It all started in the end of 2009 with three guys: me (Eugene Karateav) as the flash-developer; php-programmer Pavel Kostyuk ; and artist Alexey Egoshin. We decided to create our own website with flash games. In a couple of months we created the website’s engine, design, added several games, et cetera. In short: we made yet another websites full of flash games. With our website up and running, we needed a new flash game to promote our site, which would be Wake Up the Box 1. The game’s idea was born after my endless experiments with the physics engine Box2D. We developed the game in less than a month and released Wake Up The Box 1 in November 2009. It was surprisingly popular. In its high days, it attracted over 150.000 visitors. It was clear that we had to create a sequel. So, we created Wake Up The Box 2 and 3. After that, I decided there were enough games in the WUTB-serie and started doing my own thing: experimenting with the physics engine itself.
I continued creating new mechanics and one day I realized it was a lot of fun drawing shapes that behaved in accordance with the laws of physics after their creation (similar to Crayon Physics Deluxe). I would play for hours, just drawing objects. It was fun to see how they became rigid after drawing, how they fell under gravity, how they collided and bounced into each other. I decided to create a game based on this mechanics, which led to the first prototype. In small indie games the main and most important part is an interesting gameplay. Characters, story, art, etc. are secondary. So, after the prototype was done, I decided it was time to think about the world around the core mechanics. After some thinking I settled on the good old idea of waking up boxes. So, that’s how Wake Up the Box 4 was born.
Development’s iterations using prototypes – Iterative development is very important when creating a game with an original gameplay. Our game’s idea is pretty simple: a player draws an outline, which becomes a physical object after creation. These objects are used to wake up the box in each level. I went through 10 iterations to make the drawing process as easy and user friendly as possible. The process went as follows:
- Make a prototype.
- Show the prototype to different people.
- Watch the players play the prototype, pay attention to their reactions (pleasure, frustration, etc.).
- Make changes to avoid the frustrating moments.
- Go to step 2.
There are a couple of advantages to using prototypes. For example, in our game we have some predefined areas where a user can draw objects. The drawing process is allowed only inside those areas. Therefore, even if you move the mouse outside the drawing zones, the mouse pointer stays inside. You don’t have to worry about drawing carefully inside the areas. In our first prototypes the situation was different. A player could get out of the area’s bounds and that meant that the drawing couldn’t be completed. It was very frustrating for the players to try hard to stay inside the zones. And, of course, getting out of the drawing area caused outbursts of anger. We solved this problem by not letting a player get out of the drawing areas. A player’s outline is stuck to the area’s bounds.
Second, we learned about the difficulties creating circles. In the earlier versions of the game one had to draw an outline similar to a circle to get a round object. But it was a tough task for a player to do. So, in the next version I made the process of drawing circles a separate tool.
Test everywhere – If you want to reach a wide audience, you should playtest using a wide audience. Test it on your friends, colleagues, and relatives. A wide audience helps to get a lot of views at your game from many different perspectives. For example, I use a high quality wireless mouse and it’s easy for me to draw. But one day I was at my friend’s house and tried to play Wake Up the Box 4 with his mouse. It was really painful trying to create objects with that mouse. But this situation helped me to realize that players have different computer mice, and it forced me to make some changes in the level design.
Refactoring – When you work as an indie, you have a lot of ideas coming up in the development process. You constantly add, remove, modify and upgrade your game’s features. And as a result, you have a mess instead of code. You have no extrinsic motivators like bosses or deadlines, so it’s very important to sustain your intrinsic motivation to make a game. And that’s why you have to clean up your code every time you feel you get lost in your own code. I sometimes refactor my code even after the project is released.
Experiment! – For example, in Wake Up the Box 4 we decided to make some drawing animations in the game’s main menu. Players liked this feature a lot. It showed endless possibilities of drawing different objects and their combinations. And we received a lot of feedback from people saying that they enjoyed not only playing but also just watching those animations.
Simple idea – I believe that indie games should be based on one simple and original idea. The main advantage of us being indie developers is the ability to experiment with our games. We can decide which way to turn the development process and we’re independent from the publishers with these decisions. We can’t compete with big teams in the quality and the amount of the content, but we’re much more flexible with creating new game mechanics.
Check out the Wake Up The Box series at Olologames.com. Wake Up the Box 4 was nominated for the game of the year award in the category Physics on JayIsGames.com. In the future, Eugene Karataev will continue work on the physics genre and develop new games based on the physics mechanic.