Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Sat, 24 Dec 2011
We got an email out of the blue from our old boss at Binary Design earlier this year. Binary Design was the studio that John and I worked for in the late 1980s, where we designed and developed a few hit games for Mastertronic, like Zub and Feud and Amaurote. (OK, Amaurote wasn't a hit, but we still like it.)
He wanted to know if we'd be interested in working on the design for proposed updates of some of these old games for mobile. We were really excited by the prospect, especially as he said he owned the IP. Our heads started spinning with ideas, and straight away we decided that we didn't want to do straight remakes or updates, but instead make use of all that we've learned over the last 25 years to make brand new games, perfectly suited to mobile and touchscreen platforms, but using the same starting point or inspiration that we had when we designed Zub and Feud and building something new and better.
Buzzing, we got back and explained how we'd want to go about it, but nothing came of it. Perhaps he just wanted to make straight ports or remakes of those games after all?
Anyway, this kick started our thought processes, and we started to think about the core jumping game mechanic of Zub, and how it could be redesigned for touch screen. We both hated the way Doodle Jump played, not just the play control, but the lack of freedom and choice - the way you die if you fall off the screen (a rubbish feature, but one which all the Doodle Jump clones slavishly copy), and wondered if we could do something a bit more interesting with jumping.
We also got to thinking about planets, and came up with the bones of a game concept about escaping from a planet - from the inside (I think Bugaboo The Flea also popped into our heads) - and a whole series of interlinked ideas about repopulating dead planets, and an almost persistent world in your pocket.
Finally, we took one of Loop Aznavour's songs, I Sent My Monkey To The Moon, and decided that it *had* to be the title, and therefore the character *had* to be a monkey. (Loop Aznavour is the DJ at John's local pub, and makes some brilliant music, some available elsewhere on this website).
What to do with all these ideas though? We were still working on the v2.0 update to Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint, and a couple of other Magnetic Billiards related concepts. But John really fancied experimenting with the play control ideas while they were still fresh.
What we came up with was the idea of putting together a rough play control prototype, and inserting it into Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint when we put out the next update early in January 2012. The graphics are strictly 'placeholder' - we haven't really put any thoughts into the final look of the game, and the prototype is really just to test the play control, rather than the whole set of game mechanic ideas we have for the game, but it's going to be in the next version, as a special treat for Skeleton Key holders.
We thought it would be interesting not only to get a bit of feedback and reaction from real players at an early stage, but also to give a feel for how we develop original games, and how massively they change from the original play control and mechanic tests we do, to the final release.
With an idea like this what we try to do is prototype the play control and just play it, then add little game mechanics and tweak them, and see how they feel. New game ideas come from our reactions to playing the prototype, and we build up, step by step, layering mechanics and features one by one, and tweaking them. Only at a later stage do we start thinking about the look of the graphics and the scope of the whole game, building upon what we know feels right and is fun to play.
I think our method is still fairly unusual in game development, even though it sounds obvious. Most people seem to start with a finished game in mind, and try to completely design the whole thing before starting development, before they know for sure if the mechanics work or the feel is good.
Skeleton Key owners will get to play the prototype in a few weeks when we launch version 2.0 of Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint. We're also putting up the price of the Skeleton Key with this version, as we're adding so much more content, so if you haven't bought it already you'll save yourself a couple of dollars by buying it now before the update.
» Get Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint for free now, ready for the ISMMTTM prototype