It’s 6am and I just spent the last 14 hours mocking up my 20 levels so that the developers can have a foundation on which to build the game. I did the entire set of levels in Powerpoint, it was surprisingly easy I guess I got one decent skill out of Investment Banking (still wasn’t worth it). For anyone who has never cared to or ever tried to lay out a game, even a simple one like mine, let me tell you it is pretty impossible to have any sort of intuition around what will play well.
Of course you have to consider user habits, the quality of the enemy AI and so on, and even knowing that and expecting future revisions it is still frustrating how much of a shot in the dark it all is
The question I grappled with most was how will the accelerometer steering affect game play…impossible to really know until we start fiddling with different filters to find the right blend of speed and control. I definitely want to avoid making a Labyrinth style experience, where the low friction coefficient makes steering so difficult. Another thing I didn’t really appreciate beforehand was how little real estate an iPhone screen actually has - you do have to be efficient in your design when it comes to games.
So although I have no proof that this first run of layouts will last or even be playable, I am going to briefly go into how I laid them out because I think it was fairly efficient. First, I traced the iPhone and screen size in 20 boxes to one of those huge Post-it Easel pads (for those of you like me who don’t work in an office with miles of whiteboards this is a great solution).
Then I started laying out sketches in pencil of the game level walls, enemy starting points, bonus items, etc. Doing them all on 1 page makes it easy to avoid repetition and to get a united visual view of how the player experience progresses. I didn’t focus too much on having a perfect arc in difficulty level because I figure I can always change that either A) in the PowerPoint mock-up version or B) when it comes to seeing how the levels play out.
Once I was happy with the levels I just used powerpoint and took a screenshot of the iPhone simulator and used that plus some copied building block graphics off of the web to compose my tanks, walls, background, etc. While none of these graphics will make it in to the game it helps to have a visualized version so that the functionality can be developed in parallel with the graphics. One thing that became very obvious once the levels were laid out though was that the AI behind the enemy movement is going to need to be good otherwise the game can easily become unplayably hard or easy. I am trusting Taras and his team to help offer some insight as to how best create a good user experience.