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September 25th, 2008 | Taming Originality
by Jonathan Leaders

Initial concept sketch for Roogoo characters

Roogoo’s Prototyping Strategy

Making something original tends to bring unique challenges. Making Roogoo was no exception. One of the strategies we used to ease some of the challenges was to try and establish a workflow that allowed for as much iteration as possible. Quick iteration makes trying new things easier, and throwing away work easier when you find out that what you tried didn’t work out so hot.
The mindset of prototyping quickly had to be strong on multiple layers, like an onion, like an ogre.


1. The Design Layer
The first layer, on the design side, was primarily the human factor. It was ensuring that the ideas were quality, communicated, and numerous. We often drew pictures, ripped up pieces of paper, made funny impromptu noises or danced in charades — whatever was needed to quickly and clearly illustrate ideas to the team. No idea was unacceptable, and not all ideas were accepted. Ideas flowed like wine, and had their first iterations verbally before moving on the next layer. Often there were more ideas than time to implement them, so a mutually agreed upon priority list was used to discern which ones got in the game first.

Early initial concept sketch for alternate game modes

2. The Development Layer
Games are an interactive medium, which makes it important to have a prototype up and running so that you can test it in a way that you can feel it in motion. Personally for me as a programmer, I had to develop with two separate mindsets. One mindset was “fast throw away” prototype code, and one mindset is secure, stable production code. The fast prototype code was similar in some qualities to true production code, but lacked supplemental documentation, did not use proper test cases, did not have future extensibility in mind, and did not have aesthetic flourish. That being said, the architecture of the fast prototype code was often very similar to the final production code, (usually just smaller), so that ideas that stuck because they were good did not have to be entirely re-done in order to translate them into production code. They just needed a little love, and then it was on to the next idea.

3. The Testing Layer
The process of moving the developed materials onto the Xbox was streamlined and automated. The turn-around time from “development” to “on screen” was reduced so that it usually took less than a minute or two. In retrospect it could have been even faster if we had created the system with the mindset of synchronization, so that making changes from a developer’s computer would be automatically detected and pushed to the Xbox when saved. But the system we used allowed us to develop extremely quickly, and try out idea after idea.

Results
We had some interesting runs with Roogoo. As the game turned out, it was primarily an action pattern-matching twitch arcade game based on rotating platforms of holes to catch shapes. But I remember times when we had several different versions of it playable. Those familiar with the game, or who’ve tried out the demo will realize just how different these ideas are. One version of the game had the players matching three-in-a-row colors to clear shapes out, much like many of it’s spiritual predecessors. Another version of the game had a glowing bouncing ball that would bounce from platform to platform, dodging the meemoo, who, at the time, were just spike-headed blocks (video).� One prototype was made to look like it was made out of cardboard, and had physical trap doors that opened to let the shapes through. We even had a version where you controlled Roogoo as he fell downwards like the shapes.

Roogoo is truly unique, and what else can you expect from game that came from a dream?

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3 comments

    October 2nd, 2008 (8:34 pm)
    Brice Morrison says:

    I totally agree; fast iteration is the key to interesting and original game designs. Do you work user testing into your process? I’ve found that doing some quick Kleenex tests does wonders for a design mechanic.

    October 6th, 2008 (5:15 pm)
    Jonathan Leaders says:

    I think that’s a great idea. After we’re happy with a prototype, we do use a limited amount of user-testing. Admittedly we could use it more through out development to get fresh perspectives on our designs.

    November 13th, 2008 (3:54 am)
    dianne gile says:

    I really loved getting these details of how roogoo came about and the process! I can’t conceive such creativity. From Dianne, a big fan.

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