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The Art of Feeding Time, Part 2
by Radek Koncewicz on 07/02/14 12:41:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

With the look of Feeding Time's animals nailed down, it was time to move on to the backgrounds.

For our initial backdrop, we went with a living room as it nicely tied together all the typical household pets. It also let us use a carpet to cleanly delineate the numerous gameboard components.

ft_background_perspectiveOur original sketch followed the perspective-bending approach of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

While our first mockup tried to match the four angles at which the animals faced the gameboard, direction ceased to be a concern when we decided to present each animal from just a single side.

This allowed us a bit more freedom, but the lack of a clear and consistent perspective also bred confusion. Were the animals stacked on top of each other, or being viewed from above?

The background lost a certain sense of being a real place, but Abel suggested we roll with it. To prove his point, he showed us how well Hanna Barbera's skewed and uneven backgrounds worked in various old cartoons.

ft_background_hbTop-left and bottom-left: Hanna Barbera's skewed and uneven backgrounds. Right: Feeding Time's indoors background inspired by the style.

We agreed, and were quite pleased with George's first crack at the style. However, in the end we abandoned the indoor environment itself.

The reason was a desire to keep the areas consistent, and constraining them to interiors was too limiting and had some negative associations with confinement. Instead, we went with a suburban backyard for the "pet zone" and kept the other biomes to the great outdoors.

ft_tundra_progressionThe initial rough of the tundra zone and its finished version.

We also wanted to organically duplicate the carpet's natural grid for all the areas, but this proved very difficult.

The backyard was a natural fit for a checkered pattern akin to the turf of various sports field, but the safari and tundra zones were trickier. We experimented with rows and columns of cracks in a dry bedrock and an arrangement of sticks and twigs, but neither proved ideal. The extra decorations muddied the gameboard and took up too much space.

The issue of clarity proved substantial even when working with a grid that only had slight variations in surface pattern and lighting. Since easy recognition of the foods and animals was a crucial part of the game, we decided to keep the gameboard as uniform grids and only change their colour scheme to match each biome.

ft_safari_gridThe grid of the original Safari zone consisted of grassy tufts that got progressively larger towards the bottom of the screen. Along with a light gradient, the design helped to create depth but was eventually removed to make the gameboard easier to parse.

In hindsight this was probably an issue we spent too much time debating by looking at the background illustrations themselves. As it turned out, the gameboard pieces covered too much of the grid to fret over its design, and the uniform shape actually fit the overall art style.

ft_backyard_footballThe football and various other background animations add a subtle sense of life and don't overly distract the player.

To add some life and personality to the biomes we introduced various interactive Easter Eggs and tied them to in-game achievements. For example, the backyard zone was filled with elements that could activated with a tap: sprinklers let out bursts of water, the house door could be knocked on and its lights individually turned on and off, a football could be launched over the fence, etc.

While these were fun ideas, they had nothing to do with the core gameplay and actually detracted from it.

The player had to sporadically stop to click on random parts of the screen instead of focusing on matching the animals with their corresponding foods. Eventually we simply removed the interactive component and activated them based on a timer. It helped to make the areas feel alive, but the player didn't miss out on any gameplay by ignoring them.

ft_background_tableausThe finished tableaus of Feeding Time's main three zones.

One final aesthetic change we made towards the end of development was to turn all the clouds into food shapes.

Since each area was outdoors and included parallax-scrolling clouds, it suddenly hit us that we could "standardize" their shapes and velocities while adding a bit of whimsy to the game. This also helped out with the level transitions and other aspects of UI, but more on that next time!


Radek Koncewicz is the CEO and creative lead of Incubator Games, and also runs the game design blog Significant-Bits.


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Comments


Darius Drake
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Not going with the glossy look that's become the standard of common-casual iPhone apps: great idea. Different gets people's attention.

Radek, I wouldn't think that something like getting the grid squares right would be such a big problem, as you stated, "We also wanted to organically duplicate the carpet's natural grid for all the areas, but this proved very difficult." When you say "very difficult," it leads me to think that getting the right design had to be a complicated process. Like this was some area that needed to be highly scrutinized. Of course you note later in the post, "In hindsight this was probably an issue we spent too much time debating by looking at the background illustrations themselves. As it turned out, the gameboard pieces covered too much of the grid to fret over its design, and the uniform shape actually fit the overall art style."

