Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Mon, 29 Nov 2010
Subject: Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint
Here's yet another example of me "doing it wrong", proving that 25 years' experience of making video game graphics has taught me nothing. Or, if you want to be charitable, a wonderfully illuminating example of the trial and error involved in original video game design. Yeah, I think the second one sounds better.
The iOS version of Magnetic Billiards Blueprint is playable, and we've been testing it by letting a few people play it (anyone who walks into John's house with an iPhone, whether they like it or not), and watching their reactions. The play control works really well we think, and is very 'instant' - everybody 'gets' how to play it straight away, so nothing needs explaining. Perfect. We actually developed and implemented about four different play control schemes (mainly because we thought the best idea would only work in the iPad and not on the smaller phone screens), but in the end the first one worked perfectly even on the phone, so we probably won't include the others in the finished game.
The only hiccup we observed was that there are a couple of game rules, to do with how to earn big scores, that some people didn't 'get' straight away. These relate to how our game deviates from the rules of pool or snooker, so we may need to educate some new players a little bit. We've been through the process of making, and re-making, various flavours of tutorial and in-game hint modes on the PC version, and worked a lot on visually expressing the rules of the game in such a way that the player can work it out for themselves, but we wanted the iOS Blueprint version of the game to be a bit more streamlined than the full PC version.
What we came up with was to offer the player a couple of pages of scoring hints, if - and only if - they ever got a very low scoring grade on a frame they'd replayed. The idea was it was fine to get a low grade the first time you play a frame, but if you're getting a low grade after replaying a frame, perhaps that indicates you haven't got your head around the scoring rules.
Hopefully the game actually explains itself reasonably well to an even slightly observant player, but just in case, we wanted to explain two of the key rules unique to our game: score multipliers based on bouncing the cue-ball of the cushion, and 'buzzing' balls of a different colour.
We decided to try and do it just with pictures, but after thinking about it for a while (probably thinking far too much), the best I came up with to explain the 'bounce' idea was to show an example of perfectly good shot with no bounces, then compare this to the same shot with bounces in it. Unfortunately the idea still needed a sentence of text next to each image. I mocked this up (top image) and sent it to John.
He hated it. Too complicated. Too reliant on text. He was right of course, but I was stuck then, as that was the idea lodged in my head, and I'd spent an hour or two mocking it up, and was all ready to make the finished graphic. Then my phone beeped. John had just drawn a new version in his notebook, photographed it, and texted it to me (middle image). Aha, that's perfect - so much clearer and simpler. And I'm supposed to be the comic artist!
I mocked up the new version (bottom image) using in-game graphics, and found some smiley face graphics that I'd already drawn for the prototype of our Art of Soccer game. Much better. Hopefully this will explain to those players not getting great scores that bouncing the cue-ball off the cushion earns a slightly better score than not bouncing it, and bouncing it lots of times earns a miles better score. Once they start playing with that in mind, low ranks will be a thing of the past.