How to Design a Casual Game From Start to Finish: The Boomzap Method

Game Design Casual Game Boomzap Entertainment

BoomZap Entertainment

About Boomzap –  click on the link. Long overdue for you, Hoshi. I can only remember snippets of Paraluman Cruz (Luna’s) Lecture on Game Design so bear with me. Should have asked for her files. Technically it’s her idea and I’ll see if my interpretation of it is similar.  I might butcher her presentation so I’ll apologize in advance. /facepalm

How to design a successful casual game from start to finish.

The role of the Game Designer in Boomzap – thinks of the “Pitch” and the “Walkthrough”

PITCH

According to James Portnow’s “What A Pitch!” on gamecareerguide.com, a “pitch” is  simply a concise way of explaining why your idea is good. It can be formal or informal, technical or abstract; so long as the goal is the same, it’s a pitch.

To start off, she thinks of a pitch and notes a few keywords related to the pitch. Afterwards, you encircle the keywords you like in order to develop a premise. The premise has to fit within the pitch (Now, wasn’t that obvious?).

For her, it’s ideal to use a method of freewriting – which is a continuous stream of consciousness for a set period of time – to generate the ideas for the keywords, premise and the pitch. Hmm let’s try this premise thing.

An admittingly generic, unoriginal, on-the-fly, made within a minute premise:

From a Verne's Eye View Premise Magellan

Magellan the Head Warden

Escape from Impel Down (Yeah, it’s a One Piece reference. Picture taken from the webs)

“A mystery-battle game set where pirates rule the seas – the era of the Grand Line . You are a pirate who loves to collect treasures, find hidden objects, solve puzzles, encounter creatures, and your interactions with people will be critical to aid you in your escape. You start off trapped inside a barrel that finds its a way in the cellars of a prison inside Impel Down – the ultimate prison fortress of no escape. You are to work your way out of the stronghold in order to set sail and be free from the clutches of eternal imprisonment.  It’s not going to be a walk in the park as one person hinders you from seeing the blue skies and open seas, the head warden, Magellan.”

Here’s a sample pitch for Monster Island from Irrational Games:

The pitch document range should be around 3 – 20 pages.  Somehow, it will probably end up something like the above pitch. Maybe.

Part of her job as the designer would be to think of how to implement gameplay into the pitch. They have to come up with 15 story features for the entire game. I’m trying to recall what this meant. Assuming the game is made for 6 hours worth of gameplay. This is where you decide to have arcs, or chapters, etc.

Divide the 15 story features into three arcs.  So you get 5 chapters in an arc. I’m thinking that the story features are like chapters for an arc.  Let’s say for your first arc – you have chapters where you go to 4 different places in order to gather your 4 team members. At the end of the arc, let’s say you face a boss or one of your members was a spy or something.

At the end of the either one of the two arcs, you need to add an obvious “blocker” – it’s a goal that will hinder you or reveal something but not everything. If you were thinking everything was smooth sailing, there could be a plot twist similar to FFVII or something where you spent time building your main healer, Aeris, then she dies early. There goes the old-school Square fanboy in me.

In terms of subgames, you distribute them and inventory strings evenly.  Too much of hidden things in a certain area may bore players.

WALKTHROUGH

They like to keep it short. Make a walkthrough for the entire game in bullets. Keep it brief, instead of a large paragraph. (There goes my “fail” homemade premise and probably this whole blog entry lol.)

They use an excel sheet which indicates the level, code, room and game type. This is how they keep track of things to make the game a bit balanced. All a designer does is put the necessary information in the sheet and the developers use that file to code stuff in the game. (Edit: Check Mr Allen Simonsen’s notes on what a game designer does on the comments section.)

Scripting and Graphic Design Display (GDD)

PROTOTYPE 

No, not the game.  The idea behind a Prototype is to:

  • quickly test your idea
  • come up with a playable crap art.
  • lessens dependency (forgot what it meant – me thinks, on programmers.)
From a Verne's Eye View Boomzap's Stages from Demo to Release

Stages From Demo to Release

The excel files are used for localization – they are exported as lua files (need clarification on this) to the database. With a little bit of visual basic, encoding stuff in the excel file reduces the time in asking programmers.

GDD

They do this last. Why? Ideas suck at the first time.  This is usually done after prototyping.  A reference photo + technical notes are given to the artists. It kind of works sort of like Google Image Search function but it’s in wiki format. This helps the artist in getting a description on the actions/animations that need to be done.

Testing comprises of Focus Builds and Surveys.

FOCUS BUILDS

The designer tests the build of the game daily. The design team conducts a weekfly focus build. Eventually all the builds are shared with the publisher. They have a rating of 1 -5 in terms of priorities for game changes. Can’t remember if 1 was critical or something. But what I remember was my favorite. 5 means “FT” or Fuck That or it’s not even worth discussing. lol.

SURVEY 

400 Actual Users get to test it – but the design they see is something close or near final art. It’s tested everyday before the release for any last minute tweaks.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

At Boomzap, they focus on a playable ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment). Flexibility-wise. As long as you finish your task, you can do something else.

Death at Fairing Point - Boomzap Entertainment

Main Menu for Death at Fairing Point

Hidden Object Games

One of the First Scenes of Death at Fairing Point

Verne’s Verdict: I remembered playing a demo of Death at Fairing Point and Jewels of Cleopatra a few months back. Been awhile since I’ve played Hidden Object Games. I admit that when I was in that lecture, I had high hopes and then I took an arrow to the knee. When she explained that applicants for the Game Designer position were all bragging about how they want to make the next MMORPG or Square game, you can’t go with that mindset because you’re not designing for that kind of crowd. It’s all about designing games for…

The Big Fish Babes of Big Fish Games

The Big Fish Babes

…the right market. I leave you with Luna’s Three Hard Lessons to Learn

“design for your target market not for yourself.”
“know the competition.”
“keep your story simple and playable.”

Sounds like a solid marketing strategy.

To view other articles on games, read up my notes on:

Emotional Engineering

Game Development for Small Teams

GREE – The future of Mobile 
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3 thoughts on “How to Design a Casual Game From Start to Finish: The Boomzap Method

  1. Quick note:
    “All a designer does is put the necessary information in the sheet and the developers use that file to code stuff in the game.”

    Actually, this is as far as possible from the Boomzap methodology; we’re a bit like the Paratroopers…. everybody jumps, and everybody fights. Designers are personally responsible for implementing their ideas in the game; programmers are there to help provide the tools and frameworks they need to succeed at this. We don’t have any pure documenters (REMFs, to continue our paratrooper analogy), there’s no designer who’s job is sit and think up stuff for developers.

    Allan

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