[Creating a successful iOS game isn't as simple as it looks, and in this postmortem, developers Noel Llopis and Miguel Ángel Friginal explore what it takes to create an easy-to-play, well-designed casual game and take it to number two on the charts.]
Casey's Contraptions is an iOS game created by the two of us, Noel Llopis and Miguel Ángel Friginal. Noel, an industry veteran for over a decade, turned indie over four years ago and found success with microtransaction-based Flower Garden on iOS. Miguel worked as a graphic designer in the advertising industry for years before becoming a web developer. Casey's Contraptions is his first published video game, although his first paper role playing game came out almost 20 years ago.
We met through Twitter several years ago, and then finally in person at a 360iDev conference. Even thought we didn't plan it that way, we ended up working together during a game jam, and that set us in the path to collaborate in a future project.
We knew we wanted to target iOS for our next project because we love the platform from a user and a developer point of view, and because it's a platform where it's possible for indies to succeed financially. Beyond that, starting a new game is never easy.
Even though we have page after page of possible ideas, settling on a specific game idea is always very hard.
We wanted something that met three requirements: The game had to be creative in nature as opposed to using destruction as the main gameplay element, it had to be something we were excited about, and it had to be something with the potential to sell reasonably well on the iOS App Store. Easier said than done!
We prototyped game idea after game idea, and even though a lot of them were not bad, none were a complete standout. Eventually, after seven or eight different prototypes, we settled on the concept of creating physics-based, Rube Goldberg-like contraptions to solve different puzzles.
At its core, the game has similar mechanics to some classic games like The Incredible Machine, but with an emphasis on exploration of creative solutions rather than finding the one right answer to each puzzle, designed around sharing, and built from the ground up for a touch interface on iOS.
We structured this project as a pure 50-50 partnership, and without any external funding or publishers. Miguel quit his full time job (as a web programmer no less!) to do the art for Casey's Contraptions, and Noel took care of the programming. Design was a fully collaborative activity, where we both contributed equal amounts to everything from the rules, the feel of the game, or level creation. Everything else we split up based on our strengths and expertise: web site, server back end, PR, etc.
This is not a true postmortem, but more of a post-launch analysis. Games today, and especially iOS and Facebook games, are becoming more of a service rather than a product. Development and launch are only the beginning of the story. If all goes well, we'll have a lot more to say about Casey's Contraptions in a few months.
1. Strong Theme and Style
Casey's Contraptions started life without Casey! The initial prototype focused only on the creation of contraptions and the physics simulation behind it. It showed a lot of potential, but it was missing something to make it stand out. It needed more personality.
Pre-Casey level goals
After some brainstorming, we quickly zeroed-in the idea of a smart eight year old building the contraptions. Not only did that add the much-needed personality to the game, but it also focused the rest of the development. Instead of doing a physics game with generic pulleys and levers and other industrial-looking items, we naturally went with toys and household items Casey could have access to: His sister's doll, paper planes, or his RC truck.
And the same level goals after Casey
The choice of toys as game items not only influenced the level design, but also the goal of the levels. At the beginning we were thinking of doing levels to accomplish tasks Casey would have to deal with in real life, such as putting toys away or popping a balloon. After a while, the idea of "playtime" levels came up, where the setting and the goal were completely imaginary (rescue explorers from a jungle in their hot air balloon) just as Casey would have imagined during his playtime sessions.
Prototype goal - pop the balloon
The character of Casey also helped anchor the art direction. We were aiming for something that would appeal to a very wide range of people, from the very young to adult casual gamers.
Although Miguel looked into everything from a most modern Cartoon Network style to manga, to crazier Warner Bros., we ended up settling with a mix of Calvin & Hobbes and something out of a '50s Hanna-Barbera show, with strong outlines and solid colors, to make people of all ages feel comfortable with the visuals. We were able to carry this distinct style to all the items, locations, and user interface in the game, which gave it a very consistent and unique look.