Devlog #19 – History of Puzzle Puppets (Part 2)

Welcome back to another Friday devlog. If you read last week we had just left off on a cliffhanger so lets pick up where we left off. So Aaron and I were being dragged out of our cells by the sentient dinosaurs into the gladiatorial arena to fight to the death… wait sorry wrong story, we will leave that for another time.

So iFest had finished up, everyone was very positive about the game and it was when I needed to go full steam ahead into production on it. Now the memory is a bit fuzzy at this point and cant remember exactly what was happening at this time. Aaron my good mate from primary school had finished his double degree in Computer Science and Multimedia and working at the Wicked Witch games company. He finished up somewhere in those months and this is when we had the conversation to say “perhaps we start a game company together and make Puzzle Puppets?”. And so we did! We both had some money saved up so we thought we could spend a year giving it a crack and following our dream job. I passed on the programming to Aaron as he is much more competent at it then me and I would focus on all the art.

We sat down together to work out the details of the game and scale back all the extreme ideas like procedural worlds and such as it is our first game and taking on too much really spells death for any start up indie company. So I spent some time writing up the game design document and mocking up game screens while Azza started working in XNA to get acquainted with that coding environment. The reason we choose the Windows Phone 7 to make our game on was mainly because of 2 reasons. I had previously done all my hobby work in it, and it was the only smart phone we had between us and mind you I had only gotten it around my birthday that last year. Man we both miss our old Nokias.

It’s been a wall of text so far so I better add some images in perhaps. This is some of the quick sketches I put together to get an idea of what sort of screens we were going to build.

So we had cut the original idea down because we knew it was too ambitious but still through development you end up cutting other features because you know you just wont be able to get them to a quality in the time frame we wanted so more has been cut since these drawings. Some of the main ones is the ‘Towns’. There you could buy new equipment to help you on your quests, talk to people to get other quests and also goto shops to buy consumables to help heal or deal more damage in combat. Another feature we dropped was the gifts room. The function of this was to add ways of unlocking gems and amulets that you would equip that would change how the game is balanced. Perhaps adding the gem where monsters deal more damage but you get double the points etc. This was there to give better players more ways to increase their score of each act. The feature I miss the most was the ‘Chests’. These chests would be found at certain nodes that would require you to pop all the locks in the grid and work as a procedural self contained puzzle where we could control the difficulty. It was a change of pace from the frantic block popping of combat to a more controlled and chess like thinking to open these boxes of prizes. This feature however isn’t dead yet, out of all of them this one is something I really want to get in one day as they are heaps of fun.

So after working on Puzzle Puppets together for a short while we needed to think on some of the business side of things in starting our indie company. So we decided we needed a name for our rag tag duo. Deciding on the name is always an important part of starting a company and we knew exactly what sort of thing we wanted but didn’t know what we will be called yet. The conditions was adjective – animal. So Azza made a program that would randomly get an adjective and animal from these lists we compiled from the internet to make our name. Everytime we pressed space we a new name and if it was great, well we wrote it down to get shortlisted later on. It took 2 Friday evenings of drinks with our 2 good friends Amanda and Danielle until we got the name we loved. Byte Sized Wombat it was. From there we needed to make a logo for the company and I had a vauge idea of what to do.

So I spent a night throwing together some drawings to see what stuck. These are all horribly rough but when you’re trying to do lots you don’t really care how nice everything is because you are just trying to get that feeling across. So from there I found the shape and look of the one I liked the most and started testing a few different expressions and tweaks to that design and ended up with the wombat we have now.

So development continued on the game. As it was just the 2 of us making it, we were able to change a lot of the designs when things weren’t working, too hard, too time consuming or just because it doesn’t make sense anymore as other things have changed. I’ll show you some of the stuff we did during the development and try and give some reasons why things changed or some of the work that goes on under the hood that you don’t always expect.

So here we have a layout map of how the whole game interacts with each other in terms of menus. It was a handy thing to have as it helped map the player experience and also so us where we should be focusing our efforts for things to get done. Some small things you may notice in this picture is different game modes in the bottom left. The gauntlet was more of an endless path of monsters getting more difficult as the player progressed. The lvl 100 dungeon was sort of the same but it had an end and thus people could compete for highscores over those 100 levels. Something else to point out is the cutscene mockup. We have changed how that would work a few times and could still improve upon it today but we originally planned to have convosations going between each of the puppets but decided against trying to be witty and writing dialog and go more for the silent lego inspired humour that the Travellers Tales games do so well.

