Forest Guardians: A Developer’s Tale

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Forest Guardians, absolutely the most difficult game project I’ve taken on to date.  That said, it’s been a fun game to develop. I really want to spend some time taking you through my thought processes for developing this game. Let you see what Forest Guardians started out as and what Forest Guardians (almost two years later) finally became.

Where it all started

I knew I wanted to make a tower defense game. I love the genre, I wanted to make a game for it. I wanted to make a game I’d like to play, not just another tower defense game wrapped in a new skin. Now, if my ambitions were to make large sums of money in the app store, someone probably would have slapped me around a couple times and exclaimed, “A Tower Defense Game! Seriously?”. Why? Well, there’s plenty of solid Tower Defense games in the app store.   That said, when I first had the idea of a tower defense game, there were very few available for iPhone.

So my first idea didn’t have little animal guardians, instead it was all about the Fairies. Build trees put different color faeries in the tree and get different abilities. That’s not very far from Forest Guardians now, but when you play the game you can see how the idea has evolved. Here’s some of the original artwork.

It’s interesting to look at this now, it’s not even similar to what Forest Guardians has become.  As you can tell the game started like your typical top down Tower Defense title and has grown significantly in a completely different direction.  This image was created on September 24, 2010, almost two years ago.

The second image, below, may have some similarities to the final product. However, we are still looking at a tile map based game. Likewise, the art style is obviously raster with all the noise and texture.  The below image was created on September 30, 2010.

Redefining the Game

I can’t be as specific with dates now, because the files that make the game are precisely the same as the ones I was using less than a couple weeks ago when finishing up the game. What I do know is that somewhere between the end of 2010 and early 2011 I decided this game needed a playable character and a different art style. I started creating enemies galore, it was a fun style and fun animation. I’ve never been an animator so stepping into more detailed animation was surprisingly enjoyable. That said, animating blobs moving isn’t exactly Annie winning animation. No code was wrote in 2010 for Forest Guardians, I was actually working on another game idea that I still want to finish… someday.

2010 Christmas, I decided on a whim to make GooMonsters. Gag… that didn’t do so hot.  Should have stuck to Forest Guardians, but hey I’ve learned a lot from GooMonsters. When GooMonsters was “practically finished” in February I started back full force on Forest Guardians. In about a weeks time I developed a great little editor for the game.  It would let me paint and design maps in a non tiled manner giving the game a nice free flowing feel.

The editor is entirely designed in Flash. Maybe I’m crazy but Flash has always been my goto for developing code quickly. I just like AS3, and I can write in it about twice as fast as Objective C. Whenever I’m done mocking up the level I just export the data as JSON and I’m ready to play. Flash and JSON has both been huge in the development of my games. Fly Away Rabbit likewise had a Flash based level editor and exported level data as JSON.

With the creation of the level editor and some animated enemies I set off to get this game running on my iPhone.  For months the game’s protagonist was the Cocos2D Box2D example blocks with the letter A. Seriously.



Soon I decided on the three characters, developed them, and added them into the game. Likewise, you may notice the black and blue stones above. Those are the original “star flowers” where you could build towers. That was changed in time as well to support a more nature like theme. With the characters and concept together, I felt like the game was wrapping up. This is late spring 2010.

Redefining Everything… Again… and Again… and Again.

You may be thinking, what’s to redefine? The game looks a lot like the game I’ve seen / played. Here’s where defining what towers do, how the eco augmentation works, etc was getting difficult. I began to get my mind so wrapped up in things working a specific way that I couldn’t see the opportunities to do something different. Often when an issue would prove difficult I’d leave the game for weeks at a time to clear my head come back and figure out how to make it better. This often worked, just pulling away and getting some perspective was fantastic. The saying “can’t see the forest for the trees” was incredibly accurate.

I’m not sure I consider this a good way to develop a game. It’s kind of exhausting and doesn’t give you the feeling of reaching goals… especially when you are taking the breaks from development.  I believe issues like this can be alleviated by working in a team, but that’s a guess, up to this point, I’d yet to work in a team on a full game. I’ve definitely learned that the more people you can bounce your ideas off of, the better. Feedback is good and often necessary.

For kicks and giggles, The cloud tower used to attack air and ground, The grass tower was originally the tree tower, and the island tower was ground only and sent out AoE attacks (which is now more or less the flower tower).

On the other side of things, there’s not a menu in this game I didn’t redesign. Many multiple times!!! What a waste of time. Argh. Frustrating just thinking about it now. This is my fault and a horrible fault for a graphic designer. Because the length of this project I found myself constantly changing the style of things and it led to me having to finally lock down the changes and stick to a plan. Sadly, locking things down didn’t happen till 2012.

Let’s look at some progression 😀 (These images are from mockups, which were implemented in code… sadly)

On a positive note… I think the progression was for the good. There’s a variety of other menus that were redone… but this gives a good idea.

Redefin… Uhm… Changing the Business Model

The business model is huge, right? I mean how you make money is everything to the success of your game? This game was always going to be a $0.99 game. Pay and play it I always say (not really it just rhymed). But when I started to think about GooMonsters and how it failed I realized what sucked the most about it’s failure.  No one played it. How can you feel good about a game you spent so much time on being played by under 1,000 people (under a 100 even, at least I sold ten haha).  I seriously WANT people to play Forest Guardians. I think it’s a great game, I’m biased, but oh well.

So how do I do this? I release it free. What! okay okay, you’re not surprised, it’s called IAP right? That’s the hope, I want as many people as possible to get a good solid taste of Forest Guardians and the people who enjoy it can give some money to enhance their gaming experience. Buying IAP provides content that is not otherwise accessible. Will that come back to bite me? Maybe… time will tell.

I just want people to play and enjoy Forest Guardians… and hopefully make enough money to keep making games!



About the Author:

Jonathan Parsons (Par) is the lead developer & designer for Digitally Bold. Jonathan began working with web and graphic design back when Photoshop 5.5 (not CS 5.5) was the cool kids weapon of choice. Likewise, he was introduced to programming and started game development back on the original TI-83. The flash game Blueberry is a throwback to his first attempts at game development with the TI-83.
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