Blugri is an indie game studio based in the heart of Europe, Brussels. Tom Janssens, who founded the studio in 2012 shares the story of its latest game Circuits. He started off developing games by coincidence: after the launch of WP8 and following an XNA course he created his first game called Boxes, just for fun. After the first success Tom decided to become a full-time game developer and started establishing the blugri team. Blugri’s mission is to create casual games with an innovative touch, with smart and high-quality graphics and sound, Tom explains. And the most important point for his team is to create games that everyone (including themselves) loves to play! The blugri team has already created the games of Sudoku, Solitaire, Boxes, Jungle Mamba and Air Hockey.
Pipe Mania With A Modern Twist And Electricity
This was straightforward. I was aiming towards a fun puzzle game that could engage and connect players. A rather simple puzzle, but with enough options to create an original and diverse gameplay. One of my inspirations was the old-time classic Pipe Mania, that needed at least an up-to-date twist. During one of the weekly brainstorm sessions with Laura Switten, the marketing and communications coordinator and only part-time blugri staff, we came up with the “electricity” theme. The goal of the game is simple: light the lightbulbs by fixing the electrical circuit. At the same time, it offers a lot of opportunities for future expansion of the game with new electrical components.
Look And Feel Came At Once
From the electricity theme, blugri’s intern Dries Mertens started the creation of the design. He immediately came up with the industrial look with a control panel on a concrete background, which was an excellent start. Creating the logo proved a more difficult job, as we were looking for the right look and feel. We tried, and tried again, and tried all over, and then made improvement after improvement – with a brilliant result. The Circuits logo is unique and stunning.
Unity 3D, A Timesaver
I had previous experience with XNA and Cocos2d-x, but for the development of Circuits I decided to give Unity 3D a try. The most important reason for doing this was to make it easier to develop cross-platform. I noticed that developing with Unity is a great timesaver! As development is much more visual than when using Cocos2d-x, it goes a lot quicker. We became real experts in Unity 3D, now even creating our own plugins. During the development of Circuits I created a plugin with a very broad usage: it can connect to our server for the leaderboards, we can modify parameters in the game from a distance and it allows us to do AB testing.
Writing your own plug-in has a few advantages: existing platforms can be really expensive, and being able to modify parameters from a distance is a great added value. Moreover, existing plugins do not always provide the quality that we want to offer. For instance, they cause issues when players are only connected through a poor internet connection. With our own plug-in we can guarantee the best experience anyway.
Making a Level Editor To Handcraft Puzzles
I started with a quite basic gameplay but, when playtesting, we noticed that an extra dimension should be added. So we updated the game with several constraints that could make the levels more challenging: some have a time limit now, others got a restricted number of moves, and in many of the levels the player should avoid creating short circuits.
The next task was to create loads of levels: we wanted to offer at least 300, in different degrees of difficulty to keep our players happy for many hours. Originally, I intended to have the levels created automatically. But we feared that the quality would not be high enough, and that it would take us hours to playtest.
So I wrote a level editor in Unity 3D – one that was so straightforward that even our marketer-without-any-programming knowledge, Laura, could now create levels. So we created hundreds of levels, all manually! Not so easy to make them varied, but the level editor made it impossible to create the same puzzle twice. Afterwards we tested all levels to ensure all puzzles were solvable, it took us three full days! Based on our own test results we determined the playing constraints of each level. In the second release of the game this was even more fine-tuned.
At the same time, we asked some of our best friends and most loyal fans to help us with the testing and provide their feedback. Luckily, the first reactions were positive, although some of the levels turned out quite difficult to solve!
Lessons Learnt: Server Development, Testing Concepts and Electricity That Doesn’t Appeal To Women
Along with creating plugins, we also decided to write our own server solution.This choice assured a lower running cost, and being independent of – for instance – existing leaderboard solutions. Unfortunately, this plan took a lot more effort than we expected, simply because my experience with server development was limited. But it is now functioning and even for free thanks to Windows Azure.
Another learning is that it might be more logic to create a proof of concept first, then test this thoroughly, and then finally create the design. This can give you more time to fine-tune the gameplay. We did the opposite, because our intern Dries was available to create the nicest design, while the development team was finalizing another game.
A third interesting finding is that in the first months after the launch of Circuits we noticed we have a rather male fan base. Our Facebook fans doubled in the first month, but with 72% of likes from male fans, the “electricity” theme does not seem to appeal to women. This is remarkable as the majority of casual gamers are female. Something to keep in mind when we develop our new games in the future…
Future Plans: Building the Community
We launched the game for Windows Phone a few days before I left on holiday, which was thrilling! We feared that the server would not hold it, but luckily it did. This was also the reason why the game was on Windows Phone only, and not launched yet on Android and iOS. This is planned in the very near future. As already mentioned our Facebook fans doubled! We just put a big “Facebook” button on the main menu screen and that proved a lot more effective than using a pop-up (as we did with previous games). During the development of the game we tried to engage our fans by releasing a few teasers from time to time. I believe that using Facebook is a great way to involve and engage our fans.
One of the goals of the game was to connect our players. The leaderboards that we created were only a first step. In the future we continue to build a real community of casual gamers through blugri games. An exciting starting point for our next games!
The blugri team is now working incredibly hard on a first major update of Circuits, with new levels and new components. Also, the Android and Windows 8 releases are almost ready.