Castles Made of Sand

Castles Made of Sand is a game based on a Jimi Hendrix song of the same name. The game was created for my Art Games class in about 2 weeks of full production and a few more of experimentation. The idea focuses on what we took away from the song, which is a sense of change. The song’s chorus is all about how sand castles will always wash away into the sea. Much of the song and it’s lyrics feel sad but it combines this with a strangely upbeat and happy melody. It’s a weird mix but it helps create the idea that this constant world of change can be both good or bad.

Our game uses this idea to allow a lot of creativity, players can quickly create sand castles using randomly given pieces. However, the sea around them will eventually eat away at everything and break it down. Players simply have to accept the changes, they can rebuild a similar structure or create something entirely new.

You can download the game here: CastleFinalPresentation

Overall we found that the game worked well with this sense of change. Because of the random creation process, players are less attached to their structures. As the castles fall apart they don’t feel as if they really lost something special but instead continue on building something new.

In the end the game felt more like a prototype than anything. A lot of experimentation went into it and a lot of ideas didn’t make it in. We still wanted it to feel more like a toy than a game, something you played on your phone while commuting but it never quite got there.

Below is my postmortem for the game and the reasons why it worked, and the reasons it failed as well as some of our ideas that would have alleviated many of the problems it currently has.

Postmortem :: The Good and Bad

The lack of an attachment player’s have is good and bad. It’s good because players are less frustrated when their creations fall apart, which happens quite a bit while playing, but this is also very bad because players have a strong disconnect between themselves and their creations. This disconnect stems from the randomness of the pieces as well as the limited types player’s are given. Players are never very proud of their own creations as they rarely can create something that feels entirely their own.  They are only half of the creation process, while the other half is the random pieces they are given and have no control over.

In the end the creation process feels just as random as the pieces given. Although sometimes players get what they want and need, most of the time is spent struggling to create an extremely simple structure with a piece they have no real place for.

A Lack Planning:

The disconnect between players and their creations really occurs because a lack of planning from the player’s perspective. They have no control or knowledge of what pieces are coming up so they can’t plan accordingly. The planning process is extremely important in a creation game as it really drives what the player wants to do with the resources given to him. Without knowing what the player has, they don’t know what they can accomplish. Thus we tend to see player’s creating completely random castles instead of the castle they want to create.

However, the randomization was something we really liked. It forces the player to use the cards he or she is dealt and solve simple issues with them.

A better way to accomplish the randomization would be to give the player a pool of random pieces instead of surprising them with a new one each time. The pool could consist of around 12 or so structures. These could be icons placed at the bottom of the screen and could be dragged or clicked into place. This would give back a bit of the planning phase by allowing players to see a large number of their resources and figure out how they can use them.

More planning brings players back into creating what they want and investing them more in their creations. This investment still doesn’t have to be massive, as the creations will eventually die, but it should be enough to make a player proud of what they accomplished.  It would focus on a quick positive feedback loop as they plan and use a small amount of resources to watch their structures come together.

Positive feedback is only really accomplished when the player feels that they thought of it. When the player accidentally does something cool it’s nice, but when a player can plan out a situation and watch it come to be, they really feel empowered.

Deeper Gameplay:

Without any deeper control or objectives the process of creating castles quickly becomes a fun waste of time, but that’s it. In the current prototype, there are no objectives or reasons to create castles in certain ways. We have no deeper meaning, reason to play the game or challenge to the player. This was partly due to our creative process as well as a simple lack of time, only having about 2 weeks of full production.

Deeper gameplay is really lacking because castle creation has no better or worse way to accomplish the same thing. Although we don’t want to pigeon hole player’s into playing the game a certain way, there needs to be a few different ways to accomplish the same goal, some better than others based on the circumstances of that moment.

An early idea was to allow players to dig or build structures to slow or stop the waters from reaching their castles. This would not only give players an immediate goal, a way to at least slow the destruction process, but also a simple tactic to expand gameplay. Protection overall is easy, it’s instinctive in people, especially when it comes to a person’s creation. The goal wouldn’t even need to be required but most people would quickly latch onto the role and learn to protect their most prized castles with simple more easily created walls.

Influencing the waves already creates a more interesting experience. It creates a system in which players must balance what they are doing and when. Taking this a step farther is the idea of the sun being another source of destruction.

Early on, we had a basic idea that players couldn’t build too close to the water or too far away. If players build too close to the water the waves would break down the structures, moving too far back would mean that the sun would slowly heat the castles and the sand would be too dry to stick together, destroying it. Players needed to keep their structures wet by either moving up and down the beach with the changing tide or building trenches to bring water closer to their castles. Player’s could also funnel water using castle walls or other specialized abilities.

Other objectives might be implemented, but we wanted the game to feel more like a toy than a fully fledged game. Keeping the objectives open allows players to create their own and accomplish them as they want. This isn’t always the best way to do things but because of the lack of time we liked this more than others.

Change / Challenge:

Change in gameplay is required for a game to continue being fun past the few minute mark. Without change, there really is no challenge, and thus, no fun. Right now, after the first playthrough of our game, player’s have no real reason to try again. Nothing will really be too different, they will most likely have used all the pieces at least once and understand how everything works. After this, there really is nothing to do.

One way to keep players interested is by introducing new objectives, like I said above we had ideas but not the time to implement them. Some objectives were simple like unlocking new castle pieces over time, others were more complex like AI hermit crabs that players needed protect and would live in the castles.

An interesting idea was creating specific castle types by filling in the basic shape of the castle with the given tetris style shapes. After the template was filled, the castle’s would become a specific type with specific abilities. This would give players a reason to experiment with their creations to see what templates exist and what each one does.

The End Game:

Over all, the prototype worked as intended but isn’t complete. It offers only a glimpse of what we wanted and it’s issues are quickly apparent. It’s art style in particular was something we experimented with quite a bit, but nothing really came out of it. What we ended up with was more a mess of everything than a finished style. We missed a lot of simple things like a basic font change and ending / starting screen.

The code is extremely sloppy and has a huge amount of bugs. Most people can see just from the video that the castles tops don’t align correctly. The game itself can crash for a few reasons we still can’t pin down.

A finishing overall polish is badly needed but the prototype does its job well. The project is fairly large and needs a bigger team than the 3 we had in order to fully develop it into a game.

Perhaps in the future I can work on it more and get a better bug free version up and running.

Categories: Art Games

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