Room King | Post-mortem: 3 prototypes, one room

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December 21st, 2016 11:52 am

Room King is a party game about two pieces of furniture fighting for the best place in the room: the crown carpet. It wasn’t supposed to be fun, but it is.

Team

My girlfriend @cmlperes did the art and everything else was made by me (@AD1337). This year I quit my job as a History teacher to be an indie developer. Wait, I’m not crazy! That was only after releasing Painters Guild on Steam, which allowed me to quit. Now I’m working on a new game: Roguemance, a roguelite with romance.

“One Room” as a mechanic

I knew that many people would take the theme as only a setting: you are in one room, now do whatever. I wanted to use the theme as a mechanic, so my idea was: “there’s 2 players and room for only 1”. That sets the conflict. I also wanted to make a local multiplayer game because then I could play it with friends at our gamedev meetup. Here are the initial concepts in my sketchbook:

concept

Art style

@cmlperes really wanted to make pixel art, so she did. We had a few themes in mind: 2 rabbits and 1 hat, a pool table, furniture… In the end, we decided that seeing two pieces of furniture racing through a room would be funnier. Being funny was a big goal of the game. Also, she started doing art that could work either in a top-down game or a platformer, because we didn’t know which one it would be yet.

sketches

Prototype 1: Surprise, it’s fun!

We had a prototype in minutes. I think this was vital to making a fun game, as we were able to validate the mechanic early. This simple prototype was about getting to a place before the other player. And it was fun. We laughed while testing, despite the simplicity. There was light-hearted competition, the thrill of winning and the thirst to play again; it had it all, even if it shouldn’t.

Prototype 2: Frustrating Competition

But I did waste time. I wasn’t happy with how random that mechanic was, so I had another idea that had better game design in theory. Players would race to the top, but they’d have to carve their path by breaking platforms in order to progress. This would make sure that the player below could always catch up by following the already carved path and also by breaking the platform the other was standing on, thus making them fall. It was genius. In theory.

In practice, this prototype wasn’t as fun as the other. It was serious, frustrating. It didn’t have the light-hearted competition that I wanted for this party game. Only on Sunday I decided to let this prototype go. Turns out that being genius in theory isn’t good enough, you have to be genius in practice.

Prototype 3: Strategic Silence

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. But there was a mechanic I really wanted to test. Do you know the film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”? One thing that was cool was how they needed each other because they had different pieces of information: the good had the grave, the ugly had the cemetery.

UcqYmwF

I wanted to try giving one player one piece of information, first initial in the grave, and another the second. Then they’d take turns “digging” the graves and one would win by getting the treasure first. The depth is in looking at which grave your opponent chose, and choosing whether or not to “lie” by picking a grave that you know is empty just to give your opponent false information.

proto

(this one is not a gif)

This was a very interesting mechanic, but completely different from my expectations. I wanted a game that players would talk and laugh while playing. Instead, when we playtested this, we were in absolute silence and distance. We were trying to lie to each other, trying to figure out if the other was lying, and completely inside our own heads, trying to give as little information as possible. This strategic interaction wasn’t the feeling we were going for. We wanted people to laugh. So this prototype was thrown away.

Polishing Prototype 1

I spent too much time on Saturday trying to guess a camera zoom system so that players could go in different directions and still be seen. In frustration, I resorted to math, and math swiftly saved me. Later we added various juicy things like particles, screenshakes and facial expressions. For sounds, we recorded our voices with my phone and then I edited parts of it to put in the game.

After discarding the other prototypes, I made the power-ups that give flavor to the game. These are:

  • FAST: Increases your speed.
  • SLOWED: Reduces friend’s speed.
  • CONFUSED: Reverses friend’s controls.
  • SWAP: Swaps both players.

They created awesome situations: FAST can make a player too fast to control if you pick a bunch of them. Watching two SLOWED players pathetically trying to get anywhere is also funny. CONFUSED players would really get confused for a while, but it ended up being easy to get used to it. SWAP was my favorite one, as it allowed players to completely turn a match.

Playtesting and Feedback

We had a lot of great feedback when testing this game. The most important thing was that players had as much fun as we had while playtesting ourselves. They’d laugh and compete while not being very frustrated.

playtest1

People laughing while playing – we did it!

Some of the ideas we got that were really good:

  • Walls or immovable objects that block your path.
  • Visual feedback for current power-up buffs and debuffs on players.
  • Springs that bounce characters towards various directions.
  • More game modes, such as players trying to catch each other.
  • Controller support.

Lessons learned

This LD showed me that my expectations rarely match reality. Making games isn’t about what is supposed to work, it’s about what works.

  1. Your prototype usually provides a different experience than the one you intended.
  2. You can only find out what your game really is about through playing it.
  3. A prototype can be better in theory but worse in practice. The goal isn’t game design, it’s gameplay. Playtest as soon as possible!
  4. Focus on just one prototype. Having various mechanics makes your game thin. Exploring a single mechanic gives depth.
  5. Furniture rushing around is funny.

You can play Room King here! Thanks! :)


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