GrandMasterPixel : the Great Pic Drought of 2010 and other chilling tales

Picture this. You’ve just released the beta version of an online mobile game (OG). It is surprisingly more popular than you expected, so much so that it may even become a “massively multiplayer” online game (MMOG). So you are taking a break with your family over Easter. You haven’t written huge amounts of code to analyse the statistics and economy of this almost-massively mulitplayer online game (a-MMOG), but the small amount of analysis you have done suggests that the number of ‘live’ pics in the database is slowly dropping. You think to yourself … “Hmm, I’d better check that out in a few days, I wouldn’t want the game economy to run out of pics”. Twenty four hours later, after some marathon sessions of Settlers and Seafarers of Catan, you log into the game to find just two live pics, dueling it out. Oh crap – your a-MMOG has just had it’s equivalent of the Global Financial Crisis, or as I like to call it “The Great Pic Drought of 2010”.

Fail whale ? We only got Success Whales 'round here !

Fail whale ? We only got Success Whales 'round here !

If you were lucky enough to miss it, for about 12 -16 hours (AFAIK) around the 3rd of April, 2010, GrandMasterPixel ran out of pics. Thankfully, after some feverish coding at 2am, I was able to put the game into “repopulation mode” – the game gave free submission credits for anyone happy to submit a pic, and didn’t allow  judging until the population was restored to sustainable levels. Thanks to GrandMasterPixel’s insanely cool users, the database was repopulated with about 40 pics in around 16 hours. And even though submissions were ‘free’, no one really decided to crapflood the database with junky submissions either ! Hat’s off to you !

So you may be asking .. how could the game run out of pics ? The original design of the GrandMasterPixel economy was simple – players get submission credits, which in effect are converted into hitpoints (HP) when they submit a pic. By judging pics, HP is converted back to submission credits, and the cycle continues, with submission credits flowing into the pool of live pics as HP, and HP flowing back out into players credit balances. Each new player brings 10 new credits to the game, so in theory we should have zero loss of currency, and I seeded the database with about 100 of my own badly drawn pics to act as an initial buffer. Except …. players (previously) could hoard up to 30 credits in their account earned by judging – and what happens to those credits if a player decides to leave the game and not come back for an extended period (or never) ? Well, they just sit there, not getting converted back into HP in live pics. As far as I can tell, this was the origin of the decline in live pic population – a bunch of people played GrandMasterPixel briefly, checked it out, judged some pics, filled up their account with 30 hoarded credits, then uninstalled it an went back to playing Choice of the Dragon. Good for them. Choice of the Dragon is a fun game. Bad for us GrandMasterPixel players, since they in effect killed 3 pics worth by taking 30 submission credits with them and not putting them back as new pic submissions.

How have I fixed things ? Well, I’ve changed two things.

1) Successful pics now regenerate HP and submission credits (+1 HP for every 10 wins, and +5 submission credits to the artist). Also, any lucky pic can regenerate +1 HP for delivering the ‘death blow’ to another pic (ie winning a battle where the losing pic’s HP goes to zero).

2) Low level players can no longer hoard as many submission credits in their account. The number of submission credits you can hoard now scales up with your level, so those players “just checking it out” won’t remove so many credits/HP from the system if they decide to leave without emptying their credit balances.

The end result is that the live pic population is now healthy and growing. In fact, I suspect that soon I’ll need to make further tweaks to in the opposite direction to increase the death rate, since pics now seem to be generating a little too much HP. Some random ideas – maybe the death blow HP will not be guaranteed, but instead have some probability of success. Or maybe we can have “Tournament Tuesday” once a week where the judging credits recharge faster and don’t yield any submission credits, letting those that like to judge more than submit get it out of their system and help restore economic balance in the process. Ideally, it would be nice if it whatever change I make was ‘tunable’ rather than a fixed game rule, so that the effect could be turned up or down to help stabilize population growth as required.

Other recent changes – I tweaked the level up thresholds, so that the number of submissions required to reach each level is more consistent and sane (I thought no one would notice, but a few high level players did – sorry to shift the rug from under you). I’ve also added the ability to see the fight history of each pic – I’ll probably discuss this feature in more detail in a future blog post. As usual, various bugfixes were made along the way.

