How We Ended Up Making a Puzzle-Platformer

To explain how we ended up making a puzzle-platformer, I must start from the beginning. The universe was in a hot, dense state. No, wait… Jokes aside, when we first came together as a team, we were only five people consisting of a coder, a sound engineer, two game designers, and an art designer. Our initial goal when forming Proud Dinosaurs was to make an isometric RPG game. It would be in a custom universe that was created by Özgür, one of our game designers, for a tabletop RPG world that we still play regularly.

Later on, we wrote the general story, how everything begins for the player, how tutorials would work and scenes would play. Since Özgür has been moderating games in this universe for over ten years, we already had classes, skills, NPCs, cities etc. While we were speculating about other features we would add, we were also looking for more members for our team, since making an RPG game required a more complex team.

Our numbers grew while we worked on conceptualization, however, some of us (including me) insisted that we should start with something smaller and maybe easier to make. Of course, later in the production, we realized that Macrotis was not actually small nor was it easy, but we lacked the foresight and experience for this intuition at the time. Eventually, our persistence paid off and the team conceded that making a small game to see how we work as a team was a good idea. So, we started to generate some ideas that would not be in the isometric RPG genre.

The most prominent idea came from Özgür, who first suggested the concept even before we decided to make a small game. The idea was simple, the player controls a character that runs from water. But, instead of going for the high ground, as common sense suggests in the case of a flood, our player must go deep underground.

With that idea in mind, we started to make progress. At first, we planned to do a 2D sandbox game, where you dig for a procedurally generated deep underground environment. The first absurd idea was that, at the end of the game the character will awaken a Bullrogue (not a Balrog, mind you, but a shady looking, black hooded demon that looks like a bull with a flame whip in its hand). Later, we expanded the idea and decided to add more demon enemies that would drop their weapons and gear for the player to use. And for a brief but glorious moment, our game became an action/survival game.

We decided that our main character would be a crazy and delusional person that would craft equally crazy weapons from collected and looted materials. We would make the character suffer gruesome deaths throughout the game adding in to the craziness. Our inspiration was a cartoon named “Happy Three Friends”, where seemingly cute, cartoony characters repeatedly died horrible deaths. What our idea at that time was a game similar to the game “Terraria” but with more gore, however, the idea took a different turn after some consideration.

The changes started early on during the pre-production stage. We realized that implementing both crafting and inventory systems would increase our production speed tremendously since all those items and materials would have their own costs of production. So, we decided to focus more on our main features. However, after discarding inventory and crafting systems, the game started to look empty. We only had enemies to fight and water to escape. To us, this did not feel like a full-fledged game that we ourselves would want to play. Thus, we were up against another design choice, we could add the inventory system again, or add more features to the combat system with more enemy types and different skill-sets to use. We chose neither and decided to focus more on the story instead. Since we discarded inventory, item sets, crafting, and combat, using a deranged, crazy character became illogical as the character did not fit into this new environment. Since, our new goal was to focus more on the story and to make our players more engaged with the character, we wanted a more relatable and down to earth protagonist.

After almost two weeks of research about rodents and various underground dwelling creatures, we found the main character of our game: “Bilby” (you can read why we picked bilby in the previous entry of our Developer’s Blog). Within that two-week period, we have also re-written our main story and plot countless times until finally the ultimate version was embraced by the whole team. However, we still lacked features to complement the story. The only definitive idea was that our character had to run from water towards underground.  With a little bit of brainstorming, we created our first draft with shiny new features. Equipped with solid features and a complete story, our game started to look like a puzzle-platformer instead of a 2D action game. Even then, some of the new features gave us hell at the development stage, so we had to change some of them either because of technical issues or game-feel reasons. However, we always had one ideal in mind: The game had to feel whole. No matter what we removed from our game, we always struggled so that the game would feel as intended for our players and make them live through the intended experience.

