Monday, April 23, 2018

Ambitious Dirt

Ambitious Dirt is a colour-matching puzzle game from Playhybrid, available on Andriod and IOS devices.

Ambitious Dirt was a project I never imagined I'd be involved in. To be sure, I've always loved puzzle games - from Tetris to The Witness, I've spent countless hours solving arbitrary problems, (usually to do with matching colours or shapes). But I'd never worked on a pure puzzle game before, or a mobile game for that matter. So when I decided to take the challenge of directing a game for the first time, there was a lot to learn before we could get this project to the level everyone was aiming for.

It's hard to create a product that stands out in an over-saturated field like the "match 3" genre. You want to present players with something simple with elements of their old favourites, but different enough to surprise them, and deep enough to keep them coming back for more. Ambitious Dirt takes the familiar concept of matching like colours, and adds a navigation element to the gameplay. Players need to guide a train of characters through a maze of coloured tiles, matching the characters over them them to remove obstacles, build power-ups and switch turnstiles. Sometimes, there are multiple solutions to a problem, other times there's only one. In the end, we found a balance between the instant gratification of a match 3, and the strategic depth of a classic puzzle game.

Of course, no mobile game today can go to market without monetization and retention strategies. Ambitious Dirt presents players' overall score as a "Property Value" and progression level by the size of their house. The house is situated in a "neighborhood" of other players, (essentially a leaderboard where everyone's progression is on display), and can be customized with decorative items purchased with hard and soft in-game currency. Players can purchase currency, power-ups and other consumables from an in-game store, along with gift certificates which can be sent to friends, awarding them bonus items and random surprises. The ultimate goal is up to each individual player to decide; clear all of the game's levels, or keep challenging highscores until they acquire the biggest house available. Combined with timed special activities and events, there's a lot to come back to here! 

Ambitious Dirt is also a beautiful game; full 3D environments and characters pop right off the screen with vibrant colour and lively animation. A fantastic original soundtrack and great special effects are icing on the cake. I was deeply involved in almost every aspect of Ambitious Dirt's design, and even built over 100 puzzle levels. It's another project I'm proud to say that I was a part of.


Children of Zodiarcs

Children of Zodiarcs is a Japanese Strategy Role-Playing Game published by Square Enix and developed by Cardboard Utopia. I wrote the story and dialog, and helped develop the world, characters and lore.

A group of young thieves pull off a daring heist and escape with a powerful nobleman's treasure. Relentlessly pursued by the authorities, they are forced to make desperate choices that will effect the course of their lives, those that survive that is.

This was a very personal project for just about everyone involved in its creation. In our youth, many of the developers had grown up with games like Final Fantasy and Crono Trigger from legendary developer Squaresoft. Now we had an opportunity to make a game like that for a new generation, and have it published under the Square-Enix banner! But beyond the nostalgia and excitement of being associated with such classic games, Children of Zodiarcs allowed a small team of dedicated designers, artists and programmers a chance to build something more than just your typical commercial product. It's common for a lot of blood sweat and tears to go into the development of a game, especially one that takes a few years to complete... but it's fair to say that an unusual amount of love went into this one, which I think shows in the final product.

When I first began imagining this story, some very serious themes and subjects began to take precedence, ideas that resonated with the real world today. To me, that's always a good thing; it gives a story value outside of simple entertainment. Of course, as a writer, my primary job is to entertain - characters need to be likable and fun, dialog needs to be witty and concise... and since my main subject was a bunch of kids, they had to sound and act like kids. So it was a challenge to bring all that together.

I'm proud of what we managed to accomplish with Children of Zodiarcs, despite our lofty goals. The game scored well with critics, (81 Metascore!) and remains one of my favourite projects to date.


Ambitious Dirt

Ambitious Dirt is a colour-matching puzzle game from Playhybrid, available on Andriod and IOS devices. Ambitious Dirt was a project I n...