Why a puzzle game?

Here’s a confession I have to make: I haven’t released any completed games to the public. When I mean “complete” I mean “fully loaded,” with finished options and menus and enough features to be considered a complete experience. Yes, I’ve gotten enough experience with XNA and DirectX (9) to make a decent 3D renderer, but I haven’t delved too much into creating full games. Understanding how to translate game design into programming is different from programming in more technical areas, like graphics or physics. Guess I got really enthralled by graphics programming last year and was hooked ever since. It’s all right though, since I consider that going into one of the deeper ends of XNA programming, and I can always tack on what I’ve learned from it with any games I make.

Most of my games up to this point have been very quick demos, or just proofs of concept. No menus on anything (well, except for a small text RPG battle system I made years ago), and nothing that I would consider good enough to show off. People are usually told to make Pong for their first game with graphics in them. Well, I couldn’t even finish making the AI for Pong. Most of that I stuck doing is doing some puzzle games here and there but back then I haven’t had enough experience to keep pulling through. Actually, I did release one homebrew puzzle game for the PSP, and it was featured on the site’s articles as well, but I never got around to finish it. It was a pretty cool experience for developing homebrew on the platform, though.

So what is it about puzzle games that keeps bringing me back to make one? Well, for one thing, a lot of stuff can be abstracted away from them and still have the potential to be fun. A lot of the focus seems to be on the rules more than on the presentation. The rules of a puzzle game are very tightly defined, and the right set of rules would produce a winning formula that can make a game fun for many years, even if the graphics are out of date.

Speaking of graphics, there isn’t much pressure to make them look top-notch in puzzle games. Great graphics are a plus if you want to get soaked in an atmosphere and setting, like Luxor or Puzzle Quest. But they are not necessary. Setting and story are completely optional for these games. You don’t need a good artist or a writer to create a compelling puzzle game. It’s much easier to do and I don’t run the risk of my expectations overshooting my abilities. Many aspiring game developers want to make the next great RPG or action shooter, but I quickly realized that’s biting more than what I can chew, especially when it comes to balancing the difficulty.

In that vein I chose the match-3 formula of Puzzle Bubble/Bust-A-Move as this was a game I really enjoyed many years ago, and a lot of people still enjoy playing, even if that game is one of its many, many knock-offs. So even though it’s a very overdone kind of game already, I’m just hoping people will still pick up my game and enjoy it. Of course, I want to add my own touch here and there. I already have a gimmick set up for it- climbing up towers, and my game will hence be conveniently named Bubble Tower.

Game modes

How will Bubble Tower be played? Well, in its single player mode, you can expect pretty much the same kind of gameplay as Puzzle Bobble, just with a slightly different feel for progression. In Puzzle Bubble (don’t know about the sequels, though), you play through 99 stages and then get to the only boss in the game. As any good game should, the stages consistently increase in difficulty.

However, I want to add a “hook” with the tower climbing idea. In just about every bubble-popping game I saw, you want to keep the bubbles from dropping too low. In Bubble tower, the game will pull a reverse Soviet Russia and instead of having bubbles crush you, you go straight up to the bubbles. Basically, you will be riding a large elevator/ lift inside the tower that has your bubble cannon on it, and the lift gradually goes up as you fire more bubbles. If you can clear the bubbles in time, the ceiling retracts and your elevator quickly ascends to the next stage. You finish climbing the tower by completing all the stages in it. That will reveal more towers that you can enter and complete.

Other modes may include the ever-predictable Endless mode, which is just what it says. Keep removing bubbles as long as you can, in a infinitely long tower. I think it would be cool to start on the ground, gradually make your way into the sky and even into space. Some other thoughts are, increase the speed as you get farther into it. Then there’s the additional Puzzle mode which are just stand-alone stages for a greater variety of puzzles.

Aside from single player modes, I plan to make Bubble Tower a multiplayer experience on both PC and Xbox 360. I could only find one other game like it on Xbox Live Indie Games, and I thought to myself, I can do better. It doesn’t even have multiplayer, so I will already have an edge on that. Plus, Puzzle Bobble Live on XBLA costs 10 bucks. Selling it for $1 or $3 will be an attractive price point as an alternative.

Multiplayer modes will include the usual 1 versus 1 game, with you against a computer or other person sending attacks at each other every which way. I also want to include an online versus mode, which could be a challenge because I haven’t done any network programming before. I’m also considering 3 and 4-player versus modes, which can get hectic but possibly also more fast-paced and exciting. There may even be a co-op option in various combinations, like 2 vs 1 or teams of 2 vs 2.

Extras, and what’s next

Features I will add to the “maybe” pile are a stage editor and a replay saver. The stage editor is not something out of the ordinary, but the replay saver is something I haven’t seen in these types of games before. I think it will be a nice addition to the hardcore puzzle enthusiasts that not only want to share high scores, but their best games as well.

Now to talk about what I’ve already done, and what’s next immediately ahead of me for this game. So far I’ve put stuff on the screen, load random bubble, shoot bubbles, make said bubble clear a bunch of others, a simple scoring system, and have the minimum Victory and Game Over conditions to restart the game. It’s still not easy on the eyes, but this is actually starting to become playable considering its progress. The logical next step seems to be adding a basic title screen and some menus, so you have to actually click a Start button or whatever to get into playing. I already have my own game-state switching code I’ll use for the game so it’s not so hard to continue with that. By my next post, the game should have some of the menu items finished. Finally, it will start looking like a real game 😛

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