Finally, thanks to those sending feedback – in particular power users Nianchi, Evrai_Terrule, kad3t, skiz, chaosengine and Dennis, plus those who helped swat a few bugs I introduced during my panicked coding during the “Great Drought”. I’m working on an FAQ to answer some common problems and complaints, and better document various design decisions in the game.

5 Responses to “GrandMasterPixel : the Great Pic Drought of 2010 and other chilling tales”

  1. Hey!

    I noticed the draught and I gotta tell you that I was surprised how well and fast you’ve dealt with it.

    I like the idea of tournaments as well but I would’ve love to see them in a bit different format then what you’re proposing. How about adding a themed tournaments side to regular pictures where once a week or month everyone could submit one picture to, that would comply with chosen theme (i.e. christmas or dog or cartoon character or whatever you decide on) for free. Said tournament would last for the 24 or 48 hours and winners picture would end up in a separate high score (let’s call it “Elite” for the purpose of this idea’s explanation) table. Hence you could create an additional high score for tournaments with just the winning pictures.

    Also I enjoy the addition of battles history and ability to check other people’s drawings. However a big feature that is missing IMO is the ability to message other people. As in either sending a direct message through other person’s profile or leaving a comment underground a particulary good picture.

    Anyway, we spoke on e-mail but I just found this page and think it’s a good enough reason to leave a comment and underline how much I enjoy this app. As a matter of fact it’s the only Android game that I “play” every day. So, keep up a good work and od you ever need any graphic done for it I’ll be happy to help you provided that I’ll have some free time. ^_^

    Reply
  2. Hello, I am thoroughly enjoying this game!

    I have a couple bits of feedback for you:
    1. When searching on the android market I almost didn’t find the game because it doesn’t come up when you type in just “grandmaster” only “grandmasterpixel” which is quite a keyboard full and most people would probably assume the words are separated.
    2. It would be pretty great to be able to use the trackball (on my G1) to draw, I know not all android devices have them, so i understand if it is deemed unfair to those who don’t.
    3. It wasn’t clear if submitting a second drawing was replacing the first one or if they both were now in the arena for judging.
    4. When I first started with just black and white it wasn’t immediately clear that I would be earning more colors to draw with.
    5. The way the selected color is highlighted you cannot see the bevel on the black square, so it was a little confusing when there were only black and white.

    Thanks for making a sweet game, it is definitely one of my favorites so far!

    Reply
  3. Just to add to what others have said – this is a great concept, and very enjoyable, even for a non-pixel pusher like myself.
    Some feedback for you:
    – Fight History
    Sorting the ‘fight history’ page by most recent would be a great addition. I have just got to the point of having 20 wins with one pic, and to see its latest conquests I have to go through quite a few pages to see what it beat. It would also help with bandwidth.
    – Canvas colour
    It would be convenient if there was a way of colouring the whole canvas with one click. I know, I can just colour every pixel by hand, but sometimes at the start of a new drawing I want a clean-slate that isn’t white.

    But even so, great game/toy, and it is also the only Android thing I play every day. Artists I work with are jealous that they only have iPhones :)

    Reply
  4. mukmuk

    I have a few more thoughts since playing your super duper fun game for a while longer now.

    -It would be sweet to have the ability to rearrange your palette
    –in that same vein it would be interesting to be able to trade unused colors for new ones or give more variety sooner. I have two almost identical blues and would love a yellow!

    -I would suggest making the Draw/Arena/My Pics/Rankings all accessible at any time using the “menu” hardkey.

    -Not sure if it is intentional but I can click the arena link over and over without deciding a winner until I get to a matchup I want to vote on.

    -Larger “next page” link, i seem to have a hard time activating the link at times.

    -On my G1 I have a really hard time activating pixels in the far left column, maybe it’s just my phone?

    -It would be cool if for the “my pics” section there could be some kind of clickable 1 to 1 pixel display of all your pictures at once, now it is rather tedious to go back to an older picture to see the stats on it.

    -Also would be cool to have 1 to 1px icons for the “recent news” section with small icons next to them indicating what action happened instead of text.

    That’s all for now :) I appreciate the hard work you’ve put into this game and don’t mind if you never implement any of these things… Just want to let you know my thoughts on your game. If there is a better place to voice these things just let me know, maybe an omgwtfgames forum?

    Reply
  5. Thanks for all the feedback and suggestions. Thought I’d just drop a quick comment here to let everyone you know that I am reading these comments – I’m back from my vacation and will address them in more detail when I get the chance.

    Reply

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