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The Evolution of Puzzle Craft
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The Evolution of Puzzle Craft

October 25, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Thinking About Money

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:

  • In the prototype every building increased your "population score", and to unlock more powerful buildings you had to reach a high enough population. This has nothing to do with the workers you employed, and so was confusing for some players.

    We changed that mechanism into a wide recognized experience points/level system. That added more depth to the game, as you are awarded EXP not only for the new buildings, but also for using tools, gathering resources, and making long chains. Suddenly, your skill started to matter.

  • We added a time barrier to the visits on the farm. You had a number of "bags of seeds" that you used to enter the farm, and after you used them the only option was to wait, or pay for more bags.
  • We increased the number of resources needed for buildings and tools, and decided that the prices of hiring workers go up with every worker of a given type. The changes were business-driven at first, but then we noticed that our fun from the game significantly increased. There was a challenge at last, and we could spend much more time with the game.
  • Time bonuses were added: tools and resources from buildings, and money from the taxes.
  • We came up with some ways to bend the game rules that you could buy for in-game coins, such as: additional moves in the mine, saving the farm, buying buildings for coins, etc.

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.

Click for larger version, with all three steps in the evolution

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.

Shaping the Look

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.

The Farm

Click for larger version

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.

Click for larger version, with all three steps in the evolution

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.

The Mine

Click for larger version, with all three steps in the evolution

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).

Click for larger version, with all three steps in the evolution

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.

The Village

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).

Click for larger version

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.

Click for larger version, with all three steps in the evolution

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.

Click for larger version, with all three steps in the evolution

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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