When you decide you want to write a game the number choices can seem overwhelming. The first thing you have to decide is what type of game you want to write. However, even that decision isn’t always easy. Game types range from simple puzzle and trivia games all the way to graphically rich first person shooters. Surprisingly the mobile platform doesn’t limit those choices. Apple’s iPhone and iPad are powerful devices with dedicated graphics chips capable of running even the most graphically intensive game play. One look at the Apple App Store shows the overwhelming number of options available to you as game designer.
One way we limited our initial game design choices was by looking at how much time and money we wanted to put into the development and what kind of experience we had writing games. For us this led to an easy design. For our first game we weren’t going to do anything involving 3D rendering. While the iPad, our platform of choice, was more than capable of running 3D rendered graphics, I knew our team didn’t have a lot of experience with 3D. Not on the programming side and especially not on the graphics side. Instinct told me that it would take us too long, cost us too much, and the risk of failure was too great if we were to go down this path.
Challenges in game creation however are not always on the technical side of the equation. Another genre of game we quickly ruled out was trivia. At first glance a trivia game seemed ideal. We would not need to explore OpenGL and a trivia game could have been written easily as a standard UIKit application, something I know we’re good at. But a trivia game needs content and in order to produce a game people will pay to play you need both quality and quantity when it comes to content. The reality is that content creation like that can end up costing a lot of time and money and it wasn’t where we wanted to put the bulk of our efforts.
Targeting the iPad
Our goals in wanting to do an iPad game were to stretch ourselves in terms of the type of programming we were doing for the iOS platform, and to explore the potential of the very successful App Store. We had chosen the iPad over the iPhone because as a new device we thought there was a real opportunity for us to provide content for iPad users that took advantage of this new device so it was important that our design make good use of the iPad’s large screen.
Narrowing the Choices
Two areas that were interesting to me were physics based games and puzzle games. Because of the large screen we also started to think in terms of 2 player games. In the end we did not go the puzzle route because puzzle games, like trivia games, require a lot of time and effort spent on content creation. (Successful puzzle games have many levels that progressively get harder as you go and it requires a lot of care to design those puzzles and organize them.)
Once the field of choice had been sufficiently narrowed I pulled my colleague Mike Wasserman aside and the two of us had a brainstorming session. Before we began throwing around ideas we discussed games we liked and a strategy of what we were trying to accomplish. The game we were most inspired by was Angry Birds, arguably the most success mobile game to-date. One of the important goals we had for our game was that it support a variety of themes and graphics. During our brainstorming Mike suggested a game in which monkeys fling poo at each other. We both really liked the humour of “Monkey Poo Fight” so we ran with it. We worked out a game play mechanic that took full advantage of the multi-touch iPad screen and and when we were finished felt we had come up with a fun 2-player experience.
In some ways our final product, Bake Sale Blow-Up HD™ isn’t that different from our initial concept. The game controls are primarily the same and the 2-player game play experience has remained true to our initial concept. But in the 4 months of effort that went into taking concept to game a whole lot of other decisions had to be made. And along the way monkey poo turned into cup cakes.