Sun Stones - the least condescending puzzle game you'll ever play

Discussion in 'Other Games' started by Mr_Strange, Feb 28, 2012.

  1. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    Did you know that I'm not only a Dredmore enthusiast, but also a developer of my own games? It's true. My company just released my first indie title for iOS and Android. It's a Native American-themed puzzle game called:

    Sun Stones

    If you've enjoyed my strategy guide for DoD, or just like puzzle games in general, I would be thrilled to have you pick it up and leave a glowing review in the store. I've been a develper for 14 years on various console titles, but this is the first game I've ever made essentially on my own from scratch - and I'm damn proud of it.
    blob likes this.
  2. blob

    blob Member

    HURRAY for game developpers ! I do not have an IOS nor Android though : (

    I am curious, may I ask what are the other titles you've worked on ?
  3. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    1999 - Monkey Magic (PS1)
    2000 - Hellboy: Asylum Seeker (PC, PS1)
    2002 - Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee (GC, XBOX)
    2004 - Godzilla: Save the Earth (XBOX, PS2)
    2005 - Prince of Persia: Revelations (PSP)
    2006 - Rampage: Total Destruction (PS2, GC, Wii)
    2007 - Godzilla: Unleashed (Wii)
    2007 - Prince of Persia: Rival Swords (PSP)
    2008 - Tomb Raider: Underworld (Wii)
    2009 - Tony Hawk: RIDE (Wii)
    2010 - Army of 2: 40th Day (PSP)
    2011 - The Deadliest Warrior (XBLA, PSN)
    2011 - The Deadliest Warrior: Legends (XBLA, PSN)
    2011 - ISR: Art of Warfare (PC)
    2011 - Onaji (iOS)
    2012 - Sun Stones (iOS, Android)

    That's a fairly complete list of the games for which I held principle design responsibilities.
    Aquaman likes this.
  4. Daynab

    Daynab Community Moderator Staff Member

    Do you have a link? I don't have an iphone but I'm sure some people would want to check it out. Regardless, congratulations!
  5. Aquaman

    Aquaman Member

    Monkey magic was IS one of my all time favorite games on the Ps1! Diamonds to you good sir!...hmm wrong game... Flower fruit to you good sir! :D
  6. blob

    blob Member

    Nice list of games man ! So did you leave the big companies to work on your own stuff ?
  7. Aquaman

    Aquaman Member

    This seems to fit the description fairly well: a video and I believe the games site.
  8. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    Indeed, that's the game and the site.

    @Aquaman - I'm so pleased you like Monkey Magic! I'm quite fond of it as well.

    Here's a minor easter egg - in the lava levels (the internal name was 1030, so it was originally the third lava cave level) there is a breakable wall at the bottom-left hand corner. If you go through there there is a HUGE room full of peaches. If you zoom out you can see that the peaches spell out "N Z" - the initials of my girlfriend at the time.
    Aquaman, blob, Essence and 1 other person like this.
  9. Daynab

    Daynab Community Moderator Staff Member

    Wait I just noticed. Tony Hawk Ride? :confused:

    I was a big fan of the series and an old time online player until they... really changed the gameplay.
  10. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    Indeed. That's by far the worst game I've ever worked on. In fact, I was fired right after that project pretty much as a direct consequence of my insistence that we were making a mistake with the implementation.

    I don't think the concept was bad - but so much time was spent without a playable prototype, that by the time it became clear that the game wasn't very good there was too much invested to change direction. I made a big push to delay the title and re-vamp the controller use, but I was unsuccessful.

    Ah, memories.
  11. Daynab

    Daynab Community Moderator Staff Member

    Heh, I can certainly understand feeling discouraged about that. Anyway, good luck to your new game!
  12. Godwin

    Godwin Member

    I don't have any device that I can use to play sun stones, but I am curious: why is it the least condescending puzzle game? And which puzzle games are condescending? I must say I never found condescendingness a problem in puzzle games, so I am interested why you put the emphasis of the thread on that aspect of your game.
  13. Essence

    Essence Will Mod for Digglebucks

    ^^ This.
  14. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    An excellent question!

    Puzzle Games, especially the sort which are very common on mobile devices, tend to fall into a few common ruts. They teach you a basic mechanic, then repeat with more and more difficult puzzles - each success unlocking the next puzzle. You as a player learn to become more and more skilled in that puzzle type - hopefully keeping pace with the difficulty curve.

    But at some point, your skill curve will fall short of the puzzle difficulty, and you will become blocked. This is problematic, because it means players are no longer playing the game. On the other hand, if players do NOT reach this point eventually then the game is "too easy" and players feel cheated.

    To mitigate this, most puzzle games fall into one of a few simple archetypes, so that players can gravitate towards puzzle types they are already familiar with. If I'm really good at crossword puzzles, I'll keep seeking out and playing more crossword puzzles. This has a dampening effect on the first goal of a puzzle game - to make interesting and original puzzles!

