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The Turtles of Time


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zxoTurtles of TimeWhen I first played the Turtles of Time — created by Dom Camus for our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition — I was not very impressed. I found the controls, strangely enough, a little too touchy and not responsive enough. The gameplay was a tad monotonous and, starting at Level 3, I found it oddly difficult to gain enough points to advance. Had it not been a contest entry, I would have left it for dead after one or two plays.

Let this be a lesson to aspiring game designers: make sure people know how to play your game.

As it turns out, I had the game completely misfigured. Despite its appearance, The Turtles of Time is not a rip-off of Blobular. In fact, it is a very different game altogether, one of careful planning and micromanagement rather than reckless bouncing hither and thither. There are two key game elements that should have been made clearer, either in some form of instruction screen, or through more careful game design.

First, orange and blue are not the only colors of flower that can be collected. It was not until a discussion with Dom in the comments section that I even came to realize that the appearance of blue flowers was not random as it had appeared to me. Whenever a flower grows between two orange flowers, it will come up blue. Likewise, if you grow a flower in between two blue ones, it comes up purple, and so on. By carefully cultivating your crop, you can grow flowers of higher and higher values, that accrue points much more quickly than simply rushing around and gobbling up all the blooms you can see.

Second, gaze deep into the turtle pool. See those fish? They are not just pretty decorations. They will follow your turtle if you get near enough to them, and you can gain points by leading them to the shrines that are on each level. The more you lead, the higher the point value per fish.

Taking these two facts into account, we now have a surprisingly intricate multitasking game, rich in possible strategies for maximizing your score. The replay feature also gains much more importance in light of these revelations. It takes some careful maneuvering to keep the turtles out of each other's way, in order to prevent loss of points by stealing a fish, or wrecking a cultivated garden, or even just by taking away the tempo bonus. Properly played, the game looks and plays like a well-oiled machine, or an award-winning marching band. It might even be possible (for someone with far more patience than I) to use 2 turtles to collaborate in garden cultivation.

I'm still not thrilled about the controls, but if you're moving at speeds where they become very unrealistic, you're probably going too fast anyway. I also think I might have been able to grasp the gardening concept on my own if the flowers grew back immediately instead of gradually (and randomly) over time - that might solve the problem of having to provide what would inevitably be an awkward instruction screen or tutorial.

All in all, The Turtles of Time provides everything we normally look for in a casual game: simple, fun, mostly polished, a variety of strategies, and adherence to the Replay theme, both in the inherent gameplay as well as in terms of replay value. You just have to look a little harder to find it all.

Play The Turtles of Time

JayJay - Since the competition entries went up in July, Dom has been busy working on a version of the game for Greenpeace to help promote its campaign to save some real turtles. Although the new version isn't up yet, you can find out more about their efforts by visiting the website for the Turtle Witness Camp, a campaign that aims to protect the Olive Ridley Turtle at its nesting site in Orissa, India.

38 Comments

Is it just me or is the menu in so light color that it is almost impossible to see?

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genius_advice July 21, 2007 1:45 PM

Um, I went through one of the walls in level 2. Is that a glitch?

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Escapee Author Profile Page July 21, 2007 1:48 PM

I haven't seen a menu - the page saying you can use a mouse or keys is pretty light, but I could see it ok!

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Gergling July 21, 2007 2:07 PM

I believe if you try and use the keys it comes up with a screen telling you you can use keys or mouse, but doesn't let you play.

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The game is a little glitchy- I went through a wall in level 2 as well, and when I died and started over it kept jumping back and forth between the first level and the keys/mouse screen...

When I get it working it's a fun little game though ^v^.

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Hint:

The fish aren't just scenery. They'll follow you, so you can lead them to any of the one or more "shrines" on the level, for 100 (blue fish) or 150 (red fish) points each.

I mention this because I didn't know it until I accidentally made it happen once on the second level.

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Wooo glitchy!

