Been a few months, but time for another “Ask Tobiah“:
What principles did you use when designing levels for Blast Monkeys?
My good friend Jeremy recently asked me this question, and I figured I should answer in blog form.
To create the worlds for Blast Monkeys, we tried to follow some simple concepts:
1. Simple to beat, hard to master.
I probably don’t need to explain this, as it’s the design philosophy of so many games. Each level had to be easy enough to get through for players of all skill levels. To get all three bananas could be harder, but they still had to be easy enough that the average player could feel they could beat it. The only exception to this was the “master levels”, levels 26-30 of each world, where we would put our biggest challenges.
2. Show the player how to win
The game itself is the tutorial. We tried very hard to keep the number of words and explanations in the game to an absolute minimum. When we introduced a concept, from a certain style of trick shot to a new game mechanic/object, we made sure we have multiple levels designed around showcasing just that one concept we wanted the player to understand. Sometimes, we would force them to do it just to get to the goal. Even if we set up the shot with a non-moving cannon so there is no way they could miss, we would know they’d have the idea firmly planted in their head before more complicated levels later would build upon that type of shot/mechanic.
Ideally, the player would learn one concept at a time. We would try to avoid making levels that forced the player to try two new things at once. We also avoided “hard to figure out” shots as much as possible.
We tried to be very clear telling the player what they needed to do through the layout of the level. Sometimes, the solution was unique or interesting, and maybe was something you might not have assumed at first glance… But the key is that you would be able to discover it easily, even if the shot itself is hard to pull off. It’s never good when a player assumes how a level is solved, then keeps trying to do so, not realizing it’s impossible in the way they are trying. They won’t think “Hmm, there might be another way”, they’ll say “Hmm, this level must be broken!” and probably quit the game.
One common way we did this was through the placement of bananas. We would use them to communicate how we want the player to solve the level, putting them in positions that helped line up the players aim for complicated shots.
3. Leave a little wiggle room
Sometimes, when designing levels we would make one that “works”, but only if the shot was just perfect. Usually this involved a bounce of the corner of some object in just the right place or time. We try to avoid putting these levels in the game when possible.
The problem is sometimes we get some lag issues that may actually end up effecting the physics. Especially on Android phones, since the hardware was so vastly different. Usually this difference is minor, and hardly noticeable. But, it has happened that a level ends up being unsolvable on certain platforms due to a lag spike or other issue making the monkey move 2% slower or just slightly off from where it should be. This is compounded by our level design tool using the Corona simulator, which does not exactly line up with the mobile version. What works in the level editor may not work in the real game.
Fixing this issue was tricky, and really an ongoing process. It takes a lot of testing, and understanding how the physics work on different platforms to design levels to work right, yet still offer a challenge.
4. Make lots of levels
After we started getting some income, we would hire a couple of contractors and have them make as many levels as they could. After a “level making” party at my house, we’d end up with 40-60ish good level designs.
From there, we threw out the boring ones. We took the good ones, and then would remake them. We made sure they were designed not just to work, but also to look pretty and comply with all the above rules. Sometimes, we would throw out multiple parts of a level to simplify it to just one concept, and others we would merge together to create more interesting designs and/or harder challenges.
Usually, a couple would be cool and we really liked them, but they were just way too impossibly hard to actually put in the game. Those became the challenge levels, but still had to follow rules 2 and 3.
That is the design philosophy I used when making the levels. I never bothered writing down until now. The process came naturally as the game evolved and we got better and better at making levels. Honestly, the later the levels in Blast Monkeys are much better than the first few worlds. If we went back and remade those worlds they could be a lot better. But, they are what they are, and besides a few tweaks now and then we didn’t want to majorly overhaul old worlds. Especially when there was (and still kinda is) a huge demand for constant new levels/content. Did have a chance when we had to make new levels for the Windows Phone version of the game, but that is a different story.
Hope you found my design thoughts interested! If anyone reading this has something they would like to ask me for a future blog post, please email me!