April 30, 2014 4:30 PM | Tim
A good snowperson, like a puzzle game, is hard to build. Fortunately, a puzzle game about building snowpeople is being packed together by two capable developers: Alan Hazelden (These Robotic Hearts Of Mine, Traal) and Benjamin Davis (MNSWPR.EXE, Sushi Snake). The following interview explores how this collaboration, and then the game, formed, along with how PuzzleScript helps for prototyping and building levels.
Can you describe A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build in your own words? How did the collaboration came about, and who came up with the idea for A Good Snowman?
Alan: The one-sentence description I've been using is that it's a puzzle game about being a monster and making snowmen.
Ben: At the time, Alan and I had been meeting up at a café once a week to keep each other company whilst working on our own games. We'd both come to the end of long projects (Sokobond and Sushi Snake) and weren't really committing to doing anything, when Alan suggested a small collaboration. I wanted to do something seasonal and Alan had this idea for a little game about building snowmen. We talked it through and it seemed like it might work!
Alan: I had the idea of making a game about building snowmen a while ago, but for some reason in my head it was side-on with gravity and wouldn't really have worked well. We were talking about making a Christmas-y game and I mentioned the idea to Ben; he quickly pointed out how much better a different perspective would be.
How long did it take to come up with the majority of the puzzles?
Alan: I actually made the vast majority of the current puzzles in just a couple of days right at the start of the project: a big win for having a working prototype right from the start. Since then I've added a few more levels and tweaked things due to playtesting, but most of the work has been making things look pretty rather than creating the puzzles.
How did you come up with the names for the snowmen? Are they based on real people that you know, or did you just pick random names?
Alan: Many of the snowpeople are named after people I know, but I was trying to pick mostly common British names so that was somewhat inevitable. I named them independently of Ben drawing them, so as far as I know there's no caricatures in there!
How much longer do we have to wait before the game is released? Will there be an Early Access build, and at what price?
Ben: I'm hoping it'll be out before Christmas!
Alan: Yes, before Christmas would be good! Hopefully significantly before, but these things have a way of taking far longer than you expect... We're not planning to have early access, I don't think this game particularly fits that model. We do have some fun ideas for the pricing, but I don't want to mention that yet: sorry to tease!
Besides PC, is the game coming out on other platforms (e.g. iOS/Android)? Will it be a simultaneous release on all platforms?
Alan: The game will probably come out on iOS/Android a while after the PC release. It's enough work releasing a game just focusing on one platform! iOS/Android will be simultaneous when that happens though.
Ben: We do already have a working build for touchscreen devices, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done to get the input feeling right.
Is the game close to being finished? How much more content do you plan to add to it?
Alan: As happens with a lot of games, the game is "basically done", and will remain that way for a while. It's less about adding more content (although that might happen) as it is about adding small details and making everything more lovable.
Ben: From my perspective, there are a couple of big things, like the ending, which we pretty much know how we'll do, but haven't started yet. Otherwise, it's the little touches that we want to add. Alan keeps bugging me about being able to hug snowmen, so that's probably what will keep me occupied for the next few months!
Roughly how long is the playtime for the entire game?
Alan: At the moment I think most people would take 2-4 hours to finish the whole game. You'd have to be very good at puzzle games to complete everything much faster than that! A lot of the levels will be optional however, so getting to the ending could be maybe half that if you took a reasonably direct route through the game. Hopefully those people will have enjoyed their time enough to go back and complete some of the harder puzzles though!
Ben: I think one puzzle kept me occupied for several hours alone, but maybe I'm just a bit rubbish.
Can you explain the gameplay of A Good Snowman to us?
Ben: Sure! The goal is to stack a small, a medium and a large snowball together to build a snowman. We've been using this GIF to help explain it:
How many puzzles (rooms) does A Good Snowman have so far? How many more puzzles do you plan to create for it?
Alan: Currently there are 25 levels. I don't have a target number though, it's more important to me that the game remains interesting all the way through and doesn't overstay its welcome than that we have a nice number to put on a "over 500 levels!" box quote.
What's next after A Good Snowman is released? Do you plan to collaborate on another project together again? And if so, will it be something new or a sequel to A Good Snowman?
Ben: I've certainly enjoyed working with Alan and am constantly impressed at his capability for puzzle design. That said, I've also been working with my brother to set up a brewery, so who knows what I'll be doing!
Alan: I'd very happily work with Ben again, so far this has been a fantastic collaboration. I don't anticipate a direct sequel to A Good Snowman being on the cards, but I have lots of other potential projects that I want to make happen!
Seeing as that both of you have made games using PuzzleScript before, what are your thoughts about the puzzle game engine?
Alan: I love it! I think it's the most important thing to happen to game creation in the last year. For a while after finishing Sokobond I was really burnt out on coding, and PuzzleScript was the perfect tool to let me keep making games despite that.
Ben: It reminds me a lot of ZZT and Megazeux, which I used to play with a lot growing up. I think there's a lot to be said for having severe restrictions; the more options you have, the more bewildering starting something new is.
How soon do you think someone will remake A Good Snowman in PuzzleScript?
Alan: Funny you should ask that! We actually prototyped the game in PuzzleScript before writing any code at all, as a way of testing that the mechanics allowed for interesting puzzles. I'm still using that version as my level editor for making new levels!
Ben: I'm hoping to see someone tackle implementing the overworld in PuzzleScript. I think being able to take multiple routes through is a big strength of A Good Snowman and one of the many benefits Alan's experience has brought.