How a 3D physics based game with robots turned into a minimalist number puzzle game
Published 4 years ago
Our game design journey took a number of twists and we're much better off for it
When we have downtime in our studio between projects, we like to fill them working on our own ideas. In this instance we didn't have any pressing problems to solve, so I wound up resident artist/designer/coder Gareth and sent him off into the unknown.
After a relatively short time, we had a physics based crane game. You could pick up crates and move them between platforms. It was fun to fling things around, use the physics to make things 'explode' in this sandbox. However it was only fun for a few minutes and lacked any real game-play. We iterated a few times with this enviroment, improving the physics, adding in goals but nothing ever really gelled.
We liked the crane mechanic, but it needed to be turned into a game. One of the fun of the prototype was stacking, so building upon this we came up with the idea of building robots from the parts. You would be given the legs, body or head of a robot and had to build full robots from. The crane was swapped for a factory and quite a bit of time spent working on the look of both the robots and the factory, whilst simultaniously working on the game-play itself. After a bit of time sunk into detailed visuals we realised that the game itself still wasn't fun. We tried things with conveyours, bringing a time restriction into the mix, but nothing quite worked. It probably should have been a red flag long before this, that this nice looking 'game' wasn't actually built upon anything sticky. We had pushed the button on polishing the look, before really nailing the mechanics.
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We took a step back and looked at our options. Yes, the physics was fun, but not fun enough. The building robots was something we liked, but was it a game of skill or more of a puzzle. We went back to basics (paper cut-outs) and tried to work out how the game could work as a puzzle game. The paper approach didn't lead anywhere either, trying to keep track of moves, robot pieces and time all got too complicated. Just as we were about to give up for good, Gareth hit on something. Whilst putting together a way we could prototype ideas for the puzzle element of the game in Unity with numbers and falling pieces a simple puzzle game emerged.
Something clicked, this bland looking board of numbers with debug text and glitchy graphics was captivating. Suddenly time was being lost to playing this 'game', it was facinating to see. On one screen was a glitzy physics game, but it was the editor that was getting all the attention. For a while the numbers still represented robot parts, we were desperately working out how to fit this puzzle system back into the original game. Luckily this didn't last too long, it became apparent that wasn't going to work and the number puzzle was the game.
With renewed purpose, after a winding journey, we worked on turning the prototype into a game. Adjusting the size of the board dramatically changed the difficulty, so did the variety of numbers available, sliders were used to quickly iterate and hone the experience into something that was challenging and yet still fun, something that someone could quickly understand, but was difficult to master.
We tried a number of designs along the way, finally settling on a simple concept, that let the mechanics shine, crafting each element to perfection.
We're now on the home straight, Treple as it's now known is due for release in August 2016 for both iOS and Andriod. It's been quite a journey, but it's only just beginning.
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stuart varrall