Dead Spread: A mobile top-down shooter [now in open beta!]

Dead Spread is a fast-paced action game where the “dead” (i.e. zombies), chase down and convert the “living” (i.e. not zombies) into more dead. You are tasked with stopping the dead from spreading, saving as many of the living as you can while not being converted yourself! You get scored after beating a level based on how many of the living you have saved.

Dead Spread is currently in a closed alpha but an open beta is due soon on the Google Play Store!

The open includes:
  • 30 campaign levels
  • 7 weapons
  • Easy to master controls
  • Survival mode (endless wave of dead)

Gameplay Video

Open Beta
Google Play Store
App Store - Coming soon

Jul 20th, 2020 - Particles and Grenades
Apr 13th, 2020 - Back to it with Survival Mode
Feb 27th, 2020 - Performance & flamethrowers
Feb 6th, 2020 - More weapons, levels, and ideas
Jan 24th, 2020 - New levels and a lot of feedback
Jan 16th, 2020 - Taking my first steps!
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Devlog: More weapons, levels, and ideas

It has been two weeks since our last devlog but that does not mean we have not been busy. We have been preparing for our next major release which adds 3 new weapons, 10 new levels, and many fixes!

As we mentioned in our last post, weapons had been a key area we focused on as a result of feedback. This was an area where the code had been written quickly to get the game going, but not a huge amount of thought had been put into how we would add more weapons easily. So before adding in any new weapons, an overhaul of how Dead Spread handles weapons was in order. During this rebuild, the concept of melee weapons and unarmed attacks was added meaning we that adding in non-projectile weapons is now possible. Having completed this rebuild, adding in new weapons is now relatively easy.

The new weapons are:

  • Unarmed Not really a “weapon” but I’m counting it! Now you have a last resort of punching the dead… though there’s a high risk of being bitten.
  • Baseball bat The first real melee weapon. Similar to unarmed, you will have to get close to the dead to hit but the baseball bat does a lot more damage and has better range.
  • Machine gun Pictured in the header image of this post. The machine gun has by far the fastest rate of fire, but is a lot less accurate.
We are happy with the progress on the weapons front for now. Looking ahead, we plan to add more weapons with the flamethrower slated to be next.

The other major focus we have had is taking a look at all our levels and improving the difficulty progression, playability, and adding in our new weapon options. This release changes the ordering of levels quite a bit, and we are adding in 10 levels throughout to pad out some of the hard levels which we really wanted to keep. Some of these new levels are also in a new location: the “hospital”. We will be showing off screenshots of those levels in the near future.

The level select screen now supports dragging/flicking gestures to move between screens.

A result of going up from 15 to 25 levels meant a second screen of levels! Originally we had thought just arrow buttons would be fine, and they probably would have been during the alpha, but adding in the swiping gestures makes the menu feel a lot more fluid. We are quite happy with the result.

Finally, we have put a lot of thought into the short-term roadmap and have a better idea of what is in and out of the open beta. Previously we had thought that the Survival mode wasn’t needed in the beta, but considering we see it as a key game mode, we thought that excluding this from the initial offering would do the game a disservice. So Survival mode is coming out in the release after this one, which should be the final release before the open beta.

We will talk more about Survival mode in our next devlog. Until next time!
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Devlog: Performance & flamethrowers

Because what game doesn't need a flamethrower? Today we talk about a whole bunch of work done to ensure Dead Spread runs smoothly on slower devices, and some fun new additions!

Since the last devlog, we put out a major new alpha release, version 0.8.0, which means one more major release until the open beta! This meant another round of testing and some more great feedback from our alpha testers. There was, however, one bit of feedback that stuck out. Something that we had heard a few times but mostly indirectly. The "game speed" was slowing down drastically at times making it very difficult to play. This was a game breaker, and had to be addressed!

The number of Frames Per Second (FPS) a game runs out can make a huge difference to how it feels. How many FPS your device can manage depends a lot on the hardware, but well written code can make a huge difference. Generally for Dead Spread, we would want a minimum of 60 FPS. The devices we were testing on easily managed this number. However, what a couple of our testers found is that their devices would drop well below that number. This results in the game feeling sluggish, making it very difficult to play.

Since we can not do much about hardware and will be getting a wide range of phones playing this game, it was into the code we went. Thanks to the observation of one of our testers, we realised that the zombie controlling logic was an obvious place to start!