Using the keyboard reverts to the keyboard and mouse screen, jumping through walls, turtles who sometimes move a tiny bit with a quick click in the direction they're pointing, and sometimes half a level....

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Unstoppable1 July 21, 2007 3:57 PM

If I could use the keyboard I would play it but I have quite a dislike for "action" games where the mouse is used as control as I'm usually on my laptop somewhere comfortable where a mouse would be inconvenient, like now, I'm on the john. There obviously is supposed to be keyboard support but like was said before, if you try using the keyboard it reverts to the controls screen with no exit but restarting it. Hopefully this can be fixed quickly, it looks fun enough.

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I don't get how to make the other turtles move....? Anybody know?

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Sophie - there are little turtle icons in the lower right of the screen, one for each turtle in the level. Just click on one to switch to that turtle.

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Hi all,

I'm trying to work out why some of you are experiencing keyboard control problems with the game... It's a little complicated by the fact it seems to be working for some players but not others (and as you may have guessed I'm in the former group). If I can make sense of what's going on I'll get a fixed copy to Jay later.

And no, you're not supposed to be able to go through the walls. ;-)

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Intriguing game. After struggling with the keyboad/mouse glitch I somehow was able to play through the entire game. (16600 points, Expert rank) Peter's hint above helped tremendously. I liked setting up one turtle to run a task while I then controlled the second, third and finally fourth turtle. The replay theme was implemented perfectly. If the bugs can be worked out, this would be a fantastic game.

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Well, if it's any help, I am running it from firefox.

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Dom just delivered a possible fix for the keyboard problem and I've uploaded it just now.

Since neither he nor I can reproduce the problem, would someone that experienced the problem please empty your browser cache, reload, and test it for us? Cheers! :)

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hmmm interesting game...
kinda hard, and weirdish... honestly i am not too sure what i think, but I do agree with you, it is a bizarre and silly minigame, that I will come back to and replay when i have a bit more time :)

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I cleared my cache and tried the game again. No problems this time, so hopefully it's fixed.

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eggson> Wow - you got Expert already! Nice work!

And thanks for testing the keyboard fix. :-)

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Escapee Author Profile Page July 22, 2007 4:46 AM

I think I must have missed the point in this game. How do you set one turtle up? When I switched to the second turtle, my first one just sat there???

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There is a "replay" slider beneath the play field window in the game that represents time. If you drag that back to the beginning after playing with one turtle, you can switch turtles and play through again while your first one does its thing. :)

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Some parts of this game, I loved. The pool designs were beautifully done and I liked the movement of the turtles and the fish (although I much preferred the keyboard control). The overall look and feel of it seemed very polished.

Ultimately though, this game doesn't do it for me. There is nothing to compel me to replay it - it's possible to beat the game without using the other turtles or the replay feature.

That's not to say that this game doesn't have potential. For instance, more scoring opportunities would be good - in addition to herding fish and eating flowers - so that the player discovers new tasks that can earn points, with more difficult tasks earning bigger scores.

I would encourage the creator to stick with this idea and perhaps expand it with more levels and scoring opportunities.

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jbeaver> Thanks for the feedback! Although I suggest that if you find all the scoring opportunities straightforward you might be paying too little attention to the text that tells you about what you're scoring! (You should be able to score 2000 points or more for a single flower once you've discovered all the aspects of the scoring.)

And yes, it's possible for a skilled gamer to complete the game without using multiple turtles or the replay slider. (Not that the resulting ranking will be much of a reflection of your abilities.) I'd welcome suggestions for how to change this without rendering the game inaccessible to less experienced players.

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Nice job with the game, Dom - it's turning out to be one of my favorites in this year's batch. And thanks for taking the time to participate in the dialog here.

The scenery is well-rendered, and I liked the SFX as well. I tried playing with both the mouse and the keyboard, and I like the keyboard a lot better. Using the mouse, I found the response for directional change too slow and clumsy. Also, I have a stupid tendency to slip outside the window with the mouse when I'm playing a "chase-the-cursor" type of game - eliminating game control entirely! (Can't hold that against the programmer, though, since it's my own damn fault. [g])

Luckily, the keyboard control was excellent - very old-skool "thrust-and-steer" and quite intuitive for an old casual gamer like me who fed millions of dollars worth of quarters into similarly-controled arcade games like Asteroids and StarCastle.

