This month’s focus is about some of the iterations in the development of Paleo Pines. Iteration in game design terms means that we conceive an idea, create a prototype, test it, and then start all over again once we know what works and doesn’t work. This blog will highlight two areas of Paleo Pines that are in the middle of their iterations – taming a dino and our trading UI.
Taming is one of our core gameplay features that has been heavily iterated – and is the perfect example to show you how a feature can change over time as we work towards perfecting the game experience.
One of the most fun things to do in Paleo Pines is taming and befriending the many dinosaurs that roam the land. But how does it work? What went into deciding what the best way was to incorporate this into the game? Today, Nina Roussakoff, our game director, and Aaron Meehan, one of our programmers who worked on the taming implementation will talk about the feature.
Nina, what different options for taming have been explored so far?
Taming dinosaurs in Paleo Pines goes a long way back, it’s been a part of the game since the very first design document. Something that has stayed with us throughout the different iterations was the idea of charming dinosaurs by playing the flute. Music and tasty treats have always been the key to befriending dinosaurs, but little did we know how long it would take to work out exactly how the combination would work.
We’ve tried throwing tasty treats at the dinos to get their attention, sneaking up to them while they’re distracted, a “Flute Hero” music mechanic, all the way down to a simple version where you simply ‘select’ a dino call and your flute would play it. Over time, it became clear what we wanted taming to feel like: what’s most important is the bonding with the dinosaur and the interaction with them as an individual.
Think of seeing a cute cat on the street… You never know whether or not they’re going to take interest in you. So you kneel down, put your hand out, make some sounds, maybe give a little treat and hope the cat takes a liking to you and trusts you! Trying to convey this feeling in a game mechanic has been a very interesting journey. Right now, the actions you take will influence how the dino feels about you and you’re not quite sure how it will react to your actions but of course there is some sense of control in what’s going to happen. This way it becomes a little bit more instinctual and gives a sense of excitement about how the taming is going to proceed and whether this dino wants to be your friend! Each species has a different personality and will need a slightly different approach, which makes it feel a lot more authentic.
What were things the team struggled with finding the right mechanic for and how did you solve this?
At one point we had the taming function the way we wanted it to, but what wasn’t entirely clear was the outcome of the actions, and how a player was to know which actions to take. What we came to eventually is a ‘green zone’ in the UI. This will show you when the dino is most receptive to being tamed!
By comparison, in Pokémon, there is a health bar that shows you when a Pokémon is weak enough to allow it to be caught. That’s not an option in Paleo Pines. We don’t want to weaken or hurt a dinosaur – this isn’t about tricking or catching a dinosaur against their will – all we want is to gain the love and trust of our prehistoric friends!
Did you take inspiration from any other games for our taming?
As mentioned before, Pokémon did give us some inspiration; the feeling of ‘will they, won’t they?’ (be caught/tamed) was a huge factor. We’ve looked at what other games have done but Pokémon probably comes the closest. Many games make it quite easy to befriend animals that are SUPPOSED to be your friend, but we really wanted to make it feel like a more natural, intuitive experience.
Aaron, can you explain any technical challenges you came across with implementing taming?
We’re aiming to have many different species of dino tamable in Paleo Pines, so one of the big challenges we’ve had was to build a system that worked well and felt good while taming dinos with vastly different body types and sizes; from dinos that are the size of a cat to much bigger ones, and all across different types of terrain. We’re going to be experimenting with dinos that have more extreme body plans very soon, and I imagine that’s going to bring with it some interesting headaches/challenges!
Taming is one of the central mechanics in Paleo Pines, and so we’ve gone through many iterations to get it feeling just right (and I’m sure we’ll go through many more). We’ve tweaked and changed and thrown out nearly every aspect of it at some point during development and from a technical point of view, this has meant having to keep all of our systems flexible so that we can make them do what we want without any trouble when we have new ideas or the design changes. When you’re iterating quickly, keeping on top of code cleanliness can be a challenge but it’s always important!
Creating the Trading System
Paleo Pines has one big trading hub: Pebble Plaza. This is where you can get special items, treats, make furniture orders and lots more! We’re talking to Naoimh Murchan, one of our great programmers, about how this system works and what went into implementing it.
You helped develop the trading system for Paleo Pines. What did you need to take into consideration for it?
There are a lot of little mechanical implications that need to be taken into consideration when implementing any piece of UI, but for the trading system, speed is probably one of the most important. Whether you’re a casual player who needs to get some extra cash to buy their dino a special treat or an entrepreneur amassing their dino ranching empire, the experience of buying and selling should be a smooth one – you have friends to get back to!
Other than that, injecting a bit of personality into the interaction was also important. Paleo Pines has a bunch of colourful characters, it’s only fair a little bit of their personality should shine through in small ways, even when you’re just trading some veggies…
Has it gone through many iterations?
Yes! And it’s still being worked on, tweaked and improved with the entire team providing their input! Going through several iterations of this system has been a way to explore how best to convey all that information (prices, amounts, totals, item details) to the player and create a system that properly fits in with the atmosphere and pace of the rest of Paleo’s world.
Did you run into any challenges with the implementation?
Each time we iterate and improve on the system means adapting and tweaking a lot of code to fit in with that. The challenge often ends up being how to build something malleable that can be taken apart and easily edited if need be. For me it’s been a fun challenge to rip apart my code and refine it into something ready to suit possible player needs!
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