Dare to be Digital 2011 team The Weather Factory talks exclusively to Develop about working on their entry title The Balloonist.

Dare Blogs – The Weather Factory

The Balloonist is a 2.5D action puzzler for iPad. Trapped in a steampunk weather factory, the player must solve puzzles to escape each room.

The core gameplay involves attaching balloons to weighted blocks and flying them around the factory. The player can change the block’s altitude by adding balloons and its direction by tilting the iPad once balloon(s) have been attached.

There are two types of block. Wood Blocks are light and manoeuvrable, they can float but will burn when exposed to lava or fire. Steel Blocks are heavy and slow, they can’t float but they don’t burn.

The puzzles centre on getting the right block to the right place while avoiding the factory’s security cannons.

As a designer the Dare experience has been exciting and depressing, highly educational and chastening.

Mistakes were made, the most serious being that the game design was really a collection of interesting and amusing ideas with little tying them together. This would have been caught under the original six-month plan, which included taking a month to design and think about the mechanics. In the situation we found ourselves in, staring down the barrel at finals and straining to finish our final project, this did not happen.

The problems were made clear to us by one of the mentors at the beginning of week two. The challenge now was to create a more refined game using the assets (code and visual) that had been produced during week one.

The result at the end of week two was a game that involved lifting parts of the level using balloons, to make pathways for the Balloonist to reach the other side of the level.

This game suffered from having to have the Balloonist character (at this stage, mostly modeled but not UV mapped or textured) next to anything we wanted to interact with. It was also a little cumbersome having to design everything around leaving gaps that the Balloonist could fit through. As well as this, the new design also fell victim to the traditional Dare mistake of over-complication.

With the five-minute judges’ demo you have a very limited window to make the judges comfortable with your mechanics. You don’t want the whole demo to be tutorial and you also don’t want to, as Billy Thomas of Ruffian Games pointed out to us, “make a game for members of Mensa!” What had I done to elicit this reaction? A puzzle required you to do a number of things, one of which was to take a platform to an ice vent which would reduce the block’s friction allowing you to slide another block along it.

It wasn’t that the concept of friction or ice was too difficult for the judges or the public to grasp. It was that the amount of time you would need to explain these, as well as the other mechanics in the game and the relationships between them, would use up almost all of the five or so minutes. On top of this, a puzzle game must make people feel smart, if players are not comfortable with all of the tools at their disposal they will feel stupid.

The feedback from Ruffian led to the Balloonist character being dropped as he would take far too much time to animate and was largely superfluous to gameplay. The game was changed to be simpler and more focused.

The cost of all this drama has been relatively low, we are about a week behind but almost all the code and a good number of art assets have been reused. A serious delay was avoided by committing to using these and so even though the design was in flux, both the artists and programmers could continue to work on what they had started. As a result we have almost all of our game objects coded, most of them modeled. Our opening two tutorial levels are in as well as our first real level. We also have awesome water!

Are we looking forward to ProtoPlay? Well we are looking forward to it a lot more than two weeks ago! We’re pretty confident of having an interesting, fun and well polished game to show. But before that we have a lot of testing, tweaking, and level design/redesign to do.

Team information and videos can be found on the Dare to be Digital team profile.

Also, we have a team Twitter account: @DareFactory

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