Sunday, February 19, 2012


I’m glad to say that I only had to cut one feature from the game: Check-points. While I originally planned to include check-points into the game, I realized this wouldn’t be possible if I was to allow for multiple-rocket levels. It would have been easy enough to only put check-points into levels with just one Rocket, but you can’t explain that kind of thing to kids who are using the program.
Kids wouldn't be the only ones making levels with multiple rockets!

Mars Lander Builder is, after all, intended to be usable by kids with minimal instruction. That’s why the program had to be so robust. I had to anticipate what kinds of things kids would want to do, and allow for it to be possible. I also had to make sure that they couldn’t build a level that would be impossible, not in the sense that you can’t beat it, but in the sense that they couldn’t place a UFO into a Rocket. I also had to cut down on how many particles Geysers were emitting. It was fine to have a few on screen, but try to convince a child to use only that many. No, the game wouldn’t be good unless I made sure that Geysers could be placed into every single grid box and not crash the computer as a result. It became my ultimate test; If I could place it in every grid box and it didn’t crash the game, it was good to go.
This was the most interesting kind of beta-testing, and the kind of testing I wouldn’t have known to do if I hadn’t spent so many years working with children. The last feature I added was a tutorial, which is something I’ve made plenty of times before. I even had a few kids from the camp go through the tutorial to make sure it could be understood. Once they were off, making their crazy levels, I knew I’d succeeded.
Mars Lander features a built-in tutorials system to limit the external help kid need to make levels.

The entire time that I spent making the game, I was always trying to create a program that didn’t feel limited, but at the same time I had to put in several invisible limits to ensure that it wouldn’t result in badly made levels. That’s why Asteroids bounce off of terrain and the edges of the screen. Whenever I helped a child make a Mars game, we’d only ever go so far as to make Asteroids bounce off of terrain, and they would invariably make levels where the Asteroid flies off screen, never to be seen again. I simply didn’t want kids to be making bad levels as a result of anything I couldn’t adequately explain to them, thus I created invisible limits like this one to ensure that no matter how little experience they had with the program, they could make properly working levels.
Levels like this wouldn't be possible without random bits of terrain for those Asteroids to bounce off-of.

During break one day, a camper overheard me describing to another councillor the lengths I gone to in order to ensure “that they couldn’t break it if they tried”. Specifically, I was talking about the fact that it wasn’t good enough to add a feature if you didn’t stress-test it, like putting a piece in every grid-box. Upon hearing this, the camper remarked; “That’s kind of mean, but I guess it’s true”. Perhaps it is a little mean to be talking about campers as if they were the Lowest Common Denominator like that, but I’m sure the program is better and more stable as a result of these measures. As the camper himself admitted, “it is true”, and I’m sure anyone who designs toys and programs for children takes similar precautions to what I’ve done.

Level Pack #6:

If you're new to this:
The easiest way to play Mars Lander levels is to use Mars Lander Online Runner Edition, which you can play by clicking on the image below. Alternatively, you can download the level packs with the links above and play them offline.
Mars Lander Online Runner Edition will prompt you to paste the level codes which you can copy from the text-boxes below (Yes, they run off the page... just double click them to make sure you select the entire code and then copy it).

Level 1:
text code:
Level 1

Level 2:
text code:
Level 2

Level 3:
text code:
Level 3

Level 4:
text code:
Level 4

Level 5:
text code:
Level 5

Author's Note:

Don't think for one second that just because some of these levels have a low Object-count that I didn't put as much effort into crafting them - the placement of those UFOs is quite deliberate. Level 3 actually took me more time to make than Level 2!
Don’t forget, you can submit your own custom levels and get them featured in future News posts, or even as part of a Level Pack in the future:
Click here to read all the details
And as always,

Good luck Game Making!

~Bluish-Green Productions

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