Creating a sequel is tricky. If you’re looking to make a good sequel, anyway. Not a straight-to-DVD-who-would-even-do-this kind of sequel, but one that holds true to its predecessor while adding innovation to the franchise. This was our goal at Hitcents while developing Draw a Stickman: Epic 2.
The first game had come from humble roots: a series of interactive webpages with scripted events. Players drew their own stickman character (that didn’t have to be a stickman) and helped him solve different scenarios he had found himself in. The “Episodes”, as we call them, paved the way for Draw a Stickman: Epic (DASME, for short). Again, players could draw their own character and give him tools to use, but now he could walk about in 13 levels full of puzzles and enemies. DASME was met with critical acclaim and our users had tons of fun navigating a storybook world to save their friend from the dastardly Zarp.
When it came time to start development on Epic 2, however, we had to step back and ask ourselves two questions: “What don’t we like about this?” and “What can we do to make the game better?” Taking user feedback into account, we approached Epic 2 with the mindset of enhancing the fun factor. DASME had been created in a game engine of our own design, so our decision to use Unity for its sequel was driven by the thought that we could offer more features and provide better gameplay if we used an already established engine. And luckily, that’s exactly what happened. We were able to make the leap from 2D to “2.5D”, which allowed for a more consistent perspective while playing the game. The user’s Stickman character and the world he interacted with could look like vibrant and colorful storybook creations, but still adhere to rules of the third dimension. Stickums, our pet name for the eponymous player-drawn character, could now be behind or in front of objects. Our levels suddenly had a feeling of depth and vastness to them that just wasn’t possible in the original installment.
Likewise, gameplay features were focused on and fleshed out. In DASME, for example, users had to replay a section of the game in order to draw a new stickman and the tools they created disintegrated after use. To redefine these elements, we introduced the Sketchbook, falling from the sky and landing in a cloud of dust in front of Stickums. In this Sketchbook, the player could create as many Stickmen, Stickladies and Stickcreatures as they wanted. Via procedurally generated meshes, we could bring anything the player drew to life. The only limit to the number of persistent pickaxes, swords and keys the player could make was their imagination.
The Sketchbook was also a great jumping off point for our sharing features. Via our community forum (community.drawastickman.com) and through e-mail or text messages, players can share their drawings with other players at any time. It gives us a great sense of accomplishment to see users from all over the world passing drawings back and forth.
The Sketchbook also allowed us to work in some really fun easter eggs throughout the game. We reward players for exploring and replaying levels in different ways by giving them drawings. For example, a large monster is unbeatable on your first playthrough, but if you come back to the level with a sword, you can defeat it and earn a prize.
Speaking of swords, combat was a big focus and point of evolution from DASME to Epic 2. In the first installment, the player was forced into a fairly pacifist role. Some enemies could be pacified or neutralized, but some of these methods could also hurt the player. For example, the flamerock is an enemy that spits fire at the player continuously. They can draw a lightning cloud to shock the flamerock, but the lightning could also hurt and potentially kill the player. In Epic 2, the flamerocks make a return but can only blow fire for a certain amount of time. The player is given a pickaxe to break the flamerocks in between their attack and idle states. We were able to capture the more pacifist aspects of DASME for the majority of the game, but still give them the ability to deal with foes aside from running for their lives. The player can earn the sword pencil in the last few levels so they could play back through and be as aggressive as they liked with the enemies they had encountered so far. Our enemy roster jumped from roughly 10 in DASME to over double that in Epic 2, including giant boss monsters that fulfilled our nostalgic gaming niches.
Although we encountered plenty of roadblocks along the way, we ultimately enjoyed making Epic 2 and are proud of what we’ve made. We’ve distilled the fun and spirit of Draw a Stickman: Epic and paired it with better level designs, puzzles and enemies. We have also fostered creativity and sharing within our user base by expounding on the original idea of giving players the freedom to create their own character. We haven’t yet discussed plans for Epic 3, but if it or any other project comes about, we will maintain focus on our two best tools: truthful self-assessment and attention to user feedback.