gun’s base damage is 20 HP. Now, if we add +2 for L1->L2, we get improvement by 10%, which is a lot for just the first level. If we follow this concept and add +2 on each level, on L149->LMAX the damage will be 320. It would mean, that Gun Damage is 16 times higher than in the beginning. Now, if you compare maxed out Gun to a Rocket’s base damage, which is 90 HP of area damage, that might seem a bit ridiculous and artificial. While, for sure, this is just a game, but numbers, they have to be believable. One of the possible solutions here is to introduce fractional numbers, but for mobile game this is not always good and I prefer to avoid them if possible. Another solution is to reduce the number of upgrade levels, but, again, doing this you’re sacrificing the content. So we increased the base numbers of the entire game to a minimum level, where no fractional numbers were needed. Thus, gun’s base damage became 100 HP and maxed out gun’s got 400 HP (4 times comparing to the base value). At the same time, Rocket’s Base Damage was raised to 650 HP, so it means, even maxed out gun will always be weaker than the base rocket and it seems OK for me. This is something, that can be understood - this is not JRPG, after all. The same goes for the most part to balancing energy-related upgrades, such as abilities energy consumption and generator’s energy capacity. Here we have the opposite conditions, when each Ability upgrade decrease consumption and Generator’s upgrade increases capacity. It means, if Ability and Generator are maxed out with 4x efficiency, it gives like 16x total benefit like a lot - players would be using only Abilities and energy will become literally infinite after that. This is also solved by introducing autonomous energy consumption entities, which help player to battle enemies at the cost of energy. The outstanding problem of offering a big variety is that it is very difficult to foresee/verify all possible scenarios in order not to create “Win Button” unintentionally. However, when you have enough parameters to adjust, there are mechanics to avoid this, at least, make it less obvious. Has this title been perfectly balanced? Well, no. Take a look at the popular strategy titles, i.e. (Starcraft II). It’s been a decade since the release and there are still balance changes coming in as patches from time to time. So, with casual budgets it is definitely impossible to do balance right from the time. You get to play it through and adjust only so many times as the budgets allow. However, there are certain things to keep in mind to be able to manage all the values: Try to avoid exponential curves, when possible - these are difficult to validate, because, when i.e. you use formula like this: CRIT_DMG = CRIT_DMG_BOOST * WEAPON_DMG * WEAPON_DMG_BOOST When the values are in the exponential space, they will become way too big (like 10-20 times bigger after several upgrades are complete. Any reasonable gameplay can’t be properly balanced under such conditions. Stay in linear space: stick it to simple: Y = AX + B. If you need to bring certain parameter up or down - use A, like K=3, K=0.5, etc. Or use smooth Quadratic Equation with A parameter being equal to some small number (depending on the final parameters values), like 0.01 or 0.1, whatever fits your case. This will give you a slight exponential curve, but without huge numbers within the interval. Keep relative consistency: i.e. if enemies’ defense grows 3x over 100 levels, make sure that players can upgrade their weapons that do at least 3x more damage. Don’t overpower early item. I.e. you have gun with 10 base damage and max 30x max level boost (300 damage), then, you have rifle with 20 base damage and 10x max level boost, This makes rifle useless as gun upgrades surpass it. You can always use additional gameplay tricks, add some optional items that are limited in quantity, but can help players. In our case, we added grenades in addition to standard abilities. These grenades are limited and have to be refilled for coins, so it’s up to a player whether to use them or not. And if they fail consistently, they might just use additional firepower, while more experienced players can save some coins for upgrades. Summary As you see, even a small casual mobile game can have many parameters and more values to manage than some of the AAA titles out there, so take that into account and don’t underestimate the amount of work necessary to balance the game (literally, to make it interesting to play). Don’t forget to download our game (reviewed by Daikon Media, partners of MyHub and this Scrabble tool) to see how it all works in practice.

Managing bullets in the clip

This one is related to the approach that Weapon Clips have a finite amount of bullets and reloading takes time. When the enemies are at the barrier, spending precious seconds to reload might prove to be fatal. So, in between waves players have to monitor remaining bullets – a part of the additional strategy.