Actually here is I think the first official screenshot of Puzzle Puppets with the new code base that Aaron did. It is so nice having someone who was taught actual programming and so made a very solid foundation for the game to be built up from. If I continued Puzzle Puppets by myself I’m certain I would of run into some fairly big problems where needing to recode the entire game would of happened.

So yes that’s what we had for a while, monsters loading in with the individual parts and the block mechanics working like a charm. So in the next few shots you will see the progress we had made. The first shot shows the placeholder player puppet that didn’t do anything cool. You can also see the first iterations of the heads up display making its way in aswell. On the next 2 shots you see we have adjusted the grid to and hud to fit into these borders. We needed something to break up the gameplay elements from the very edges of the screens so it looked nicer and was easier to touch. The major difference you might see is that the puppets look different from the first image. I actually went through about 3 or 4 iterations of the puppet look until I was happy with it. The reasons for this was mainly because I was rubbish at drawing and so when I got better I could do some nicer things with the costumes for the puppets. Other reasons where deciding between inside clothing and black outlines to coloured outlines and fitted costumes and then the perspective of the puppet aswell. I did finally settle on what I wanted and you should see that in the next few shots.

See all pretty now. Actually the first thing is the Dressing Room in the game. We always wanted some sort of customization however it was very minor. Then Azza needed to create a whole system to handle monster definitions wearing all sorts of clothing and colours that will be chosen randomly whenever we needed that type of enemy in the path. This function worked so well that we felt the player was fairly limited. So we gave the player a bunch of customizable options that only the player could access but in the end we said bugger it, lets just open every single item up for grabs and dress every puppet the same. It’s a fairly obvious route to go having all puppets dressed the same but when you are making decisions on a per by per basis, sometimes you miss the big picture and take a while to get to the most logical solution. So yeah the dressing room was so fun that it really took itself into its own thing and we ended up added extra development time into it to really give you some great options to personalise your puppet. In the last 2 pics you see that the grid size changes, we had it with the more blocks for a long time as thats what our previous prototypes were. An 8×8 grid was a nice round number but after lots of testing changing it to a 7×7 grid made a lot more sense from being able to predictably hit the blocks with our big man hands.

Some may be surprised to see how much goes into game design. Just think of a ninja elephant that breaks into your place of work and pounces onto you which you then need to hold piggyback style because there is a pricless ming vase just behind you. Hmmm not sure where I was going with that however a lot of work goes into game design. I think the best example was a great webseries called extra credits where they broke down the game bejeweled. You should definetly check it out if you love games because it shows the depth you need to go into to make things great. So click the clicky thing! Where I was going with this was that I tried to do the same thinking in the way our point system, leveling, monsters, attacking, defending, basically all the main mechanics and how they work together. So in the picture below you can see some of my thoughts when trying to balance the game. I haven’t read it for quite a while so not 100% sure whats in there but maybe theres something interesting. Some things I’ll point out though was how we were running into balancing problems in the game. As its just the two of us it was starting to become crazy with changes we made to monsters that would then ruin all the balancing we did for plays, so what we ended up doing was streamlining all the blocks and monsters to level up with you in the game. This was a massive change gameplaywise but made everything sooo much better and balancing has become a million times easier. Now when designing plays and we want harder parts we have a few options of adding difficult monsters or add more monsters in between nodes. I had actually developed a giant excel spreadsheet with numbers everywhere trying to balance monster health vs block damage, combo scaling, block scaling, monster damage, blocking and everything else. It took a while to get a nice balance but with any sort of puzzle game you need to sort that out because that’s where the player spends all their time interacting so you really need to make it feel fun, challenging and rewarding when they do something great.

Well I think that takes us through a good chuck of how the game evolved since Azza and I have gotten together. Im sure Aaron could talk about some of the more technical aspects of how he has structured certain aspects of the game to work better and actually he could talk about a whole bunch of code thats written and there but wont be in the game as we have cut those things such as different weapons doing various levels of damage.

But yes from there it basically brings us to where we were getting ready for the 2nd iFest. But its already getting late and I can smell the delicious curry we will be having for dinner and its hard to concentrate on being vaguely interesting when my stomach is making a ruckus.

So like all great writings I’m turning this bad boy into a trilogy! Till next week everyone, hope the weekend treats you well!



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