Our next game Panda and Penguin’s Puzzle Adventure is set for a July 2018 release. Today I want to talk about a few big lessons I learned from the project that I will try to keep in mind going forward with future game development. Lessons like these help a ton as we are gaining more and more experience with each new game.
#1. Don’t do “Reward Art”
At the end of each world, you get a nice travel photo of Panda and Penguin as a congratulations for completing the area. For example, here is the first world’s win screen:
If you watched any of the Live Streams I did during production of this game, you’ll see where I conceptualized, inked, and colored this image. You’ll also know it took a while. In fact, these photos were possibly the largest art-aspect of the game outside of the general design stuff I had to do initially.
It turns out players really don’t care.
The game, after some play-testing, is apparently so compelling that most players don’t spend any time on this screen at all. They are instead anxious to get to the fun of the next level. That’s a great feeling, except it means I put in a HUGE amount of effort for what is mostly ignored by 90% of players. (Kudos to you if you are in the 10% who sits and stares lovingly at each illustration, like me!)
This was a great idea in theory, but it turned out to be far more trouble than it was worth. Had I not done these illustrations the game would probably already be finished and released. Oops. Lesson learned. In the future I’ll try to reward a big victory with more game to play rather than just pretty art!
#2. If Players are Having Fun, Let Them
When I designed the puzzles in Panda and Penguin’s Puzzle Adventure, I tried to make them each interesting with unique and creative solutions. I also tried to make them ramp up in difficulty, so it began easy and increased in challenge as you played. Then I gave the game to play testers and they did the most random, illogical things that I never could have guessed.
But they had fun.
Initially I was mad, because my poor puzzles that I spent so long designing were being completed in weird ways that didn’t seem like any fun to me. (Example, my mother will sit for 10 minutes straight making hundreds of little marks to try to force a character to move an inch at a time. Never my intention!) Yet that is how those players saw fit to solve the puzzles, and to be honest sometimes they seemed more excited when they eventually beat the level than people who solved them the “right” way!
Are games supposed to be fun, or not? As a designer, I have to try my best to create an environment that is designed for maximum fun. But if a player wants to solve things in a different way… and they are having fun… well, I think I need to be okay with that. (This is something many in the game industry are split on. You can see more about why some designers refuse to make compromises to their original vision in videos like this. And I can’t fault them for wanting to do that. Me, I think I just want players to have fun, whatever way they choose.)
# 3. People like hats
For whatever reason almost everyone who played the early beta wanted the option to give the characters hats. What is with people and your obsession with cute animals wearing hats?! Well apparently it is a thing, so yes, future games will have hats I guess! 😛 (Where appropriate, anyway.)
There were no doubt many more small lessons learned during development of this new game, but those are a few I wanted to share. Hope it was enlightening! Now I must get back to work, because today first effort begins on Game #3 AND we still have to finish up Panda and Penguin’s Puzzle Adventure!
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