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The Art of Feeding Time, Part 1
by Radek Koncewicz on 06/25/14 05:29:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


When Feeding Time began to move past its prototyping phase, we decided we didn't want to make just another puzzle game with abstract shapes and symbols; jewels and candies are all fine, but they lack a certain sense of life and personality.

Since we also weren't making a match-3 title but rather a game about pairing things up, combining animals with their iconic snacks seemed like a perfect fit.

It took a little while to get to this point.

At the beginning of Feeding Time's development, Abel Oroz -- an artist we had worked with previously -- was busy joining Tequila Works to work on future projects like Rime. However, he was still gracious enough to provide some advice and work with us through the early concepting phase.

To emphasize the game's pairing mechanic we sketched out some samples of animals being merged with their archetypal foods, but those came off a bit too surreal. We also realized that showing the whole body of an animal didn't neatly fit into the grid of the gameboard. We could still do it, but it shrunk the real estate available to the animals' faces and required more complex animations for movement.

In the end we chose to simply focus on the animal heads, which also fixed scaling issues by displaying both the animals and the foods at the exact same size.

ft_early_animalsEarly animal sketches. I still have a soft spot for the absurd mouse with the Swiss cheese holes.

With that much figured out, it was time to seek out an illustrator. A fun and colourful look was a must for Feeding Time, but we also wanted the visuals to stand apart from all the cutesy titles that used a bland, glossy art style. George Bletsis contacted us during our search, and his incredibly varied illustrations and subtle texturing proved to be a great fit.

After putting together a bunch more concepts, we had to address one important issue: should we have multiple facing directions for each animal?

It proved increasingly difficult to showcase the animal's face while pointing both up and down.

On the surface it seemed like a good idea to display each animal so its direction would clearly indicate the direction from which it could start eating. Unfortunately there were multiple issues with this approach. Not only would it triple all our art/animation costs for every animal (we'd need to do a version that points up, down, and left -- the right side would be a flipped version of the left side), but there'd be some visual oddities for the up/down directions, and we'd lose a consistent silhouette for each animal.

Simply keeping a single direction and flipping it 90 degrees to facilitate facing directions wasn't an option either as it looked cheap and awkward.

I don't think anyone ever noticed that all the units in Clash of Heroes pointed down. In the very least, there didn't seem to be any complaints about the approach.

Back when we were at Capy working on Heroes of Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, we encountered a similar problem. The player's units were located at the bottom of the screen facing up, but this left something to be desired as it only displayed their backs. Eventually it was decided that both the player's and the enemy's units would all face down (unless attacking) to create more interesting visuals.

We tried a similar approach in Feeding Time by making each animal point "head-on" at the screen in a neutral pose. It worked but looked a bit too symmetric and boring. In the end we decided to give each animal a singular but unique pose that best displayed its personality.

ft_animals_evolutionVarious early takes on the animal heads. From left to right: animals rotated by 90 degrees, animals pointing straight at the viewer, and animals in non-standardized poses.

Once we established the format for each animal, we sketched out a lot more concepts and made sure to give each animal a distinct silhouette in order to make them easier to recognize. Since we were now confined to only a single animal pose, we tried to mold each one into a shape similar to that of the animal's corresponding food. We had already taken some liberties with the colouring, but when this extra step made sense, it further helped to make the pairings easier to spot.

Concepts for animals in the safari and tundra stages. Note that the shapes of the foods closely resemble those of the animals for ease of recognition.

And this is how it all turned out!

The full cast of Feeding Time!

Next up: backgrounds!

Radek Koncewicz is the CEO and creative lead of Incubator Games, and also runs the game design blog Significant-Bits.

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Jay Chen
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Nice writeup. Do you plan on bringing that game to Android anytime soon? I would love to check it out.

Radek Koncewicz
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We'd like to, but it all depends on how well the iOS release does. It's certainly something we always wanted to pursue though as the game is very port-friendly.

Christian Nutt
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Wondering if you ever played Sega's Baku Baku (Baku Baku Animal in Japan) since it has the exact same concept. Though not match-3, because it's a 32-bit era competitive puzzler:

Radek Koncewicz
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I didn't actually play it on the Saturn, but we quickly found out about Baku Baku into our development. I believe one of the first comments we ever got was "Sooo... is this a Baku Baku clone?"

Of course we were able to point out that while Baku Baku is a Puyo Pop meets Dr. Mario drop-down game, we were creating something very different gameplay-wise. In Feeding Time, the gameboard is always full and the mechanics revolve around sliding and matching the foods on the grid with the surrounding animals.

The concept of pairing up animals with their favourite snacks was certainly a draw for Baku Baku, though, (and it's surprisingly well remembered!) so we might take a cue from some of its pairings -- a panda and bamboo are a great match!

Christian Nutt
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Yeah, I actually guessed you came up with the idea independently -- it's a pretty obvious one and easy to imagine it would arise from two places at two different times in the same context.

It's actually kind of interesting that it did, given that I'd guess the same kind of thinking led to it both times: "What's a good theme for a puzzle game?" but in the dominant mode of the time (as you say, this is a post-Puyo boom competitive puzzler in Japan; yours is a post-Candy Crush match-3 game in the West.)

Two different ecosystems: the 1990s Japanese arcade, and the contemporary mobile space. But the same solution arises upon need.

Darius Drake
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I see there's a conversation going on between Christian Nutt and the author; now I shall interfere.

You did well writing the article. I don't like this type of puzzle game much, but I like the idea of matching food that animals eat with the animal. I think detailed munching sounds would make the game funner, and maybe you thought of that. :)

Can I make a request: for the other articles you write in the series, can you focus on how the art relates to the game design?