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Designing Scrolling Silhouettes

One of the first mini-games games we designed for A Clockwork Brain was Scrolling Silhouettes. The idea came from the hundreds of items we had from The Clockwork Man. These 1,500 items provide a huge variety of shapes and forms. The concept was to take advantage of these, and create a game that uses item shapes and pattern matching as the core mechanic. This is how Scrolling Silhouettes came to life.

Scrolling Silhouettes from Concept to Final Design

Description

The game shows an item in full color at the bottom of the screen and 2 to 4 stripes of smaller silhouettes of items at the center of the screen. The player has to find all silhouettes of the original item. The silhouettes are not static; they scroll in a horizontal movement, so not all of them are visible at any given time.

Prototyping

The original design of the game had a major difference compared to the final game: the item at the bottom of the screen was presented as a silhouette and all the moving items inside the stripes were in full color. When we created the prototype and started testing it, it became obvious that this didn’t work as well as we had expected. There was so much going on inside the stripes, that it was very very difficult to focus. All those colors were distracting and the game was not fun to play. So we thought about inverting the silhouettes,  and try it again. As it turned out this made a huge difference: it was now easy to focus on the silhouettes and this made the game actually fun!

Polishing

Scrolling Silhouettes is a rather complex mini-game, both in terms of visual elements and user interaction. Contrary to most of the other mini-games in A Clockwork Brain, the player is required to perform more than one action per level (tap on more than 1 item), in order to complete it and move on to the next. This has some consequences in the gameplay and also gives room for extra polishing.

Combos

The fact that the player has to tap many times in each level allows us to introduce a new gameplay dimension: combos. When the player taps on multiple items within a short time frame (a fraction of a second), she gets a bonus. The bonus depends on the length of the combo and translates to both extra time and extra score. This means that it is often better to wait a bit before tapping on the right items, so that you can perform a chain and get more time and points.

Multitouch

In a game that requires multiple taps, it makes sense to support multitouch. That’s why Scrolling Silhouettes allows players to tap at more than one item at once. This makes the game a lot better for advanced players. Other brain training games that we have come across do not support this feature.

Similar Shapes

Groups of similarly-looking items
Groups of similarly-looking items

A problem we ran into when developing the game was that the silhouettes of some items looked very similar and we couldn’t distinguish them, thus making mistakes. It actually makes sense, when you have almost 1,500 items; some of them are bound to have similar shapes.

We wanted to keep the large number of items, because they made the game more interesting to play, so we had to find a solution. What we did was to manually go through each item several times and create groups of items that look similar. We created 101 such groups and made sure that we never show together items that belong to the same group.

Difficulty & progression

There are a number of parameters that define this mini-game’s difficulty: the number of stripes, the number of items on each stripe, the number of items to find, the scrolling speed, item rotation. As the game progresses, all of these parameters are changed with precision, so that the game is challenging enough for all players.

Mechanics

The mechanics of the game are quite obvious; it is a pure pattern matching game. I don’t know if other people have any special strategy. To me, it’s all about acting fast, paying a lot of attention to the outline of the shape, and doing everything I can to make combos. It makes a huge difference if you achieve combos of 5 or more items at once, because you get several seconds of extra time, which usually translates to a much better score.

Insane Round

During the Insane Round, the board is in its fullest; there are 4 stripes with lots of items each. The disks are moving very fast, many of them are rotating, often at a very high speed, and some of them are much smaller, sometimes as little as half their original size.

Tips

  • Use the “faster” button as much as possible; you cannot go beyond a certain point without this.
  • Try to make as many combos as possible, especially those with 5 or more items.
  • Do not go the extra mile for combos 3 or 4; they only give you points, not extra time. If you can easily do a 4-combo, do it, but don’t waste time on that.
  • Items that have transparency, like a bottle, or those with non-solid parts, like a bicycle wheel are much easier to detect. If you are searching for such items you can be faster than usual.

Dimitrios Bendilas
Lead Game Designer
Follow me at @dimitriosb

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