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Bonnie's Bookstore: From Conception to Completion

January 6, 2006

If you're not in the game development business, you might not realize how much experimentation it takes to arrive at a final product. My recently launched game, Bonnie's Bookstore, started off as a vaguely defined word game, without an overriding graphical concept or story.

Before any of these images were created, I had already settled on the basic game mechanic, after trying and discarding two other word game concepts/mechanics.

Now I had to settle on a theme. I had a list of possible game settings, as follows:

CONCEPT_______________RATING (Higher is better)
Traveller's Tales_____7.6_________7.4
Monkey Tails__________5.5_________5.9
Tropical Fish_________5.4_________5.1
Paints/Paint Factory__5.3_________4.2
Birds (parrots, etc)__5.0_________4.6
Writer's Block________4.9_________5.1

I submitted these concepts (with additional details) to a panel of 24 people who had volunteered (mainly as a result of my postings on my blog) to provide feedback. The first numerical column is the average rating for the concept, by all respondents, the second is women only, which I was particularly interested in, as I felt the game's sales would skew towards women.

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Different concepts for the game that became Bonnie's Bookstore.

Originally, Writer's Block and Bookstore had been my favorite concepts, and StoryBook was among my least favorites. But everyone else, especially the women, liked StoryBook best, so we included that among the finalists.

Based on those results, I contacted an artist named Ian Wilmoth and had him create multiple concepts for me. He in turn created the Traveller's Tales (i.e. travel guide, first one in Egypt), as well as a Penguin concept that we had come up with after the original survey. He also subcontracted the Cooking, Monkey Trouble, and Storybook concepts.

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Cooking Caper

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Monkey Trouble

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Penguin Puzzle

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore

Traveller's Tales (i.e. travel guide in Egypt and other exotic locales)

(Note that the names the artist included in the mockups don't always correspond to what I called the concept, as my naming whims were rather fluid at that point)

To my surprise, even with the unconventional art-style, the StoryBook concept was getting great responses from people I showed it to.

However, the method by which the storybook concept was produced, hand-painted watercolor, would not scale up enough to allow me to make my targeted 40 backgrounds in a targeted 2-3 month window (we ended up with 50 backgrounds, plus other art, in a 4.5 month window). So I commissioned another artist who had contacted me, Von Caberte, to try his hand at the storybook style, using a somewhat different technique.

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Von's first pencil sketch

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Von's first colorized image

I loved Von's work, and signed him up to do all the art for the game. Since the above sketch didn't fit within a specific fairy tale, the first image that was done that actually made it into the main part of the game was from ‘The Frog Prince'.

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Pencil Sketch

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Final Game Screen (incorporating a lot of interface revisions made along the way)

So I was going with the ‘StoryBook' concept - a sort of children's story world brought to life. But I ended up bringing in elements of my other two favorite concepts (Writer's Block, and Bookstore) as well, by creating a backstory that the lead character, Bonnie, ran a bookstore she had inherited. Somewhat bored with the lifestyle of a small shop owner, she soon began writing children's books on the side (thus leading into the main gameplay). So I got three concepts for the price of one, I guess.

Anyways, here's the title screen, which ties into the backstory.

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Pencil Sketch

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore

Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore
Some other Screens from the final version of Bonnie's Bookstore

All total, the art side of Bonnie's Bookstore started about 2 weeks into the project, and included 2 weeks of concepting, and 4.5 months of production art. The overall development schedule, including programming, design, and art, was about 6 months.


This article originally appeared on Phil Steinmeyer's game development blog, and is reprinted with his permission.


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