It’s currently 2 degrees out in Boston and looking around, all I can see are piles of snow that stretch up above my head. I reach into the nearest mound of snow, grab a handful, and start gobbling down the sweet melty goodness. Hey, look at that, my health bar went up!
Besides the flying construction workers, the single most realistic part of our game is that eating snow gives you health. It’s an awesome, pseudo-easter egg that we discovered the other day during testing (you didn’t think we’d inject our game with realism on purpose, did you?!), and I’ll be damned if we aren’t leaving it in. It just sounds right: “Eat the snow to gain health.” Of course you do!
Rock you like a… Avalanche
Snow only shows up in a few levels of SBS, but when it does, it instantly changes the game. The core mechanic for environmental snow was taken from a weapon that we had in earlier builds – it was one of the block types that we showed off at PAX Prime 2010, so a few of you may have even used it before. I’ll call it the “snow thrower” here to eliminate confusion. Building a square out of snow thrower blocks created a weapon that launched snow on top of your enemy’s tower, blanketing the tops of their blocks with snow and making it more difficult for them to build. When a snow ball fell on your tower, you could build on top of it and wait for it to melt away, but the much more satisfying approach was to punch it out, sending snow particles flying all over the screen.
It sounds cool, but we noticed some problems with the “snow thrower” during playtesting. SBS is generally more fun with fewer block types in play at a time – 3 seems to be the sweet spot for most weapon types. So, with the non-damaging snow thrower taking up one of those slots, it caused games to last much longer – players didn’t have enough offensive options to help them take down their opponent quickly. Which wasn’t to say that players didn’t like the snow falling mechanic, they just didn’t want to have to use up one of their precious block type slots on a weapon that didn’t directly lead to them winning a match. We began messing around with using the snow as an environmental hazard in a couple levels, essentially a random avalanche that evenly blanketed all platforms with snow, and the complaints just… melted away. Now, players still get to dash through the snow with the comet attack (very fun), but don’t have to worry about sacrificing weaponry for a non-offensive block type.
The Mighty Re-Arranger
After playing a round of SBS, it becomes clear that players need a way to rearrange their tower. Cut to the transparent block – a wire frame block shape that acts as a cookie cutter for your blocks. Line the transparent block up with blocks you want to move and press circle to pull those blocks from your tower. The blocks you removed get added to your queue and you can go about building with them like normal. Besides building with them, you can also press triangle to “discard” or eat them, removing the blocks from your queue and giving your character more health.
Things got a little wonky when we considered that there were now two types of blocks in play: colored blocks that you build with, and snow blocks that prevent you from building in places until they are destroyed. How should the transparent block effect snow blocks? Easy answer: transparent blocks treat snow blocks the same as all other blocks. And because of that magical concept, players can eat snow to gain health. Just like real life…