Timberman, a mobile game

There’s little downside to downloading Timberman. It’s free and take under 30 seconds to figure out what’s going on. If nothing else, it’ll teach you a little more about mobile games.

I totally unlocked Mr. Tree.

I totally unlocked Mr. Tree.

I want to talk about Timberman because it’s an incredibly simple game. Tap the left or right side of the screen to chop the tree and avoid branches. Get as far as possible while the time pressure increases. That’s it. Within the first few seconds the player has experienced the entirety of the gameplay.

This is the whole game.

This is the whole game.

I’m jealous of Timberman, because it’s the kind of game I’ve been wanting to make for years. It’s a tight polished package with a very small scope. I would love to be making a game like this every month. With that model, the goal is to rapidly deliver small games with decent quality, then see what sticks. Hopefully this cycle provides quick learnings that can be applied to the next game. A rapid feedback loop is incredibly difficult to find in the game industry, but it’s exactly what I’m looking for to improve as a game designer.

Now I imagine myself having released Timberman, and it seems to have stuck. So what now? I think the next goal is to up it from the Flappy Bird level of complexity to something more like Jetpack Joyride or Ridiculous Fishing. (Two games I love.) Even then, I think Timberman wants to remain an incredibly simple open-and-go game. I think that’s a key part of what makes Timberman work, so I wouldn’t want to lose that.

There are a lot of things I could talk about to improve this game, but I’m going to focus on one aspect: how losing feels. Right now, it feels bad. Usually the player hits a branch after making some dumb mistake, then it immediately and unceremoniously brings up the “Game Over” screen, with their best score and current score.

That's my high score. 500 even.

That’s my own high score.

Here are a few ideas on how to improve the Game Over moment.

Add a sense of progress. Make the player feel like every game moved them forward. There’s already a count of the total wood chopped that can unlock characters. At a minimum, that total could be shown on the the Game Over screen, along with how much the player just added to that total. Maybe this is a bar that represents the distance to the next content unlock, though that system would need to change to support this. The League of Legends end screen does this well.

LoL End

 

Make a big deal of a new high score. I’m surprised at how unceremonious this is. It should be, like, crazy sparkly with all kinds of fireworks. This animation should actually stop the player from hitting the play again button for a few seconds. The high score number could animate up from the old score to the new score, to emphasize how much progress was made. This is also a good time to add a sparkle to that share button.

Make a big deal out of new content unlocks. There’s not a lot of content in the game to unlock, but there are a few cool skins. As-is, the player unlocks new skins, but they’re not really called out. Similar to the new high score animation, new content should be messaged on the Game Over screen, with an animation that stops the player from hitting play immediately.

Take a breath. Right now, it jumps RIGHT NOW to the Game Over screen as soon as the player hits a branch. The animations I talked about above would help, but I think adding just one second of animation to the character death could go a long way. That said, it’s still important to make sure this game remains a quick and easy experience. I wouldn’t want to put too much time in between a game ending and the next game starting, but I think there’s room for a little.

Give the player a sense of their place in the world. I hesitate to suggest backend work when I’m not sure what Timberman has access to through the app store, but here we go. I think a leaderboard type stat would be great on this screen. I wouldn’t say “#12345 out of 99999!” More like “Top 20%!” Or “Better than # of your friends!” This can be done for both the total number, and the best number. Heck, even a daily standing could go a long way. There are a lot of options here, and they don’t all need to be done, but I think one would go a long way.

Shop

So there you go. It’ll be interesting to see if Timberman ever expands. Even at its current small size, it still has design lessons to teach.

Thanks for reading,

-Jon

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