Hot Reloads

This is the extension of bullets management mechanic that came from console/PC games. If weapon reloading is paused at certain moments in time during reloading, players receive temporary damage boost for a few seconds. Now, those, who want to get the advantage of hot reloading, might reload after several bullets have been shot, to get constant Damage Boost. Of course, an opposite is also an option – if reloading is stopped at the wrong time, players get a penalty, which doesn’t allow them to shoot.

Using Mesh Glasses

This is an additional game helper, which enables a special color mode, where match-3 rules apply. In short, if an enemy of a certain color is killed, others on the field of the same color die as well. Sounds like a Win Button? Well, not actually, because this mode is only operational for a really small amount of time and you’ll probably won’t kill a single enemy, while it is on. So some preparation is required, i.e. players have to half-kill enemy, activate the color mode and then, finish it off.

Perks that are combined well with abilities

Perks are consumables that allow players to boost certain values in the game. There are total 24 perks of which only 3 can be taken on a level. This gives players additional strategy possibilities, depending on their style of playing. For example, if players like to use only a gun on a level and invest into its upgrades such three perks as Critical Damage Boost + No Fail Reload + Infinite Gun Clip make it a really dangerous weapon.

 

How to Make a Casual Mobile Game

Different upgrade paths

Upgrades in games of such genre usually fall into one of following categories: Damage, Defence, Support and the challenge here was to give players different upgrade paths without giving them a single recommended one. The game is balanced that way, so you’ll have a hard trying to buy high-level upgrades for each item – you’ll be grinding a lot, so it all comes down not to upgrading whatever you can, but choosing the items you want to upgrade and following that path. There are total 54 items that can be upgraded with most of them having 150 upgrades levels, making more than 6000 upgrades in total. So if you like playing with the gun – upgrade Clip Size, Critical Damage, Regular Damage and you can skip using abilities a lot. However, if someone likes to play less actively, he can skip weapons upgrade and invest points into abilities and defense. The weapons can then be used just for enemies who occasionally passed through.

 

I like to reference Uprising as a strategy game that lets players master “The Art of Exterminating Enemies”. By 400-500 levels, players need to be really inventive and plan actions quickly and accurately. Basic mechanics will let players complete only about 20 levels without much hassle, but further actions will require at least elementary planning.

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Consistent Gameplay Experience

This one is obvious, but quite challenging to make it right. Our game development team follows two main rules here:

 

  1. No paywalls, meaning you will be able to complete a game without spending real money, though some, but not desperate grinding will be necessary. To avoid paywalls, we followed this rule for the game (most likely, it cannot be applied to any other title, so it is here just for the reference): 1:7 Earnings to Upgrades Cost – this ratio doesn’t bring a paywall feeling and allows to advance the game, while at the same time gives a value to purchases.
  2. No random. No, of course there are some random parameters in the game, but those are mostly used to give visual variety and enemies starting position. However, when it comes to the game logic, there’s no random. Because, obviously, we want a consistent gameplay, not a random one.

Upgrades Balancing in Mobile Games

I personally don’t like games that approach upgrades effects using exponential curves (some modern idle clickers) as in my opinion, these upgrades don’t give a sense of progression, but instead, just make you count big numbers. So, in Uprising, upgrades are more linear, so players know what to expect from them. For example, upgrading clip size from Level 3 to Level 4 will give an extra bullet. The same is for going from L4->L5 – no surprises here.

Most of the games I play and find interesting have a linear progression, so I follow this concept in my designs as well.

 

How to Make a Casual Mobile Game

 

So, all the upgrades have been individually balanced using a custom-written script that generated config files for all 6000+ upgrades.

 

The main challenge here, obviously, was to balance power, upgrade cost and impact on other upgrades as well. Since we decided to have a lot of levels for each upgrade for longer-lasting experience, it was crucial to get those numbers right.

