The initial concept for J.S. Bull. Awesome!

Designing Slam Bolt Scrappers: Iteration 5 (of 5)

This is it! The exciting conclusion to the long design path that led to Slam Bolt Scrappers. EXCELLENT. If you want to read the earlier posts I recommend Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and of course Part 4 (in that order, no less).

After the dam level we were very worried – the game wasn’t quite good enough to make a full version, and it wasn’t quite bad enough to warrant a new prototype. On top of that we were running low on money and were concerned that if we didn’t figure something out soon we’d run out of gas before finishing the game. However we knew something had to give, as we weren’t getting the traction we wanted that the core fun was lacking.

We came up with a “last ditch” design for a new level that tried to blend the best bits of prototypes 3 and 4. We figured we’d keep the simpler fighting from the dam level while trying to incorporate more interesting building like in the tangram iteration. We knew we wanted to dial down the confusion from building with triangles and we figured squares could be simpler. After a month or so of jamming we came up with this.

Obviously this eventually morphed into Slam Bolt Scrappers, but it’s worth noting how many differences there were. The gecko bad guys and heroes were ripped straight out of the dam level, and you can see that the dash attack was even still in. The concept of dying and reviving was also lifted from the dam level, as well as the idea of getting blocks from defeated baddies.

The building here looks similar but there are some key differences. Initially the idea was that you had to build rectangles (not squares), with the height determining tower fire rate and the width determining power. Thus you could have a tall, rapid fire weapon or a squat, powerful weapon. The coloring is also different – here green is shields (note the green circles “protecting” stuff underneath it) and blue recharges the player’s dash meter (obviously this got cut in the final game.) The red missiles and purple lasers are somewhat similar, though you can see that the art here is extremely early. It’s also interesting to note how we changed the shields from circles to protecting adjacent weapons to reduce confusion.

The win condition in this game is pretty different too – you’ll note that there are some gold blocks with flags in the corner of each tower. These are “king blocks”, which were analogous to the king in chess; kill it and you win. King blocks didn’t fire but did regenerate quickly, so you had to get a focused attack on it to win. We wound up cutting this feature as it felt bizarre to have a special block that was important and didn’t do anything, but it’s interesting to see how it morphed into SBS’s concept of gold rimmed blocks that slowly regenerate health (we though the regeneration idea was pretty cool).

Once we had this prototype we were faced with a difficult decision. Should we run with the block building prototype (~1.5 months of work), the dam level (~4 months of work), or some combination thereof? We had huge discussions back and forth on the matter, and finally we decided that we had to jettison the dam level due to mediocrity. It was an extremely difficult choice to make as we had to kill our baby and throw out huge amounts of work, but ultimately it was the right decision to make.

After deciding to focus on this direction for the game we knew what we had to do next – start pumping in tons of new bad guys, make interesting new levels, improve fighting, and of course make different and fun types of blocks for players to use. We started jamming on designs and tried out a ton of different things, and by the summer we had narrowed down what we wanted to do to a manageable list. We entered production, and a few months later we finished the game in Feb 2011.

That’s the story of SBS!  We spent a ton of time prototyping and revising our game play mechanics, but ultimately I feel it was worthwhile. Next time though we’d like to do it a big quicker – prototypes 1-4 took us almost a year to do! Knowing when to keep plowing forward and when to ditch what you’ve got is probably one of the hardest things for indie devs (or any developers) to figure out. Thanks for reading this far!

One Comment

  1. Ben

    Really interesting read. Thanks for the very honest look into the development of your game.

Comments are now closed for this article.