And, although it's easy enough to set one turtle off on a task and replay out to another turtle to cover another side of the pond, or lead fishies to their enshrined doom, I like the element of strategy involved that can raise (or lower!) the player's point totals depending upon where the current turtle is working. That's particularly true of the fish herding. The first time I went through, it never occurred to me that the fishies wouldn't blindly follow the turtle that had snatched them in the earlier run! Ha!

Finally, although I did notice that it's possible to play through the whole game without using any replays, I wouldn't change that for the sake of "accessibility." Let players take from the game what they wish.

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Thanks Dave, some very useful feedback there!

I'm particularly interested in your remarks about the rate of turning the turtle using the mouse. I completely agree, but the funny thing is... it's exactly the same rate it turns when using the keyboard! Like you I'm an old-skool gamer and was worried that my own preference for keyboard was biassing me against the mouse. However, your comment about clicks outside the window makes me think that maybe mouse users deserve strictly superior handling in theory to make up for the difficulties using a mouse in practice.

In a similar vein I found Deadl0ck's comment interesting where he/she had concluded that the mouse-acceleration was unreliable where in fact it's just dependent on how far away from the turtle you click. As usual with UI design, there's no substitute for exposure to real users to uncover usability problems.

Also several other players commented they prefer keys, so I think the underlying problem is simply that I haven't got the mouse control quite right. :-)

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I absolutely adored this game. I love the way the replay theme was implemented and I thought it was very cool that movements by other turtles could affect the time stream of a previously set up turtle (e.g. eating its flowers or accidentally stealing its fish)
I did have some problems with my turtles going through walls, but it didn't happen once I switched to mouse use. I thought mouseplay was implemented well and had no problems with it.
Great idea!

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Yay!....16701, Expert! :-)

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Dom> I'm particularly interested in your remarks about the rate of turning the turtle using the mouse. I completely agree, but the funny thing is... it's exactly the same rate it turns when using the keyboard!

OK, after I read that I went back again to compare and was not surprised to find that you were right. =) But it sure feels slower! It's obviously a PEBKAC error. (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.)

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2000 points for a single flower? The most I ever got was maybe 40. The only scoring bonuses I noticed were +20 tempo, +50% (for no reason that I could discern) and sometimes flowers just seemed to be worth anywhere from 1 to 9 points more than the base worth. Am I missing something?

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The tempo bonus is for collecting multiple flowers within a relatively short period of time.

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I get what the tempo bonus is, but what triggers the 50% bonus?

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For the mouse control, I don't know if this is going to make sense, but I want my turtle to turn instantaneously and face the direction of the area I click on, and THEN start moving, not start moving WHILE it's turning, thus hitting the wall or other undesired area. And I don't want its speed to depend on how far away I click, I want it to be more predictable than "hmm, 2 inches is 5 mph," which I am unable to gauge while the turtle is already moving, although that might be just me. I think I want my turtle to start moving at the same speed no matter where I click, and maybe speed up if I click more than once, or maybe have it cycle through 3 speeds when I click. I discovered that if I hold the mouse button down, I could basically drag the turtle around the screen (I just need to wait till it turns all the way first). I'd be okay playing that way if the turtle turned faster, but, I think being able to just drag it around makes the gameplay less challenging.

I have no idea if any of that made sense.

Other than the mouse controls being adjusted, I'd like options for changing which keys on the keyboard I want to use. And that's about it. I like the game, I like the turtles and fishies, and I like the replay action. I would definitely come back to this game, if the turtles weren't so darned hard to control.

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Becca> Thanks. Good to hear some love for the mouse!

charmander> Yes, you make a lot of sense, thanks for that!

