After completing our first project, Farmageddon!, in Corona, we realized that the program just wasn’t right for the types of games we wanted to make in the future. After some soul searching we decided that Unity would be the best way to go, but no one in our group had ever used Unity before, and the thought of beginning our first major project in an unfamiliar program didn’t sit right. Rather than diving in unprepared, we decided that we would get our feet wet with another practice project first. And thus, Puzzle Planets was born!
Well, maybe it’s not quite as simple as all that. The original idea was to complete a handful of internal “game jam” sessions in which we would create a variety of small games in Unity with each session spread across two weekends. The first of these sessions produced a grandiose ocean fishing simulator that looked a bit like this:
Wow! Ummm, it appears something went wrong when I upgraded to version 5 of Unity. A grandiose ocean fishing simulator that looked a bit like this:
OK, so it’s just a digital replica of everyone’s favorite magnetic fishing toy. This was a good introduction to working in Unity but had little to do with our next project, a 2D puzzle RPG. Let’s try again in the next game jam…
My focus for our next session was on simple ideas that could be completed in just a few days that still fit the 2D grid puzzle template. A relatively humble drawing of a grid with a few numbers scribbled in the square cells was thrown down in a spiral notebook along with a handful of other ideas that were ultimately scrapped. The lone survivor was a free-form maze concept in which the player would navigate from a start point to an end point, while being blocked by sequential floor tiles instead of walls.
Here’s the final sketch (A) next to the plans for our beautiful and stunning fishing simulator (B):
The idea was simple to learn, easy to scale in difficulty and complexity, and most importantly: a single set of rules would apply to all levels. There are no new gameplay elements introduced at any point, the difficulty of the game scales directly with the complexity of the grid map. This last point is what won over the programmers and artists; the code and art assets could be created relatively quickly, yet the length and difficulty of the game could be scaled almost indefinitely through new map designs. When trying to make a decent quality game while working part-time across 4 days, being able to reuse code and art assets is an absolute must, or so I’m told.
Of course, what started as (approximately) a 20 hour project ended up evolving into a game we would release to the public! Our lead artist pitched the concept of spicing up the game by projecting the maps into 3D and providing the player with a simple avatar to track progress in the level, instead of simply a drawn line. The avatar ended up being a derpy little astronaut bouncing around in space. We like to call our little buddy Sammy, and Sammy’s motivation is to touch planets!
The initial version of the game included some crude animations, stock particles, and about 30 levels of simple maps. This was not enough. We realized that our practice session had produced the precursor to something that we’d like to publish and share with the world. We implemented new textures, new lighting effects, particles, animations, stars, comets, buttons, 125 new levels, multiple camera options and a progress-tracking level select screen! Basically, our little game had evolved from a doodle, into a practice project, and finally into a full fledged puzzle game.
Moving forward we will delve deep into our magnum opus, Gemlight Alchemy, but it’s important to remember that even the smallest ideas can grow into something great. What started as a simple opportunity to learn a new development environment ended up providing us with an easy-to-learn, fun-to-play maze puzzler that we’re proud to put our name on: Puzzle Planets by Nerdpile Games.
Jhett Jones, Game Design Lead