Gobang Social – Gobanging forvever
We have now reached version 1.7 of Gobang Social. It has been a long, bumpy road to get this game to a state where we are quite happy with its flow and appearance. Along the way there have been twists, mind warping bends and occasionally, car crashes.
In this article I am going to share with you the many visual iterations which Gobang has gone through to reach this point. You will also see some of the decisions we made along the way to reaching the latest version of the game.
I warn you though, what you are about to see may make your eyes bleed, as we delve into the very first mockups of Gobang Social, or as it was first referred to, “TicTacToe – XVO.” Click on the images for larger versions.
The first 3 images you see are the first iterations of the in-game screen from left to right. When I first started at Kwalee, I was told we would be making a turn-based tic-tac-toe game. The point of this being to test our technology and to create libraries from which we can develop more games much more quickly.
The first task was to create a tic-tac-toe game that would look interesting, even with its simplicity. The first screen was a mockup of such a game being tied to Facebook through use of colour and Facebook profile images as the players’ pieces. As you can see, it is a simple 3×3 grid here, rather than the 12×12 we have in Gobang.
Then, I started to think about what we could do to make the game stand out more, using X and O as board pieces to link the game to the classic concept. Then came the first UI iterations with in-game bars displaying scores, a few buttons and also the idea of power-ups that you would need to capture as they scrolled down the screen. One idea was to flip your opponent’s pieces to your own, so if they are about to make a winning move, you can use your power up to switch from X to O and steal their victory.
So how do you make a simple game more engaging? David Darling was very keen on expanding the grid size to make the gameplay longer and more strategic, so we agreed to test this: first on paper, then through builds. With the expansion of the grid, the visuals evolved and the idea was raised about characterising the game more. Through use of facial features at first, then animals; we managed to start shaping the game and the beginnings of a bright and colourful style.
“5Kind” was raised as a name, along with some other ideas, since we needed to associate the game more with Gomuku, its ancestor. Like everything in the development of this game, the name changed. So the graphics for the logo were never settled on, for fear of getting too accustomed to a name which might later be abandoned. Placeholders where used for a time, until the name was settled.
Personally, I loved the little animals approach. The first graphics where actually produced for iPad resolution and then sized down, but with Gobang Social, we developed for the 4S/4 and 3GS, with the iPad version not being full resolution. This is currently something we are debating spending time on. All of the other games currently in development at Kwalee are at iPad res and will be sized down. The discussion at the moment is whether it is worth doing this for Gobang as well.
Then, the name changed again, meaning that changes had to be made to the graphics. This time, we changed the pieces to cats with the idea that they would be animated in layers, hence their vector style. The backgrounds where also created with dynamic lines, at first fading white to black to indicate the opponent and yourself. When we reached Gobang with bombs as playable pieces, we used all the values we started off with in the first iterations, but made the backgrounds softer and less dynamic, since the argument was raised that you couldn’t see the bubbles you needed to place your pieces onto.
Also, in the second image you can see a ball of yarn, this was derived from our discussions about currency and in-app purchases. We thought it would be cool if you could jazz up your cat or buy other awesome packs to improve your interface and your gaming experience. As you can see, the idea to have your Facebook profile picture visible has always stuck with the game throughout its development.
So here we are with the last reflection on the games list screen. This is probably the most changed part of the game. We went through many iterations. Over time, we needed to prioritise what we could do and what we could develop later on as the game evolved.
We are still listening to requests, ideas and feedback since we want to make our players happy. It also helps us to develop technology for future titles as well. For a time, we were planning to have no text in the game, to reduce the need for localisation. This involved figuring out universal icons for things we wanted to get across to the player. The most difficult of these was “New Game.” Trying to get the right icon to convey the meaning of this phrase was very hard work.
We tested this with players from outside the company, but people did not seem familiar with the icons we were trying to establish. So after trialling the game in New Zealand, we redesigned the user interface. It worked and we started getting more and more users. We listened to their feedback and made other improvements where needed.
That is the visual journey of Gobang Social as it stands. We now have a good colour pallet and a game that plays as it should. It has definitely come a long way since its tic-tac-toe days. Looking back at Gobang’s development, it makes me confident that all of our games will be a lot better for this experience. We have received feedback on the visuals for the game and worked on them as much as possible between each build. We are now working on some really exciting games that I can’t wait for us to release!
I hope this has been a useful and interesting reflection on Gobang and what it is like to work in a start-up video game developer. As ever, keep your feedback coming and I hope that we can work with our audience to make our games a great experience for everyone.
Jay Lytwynenko is an Artist at Kwalee.