The reason the turtle doesn't snap instantly to the direction of a click is simple: it would be way too good! The aim in tuning the controls was to try to make the control potential of both keyboard and mouse as close to equivalent as possible.

The reason why there are multiple rates of acceleration available from the mouse is that early playtesting showed it was otherwise far too hard to go slowly under mouse control (and consequently too hard to perform various precise tasks).

Not that I'm trying to say the mouse control is perfect, but there are reasons behind the approach used. :-)

As far as changing keys goes I completely agree. Ran out of development time!

zxo> I'll give you the spoilery answer here in two parts. First is a minor spoiler, second is a major spoiler!

When a new flower grows, the colour is influenced by the other flowers growing nearby. Careful cultivation can grow some much more valuable blooms!

And once you've got the hang of that...

Collecting different colours of flower in sequence is what generates the percentage bonus multiplier. Note that the multiplier is awarded when the sequence is broken, so choose the order you collect flowers carefully!

jbeaver> Nice work! You're the highest scorer so far that I'm aware of!

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Thanks Dom! I almost wrote this off as a too-simple collect the items game, but after coming to this thread and reading about the fish and the hints that you gave, I'm starting to see just how complex the game actually is.

You might want to think about making the ways of getting points more clear in the instructions, because not everyone is going to turn to the game comments to see if they are missing something. I must have played levels one and two 5 or 6 times before even discovering the fish thing. This game is so skill-based that a player knowing the scoring mechanism (or at least knowing as much as you told me in your spoiler) won't automatically mean that they get max points each level, like it could in games more reliant on strategy alone.

Case in point:

so far I can still score higher just zooming around collecting flowers and leading fish than I can using careful cultivation and color combos.

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zxo> Yep, with the benefit of hindsight I agree with you.

Incidentally...

I wouldn't expect flower types and combos to become particularly relevant until the third and fourth levels. At that point you have more flexibility in the jobs you assign to your various turtles. By contrast on the one-turtle level you always want to be either escorting fish or grabbing flowers to accelerate the fish respawning (which is another thing the rarer flowers are better at).

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Ah, I thought it was just my general incompetence at manual dexterity games that was holding my score back.

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There are all kinds of complexities here, and discovering them is part of the fun, as far as I'm concerned. I'm still figuring out the relationship between fish respawn times, flower respawn times, and the different jobs of the turtles. At first I'd just play through the whole time once with each turtle, but now I'm starting to do each turtle a little bit at a time, to make sure the re-spawns are synchronised.

Any game that lets me alter time to synchronise the spawning of flowers with my turtle is ok by me.

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WOW, I was breaking 10K before I realized you could turn the slider back to direct ALL the turtles over the same time period. Once I did that, I moved right up to 20,041 - Master. Also, I noticed that after the black flowers, there are "mystery" points, but they only give your 1 or 2 points per flower. Is this supposed to be the case, sort of a "you've farmed here too much, move on" sort of thing, or did you just not plan for people to get beyond that point? Good game, thanks alot

Fritz

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You reached Master? Impressive performance! :-)

did you just not plan for people to get beyond that point?

Embarrassed to admit it wasn't intentional at all. Not so much a lack of planning as the fact that I didn't test the game thoroughly enough to spot the problem!

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I'm really glad Jay revisited this game recently. When it came up in the competition I spent 10 minutes with it whizzing the turtles around as fast as I could muttering about the interface and the speed with which the flowers regrew. Now I have each turtle (moving very slowly) making a little garden trying to get black flowers (and not slipping over into mysteries) and another turtle looking after the fish - my best score so far is 51018. I've never managed to deliberately get the bonuses for picking flowers in certain orders - and always seem too busy to read the text under each score. I would also prefer if there was a more obvious virtuous cycle between the fish and the flowers - i.e. pick more flowers: get more fish; sacrifice more fish: get more flowers. Although whenever I sacrifice fish I get flowers straight away, no matter how many flowers I pick I never seem to get more than 4 fish at once.
All in all a great game that would have benefited from a bit more of an introduction.
Peter

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