This makes me think of how a corporation would deal with an issue, poring over every small detail to gain an advantage because they have the resources to do so. Yet I question if that's necessary and consider how a few indie devs can outdo a big company without the deep examination. I don't know how a game company like yours works (yet) so please give me some lattitude. :) I'm sure you have a good business with hard working individuals.

Let me turn this into a question: why is it that something so seemingly small, as trying to figure out how to make the design for a puzzle grid, is an issue that needs a lot of attention? I mean to ask this in a curious way--in other words, I really want to know the answer, I don't mean to suggest that you made a mistake.

I'm thinking "it's such a small aesthetic"; is focusing on this small issue an over exaggeration of what's important in a game? In other words, does it really affect the player's experience in light of everything else?

Radek, thank you so much. Keep up the great work! Your seasoned reply will help me gain insight for my own work.

Radek Koncewicz
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Part of the reason we put so much effort into Feeding Time is that it was our first original release and we wanted to make sure it was a polished, quality title. We also worked on it over the span of 2+ years in between small work-for-hire projects, and that allowed us to revise things a bit more than a typical schedule would allow.

I get your point about putting resources where they're most important, but I would also argue that many indie games get lost in the shuffle because they're too rough around the edges; it's the polished ones that often end up as the true success stories. Shovel Knight is a good recent example: there are plenty of retro platformers out there, but not many make as big a splash as that game.

I do think we probably tweaked and revised the game grid too much, but it wasn't just an aesthetic issue either. There were gameplay implications when the grid was formed of irregular shapes, had varied texturing, or contained colour gradients. This made picking out the matching animals and foods that much harder, and playtesting showed that our scores were noticeably higher on the stages that had a more subdued and uniform grid.

In the end, having a clean contrast between the grid and the foods and animals was too important for gameplay so we went with the checkered board approach.

Darius Drake
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I see. And what you say about indie games being too rough around the edges seems logical.

When I wrote that comment above, what I had in mind was a bureaucratic organization working the traditional grind vs. a few brilliant minds doing something new that trumped the bureaucracy. Of course, the corporation was left behind because they followed traditional "guidelines" and were blinded, if you will, to what the small group of geniuses clearly saw.

Those bold geniuses took a risk by implementing a new innovation that was so excellent, it blew the corporation's work out of the water. Their new ideas were what really mattered.

I say all that to illustrate that, according to how I see things now, those marvelous innovations that get to the root of good design are the golden spot. And one person--just ONE person--can exploit genius to outdo any tried and true design method. It's just that way because there are so many things we haven't discovered. Do you see what I mean? :)

But if you're talking about paying attention to details to polishing your game, I believe in that. Even the little details that aren't perceived still have an effect.

Darius Drake
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By the way, in what way is the Hanna Barbera image in the bottom-left corner skewed? I'm missing something. It looks all realistic to me. I can see how the other examples have mixed proportions, but not that one.

Radek Koncewicz
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If you were to superimpose lines that receded into a vanishing point on top of that image, you'd notice that they don't line up with the scenery. The top and bottom of the indents in the door, the top and bottom of the cabinet beside it, etc. These are a bit more subtle than the in the top image, but still follow the same principle of not caring about a consistent perspective which gives the scenery a skewed look.

Darius Drake
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Okay, I THINK I get what you mean. For the most part I do. I can see--subtle as it as--how the door indents don't line up right. And I can see some surreal effects on the dresser/cabinet too. Thanks.

Nathan Mates
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I just thought that Hanna Barbera had skewed artwork because they were done on a budget of $2.99. Per episode.

(Never really been a fan of that studio's output, sorry)

Radek Koncewicz
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No worries, Hanna Barbera definitely doesn't get the same amount of love as, say, older WB cartoons (and I vastly prefer those myself). Their aesthetic style, however, fit in nicely with the somewhat abstract animal heads so we emulated it for Feeding Time's backgrounds.


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