As you can see, the story, features, and the game as a whole evolved in a completely different direction from our initial ideas. While some of these changes were done consciously, some of them occurred naturally without us even realizing how we drifted off from our starting point. Now, all our team members are happy with these changes even though half of them do not actively seek and play puzzle-platformers. It is still a mystery to us that how our whole team, which includes various tastes when it comes to video gaming, came to a point where all of us are proud of the game we are creating even though it’s a puzzle-platformer.

Looking Back

Hello everyone,

About a month and a half ago, I was planning on writing a “we the design team are done with the first chapter yay” themed entry and talk about what happened to us throughout the design process and how we improved ourselves. And yet last night I once again said “this time we made the final changes”, and just now I remembered that the last puzzle of the chapter still needs a little bit of work. At this rate, if I kept delaying this post I was going to have to write it on the day we release the game…

Hoping that I was able to convey the theme of the first paragraph, I’m moving on to the actual entry that I wanted to write.

Although the development of Macrotis started on January 2017, its roots go back to October of 2016. According to the decisions we made as a team then, and with the excitement of first starting a job, within three weeks we as the design team designed all the puzzles for our first two chapters on paper, and even started to implement them in Unity. But things did not go as planned. During the development process we realized that some of the mechanics we wanted in our game would not be possible to implement within the development schedule we’d given ourselves and sadly we had to shelve many of the puzzles we’d prepared for those two chapters. Months of effort we spent on those puzzles was wasted… would be a very wrong statement.

As you know, Macrotis is the first video game project for many of the people on our team. Especially as the design team, although we had designed games for years this was a very new field for us. When I look back now, I am glad that we had to give up on our first decisions. The new sections we’re designing are a lot more complex and compact compared to the giant empty sections of old. We have a much more intense and fun second chapter now. Even though it looks like half the size of the old version, when I go in and play it (and I’m happy that our dear tester friends agree with me) it feels as if it is much bigger.

As the project went forward we also went forward and grew with it. When I look back on us I see the excited youth of a year ago being replaced by a determined and driven youth. (Yes, we’re still young.) This strengthens my faith in our team and our project even more.

I hope when you play our game you’ll share the same thoughts as me.

We’re entering our second entry after a rather long wait, I apologize to all of you on behalf of our team, and hoping that our next entry won’t be “yay our game is out” I wish for 2018 to bring everyone health, happiness, and success.

How We Picked a Bilby as Our Main Character

Hey all!

Welcome to the Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey development blog. Today I will tell you the story of how we decided to use a bilby as our main character.

The story goes back to before we became an official studio. One day Özgür got an idea for a game where the main character is chased by a flood caused by the rain. The character would have to go underground because there is nowhere to run to on the ground level. The first brainstorm sessions led us to consider a few options about the game. We wanted either a survival game, an adventure game or a combat oriented game. Finally we decided to go with an adventure platformer.

At that time, we had no idea how to proceed with the story. So, we started to search for animals that could be used as our main characters. After an intense week of brainstorming we established the major features we wanted, what our main character would encounter and how she would handle them. We also decided to make our main character a mother of three, an adorable but strong female rodent. Later, Özgür and I researched creatures that live underground, can gnaw and handle a rough environment. Our first decision was to not use a rabbit or a rat as they are already used in a lot of products as mascots or main characters. We wanted something a little more original, an animal that was not known or commercialized much. A little more research revealed some interesting animals such as the shrew, the jerboa, and the bilby. We ruled out the jerboa because it can jump to extreme heights and we thought if we stuck to reality the gameplay would be a train wreck and if we limited its jump height that would be unfair to the animal itself. Our second option, the shrew, was eliminated since it is an extremely hyperactive animal with strong fighting abilities and we didn’t want to introduce combat mechanics for our game. With two of the three options dismissed we were left with the bilby.

Another week of analysis showed us that indeed the bilby was the best option for us. Bilbies have sacks, where the character could store items to be used in the game. They do not need to drink water, which makes having to deal with a flood more poetic. The father leaves early on and the mother raises the children, which is good for us as we didn’t want another character. It’s also an endangered species, so hopefully we may even raise some awareness about it. All in all the bilby really fits in perfectly with our story elements and environmental challenges.

And that is how we got a bilby as our main character.