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Createrria - challenges designing flexible game creator for casual users
by Wojciech Borczyk on 12/10/13 07:30:00 am   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.

 

 

  1. We are born creators

 

You’ve probably observed that even the smallest kids try to experiment with the world around them and make their first small discoveries and constructions. Building blocks are one of the toys we’re usually engaged with as early as when we finish our first year of life. I remember getting my first LEGO set and how fascinating it was to build almost anything I could imagine.

 

Almost everybody in his life tried to create some music. For some of us thankfully it ended up at singing while taking shower, others took it public with karaoke bars and garage bands. For some of us it ended up in being able to play some decent performances. Whatever it was in your case, it definitely was fun.

 

Then, you’ve probably also tried some sketching in your notebook during boring lessons or maybe on your meeting notes during the board of directors. Or maybe you’ve even bought yourself some paints and did some paintings? Whether it was a simple sketch or a piece of art, there was definitely a lot of fun involved.

 

Instagram turned almost everybody into photographers. Great photo lives just a shot and filter away. And with iMovie and YouTube you can become a video producer in an hour. And, yes you guessed it right - this is a lot of fun too :)

 

  1. Why not games?

 

So, if being creative is so fun, why don’t people create games? I mean, we developers do, but we’re like those professional musicians, artists, photographers and movie makers. How about those who lack the skill to do it on this level? There definitely is a ton of fun to have, but it’s out of reach for most of people.

      

There had been many attempts to making it possible. Since early games we had level editors (Excitebike anybody?). They were not necessarily easy to use, the results were limited, but still it was engaging. However, you couldn’t create your game this way.

 

Then, there were game creation kits or game engines that tried to make it as easy as possible. But even though I usually teach students with Game Maker or recommend Game Salad to some developers, those tools - although much easier to get grip at than Unity 3D or Unreal, are still out of reach for amateurs. Imagine your parents using Game Maker…

I am a huge fan of Little Big Planet. It’s charming, the editor is simply awesome and it has built a great community of creators. By some accounts, as many as 8 million levels. But it still took me 3 hours to create some decent platforming experience there. And I still can’t imagine my father doing that.

Then, there were many mobile apps. The problem was, they were either too difficult to use, the results looked… well… let’s say “homebrew”, required lot of time to create anything or - usually - all three together.

  1. Createrria

Createrria turns making games into a game itself: fun, easy task that everybody can accomplish in literally minutes. If you’ve had LittleBigPlanet on your mind, then you’ve got the basic grasp of Createrria, which successfully packages a game and game creation environment without complicating one single thing. From the beginning we wanted to make a game that empowers gamers to create their own games. But it doesn’t ends there. With just few taps our users can craft their games and just one more tap allows them to share their creation with friends and strangers. When sharing your game, you can use tags so that people can easily find the stuff they want. Strong community platform ensures that everything you create may be played all around the world and feedbacked via ratings and comments to constantly improve your game crafting skills. It is always a pleasant surprise after sharing a game that people actually played it, enjoyed, liked and left their comments. We believe that the future of user generated content is now and Createrria is a big part of it.

  1. Making it work for everybody

We knew one of the most important factors was to create great user experience through accessible user interface. This interface is the way your user interacts with the game. Therefore the key was exposing the functionality we knew that had to be there the best way possible.

Familiarity

We’ve revisited UI design principles and build the interface around them. First was familiarity - we had to make sure, that user’s real-life experience has corresponding elements in our application. That you don’t have to learn, but recognize instead. One of the difficult decisions to be taken was what icon to use in editor mode for turning the physics on. This functionality is the most important way of testing how your game works. First thing that came to our mind was play / stops buttons, but then we thought they are a bit too music / video related. And our users sometimes think they are playing the actual game (because they pressed “play”), although they were only enabling the physics, not running “playthrough” of the game. Eventually we thought what comes to your mind when you think about physics and things obeying gravity etc. And after some hard thinking we came up with the idea of having Newton’s falling apple as the symbol of running physics.

Simplicity

Then comes the simplicity - the tasks you are performing within game should not be filled with details. They should be short and focused. A good example of this is how to set a goal of the game that you create. Initially, we’ve designed a special simple menu for that. You were just selecting one of the goals (like get player to the finish line or collect all bonuses or kill all monsters). Then, you eventually set parameters of the goal and there it was. Your game now had it’s ending, a goal to achieve. However, we have learned it’s too complicated for many of our users. We’ve tried to simplify it until the point we’ve made the ultimate simplification. At one point we’ve discovered, that what you have on your level already describes what your player should achieve in order to complete your game’s goal. When we realized that, we’ve simply automated the process of setting up the goal. It just happens behind the scenes. No menu for that. You just build your level, and the game automagically knows how you want it to end. And guess what? It just worked!

