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How We Created an iOS Game for Fun and (Very Little) Profit

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Shawn Nelson, author of Photoshop for Games: Creating Art for Console, Mobile, and Social Games, describes how he and a programmer pal combined their talents to go from 'We have holes' and 'We have a ball' to the addicting 'Gopher Go Boom,' an exploding-gopher game for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
From the author of It Began with an Idea (and a Few Drinks)

It Began with an Idea (and a Few Drinks)

I was first approached with the idea of making a small game while out to lunch with a coworker, and most likely a few drinks in. (Ideas always sound better a few drinks in.) He started his pitch this way: "You know, between you and me, we make up a whole development team." That was true; we had both been in games development for many years. He was a front-end/back-end physics and graphics programmer, and I was an artist, animator, modeler, rigger, tech artist, and UI guy. (So many hats! Working on lots of games will do that.) My friend had been toying around with a physics demo that he thought would make a cool little indie game, but it needed some art—and some good ideas.

Honestly, I was hooked at, "Hey, let's go to lunch."

The physics demo my friend had made was in the form of a labyrinth board-tilting maze game for the iPhone. It worked really well, but it was a bit plain in the modern world of iOS games. He needed some help jazzing it up, which is why he tapped me. His initial design wasn't bad for a wooden box (see Figure 1), but I knew we could do better.

Figure 1 Marble game.

In making games, the development team often needs to alter existing work into something a bit more interesting (and hopefully marketable), but where do you begin? Start by listing your assets. Our building process began with three assets:

  • A game that worked on tilting physics
  • A virtual ball that followed the same rules
  • A rudimentary game of getting the ball from here to there

We started by altering the main premise, which was getting the ball into the hole. What could we build with a hole and a ball that wasn't essentially a golf game? Gophers, of course! "Gophers live in holes, let's do something with gophers!" (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Instructions for tilting.

We decided to change the rules of the original game a bit. We would keep the ball rolling, but instead of trying to get the ball into a hole, we would chase 3D gophers around with the ball and try to bump into them, thereby blowing them up. We added a clock, a game convention that limits the time you have to complete the task. Our clock was based on carrots. If you didn't rid the area of gophers fast enough, they grabbed all your carrots, and the level was over. With this simple and fun premise, the iterating began.

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