 

For example, let’s take one of the first upgrades – Gun Damage. Gun’s base damage is 20 HP. Now, if we add +2 for L1->L2, we get improvement by 10%, which is a lot for just the first level. If we follow this concept and add +2 on each level, on L149->LMAX the damage will be 320. It would mean, that Gun Damage is 16 times higher than in the beginning. Now, if you compare maxed out Gun to a Rocket’s base damage, which is 90 HP of area damage, that might seem a bit ridiculous and artificial. While, for sure, this is just a game, but numbers, they have to be believable.

 

One of the possible solutions here is to introduce fractional numbers, but for a mobile game, this is not always good and I prefer to avoid them if possible. Another solution is to reduce the number of upgrade levels, but, again, doing this you’re sacrificing the content. So we increased the base numbers of the entire game to a minimum level, where no fractional numbers were needed. Thus, gun’s base damage became 100 HP and maxed out gun’s got 400 HP (4 times compared to the base value). At the same time, Rocket’s Base Damage was raised to 650 HP, so it means, even maxed out gun will always be weaker than the base rocket and it seems OK for me. This is something, that can be understood – this is not JRPG, after all.

 

The same goes for the most part to balancing energy-related upgrades, such as abilities energy consumption and generator’s energy capacity. Here we have the opposite conditions when each Ability upgrade decrease consumption and Generator’s upgrade increases capacity. It means, if Ability and Generator are maxed out with 4x efficiency, it gives like 16x total benefit like a lot – players would be using only Abilities and energy will become literally infinite after that. This is also solved by introducing autonomous energy consumption entities, which help the player to battle enemies at the cost of energy.

 

The outstanding problem of offering a big variety is that it is very difficult to foresee/verify all possible scenarios in order not to create “Win Button” unintentionally. However, when you have enough parameters to adjust, there are mechanics to avoid this, at least, make it less obvious.

 

Has this title been perfectly balanced? Well, no. Take a look at the popular strategy titles, i.e. (Starcraft II). It’s been a decade since the release and there are still balance changes coming in as patches from time to time. So, with casual budgets, it is definitely impossible to do balance right from the time. You get to play it through and adjust only so many times as the budgets allow. However, there are certain things to keep in mind to be able to manage all the values:

 

  1. Try to avoid exponential curves, when possible – these are difficult to validate, because, when i.e. you use a formula like this: CRIT_DMG = CRIT_DMG_BOOST * WEAPON_DMG * WEAPON_DMG_BOOST
    When the values are in the exponential space, they will become way too big (like 10-20 times bigger after several upgrades are complete. Any reasonable gameplay can’t be properly balanced under such conditions.
  2. Stay in linear space: stick it to simple: Y = AX + B. If you need to bring certain parameter up or down – use A, like K=3, K=0.5, etc. Or use smooth Quadratic Equation with A parameter being equal to some small number (depending on the final parameters’ values), like 0.01 or 0.1, whatever fits your case. This will give you a slight exponential curve, but without huge numbers within the interval.
  3. Keep relative consistency: i.e. if enemies’ defense grows 3x over 100 levels, make sure that players can upgrade their weapons that do at least 3x more damage.
  4. Don’t overpower early item. I.e. you have a gun with 10 base damage and max 30x max level boost (300 damage), then, you have a rifle with 20 base damage and 10x max level boost, This makes rifle useless as gun upgrades surpass it.

 

You can always use additional gameplay tricks, add some optional items that are limited in quantity, but can help players. In our case, we added grenades in addition to standard abilities. These grenades are limited and have to be refilled for coins, so it’s up to a player whether to use them or not. And if they fail consistently, they might just use additional firepower, while more experienced players can save some coins for upgrades.

Summary

As you see, even a small casual mobile game can have many parameters and more values to manage than some of the AAA titles out there, so take that into account and don’t underestimate the amount of work necessary to balance the game (literally, to make it interesting to play). Don’t forget to download our game to see how it all works in practice. Uprising has already received a lot of reviews by such platforms as by BlueMoonGame, Daikon Media (partners of MyHub and this Scrabble tool) and Edamame. We hope you’ll be the next one who’ll want to write about your experience!

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