A Tale of 3 Wizards, Requires Sharp Wit and Timing
Article by: Matt Worden
Brandon Wood has done something that most VB game programmers have set for their ultimate goal: he's produced a fun, professional game that has been published by a third party game publisher. Dexterity Games (http://www.dexterity.com
) has recently added Wood's "Once Twice Thrice" to their list of quality puzzle games.
"Once Twice Thrice" has the player controlling three different Wizards, each with their own unique skills. As Dexterity's site explains: Matthius the Fierce is the Wizard of Fire. He can walk safely over lava and through fire, and his fire spell can burn down trees and eliminate some enemies. Skimlet the Wet is the Wizard of Water. He can walk on water and cross ice without slipping. His water spell can dowse fires and destroy some fiery enemies. Howard the Third is the Wizard of Earth. He can walk through trees, and his earth spell can make trees grow, which can block enemies or hold down switches.
It is the player's job to use these three wizards to navigate through a screen-sized level, filled with many different types of obstructions and enemies, in order for each of them to reach their ending goal. The game comes with 50 different levels, which can be played in any order, plus a final level that can only be played once the others have been solved.
The game does fit squarely into the puzzle game genre, but adds a few features that makes it stand out. First, the player has control of 3 different on-screen characters, usually requiring to switch between them and have them work together to solve the level. Second, a number of the badies seen on the levels move. They all follow predictable patterns (which is the way it should
be for a puzzle game), from the "righties" and "lefties" who move in a straight line until they hit something and then turn, to the T-Rex who will move toward any nearby creature (including other badies). However, this movement leads to a third unique feature: some solutions depend on the player's quick thinking and reactions to deliver the proper timing with the wizards. This might mean having one wizard lure away a hunting T-Rex in order to sneak another wizard through a tight spot. Or have one wizard use their spell to block a bady while another wizard runs behind the diversion. The character switching and timing needed to solve the well-designed levels adds a lot of tension not otherwise seen in puzzle games.
The game is able to combine a number of different puzzle types due to different skills of the 3 wizards, and the characteristics of the different badies. Players will find flip-switches-to-open/close-doors puzzles, direct-the-badies puzzles, use-the-wizard's-spells puzzles, blow-up-the-badies puzzles, have-the-badies-destroy-each-other puzzles, slide-the-heroes-on-the-ice puzzles, and others ... and often several of these on the same level. And the levels are well designed ... they give the player a sense of a true match-of-wits with the designer.
I was able test play this game in beta form and again in final form. A couple of nice touches were added to the final version -- additional artwork and music, level re-designs, and some bug fixes and game-flow/control touch-ups. One very nice change for the final version was that as levels progress, new badies and puzzle concepts are added slowly, with a useful hint given at the start of each level.
An e-mail based interview with "Once Twice Thrice" developer Brandon Wood went like this:M: I think a lot of the visitors to VBgamer will be interested in how a "garage operation" was able to get published. Can you give a brief description of how you came around to getting published?B:
I've been rummaging around www.gamedev.net and [Lucky]'s VB gaming site for more than 2 years now. I had a few serious attempts at games, but as is the case with most programmers, I tended to never finish what I started. But I learned more with each project, and set out to make the next better than the last. I was also very lucky to meet up with Matt Needham, a fellow contributor to the now defunct tendogamers.com, and a brilliant artist. My programming was getting better, more stable, better organized, more maintainable, and I had an engine that I knew I could actually finish, rather than getting bogged down in spaghetti code and having to scrap it all and start over. So I got Matt to make everything look pretty. And just like that, I had a real game. Real development time on OTT was probably only 6 months, but there were 2 long years of failed attempts that lead up to that fruitful 6 months. I learned a lot from [Lucky's] and from gamedev.net. And I kept motivated by the articles at dexterity.com.M: What was the process like to prepare the game for launch after you hooked up with Dexterity?B:
Dexterity had my game for just over 2 weeks before they responded and said they liked it. I got that notification in the first week of July. Then the game launched on Sept 27. So there was almost 3 months of testing and fixing. And this was after a round of testing by volunteers.M: What was the most valuable thing for you from your alpha/beta testing cycles?B:
I learned to appreciate good code. Lots of the changes I made during these revisions wouldn't have been possible if I'd just thrown the program together with out any solid organization. I recommend everyone who even _pretends_ to be a programmer read "Zero-Defect Software Development" at Dexterity.com and follow those rules religiously. http://www.dexterity.com/articles/zero-defect-software-development.htm
M: What important tweaks (or significant changes) were made before final release of the game?B:
There were a couple of level design issues. One level had to be completely redone, another one had to have some revisions to make it solvable. Programming changes in early QA, created design flaws in these levels. Dexterity wanted an option screen to configure controls, and music and sfx volume, which I had completely ignored throughout all of development.M: The game seems to be a nice marriage of a number of different puzzle types ... what were the inspirations for "Once, Twice, Thrice"?B:
My basic idea was to have Zelda-like puzzles with a Lost Viking's kind of interface (3 characters at once). This gave me a puzzle game, which seems to sell well in shareware, with the unique draw that you get to control 3 characters at once. It was important to have a rich set of interactions to pull from. The baddies weren't just there for hacking and slashing, but rather they all facilitated some sort of puzzle or obstacle.M: Do you have any plans for more levels? Expansion packs? A sequel? A level editor?B:
Hind sight is 20/20, so now I see about a million things I could do better. Its still a ways off, because I've got some other projects that come first, but I do have some plans for a true sequel to OTT.M: Anything else in particular that you'd like me to mention?B:
I'd like to advertise for independent game developers as a whole. I personally, am looking forward to Metroid Prime and other AAA console and PC titles, like I'm sure most of the folks reading this site. But sites like Dexterity exist for a different market of game players. Older folks with more modest tastes, and a desire for simpler, more thought provoking games, not the average "shoot-em-up and watch-em-bleed". A full 40% of Dexterity's customer's are female. That's a stats you never hear from Nintendo Sony or Microsoft. Most of the folks reading about my game here, won't go buy it themselves, but their parent's, grandparents, wives and girlfriends may find something interesting there. You're not going to sit down with a 40 year old who's never held a controller before and convince them that Super Smash Bros: Melee is worth their time. But if they see some of the games at Dexterity: Aargon, Phraze Daze, Penguin Puzzle, or Once Twice Thrice (just to name a few), they may be pleasantly surprised. They'll find games that challenge their mind, without overwhelming them with flashy pyrotechnics or complicated controls. So instead of getting frustrated when you can't get anyone interested in Time Splitters 2, take a minute and download a quality shareware game, and have them play that. There's a better chance they'll learn to like games, and appreciate them.M: Amen! ;-) Any last words for the up-coming indy game developers?B:
As an incentive to buy the full version [of "Once Twice Thrice"], those who register get my developer's journal. Its 35 pages of text, documenting the creation of the game from Februaruy 2002 before I ever contacted the artist, to June when I submitted it to Dexterity. I updated it almost daily, and recorded when I added new enemies or finalized the game save structure or when Matt sent significant updates. I also ramble on about level design a good bit when I try to figure out what makes an OTT puzzle different from other shareware puzzle games. There's a couple of pages comparing Zelda-style puzzles to Dweep-style puzzles. I think it would be very interesting for other aspiring developers or for average folks who just want to see a little behind-the-scenes of game development.M: Thanks, Brandon ... nice game!
For people who aren't into puzzle games, "Once Twice Thrice" will probably pass them by without make much difference in their life. However, for people who like puzzle games, this is a very nice one to add to the collection. The game controls, graphics/animation, sound/music, and levels -- while not flashy -- come together in a fine game. Some of the levels are a bit tough to solve. But failing a level seems to lead less to frustration, and more to a feeling of "okay, I'll give it another try" ... and another ... and another. It's what the phrase "addictive game" was invented for.