What was the thinking behind the travel and its UI? I played it on the DS primarily, and I found it was very difficult to select what I wanted, like my ship, versus the planet.
SF: Yeah, on the DS, there are a few technical issues on the DS and stuff being very close together. We learnt a lot of lessons from that game about how to use UI space very well, use the interface on the DS much better to keep things apart. Don't put things too close together because as you hit the screen on the DS, you can get a bit of an echo on parts of the screen. We've also improved the tech behind that as well; we can pick up much better where the stylus is hitting.
So they were all things we took on board and learnt, because Galactrix was actually our first DS game, done in-house. [With] Puzzle Quest, we oversaw the development of it, the DS version was done by some other people.
With the DS [Puzzle Quest 2], we treat is as a separate platform. It's all the same, dungeons, and quests and monsters, everything is identical from a content point of view. But the interface is really, really a good DS interface. It's really slick.
Have you taken any lessons from the quest system? Galactrix would tell me to go somewhere, to a specific planet, and that planet would be within some system, and I would have no idea where it was.
SF: Yes. That was particularly a problem with the DS. I believe Xbox and PS3 skewed that one. We were actually quite good at pointing the way to the planet. But we really didn't have the computing power to do that on the DS.
Yeah, we've learned that the player should never be confused. At any time in the game the player should always know absolutely what they have to do next. And you'll see all sorts of little tricks in Puzzle Quest 2. There's a little sparkly path. It always leads you from where you are to where you should be going next.
Everything you click on, there's always this little bouncing animation, and question marks that let you know exactly what you have to do next. That even takes into account some core stuff like your portal system, where players can portal around quickly to move around the world fast. Something that Galactrix lacked was you'd quite often need to travel right across the galaxy, but you'd have no way to do it apart from moving all the way across the map.
So an amazing number of lessons we learned from that game that have all been rolled into Puzzle Quest 2.
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix
It's interesting that it seems like you have the ability, through having branded Galactrix as not simply "Puzzle Quest", to make Puzzle Quest 2 and continue rolling on the goodwill of Puzzle Quest without any kind of feelings one way or the other about Galactrix.
SF: Yeah. That's certainly the case. But it wasn't our intention when we did Galactrix, interestingly. We did it because I'd been doing fantasy games for about 22 years at that stage. I really just desperately wanted to make one with spaceships in it. So I think that was a lot of the reasoning behind Galactrix. We believed in it and really wanted to do it, get the sci-fi game done.
And then we were like, "Yeah, let's get back to the knights and the dragons and wizards again. That'll be cool."
There have been games somewhat similar to Puzzle Quest before -- dungeon-based RPGs that had a puzzle battle mechanic. But Puzzle Quest really brought it to popular gaming culture. Most of those other games hadn't made it out of Japan.
Since then there have been a lot of other games hopping on the bandwagon. Have you played many? What do you think of this phenomenon? Does it surprise you?
SF: I'm not surprised some of the original ones didn't break out. There's a fundamental difference between them and us. It's that we approached them as fundamentally a puzzle game and secondly an RPG, with Puzzle Quest 1.
So the RPG just became a delivery mechanism for puzzles. I think some of the others first were an RPG and second a puzzle game. Ultimately the game has stand on its own as an RPG and stand on its own as a puzzle game. And I don't feel some of the early ones did that.
Now it's interesting with the ones that have come out since. A few people have been taking a shot at it. And I think people might have underestimated the amount of work, because it really is a whole amount of work that we would put into a large RTS game we worked on in the past.
It's almost like creating a full RPG. There's so much in these things. And it's really easy to look at them and go, "It's just a puzzle game with some RPG stuff and we could churn one out pretty quickly." And I think having been through Puzzle Quest 1, we knew how much work was involved, and that's why we can come into Puzzle Quest 2, and we can come in there strong.
In terms of the sort of streamlining that you've done for Puzzle Quest 2, is that based primarily on the intuition of the team, or was there also usability testing?
SF: We do a lot of usability testing. We really need to know what hardcore people think and what casual people think -- so a lot of people testing all the time. We're constantly streaming people into the studio to have a look at the game. And we have the design team sitting around and watching them play, and watching the facial expressions, because the face never lies. So it's a constant process. And it's very important.
Intuition from the teams? It's an important one too. We'll feel stuff's right or wrong. And we'll also listen to the fan base very, very strongly. The people who played the first one had a lot of comments for us.
And my job, interestingly, is to kind of sift and take the usability stuff, and take the team's intuition, and my own intuition, and take the fan requests, and kind of consolidate it all together and come up with something that can maintain those contributions and is a lot of fun to play.