Making of Agent A: foundations and insights
Published 5 years ago
A taste of Yak & Co’s methodical approaches
"Good evening Agent! Your new mission is in from headquarters..."
Agent A is a spy themed puzzle game for Smartphones, Tablets and erm… Shoephones?! Your mission (should you choose to accept of course) is to infiltrate enemy spy Ruby La Rouge’s secret hideaway and catch her! Uncover a stylish 60s themed world full of hidden contraptions and clever logic based puzzles. Oh and do be careful, Miss La Rouge has a taste for dismissing agents such as yourself…
Hi, I'm Jason - lead code guy at Yak & Co. For the last two and half years we have been busy bringing to life Agent A: A puzzle in disguise, and I’d like to share some of our thinking behind the game design and technical approaches that have helped to shape the game. We hope it sheds some light on the depth of thinking behind it all... and if you don’t mind, we might just use this as our excuse for why it’s taken us so long to create. 
The games roots lie in the point and click adventure genre but also draw on many modern touch based puzzles games for inspiration. The link to the point and click genre comes from the way in which you collect inventory items in order to solve puzzles and progress. But unlike the original games of the genre (that we hold in the highest regard mind you... looking at you Day of the Tentacle) where you would find weird and whacky items to use in weird and whacky ways, we wanted the majority of our inventory items and puzzles to be solvable using a more logical approach.
Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of exotic and fictional spy gadgets in the mix. However right from the very start a goal of ours was to ride that fine line of accessibility to a wide audience yet still be puzzling and challenging. We’ve spent a lot of time iterating the game design so that we provide just enough of a clue but without giving the answer away or hand holding. Our hope is that we leave the audience feeling clever that they solved the puzzles on their own. We also wanted to make this game accessible regardless of cultural background or spoken language, and with all of these goals in mind we decided that this more logical approach was the way to achieve them. For example none of puzzles or inventory items rely on language, with the exception of numbers that we feel are universal enough.
That said, we have bucket loads of dialogue and text feedback for every moment in the game, which is currently translated into 8 languages. This content can certainly provide more clues on how to solve a puzzle and it contributes significantly to the personality of the game, but the insight I want to share is that the game can be played without it. As much as I personally love to sink myself into the narrative of a game and to get knee deep into characters and a gripping plot, surprisingly it’s not for everyone. In testing we found that more casual gamers tend to gloss over text and want to go at their own pace. But for the more traditional gamer or spy enthusiast, there’s a lot of content that will enhance their playing experience. We hope all gamers will enjoy the quirky tongue in cheek and fun personality of the game. 
With the ever expanding fragmentation of platforms and devices, another goal right from the very start was to make Agent A playable on any sized device from a tiny smartphone right through to a hd tv. It was our first port of call do a lot of tests on various devices to create a template which would become the foundation for our entire game. We also wanted our codebase to be flexible in order to reach any platform, and the choice to use Unity as our game engine was a no brainer. This combination of Unity and a scalable application design has future proofed the game as much as possible.
To put it into perspective in regard to the Apple eco-system, in the time that we’ve been developing Agent A we’ve seen the introduction of iOS 8 and 9, Apple’s low-level rendering API Metal, a requirement of 64 bit application architecture support, new device sizes for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S Plus, Apple TV and the upcoming iPad Pro. All of which we didn’t know about when we started, yet thanks to our scalable design choices and to Unity for doing the heavy lifting we’re in a great position to support all of these changes without breaking stride. 
Originally our game was to be designed in 2D which we’d considered in order to achieve a particular art style. But we quickly realised that with the amount of full screen art we’d need for all of our puzzles that our application file size was going to be immense. Internet access and download speeds are still a barrier for many people around the world and with the 100mb over the air limit on Apple’s App Store this was a one of the main reasons we moved to a 3D design. However, we worked very hard to maintain our original vision for the art style. Mark White the creator of Agent A and chief art guy at Yak & co worked tirelessly to create a beautiful 2D stylised aesthetic in 3D. On more than one occasion while working on the new design, he surprised colleagues with what they thought was a 2D image only to find that suddenly the camera was moving seamlessly into a full screen puzzle that maintained a 2D hand crafted quality - I’m sure I heard someone say “Holy Yak, that’s 3d?!!”. The move to a 3D design also gave us the flexibility to rapidly change the game design for the better, we were able to create many more camera angles and close up views than originally intended, all while using significantly less file size than a 2D counterpart would have. To achieve the 3D art style we created dozens of bespoke shaders, however that’s another story.
If you’re interested to learn more about the making of Agent A, have any questions about technical aspects of the game or want to shake a stick at us for a puzzle you’re stuck on, please get in touch. I’d love to incorporate your questions in a part 2 article where I’ll go into more depth on the Unity editor production tools we created, without which the game would not have been possible within such a small team, our shaders, and approaches to deal with tricky problems such as localisation and scalable application design. 
Oh and if you’re in Melbourne for PAX Aus 2015 come and find us and say hello. We’re featured in the indie games showcase (Oct 30 - Nov1st), see you there!
Nathaniel Ventura
Product Marketing Manager - Marketer