Availability

Then there came the principle of availability. It’s always difficult to have all the needed components available, but also keep the interface uncluttered. Our terrain painting functionality enables users to set some parameters, like type of terrain, brush size etc. They are all required, but not so frequently used. We’ve tried different placements on screen, but eventually decided to put them on dedicated page in the inventory and just leave two most important ones out on main HUD: pencil and eraser. And it worked great, because most of the time you just use those and when you need to paint with sand for example, you simply open inventory and find it there. One of the neat tricks we’ve introduced is that when you open inventory when in terrain painting mode, it always opens on the terrain painting properties, otherwise on the last page you’ve visited. Thus, the context is used to provide with relevant tools.

Discoverability

Discoverability is the last principle I want to discuss here. Your game’s functionality should be intuitive to discover and there are many cues one can use to do that. One of the tricky situations for us was the game information card. It displays game icon, basic stats and creator’s name. When you click creator’s name, you go to see his/her profile. However, because the card itself is pretty compact we didn’t want to clutter interface with any additional buttons or even add button beneath player name to tell user he can click it to see the profile. What we did instead was to color the name in blue, just as links on internet once used to be and just as iOS7 does in many cases of clickable elements. This allowed us to keep the UI clean and tell users “hey, you can click that!” at the same time.

  1. Iterate, iterate, iterate…

 

With every idea we usually started with many drawn concepts. Then, interactive implementations were made. And when we thought we “got it” we still kept iterating and getting feedback to provide the best experience possible.

 

Initially you were able only to drag items out of inventory. Then, during tests we’ve seen that many users want to put them on level by clicking them in inventory first and then by clicking on the destination. They didn’t drag. Therefore we’ve changed the behavior only to find, many people lack the drag mechanism. The final solution was to leave both mechanisms in place and simply let user decide what works better.

 

We never hesitate to constantly rework from scratch or cut down altogether on features that don’t work the way we expect them to work. Sometimes good enough means to be perfect. But on the other hand, you have to start with something in order to find what works and what doesn’t. Iterations are your best friend in those cases.

 

  1. Results

At the beginning of production, all editing of gameplay started taking place using entirely the in-game editor. This forced us to never cheat and lead to many improvements. What’s also important our Creators use the exact tools as we do and guess what? They surprised us on the first day after the soft launch. All hard decisions and shifts let our Creators not to think about setting game’s goals, statistics etc. but to just play and create bigger and more complex games that appeared in their minds. Without a doubt, players armed with Createrria are creating games we couldn’t even imagine.  Ruined cities, digital landmarks, smooth platformers, physical puzzles, hardcore obstacle courses, grid-arts, Angry Birds like games as well as completely insane stuff such as fully recreated Super Mario Games and gamified interpretations of movies & cartoons. All of those and many more have been created by both kids and adults which makes us even more happier with the final result.

  1. Summary

It took us over a year of hard work to bring first version of Createrria to the market. Because building simple products is a difficult and time consuming task.

But it was totally worth it. The goal was achieved - people are having tons of fun and simply bursting with creativity. At one point during the soft launch, when we had a community of around 20 000 users, they’ve created 35 000 games! Many of them were published and it was also a lot of fun for the whole team to see what our community has created using the tools we’ve provided them with.

 

Now with the worldwide release on 5th December 2013, we’re ultimately excited to see the world burst with creativity. Because everybody can create games.


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Comments


Alexander Jhin
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Cool! Thanks for running through the thought process with us. When I experience great UX it often seems "obvious" but awesome designs often hide many painful iterations before they become elegant.

One random comment: The game name tripped me up. Since the article doesn't hyperlink to the actual game, I had to Google the name... but I couldn't spell it right from memory to save my life. Finally, I just copied and pasted it (something I never do on my phone.) The extra "r" tripped me up: Createrria looks too much like "Criteria." And typing "Createria" (one r) into Google unfortunately doesn't bring up "Createrria" (two rs) in the first results. Argh!

Scott Miller, in 2004, blogged about game names. I still find his advice very helpful: http://dukenukem.typepad.com/game_matters/2004/02/the_name_of_the
.html. And the best advice I heard about IGF game names: "Don't include any fictional or foreign letter combinations in your game name. Nobody will spell them correctly."

Wojciech Borczyk
profile image
Yep, the name is a bit troublesome, and we are aware of the "criteria" spelling problems. But then, it's also unique and usually it just stays in your mind because of that (even if you can't remember the spelling :)). Will be working on that probably, maybe some SEO will do the trick :)

And I haven't put a link into the post but probably will do, I'll see if I can edit it :)

Thanks!

Kevin Fishburne
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Good article. One part in particular:

"At the beginning of production, all editing of gameplay started taking place using entirely the in-game editor. This forced us to never cheat and lead to many improvements."

I frequently wonder when using an app if the developers themselves even use it. Whether it's an inefficient or unintuitive interface element or operation, or a bug that is so easy to find and in-your-face you can't believe you're seeing it, it's insanely annoying. So yeah, "eat your own dog food" as they say. Every day, all day.


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