Hello. My name is Richard and I’m a programmer at XMPT Games (AKA: the guy who does all the hard work.) I’ve been hard at work developing our new game, Penguin Party, which was released onto the PSM store this week. We’ll be talking more about the game in the next few posts, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you the history of Penguin Party and how it came to be. Just over a year ago, we decided to make an earnest attempt at getting into games. However, we didn’t want to jump straight in at the deep end. After much pitching back and forth we settled on a tile-based game that used arrows to direct creatures around the grid. It had plenty of scope to sink our teeth into, but was simple enough to get started with. We had a brainstorming session and came up with two ideas:
- #1: Players would help guide their collection of penguins back to the water across an ice field. Along the way there would be numerous holes in the ice that they could swim into, but some would be trapped by sharks. The sharks would lurk in the depths and sometimes even dive under the ice in order to switch to another location. The objective of the game was not to save all of the penguins, but to rescue over a certain percentage. As an aside, the next time I saw our artist Ed, I spotted a pile of books about penguins on a nearby table. To this day he claims not to have been influenced by them. I have my doubts.
- #2: Players would take on the role of a demon overlord, trying to cleanse their dungeon of heroes. They would have a never ending supply of minions that would be used to defend against heroes that were attacking the dungeon. Rather than having a solution to solve, heroes would constantly be moving around trying to take out key structures on the grid. This meant that the game would be a frantic race to change the direction of your force to slam into each knight, archer or catapult.
Whilst we really liked both ideas, in the end we decided that the frantic dungeon-based concept may be too frenzied to play. Thus, we decided to opt for penguins. The name Penguin Panic was chosen out of a shortlist that included “Save the Penguins!” and “Puzzle Penguins”. After we hashed out a few more gameplay ideas, Ed went away and came up with our first concept image for the game. We’ve inserted that image below for your amusement.
In order to ensure that we actually worked on the game, we decided to submit it into Microsoft’s annual Dream Build Play competition. With the deadline looming, we quickly went ahead expanding the penguin concept by first tweaking the artwork into the cartoon style we have today. Mechanics came next: we added new arrows and obstacles to put in puzzles, such as ice cubes that could be pushed around. We eventually moved away from requiring the player to rescue a percentage of penguins in order to complete a given level. This allowed us to have much tighter puzzles which had definitive solutions, thereby allowing us to add harder levels to the latter parts of the game. Although we were designing puzzles as we went along, we probably only had around 50% of puzzles by the time the code was completed. The following week Ed and I worked alone to create sets of puzzles. Once each set was completed, we would give them to the other person to solve. When we felt like we had a game of sufficient quality, we presented as many of our puzzles as we could at one of our weekly game design meetings. Aside from a last minute panic when I discovered a defect in the code, we submitted our game to the competition on time. You can see below what the game looked like then (Summer 2012).
Sadly we received no feedback about Penguin Panic and we didn’t win the competition. We were not deterred though and when we officially formed XMPT Games, Penguin Panic wasn’t far from our minds. We decided there were a few things we needed to improve on:
- Whilst we were very happy with what we had done within the time that the competition allowed, we were competing with entries that had been worked on for months or even years longer than ours. There were areas in Penguin Panic that we felt could do with either improvement or minor additions. None of these changes would affect the gameplay, but they would add that extra level of polish that players expect.
- We had presented to the other members of XMPT Games prior to submitting the game to the competition, but testing had only been focussed on puzzle design and difficulty. Therefore, we decided to begin a more formal testing process. We met up with people outside of our group and give the game a proper play test. Quite a few gameplay and tutorial tweaks came out of those sessions.
- One thing that had always been in the back of our minds was engaging with players in order to get them to keep coming back to the game. To this end, we decided to re-theme the game. It would now be called “Penguin Party”. The intention would then be to release new puzzles and mechanics in the form of new ‘parties’ that the players would experience. We hoped that this would evoke feelings of a festival atmosphere.
We also decided to change platform. At the time, we had already been looking into PSM for another prototype and since a couple of the group already owned Vitas, we felt like this would be a great change and offer a fresh challenge. After a few more months of work, we finally completed Penguin Party and ended up with what see today:
We’re very proud of Penguin Party and will have a lot more to talk about regarding the project and our future plans for the title. For now, check it out for free in the Playstation Mobile store if you’re a Vita or you own a PlayStation certified device!