Game developer, and jack-of-all-trades, Dan FitzGerald made a mobile game about plowing snow, called Dawn of the Plow. I reached out to Dan, asked him about his game, and he revealed the mysteries that lay within. Spoiler alert: it involves plowing snow.
How would you describe Dawn of the Plow?
Dawn of the Plow is an arcade snowplowing game in which you need to keep the roads clear on a randomized board of one of three sizes. Your goal is to allow as many cars to get home as possible without crashing or letting your approval drop to zero. Failure will result in termination of your employment as the local snowplow. You will probably get terminated often. The game is very much built around the movement mechanics, and there are four powerups you'll need to rely on if you want a high score.
From what sources did you draw inspiration during development?
The game loop (abrupt failure, somewhat unexpected point measurement, crowd-control or mound-control in my case, etc.) is heavily inspired by Vlambeer's Super Crate Box. I was also thinking back to an old Mac game from 1996 called Pizza Rush that I played a shareware of when I was little. The main thing I remembered was panic-inducing "tank-controls" and avoiding crashing into cars. Of course, they both have to do with a mundane day job that involves driving. I actually spent a good while trying to seek out the name and info about the game when I started Dawn of the Plow in December, but I couldn't find anything until just now! I even downloaded that shareware version, got it working in a Mac emulator and played a few rounds. It seems the inspiration was stronger that I realized!
I also thought about PacMan a bit while working on the game. It's a pretty loose comparison - I wanted each turn input to be 90 degrees, I wanted the board to wrap, and the close calls with crashing remind me of how I feel playing PacMan.
What sort of difficulties have you faced during development?
The game was made impulsively as an unplanned month and a half "vacation" from my other game, Dog Sled Saga. I felt pretty guilty when it turned out that I couldn't manage to divide my attention between the two and instead focused on Dawn of the Plow - both toward my DSS cohort Lisa Bromiel and toward our Kickstarter backers who are waiting patiently. However, I've always wanted to do a practice release to work the kinks out of the process before we put Dog Sled Saga through it.
Because I was trying to keep development time short on Dawn of the Plow, I had to fight my urge to expand its scope. I feel like I managed to do okay in that department (more on that in question 5).
I was super motivated throughout most of Dawn of the Plow's development. In the later phase of development, when the gameplay was done but I needed to make things like menus and gamepad mapping and leaderboards, it got a little easier to feel burnt out. Another lesson I want to bring back to Dog Sled Saga!
I knew the game was going to be hard for beginners, but I totally underestimated how low the top scores would be. In hindsight, I should've done more long-term playtesting to watch people climb a bigger chunk of the learning curve. That might've made me rethink the "Score 50 on this board" achievements (20 on the smallest board is looking like a really good score).
Were there any specific "Aha!" moments that set the game in a new direction?
The approval bar was a big epiphany. I had originally pictured the two main failure conditions to be crashing into a car (punishing bad driving) or letting a car get buried under a size-4 snow mound (punishing bad road clearing). In practice, I saw that burials weren't going to happen very often. I got pretty nervous for a while that I couldn't make the game's premise the way I wanted to!
It dawned on me that having the drivers get impatient would work very well with the theme and give urgency to clearing the roads. Burials are still in there, but they remain pretty rare.
What aspects of the game did you want to implement, but had to leave out?
Because I knew I wanted Dawn of the Plow to be a small scoped game, bigger ideas were thrown out so quickly that I don't seem to remember many of them. I can really only think of a few small boring things like cross-platform leaderboards, because just like I hoped, leaderboard competition has been extremely fun.
This one is kinda gross, but I originally planned to make it a free game with ads, and a single IAP to remove the ads. The main reason I didn't do that was because I got so burnt out setting up Game Center and Google Play Game Services. I also kind of recoil from that business model, but I thought it could work out well for prospective players and myself. In hindsight, after seeing how hard the initial difficulty curve is, and how much fun people have when they persist, I think going paid only was the right move. I think having paid for the game probably makes players more obliged to persist, instead of saying "meh" and uninstalling it.
Post-release, though, I've actually thought of some things I might want to add, so I hope these will satisfy the question. I don't want to nerf the actual gameplay much, but I have some ideas for better indicators that will help people learn how things work. I'm picturing a "ghost" version of cars hanging off the side of the board instead of the current exclamation marks on aisles would be better. I also noticed that some people don't realize at first where the points are coming from, so I want to make that more clear.
No promises yet, but I have an idea for an Aggression Mode involving what I'll call "snowmobiles" that you have to destroy before they get home. Hoping I can put that together sometime soon.
Tell us what the back of the box for Dawn Of The Plow would say.
Umm how lame would I be if I just copied one of my store listings:
You are the new plow on the block, and today is your day.
How many cars can you shepherd home before achieving grounds for termination.
An arcade snowplowing game by Dan FitzGerald (Trichotomy)
High skill ceiling
3 different board sizes with randomized road layouts
4 different powerups that you'll need to master to stay afloat
Challenging achievements that demand different play styles
A silly amount of play statistics
This will plow you over @marshnaylor