Postmortem: Battle of Puppets

About Small Wonders and Battle of puppets

The creation of the game meant the creation and establishment of a new studio, and learning everything from the ground up. None of the members had previous experience working in the industry and only a few of us had done a couple amateur games so, it was a huge feat to assemble a new inexperienced team and start working.

The core team was formed by 5 people, producer, designer, two programmers and two graphic artists, but as the project went on it was necessary to add more people to the team, so we contracted an external graphic artist and a music composer. At the end of the project about 9 people had intervened actively in the project.

Battle of puppets is a 2D strategy game for iphone/ipod Touch that takes away most of the complexity of the genre by not allowing the player to control its troops. the battle is mostly influenced by actions called professions that enable to control the flow of the battlefield by healing your troops, give them a power boost, possess other troops so they fight for you, stop enemy troops,... all of that while you create increase your defenses in order to project your base. The game is settle in 22 EEUU cities with changing backdrops, 5 armies, 6 professions, intuitive control, ...

What went right

1. Vision

The idea for our first game was to create something that at first look you'll fell intrigued with, something that you could show and say "hey, this is what we've done!", and I sincerely think we've achieved that and the key to this point was to bring together a very passionate team.

As I've said before none of then had previous experience, so at the beginning it was kind of hard to explain how they should work and how different this is for any other regular job, but it ended up being very rewarding as I let them work freely and this freedom made them want to give their bests.

But, this vision brought us a very ambitious project, that at the end was to big to us, and some important changes had to be made in order to meet deadlines.

Battle of Puppets is an iphone/ipod touch game and we choose that because we felt it was the right platform to achieve our initial vision. The iphone is a pretty mature platform, despite only being three years old, both in software support and in features support. Software-wise we felt that the cocos2d middleware was a very stable-well developed piece of software that provided us with the features that we wanted to add to the game. Platform-wise apple provides the appStore which is an impressive worldwide store and right out of the box that added to the impressive hardware that the iphone is. One very important feature for us was the low requirements to enroll in the development program.

2. New IP

The creation of a new IP and working on a new genre brings to the development a lot of uncertainty, because of the risks you are taking. Questions like, will the people like it? will they understand the game? is the gameplay balanced? is it intuitive? were all the way spinning in my head. No having many references to turn to in case something went wrong and the fact that all the similar games I tried were, in my opinion..., very bad, was a heavy burden, but at the end the results are pretty amazing.

Getting the correct art direction was key to achieve the results and so was having some control innovations that seted us aside from the competition. Most of the features in the game came along once the main control was done.

The idea of the puppets were mostly there from the beginning, but at that point there were not going to be animated, they were going to be more like a funfair attraction, but this feature was changed very early, before the first prototype, as it felt that the game was missing some "life". Another idea that changed early in the development was that the puppets were supposedly be inspired by the different puppet styles around the world, like chinese shadow puppets, mexican puppets,... but then in a crazy brainstorming session the idea of fitting the puppets around Opera came out and so we begin with the game.

Another key point was the usability, the drawing recognition system (professions), was something I didn't really see in a game since the time of Molyneux's Black & White, and I wanted in the game. In the first design BOP had a lot of buttons on screen and we didn't want the game to look like a current application, so the drawing system was a good solution to it, the result is a only 1 button interface (pause), the other actions are contextual to what you are doing, leaving the screen clean so the user can enjoy the game.

3. Good reviews

The reviews we've been having so far are very good. There is no metacritic for iphone games, but I would say is around 8 out of 10, most of the reviews ranging from 4 to 5 starts out of 5. The game was also runner up of Game of the Month (January) with Assassins Creed 2 and GTA: China Town wars.

Between the things the reviewers mostly emphasize are the Art direction, the graphic quality achieved by our programmers with the changing backdrops and all the effects, the music composed by Arturo Baquero, the depth of the gameplay despite its simplicity an the professions system.

What went bad

1. Ambition

The ambition for this project was pretty high and it was good at some level because it helped us reach a quality level that we couldn't have achieved either way, but it was also too high for an inexperienced team. So many big features felt out of the development due to that, some of then necessaries, some of them not.

The big issue was to focus on some not very important things and forget about some really important and necessary features. That made the game full of little details and empty of important details like variety on the gameplay and issues with the tutorial that we hopefully solve with patch 1.1.

Those facts bring up the problem of diversity, due to the focus on some low level details, that hurt the diversity of the game from the original design, also cause the game's length to felt little short. And I might say that the overall work-profit balance wasn't very good due mostly to outside entities.

2. Inexperience

None of the team had previous experience, none of us had worked before doing games, not even close, so we had to learn everything from scratch. We had to learn how to work together, set up the tools, choose a proper working methodology, work together us a team for the first time, know which one is best in what, learn objective-c,... soooo many different things. and I think we've suceded in this point, but that were task that required a lot of time, time really needed to spent on the game.

Although I encouraged the personal take on each one of the team we had a "many hats" problems leading us to do more than we could manage, like the producer supervising art, me programming instead of designing, which lead to a little oversight in our tasks.

A major problem we had was the insecurity to intermediate versions cause to this inexperience. The "abstraction" level needed to evaluate a work-in-progress was completely absent and that led us to some development irregularities, like add content once in alpha, major changes in beta,... thus causing delays.

3. Market presence

It's not the game did not sell, indeed it sell very good, specially compared with similar games on the market, it's just it did not come as popular as we've hoped to or how we've hyped ourselves after reading the reviews.

The problem I see here is that the game was target to a very broad audience, simplifying the game mechanics to its minimum and trying to appeal to as many people as possible, but the marketing focus was to try to reach to as many hardcore players as possible and those cause the gamers complaining about the game being to easy.


We are very happy with Battle of Puppets, despite all the problems we faced, we were also able to manage them and create a great game for iphone/ipod touch. We expanded our knowledge in gamedev and we hope that will reflect our next projects.

As conclusion I'll add a never seen before concept art pictures (were created within the first week) post how the game has changed.

Game Data

Publisher/Developer: Small Wonders
Platform: iphone/ipod touch
Release Date: January 27th (AppStore)
Development time: 5 months (+ 1 with patches)
Development team: 2 programers, 2 artits (+1 outsorced), 1 designer, 1 producer, the music and sfx were outsourced and the marketing team.


Unknown said...

The group was formed and we always hope for the efficiency and productivity achieved highest. And we can efficiently find. friv 4

Unknown said...

I loved this game what happened to it? I've been searching everywhere for it, but my efforts have been quite fruitless.

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