The Evolution of MouseCraft
In today’s guest-post the guys from Crunching Koalas talk about how MouseCraft, their cute puzzler mixing Lemmings with Tetris and a dash of Incredible Machine, came to being. Prepare for a short trip into the mind of an indie game dev. Enjoy!—GDoc
People often ask us what was the inspiration for creating MouseCraft and how did we come up with the idea of mixing two classic games into one title. Was it the love for retro puzzle games we played as children? Some experience from real life? Or maybe the idea just struck us out of the blue? Well, as much as we like those classic games, it was a bit more complicated and took much more thought to come up with the concept for the game. To properly explain it we would probably have to start from telling you what was the idea for creating our studio - Crunching Koalas.
When founding our studio we decided to specialize in creating games in a specific graphic style that will be always recognized by our fans, in making games placed in a single universum shared across all our future titles, and a specific genre called crossover games. Never heard of them? No wonder - we came up with the term ourselves.
This is how we like to call games that can be placed somewhere between casual and core games, mixed with a pinch of craziness typical for indie games. In other words – crossover games are titles that appeal to indie games enthusiasts, casual players and core gamers.
Some might ask – “Ok, but how is that even possible?”
While we are still trying to find the right balance, we established few ground rules for making a crossover game. Here are some examples:
- · Think of simple game mechanics, explainable in one sentence that are easy to play, but hard to master. Mechanics that can also bring back memories of titles we loved to play as kids.
- · Make the difficulty depend on player’s ability to make good decisions, not his agility or manual skills.
- · Create immersive experience, environment and graphics - attractive for core gamers, but clear and acceptable to casual players.
- · Reward players for good performance and do not punish them for making something wrong.
- · Facilitate inexperienced players, but do not force it to skilled players and let them play the game in their own pace and style.
Of course, for some that it is just a definition of good game design, but we prefer to call it our recipe for crossover games, which was the true inspiration behind the concept of MouseCraft.
Choosing the right game mechanic was, of course, the most difficult task – we could brainstorm for days or even weeks, but then we thought maybe there is no point in reinventing the wheel? While there are many good game concepts, created back in the days, we decided to mix the two probably most recognizable classic puzzle games, and make a game about guiding a group of characters from point A to point B, with the use of Tetromino blocks.
By making this single decision we have ensured not only that the rules of the game were clear and recognizable, yet easily extended by adding new kinds of bricks and obstacles, but we also focused the game around thinking and planning rather than mashing buttons.
Now it was the time to make the game meaningful and compelling. The easiest way of achieving this was to define a conflict that could drive us to play the game and that is, obviously, how we came up with the idea of making a game about a cat experimenting on mice. It evolved during the development and our ultimate game goal is to actually help Schrödinger (the cat himself), not beat him.
The next thing in our “crossover game recipe” was to create an immersive experience which, believe me, was an extremely difficult task when making a puzzle game. It took us nearly half of the development time to figure out how the environment and graphics should look like.
Things that drastically increased the feeling of immersion include:
- · Replacing brick buttons with actual brick models and hanging them on a rail, placed inside the cat’s laboratory.
- · Setting the player’s perspective as he was inside the machine and was a part of the experiment.
- · Implementing a smooth transition between the levels – there are no pauses or fade outs after finishing the level. The camera just moves to right, to the next part of the experiment.
- · Making the level selection menu look like a blueprint of Schrödinger’s machine.
Finally, the last ingredient - we facilitated players by implementing an infinite Undo option, an extensive tutorial system and an Active Pause, which can be used to freeze time and calmly plan next moves. But all this is optional – tutorials can be disabled, the Active Pause is just an option, and more experienced players can even increase the speed of the game if they feel that is something they want to do.
That is a short story on how “the MouseCraft course” was made. Hopefully you will all find it tasty!