Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Sat, 03 Jul 2010
Subject: Magnetic Billiards: Seriously Casual
I've been doing tons of drawing for the new game (Magnetic Billiards) over the last couple of weeks.
Most of the essential game graphics are complete now - some revisions are in the pipeline, but nothing's missing - so I'm able to work on fun stuff that should give the game a bit more character and flesh out the back-story a little. This is an unusual situation for me to be in, as I rarely get to do this kind of work.
The way we make games is that we start with the essentials - the game mechanics, rules, the minimum number of UI elements etc. - and build up from there. We usually start with flat squares or cubes, untextured polygons moving around empty screens, and design the game that way, adding assets as we need them. By the end, almost every graphical asset is justified by the game design, and almost nothing is cosmetic. The results is tight, efficient games which suit the small development team we have (two people!).
This is in contrast to the 'other' method of game development, that begins with a storyline, scenario, character designs and concept art, and tries to squeeze all of this into a (usually pre-existing) game template. I think most mainstream big-budget console games are made this way. They look great, and often have well thought out back-stories and worlds, but tend to be very familiar in terms of gameplay - a standard FPS or standard RPG, with perhaps a tweak or two to the traditional game rules and a new story.
I think our method produces more interesting games, but they're not instantly familiar and less pretty, so harder to market. That's probably why we're better off publishing them ourselves rather than trying to pitch them to mainstream publishers, who prefer re-hashes of familiar games with new stories and characters attached.
Anyway, what's unusual with Magnetic Billiards is that because the project was put on hold for a year while we worked on Art of Soccer, we've had much more time to think through the back-story and scenario of the game, and because I'm a bit ahead of John, I've got time to work on some graphical assets that are purely cosmetic, fleshing out the game's scenario and world. It's fun to do, and it feels like we're really finishing the game off properly.
This drawing is part of the 'cosmetic stuff', and is based on an idea we came up with in the pub.
We've implemented an optional 'cloud-based' leaderboard / game data system (you can log into the game from any machine in any location, and you instantly get your saved game and high scores from our server), which we're dead pleased with, but it needs a user account. As the game isn't web-based it wasn't practical for us to use Google ID or Facebook ID or any exisiting open ID system, so we've still got the hump of requiring users to create an account with us to use this service. Everyone hates making new accounts (us included!), so we tried to at least make it as painless as possible. We've made it completely optional, and it's a feature that won't be shoved in your face at the start of the game. It's more like an extra service we're providing that you can choose to sign up for later if you want to compare your scores with other people, view them on the website, or play on multiple machines, but which you can safely ignore if you're not interested in any of that stuff.
So, if anyone does go to the bother of creating an account, we wanted to give them a little reward; a lovely certificate! Who doesn't like getting a certificate? The game is set in the late 19th century, and John found some images of 19th century share certificates, for railroad and mining companies, which we thought were beautiful. I tried to draw a similar certificate, as if by making an account you were becoming a share-holder in the original venture, and this is the result. It's deliberatley hand-drawn and a little bit wonky looking. The actual username / certificate number / hours played etc. will be automatically drawn over the top by the game (in deliberately non-matching fonts!), and I think we're going to do a slightly different version for any beta testers who sign up to test the game when we release the beta in a few weeks.
Heh, maybe we could issue real, physical, paper versions of this certificate, signed by John and I, if anyone requests them?
(Oh, those aren't our actual signatures by the way, in case anyone is planning to forge a cheque with this bitmap!)