Making of Islands

When we started making this game, we had no idea how big a bamboo structure we could fit on the screen. We also didn't know yet from which perspective the structure should be shown or how should it be drawn to make it look good, clear and functional.

We had to start from somewhere, so we created this simple mockup screenshot to see what the game could look like.

Here is a quick test which was made to have some kind of an idea what kind of backgrounds could work in the game.
The mockup screenshots weren't enough to give us a clear vision how the game would feel like when you actually tried building something on the screen. This is why we made a quick prototype of the game. The physics weren't final, but the structure could already bend and break in a really interesting, realistic and nice way. We also added the builder monkey in the prototype to see if it would work or if it was just irritating. It was kind of OK'ish in the prototype so we kept it for some time.

The game prototype let our lead designer's imagination loose when he started playing with the physics engine to find out it's limitations...

When we had decided how big the structures and monkeys should be, we moved forward and started experimenting on different kinds of dangerous things that could be found from the game level. These dangerous things would break the bamboo tower on contact.

By this time the coders had already made an advanced version of the game engine. This helped our graphic designers when they were creating different kinds of visualization tests of the test game levels. They took a screen shot of the game and added backgrounds to them to see if they would work or not.

Soon it became obvious that the game would look much better if we added some 3D like depth to the background graphics. This image was created to test how many different parallax layers we would need in the background. The result looks nice and full of trees and vegetation.

One day we received a brief e-mail from our lead graphic designer:
June 10th, 2008 - 3:48 PM
TOPIC: "Lets Next Gen!"

Lets not this (boring) gen with monkey.
Lets Next Gen With First Person Monkeys!

Needles to say, he can actually write perfect english, this day he just chose not to.

These are the phases the jungle background went through during the development. The last three images show the backgrounds in action.

Here is a test on what one of the islands could look like during different times of the day. We ended up using just one of them in the game. Can you tell which one?

Here are five sketches what kind of cave environment might work in the game. Can you tell which one was used in the game? (Hint: every good game has to have some lava in it!)

And here are some more of the background tests which we created before the final looks of the islands were chosen.

Making of Menus

Menus. They are the integral part of every game. They tie all parts of the game together. One important thing, which many players don't realize, is that menus should reveal lots of information about the underlying game and it's progression, so that everything doesn't have to be explained in tutorials. Menus explain alot about what the player must do to open up new game levels, which awards are available and how they are achieved. All this has to be thought out really carefully so it is easily understood by the player, without using popup text boxes. Here are some sketches of the menus demonstrating some of the things we tried during the design process.

From the very beginning it was clear that we wanted to show the islands together on the screen. The idea of rotating them to choose them was there from the beginning till the end.
This was our first take on the menu mockup screenshots. It had the mechanism to select the island you wanted as well as the level you wanted to play (the board is the level selection mechanism). There were several problems with this design, though. We needed to somehow show the player which game levels were played through and if the player had accomplished some of the tasks in the game level (bamboo limits etc.). In addition, our lead designer wasn't very fond of the board visuals containing the level names, so our lead graphic designer had to try something else.

So what if we didn't actually show the game levels at all in the Island Selection screen? What if we only showed some kind of progress meter in addition to the islands? The mask took the job of indicating progress in the island. What should the level selection screen look like? We wanted to show a beautiful picture of the island in the level selection screen, but this brought up a new problem: these screens now looked like they were taken from two different games!

One solution was to change the look of the Island Selection screen. Now we had three different screens: Island, Level and Mission select screens. It didn't take long for us to realize that this amount of menu diving wasn't very user friendly. We needed to remove atleast one menu stage to keep it simple. Everyone also missed the beautiful view of the ocean, so the lead graphic designer went back to the drawing board.

Here are some mockup screenshots showing what the screen could have looked like where the game tells the player that she has progressed in the game. We were thinking of using either masks, idols or treasure map pieces for this.

The main menu was also very different looking back then. The idea was to use the background graphics of that game level which the player had reached when he last played the game.

This is how the final game menus ended up looking. They contain all the needed information, still looking nice and understandable.

Making of Monkeys

In the beginning of the project we knew we wanted to create a game which had monkeys building towers in it. In the end it wasn't the monkeys building the towers, but the player building them for the monkeys. This proved to be a more suitable solution for mobile game purposes.

Finding the proper visual style for the game was a challenging task. There were lots of requirements that had to be met with the characters of the game:
  • The monkeys would need to look interesting.
  • They would need to look good on low resolution handset screens.
  • They would have to be easily animated by the graphic designers.
  • They needed to have clear and identifiable facial expressions for player feedback.

This is where it all started. A couple of completely different approaches were tried and tested. The big monkey was hilarious, but was technically challenging to create and wasn't as good as it could have been. The small monkey looked a bit more functional and interesting so we started looking closer into that monkey design.

Quickly made animation sequences were tried for proof of concept. Note that the monkey has a basket full of bamboo on his back at this point of development.

We also toyed with the idea of having two kinds of monkeys: builder monkeys and small monkeys which would eventually climb the tower and try to reach the level exit. These little guys eventually took over the whole game when we got rid of the builder monkey. Their appearance changed a couple of times during the development, though.
Eventually we wanted to find out how big the monkeys could be on the screen, without them affecting the game play too much. If the monkeys were too big and too many, the underlying bamboo structure would be hidden behind the monkeys. This would cause lots of problems to the game play. Here are a few comparisons between different looking monkeys and bamboo structure. Those little guys clearly look like they're related to the bigger monkey.

And so it happened that we were nearly satisfied with our monkey design, so we desided to create a more detailed rendition of it. This is what the monkeys would look in high resolution. They were changed to look a bit less weird and crazy. Now they looked sane.

The next step was to find out if we could add some gear on the monkey:

We still weren't satisfied with the monkeys appearance, so we tried some new looks for the monkeys.
Finally we found something we liked. The upper row of monkeys are the first revision and the lower row are the finished monkeys. You might wonder why there are three different looking final monkeys in this sketch. The reason for this is that at this time of development we were toying with the idea of using different weight monkeys as difficulty level for this game. In the end we decided against this idea and chose the medium one of the monkeys.

And here is the final monkey in all it's glory.
These are two funny extra pictures we wanted to show you. They were created by one of the graphicians while he was feeling a bit bored.

Making of Other Stuff

Here are some random things which we thought might be of interest to you.

This is a technical specification made for our coders by our lead designer. It shows how we first thought the controls should behave. Due to technical problems with this approach, we had to go another route which you're familiar with since you've already played the game.

This must be the very first sketch done for this game. It shows what kind of things could have been found from the game levels.

This carving is a quick sketch that could have been used throughout the game. In the end we didn't have any place to use these kinds of things so they were dropped during the development.

Colors! This color test made it clear for us which kind of color palette the game should have.

What kind of islands should the game have? How could they differ enough from each other so it was obvious which island's game level you were looking at? This was the first mockup created while trying to answer these questions.

We had plans to give players nice end animation sequences where the monkeys build an airplane and fly home. Unfortunately due to graphics restrictions we couldn't fit this in the mobile game so we cut it out.

Of course you also have to create graphics for marketing purposes. Here is an early draft of the title screen and the finished version.
And here's some more material created for marketing purposes.