Each zombie used path-finding algorithms to find a path between them and the nearest human which they then follow along. Using tools that show proportionally how much time per second each part of the code took up, we were able to limit it down to a few key areas for improvement. On top of these optimisations, there was also a change made so zombies can now detect if they have line of sight to the nearest human. If they do, instead of using this complicated path-finding algorithm, they just move directly towards the human. These relatively small changes have made the game run 2-3 times faster! These changes have also made the zombies movement feel a bit more natural. Overall a great result!

The new flamethrower in action.

There were some new additions though! A new flamethrower is being worked on, which adds a very distinctive new weapon to the game. As well as being available in the upcoming Survival mode, this weapon will show up in later levels to add a new challenge. There are also new levels being worked on bringing completely new maps. These will appear towards the end of our current campaign.

I know last time I said we'd have some information on Survival mode by now, but with these performance changes, this has been pushed back. Work has started however, and next time there will be something to share, promise!
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Devlog: Back to it with Survival Mode

Well it has been a while since I’ve written one of these. After a break from working on Dead Spread, we recently found ourselves with a lot of time as the country went on lockdown. Here’s what’s been keeping us busy!

As the title suggests, the main focus in the last few weeks has been the new “Survival” game made. This is a new endless game mode where the player sees how long they can fight off the hordes, while saving as many people as possible. The game mode will spawn new zombies and humans in waves, and a wave is only finished once all of the zombies have been killed. Players get points for each zombie they kill, and bonus points for all the people they find and save.

This new mode typically lasts 10-30 minutes (a heck of a lot more than a campaign level), and adds a lot of replayability to Dead Spread, something that the campaign alone was lacking. It also gives players the chance to explore the entire map that John, our level designer, has put together which includes a couple of parks and 13 buildings, including a school, an apartment block, and a mansion. With a map this big, it is a very good thing we recently put work into performance improvements. There has in fact been a further batch of improvements to accommodate this size of map which should combine to make the game feel even smoother.

A section of the survival map showing spawn points.

We have also opened up access to all weapons and items in this mode, so players will get a chance to play around with all sorts of different combinations which is not possible in the campaign. Overall we are quite happy with how this has turned out and are eagerly looking forward to feedback.

The plan from here is to release version 0.9.0 first to our internal testers, fixing any issues that need looking at before we go for a general release on the Google Play Store! Very excited to have our first game open for anyone to play. I’m hoping we will get a lot of feedback and we still have a few features we would like to build before we can call the game complete, and lift the “Beta” label. Look out for the open beta announcement soon, until next time!
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Devlog: Particles and Grenades

While playing around with how grenades will work in Dead Spread, I got distracted by particles. Now all effects have been recreated using a nice simple and consistent particle system!

For a while now, we have wanted to add in some new weapons that will add a different style of combat. Explosives offer an interesting new challenge in later levels and a fun new addition to the player’s arsenal. The first explosive we have added is the grenade and we are also looking into adding a rocket launcher as well as proximity mine in the near future.

Early on while building the grenade’s exploding mechanics, I had been playing around with two ways of visualising the explosion: hand-drawn sprites, or programmatic particles. The sprites method would involve an animated image showing an explosion using a number of still frames. When the grenade explodes, I would play this animated image where the explosion happened. Particles, on the other hand, involve using a simple base image and then setting a size, colour, movement, life-span, etc. Each one is considered a single particle. You then can set how many particles to generate when and where you want them.

Two things pushed me towards using particles for explosions. First, I am not great at drawing sprites and my attempts at making an explosion that fit in with the games aesthetic were not great. And second was finding a tool which allowed me to easily visualise the particles I create while building them. The tool was Geon FX and it made working with particles far easier. Instead of doing it in code and having to compile the game to see if the changes looked right (as I had done with the flamethrower), I could now play around with settings and see how it looked in real time! This led to the nice looking explosion shown in the screenshot above.

Now equipped with the ease of creating cool new effects, I started looking at the existing, hand drawn sprites we used throughout Dead Spread. There had been a few of these that I had never been happy with but left as they were doing the trick. It was not actually on the short-term roadmap to fix up these animations, but while I was here, I decided to fix up these small annoyances. The end result is that actions and effects in Dead Spread now have a nice and consistent feel.

So with that we have released version 0.9.3 to the Google Play Store. There are now very few things left that we want to fit in before we are happy to say that version 1.0 is complete… the light is at the end of the tunnel!

On the left: bullets smashing through glass. To the right: a zombie is destroyed right in front of the player.
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