The Roller-Coaster World (and a Story) of Game Designing
A bystander’s account of how a Snakes And Ladders 3D game was developed, why it took 3 long years and how it turned everyone involved crazy.
Manish was obviously crazy. Once a sane, normal graphic designer (if ever there is one), he had suddenly lost it. His sudden obsession with snakes could easily put Gaurav (of Fan) to shame.
If a long-lost friend would hug him, the hug would remind him of a snake’s coil. If he saw a toothpaste commercial, the beautiful teeth would remind him of a snake’s fangs. If he would so much as touch an earphone wire, he would scream because it reminded him of a snake’s bifid tongue.
I couldn’t bear the sight of Manish and about a dozen others so I decided to go ahead and help them. A couple of days later, everybody in my family agreed I needed serious, professional counseling because I too was obsessed with - you guessed it - snakes. Effectively, not even an innocent bystander like me was spared.
Surprisingly, some others were obsessed with a piece of equipment consisting of a series of bars or steps between two upright lengths of wood, metal, or rope, used for climbing up or down something. Ladder, in one word.
This malady dates back to June 2012. TheAppGuruz had just launched the version 1.0 of Snakes and Ladders game. The downloads were modest, some hundred thousand, and life could have continued to be normal.
If you are wondering what the version 1.0 game looked like, you can check out this video (I know…I know… it doesn’t look good now, but at the time of publishing version1.0, it was surely something to be quite proud of!).
Somehow, a certain ‘Someone’ at TheAppGuruz thought it was not fair that people should live a normal life. So the ‘Someone’ charged up the team and challenged them to come up with something better.
Let the game be the same, the Someone said, but everything else about it - graphics, environments, players, gameplay, everything - should be different. And better. This Someone basically motivated the team to come up with an unbeatable Snakes and Ladders Version 2.0.
You know what dangerous and unpleasant activities one agrees to take up when one is under the giddying influence of motivation. The team agreed to, like, reach out for the stars.
Everybody was back to the drawing board. Two months passed by. Awesome things and great concepts kept coming out of the drawing board.
But, just like all great stories, there was a hitch.
Many of those awesome things were half-baked. Some things were not fully ready, some stuff had execution issues, some graphics didn’t have the right color tone, a code here or a command there had serious bugs. Basically, the parts weren’t coming together as a single lovely unit.
On the other hand, third-party projects were coming in at a serious pace. The client always wanted everything this afternoon (just kidding, most clients were far more understanding).
Slowly, the Snakes and Ladders Version 2.0 (SNL2) project (an in-house product) started losing steam. On busy days (which of course meant all weekdays) when a coder or designer would sit down to prioritize the tasks on her hand, she would push SNL2 down her to-do list.
Not surprisingly, SNL2 slowly disappeared from the horizon. Not that TheAppGuruz weren’t keen to do it, it was just - the same old story - other things had become more important. Or rather, more urgent.
So that cute dog, designed as a pet for the SNL2 player, sat idle inside the designer’s computer, doing nothing. The horrible snake, with all the detailing of its scales, too did nothing. The beautiful background and jaw-dropping environments sat motionless.
The SNL2 project was shelved. Probably forever.
Other games and apps rolled out of TheAppGuruz. Some were hits, some were so-so, a few didn’t do too well - it happens all the time.
However, the Snakes and Ladders Version 1.0 had won a fairly good fan following. Quite often people asked, "So dude, when’s your Snakes and Ladder Version 2.0 coming out, man?”
Cut to December 2015, more than three years later. TheAppGuruz team was having a meeting on a Saturday morning. The discussion moved towards successful projects and what made them great.
The Someone remarked something about awesome (it’s his favourite phrase, by the way. It’s always “Awesome book.” “Awesome movie.” “Awesome headache.” “Awesome trouble.” “Awesome breakdown.”).
So Maulik, the senior team-leader, looked straight into the eyes of the Someone and asked point-blank. “Tejas Jasani, there’s a problem. We design some awesome stuff, we write some awesome code. But you don’t let us finish them. So, at the end, a lot of awesome things sit inside our machines unused. That frustrates us, you know. Why don’t you let us go ahead with them?”
The Someone, now called Tejas Jasani, was ready with a counter-question, “We may do dozens of things but we’ll send out only the best to the market place. You want to go ahead and finish the SNL2 with the highest quality?”
A moment passed. Then the entire team said one word, “Yes.”
So SNL2 got a new life.
However it was coming back to life after 3 BIG years.
The next three months turned out to be very demanding. Some members of the original SNL2 team had left TheAppGuruz, new technology had come in, design sophistication had shot through the roof, the company had take some strategic decisions…
But all the same, they seemed to be doing fine. Things were moving in the right direction and at the right pace. Tejas remained uncompromising and everybody got a chance to curse Someone Tejas Jasani more than once for being too demanding for 'high quality work', 'great UX', 'awesome feel' (yes, awesome again!). (And everybody seized the chance and cursed generously too!)
So the release date was set as 15 April 2016 (no, nothing to do with Fan).
The fortnight before the release date was hectic, as expected. Again everyone started talking ‘Snakes’, ‘Dice’ ‘Jump’, ‘Ladder’ ‘Board’ ‘Flight’, ‘Slip’... Again serious, professional counseling was recommended. Again ‘Hissssss!” replaced any harsh words used in friendly chats.
But overall it was fine.
A test session was arranged on 12 April 2016. Outsiders were invited to test the game and offer reviews. It was exciting!!
Reviews sure were, as expected, excellent. Gamers loved it. They rated it very highly and they had great fun.
Some simply loved the very start of the game, the magical roll of the dice with a fancy ‘swish’ sound. Some thought the environment design detailing was amazing. Still others thought the overall castle-like feel was the best. And there were some too, who were reminded of movies like ‘Night at the Museum’ or ‘Jumanji’ because they felt the snake - and everything else - looked too real.
But it was also funny. At one stage, a player found her character’s wings simply wouldn’t vanish (how did the character get wings would be a spoiler). Another player thought her character was sliding rather than walking.
Most issues reported were immediately solved. Of course, there were a couple of compromises too.
SNL2 had been conceived with a certain number of environments. That number had to be cut down, because there wasn’t enough time left to do corrections at all places. A few other add-on features that were to be offered on Day 1 would have to wait. The pet dog may have to wait too. Poor doggie.
It was surely a roller-coaster ride. If you are a coder or a designer, you have witnessed this many times over (and nodded often while you were reading this). If you are a gamer, then perhaps this post gives you a peek into the world of game-design. It was sweat and blood and then some. But yes, it was an awesome experience for everyone involved.
This is the story of SNL2. It isn’t all that TheAppGuruz can come up with. But it’s quite close.
If you are curious, this is what version 2.0 looks like now :)