    To sum up:

    1 - New types of puzzles are either too hard or to easy.
    2 - So companies just put out copies of old puzzles.

    This catering to players - promising them that if they have already gained the skills necessary for success in advance that they can become a master of the game - is what I mean by condescending to the players. Other games like Professor Layton achieve the same effect by simply allowing players to guess solutions over and over until they succeed - which removes the threat of failure entirely, but the game fiction attempts to preserve it.

    So what makes Sun Stones different?

    Well, to begin I started from nothing - no previous puzzles were in any way inspirations for the puzzles in Sun Stones. This means that, unless you get spoilers from someone specifically, every player comes into the experience as a blank slate. I re-emphasize this by giving absolutely no instructions during the game - you have to figure out each element on your own. That applies not only to the solution for each puzzle, but also things like playing the next puzzle, finding secrets, unlocking trophies, etc. All of those things follow clear & internally consistent rules, but you need to put effort into them to discover them.

    In fact (bringing things around to be more on-topic) this is rather similar to what makes a good Roguelike. A big part of the fun of a roguelike is the discovery element - what will this potion do? How dangerous is that enemy? Do these skills work well together? What does this stat mean? A really good roguelike like DoD gives players a sense of discovery which lasts even when players figure out exactly how the various mechanics work - like many of us have by working together. We're all pioneers of DoD together, and we all put in significant work to gain that knowledge. DoD did not treat us in a condescending manner, and we respect it for that.
    Godwin, Essence, Daynab and 1 other person like this.
  15. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    A bit more about the mechanics of Sun Stones, because I didn't get around to saying it in the first post:

    Sun Stones isn't just one mechanic - it's an intersection of several original mechanics, which get introduced slowly over the first 48 puzzles. The first few levels play out like Tangrams - but by the end you're painting complex picture using magic rocks. I don't mean that there are multiple puzzle types - every puzzle in Sun Stones is fundamentally solved by the same rules. But the mechanics you have at your disposal grow over time.

    Imagine a sliding box puzzle game. You start by moving a box into a goal, then later you have a Red and a Blue box, which each have their own goal. Then you introduce locked doors, which require that pressure plates be held down. That's an example of introducing new elements, and that is NOT what Sun Stones does.

    Sun Stones introduces new *mechanics* which have actually been in place all along. That sounds odd, but when you play it's the most natural thing in the world. It's more like Mario getting new color caps, which he can then use to get stars he couldn't reach before in previous levels.
  16. blob

    blob Member

    Interesting analysis and a bold move. I am curious to see how you introduce those new mechanics "which have actually been in place all along".I have a friend who is releasing soon a new puzzle game involving a bunch of new mechanics as well and its been very interesting beta testing his game and see how people react to new mechanics, how to deal with each level's difficulty and vary the gameplay in a way that, even though its the same mechanic, the player doesnt get tired of it.

    What are the players reactions so far ? Do you get frustrated people ( Roguelikes tend to get an either love or hate reaction, so if you re playing the card of letting the gamers by themselves I m wondering if you re getting the same or if you re introducing elements in a way that is more welcoming ).
  17. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    41 reviews so far - 40 5-star, and 1 one-star (without any text. Haters gonna hate...)

    My biggest problem, honestly, is getting exposure. We had a few thousand downloads a day initially, but it's dwindled to 200 a day now. I'm going to make another big press push once 1.0.6 goes live on iOS. I've released 4 updates for the game already, but the really big changes are still coming soon - in-game level editing and sharing, and a solution viewer for starters.

    Give me a link to your friend's game? I love to check out new puzzles.
  18. blob

    blob Member

    Congrats for your reviews, that's pretty great. What is your method for getting exposure ?
    Seeing from your website you guys are pretty communicative on every front, which is great. 18 in the US chart is also pretty awesome. Did you get extra coverage from friends in the industry ? Getting reviewed in stuff like RPS.
  19. Mr_Strange

    Mr_Strange Member

    Not at all. I haven't been involved in all of our marketing efforts, but I'll probably transition into a larger role in the near future, depending on how my workload shapes up in the coming months. If anyone here has any pull with reviewers, Kotaku, media, etc I hope they'll drop me a PM. There are lots of indie developers on twitter, which has probably been our most successful method of spreading the good word.

    One thing which hurts Sun Stones a bit - but which I hope will eventually become a strength - is that it really plays like a game. Most puzzle games I can rate within minutes, because I can see exactly how much I'll like them. There is very little fluff between the puzzle and me. Sun Stones is something you really loses yourself in - people want to keep playing, without that same vibe most puzzle games give. I think that's great, but we'll see how well it works out in the long run.
  20. Essence

    Essence Will Mod for Digglebucks

    Just bite the bullet and hire an SEO company. Or an SEO contractor. Like me. :D

    Seriously, though, if you want exposure and you think you have a decent USP/niche, even a hundred bucks a month on SEO will do amazing things for your visibility.