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11 Apr 2010

When I posted the first public playtest of Cortex, I was struggling to solve a design problem. Thanks to all your excellent feedback, and a bit of visual design, I was able to proceed with a few features that not only solved the problem, but really brought the game into its own. With this post, I'm interested to see if you agree or disagree, and what opportunities I might've missed.

Cortex public playtest 2 is now available!

Download for Windows (4.4 MB) Download for Mac (8.6 MB)


Here are some of the major changes in this version:

  • You now have four charge types, each with unique behaviors and interactions.
  • Charges use a new cooldown system that eliminates the "charge-spam" degenerate strategy.
  • Randomly-spawned pickups fill your charge bank.
  • Significant performance improvements and optimizations.
  • AI is completely rewritten. It is now much more strategic and employs a variety of behavior profiles.
  • Improved visuals and effects.
  • Windows version no longer starts up in full-screen mode by default.


I'm accepting feedback -- particularly critical feedback -- via this page and via Twitter @invicticide. I'd love to know what you liked, and especially what you hated. I'll do my best to respond to as many comments as possible.

I'm also interested in gathering some performance information. In this build you'll see a set of frame rate counters at the bottom of the screen during the game; if you encounter any performance problems, it would be very helpful if you could note what was going on at the time and how low those numbers got, as well as your system specs. I've seen a rare, random lag spike that I haven't yet been able to track down.

How to Play

The object of the game is to capture all opposing neurons and be the last player standing.

When you hold the mouse cursor over a synapse, you’ll see a highlighted path indicating the shortest path a charge can take to reach that point:

Charges always deploy from the nearest neuron (that you own). If you don’t see a highlighted path, then you either don’t have a connection to this synapse from any neuron, or you don’t have any charges available, which means you need to wait until one regenerates. The numbers next to your cursor tell you how many charges are ready to deploy and how much time remains before the next charge regenerates, respectively. (Don't worry: they'll get prettified in the final version.)

To deploy a charge, hold down the left mouse button to display the selector (which will also get prettified later):

You have four charge types to play with: attack, grow, reinforce, and capture:

  • Attack charges trump other charge types and break synapse shields.
  • Grow charges grow additional synapses and can capture multiple enemy synapses at once.
  • Reinforce charges apply a shield to a synapse that prevents it from being captured.
  • Capture charges are the only ones that can capture enemy neurons.

Reinforced synapses block your charges, and can't be captured. You'll need to break the shield with an attack charge first.

Occasionally, a pickup will spawn at a random location on the network. Hit it with any charge type to collect it and fill your charge bank immediately.

That's all there is to it!

Next Steps

Cortex development has pretty much had an exclusive hold over my free time for the last several weeks. Now that public playtest 2 is released, I'm going to take a week or two off (aside from collecting and responding to feedback) and spend some time playing other people's games, and mentally decompressing.

After that, though, the game's road to completion looks something like this:

  • Public playtest 2 feedback
  • Final art and effects for the selector and in-game HUD
  • Fill in a few visual effects for events which are missing them
  • Design and implement a proper frontend
  • Implement a proper end-of-round screen with results and game stats
  • Sound effects and music
  • Ongoing bug fixes and performance optimizations

I'm hesitant to put an absolute date on completion, because this is a side project that competes for time with multiple higher-priority obligations... but I'm tentatively eying the end of May for a final build.

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cortex game-design video-games