The first idea was to publish Puzzle Craft as a typical pay-for-download game, at a price of about $2 or 3. When first prototype was finished and we showed it to our publisher, Chillingo, they put forward an idea: the game would do nicely as a free-to-play title.
Testing the idea took us over a month and resulted in some interesting changes in the game:
Then we realized, that to develop a moneymaking F2P game, we would have to add waiting for new buildings to be constructed (skippable with coins) and a second currency (available only in IAPs). Frankly speaking, that idea sucked. At this point the game would become just too frustrating to play. So we decided to drop the F2P idea, and make a low entry game (priced at $0.99) with some IAPs.
As you can see above, we started tests with some abstract tokens, then changed them into bags of seeds, and then dropped the idea. You still have to pay the workers, but the price is set in such a way, that you will probably never have to wait. Frankly speaking, the real goal of paying for entering the farm is to make your coins valuable -- when you have to constantly spend them, you feel they are useful, and you are happy when you earn them.
We removed all time barriers and frustration points, because they were not fun. However, we decided to leave the time bonuses -- because they were fun. Then we rebalanced the whole game to make sure that you can finish it without spending money on IAPs.
Looking back, that was a good move. The game improved from our short affair with F2P, and in the end we made the game we wanted to -- relaxing and focused not on waiting but on the actual gameplay.
At least as interesting and the changes in Puzzle Craft design are the iterations of its visual side. Let’s have a look at the evolution of some key elements of the game.
At the beginning there was a prototype with berries but no carrots, deep snow in winter, and cute rabbits instead of rats. You changed the seasons by hand, and we were still looking for a perfect tomato -- not knowing that what we needed was an apple.
The new look was great, and the final animals and plants were chosen, but it still took a few iterations to polish every element: the resources, the tiles (with or without the black contour?), the winter trees, the calendar, and the time progress bar.
We started in the dark -- with fancy-but-not-functional resources indicators, coal invisible against the black background, and no idea how to draw the iron ore (try to spot it on every of the three pictures above).
It took some time before the look matched the deep-mine-expedition theme we had in our minds. The last change was to add separate lumps of dirt, because the nice looking wall of earth we liked so much proved to be totally counterintuitive for the players.
In our first prototypes the village was static -- new buildings appeared in predefined spots and all you could do was to decide which building you want to build, and then observe how your village changed. We started with simple sketches, having hard time to fit it all into one screen (it worked like this: visit the mine, swipe, check the village, swipe, go to the farm).
The effect was awkward to use and the houses were too tiny, so we went for a pseudo-isomeric view instead, and then added some depth to the flat-looking buildings. We were quite pleased with the outcome and started to upgrade the graphics to their final quality.
Then, of course, it become clear that players want to decide where to place their buildings, so we added the placement mechanism. It took some time and a number of paper-cut prototypes to find the right way of adding some degree of freedom to a map and buildings designed as a static picture. The key was to forget about the standard grid approach, and opt for hand-placed slots. The last challenge was to fit the castle -- and the solution was not to fit it at all. Only when the castle crossed the boundaries of the screen did it become epic enough for players to feel satisfied.