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.