Puzzle Craft captured the imagination of gamers around the world with its clever mash-up of simulation and match-three puzzling. But this worldwide smash is just getting started. Bartek Rozbicki, CEO of Puzzle Craft developer Ars Thanea Games, spoke with Chillingo about the origins of this genre hybrid, how it was polished up into such sparkling form, and what fans can look forward to in the days ahead.
Chillingo: Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind Puzzle Craft? How did you come up with this entirely fresh hybrid of genres?
Bartek Rozbicki, Ars Thanea Games: We knew we want to do something fresh, something unique. There are thousands of games out there and we wanted to make more than just “another polished game.” We wanted to intrigue players. Make them think, “Wow, I haven’t seen this yet!”
We started with two ideas. We wanted to make a game about building, creating, and caring about stuff, rather than a game about destroying. We also wanted to make a game with actual gameplay. Our motto was: It’s not a game about waiting, it’s about playing.
Going after the building and creating core idea, we decided to make a town-building simulation, and the engaging gameplay core idea was solidified in the puzzle element. We wanted to stand out from other town-building games, and wanted the players to actually do something constructive, rather than just tap and wait. Collecting resources by solving puzzles was both constructive and fun.
So the basic gameplay cycle was born. You want a new building? Solve puzzles until you have the resources you need, then build the building, feel satisfaction, and want to build another new building. At the beginning there was a simple prototype, with doodle graphics and duct-tape code. And it played so well that we decided to go for it.
Step by step, we started adding depth and new elements. The first challenge was to define the difference between the farm and the mine. The goal was that the farm felt organic and peaceful, while the mine was challenging and industrial. That’s why every visit on the farm lasts for one year, and as you play the seasons change. But when you enter the mine, you have to use some of the food you gathered. The supplies are the only limit, and you dig as deep as you can.
Chillingo: How did you find that perfect balance between all of the genres, like match-three, kingdom-building, and more?
Rozbicki: Balancing the game was a real challenge. Every element in Puzzle Craft is connected. If you change something at early stage of gameplay, it influences the rest. So we worked on iterations of gameplay trying to polish it to best state. Arthur Ganszyniec (Game Designer) did really great job. Every week, we had brainstorms and step-by-step finally achieved what Puzzle Craft is all about: constant hunger to keep playing.
The three cornerstones of Puzzle Craft gameplay were defined:
- Tools act as one-time bonuses, giving more control over the board.
- Workers change the tile-to-resource and chain-length-to-bonus-tile ratios.
- Buildings introduce lasting changes to the gameplay.
With the buildings, we made a huge spreadsheet listing every changeable element of and based on that list, we started thinking on possible buildings. At the same time, we we played and polished the puzzle mechanisms. Challenges like the explosive gas, rats, and wolves were balanced, and all mechanisms were unified. At first, long chains of dirt, grass and trees gave you no bonus tiles. Then we changed that and strengthened the core themes of the mine puzzle screen (such as gathering dirt without tools heightens the risk).
Chillingo: Any tips and tricks for fans of Puzzle Craft? Maybe more efficient ways to generate gold?
Rozbicki: We hid a few nice secrets in there. One is that, when you hold finger for two seconds on each tile on the board (both field and mine), you get useful information. I won’t spoil the fun for players, but let’s say this: happy hunting!
Chillingo: Congratulations on all of the success with Puzzle Craft so far! It really rocketed into the charts. What is it like to see your game strike such a chord with gamers as well as media?
Rozbicki: It’s an incredible feeling. Seeing positive feedback from people is almost as addictive as a game itself. Seriously, we were astonished at all of the great Puzzle Craft reviews. We’ve got Editors Choice on IGN, Must-Have on Slide to Play, and a lot of top-notch reviews from journalists. But more than that, players just love it! My favorite tweet about the game: “I’m sitting in cinema… my girlfriend is watching the movie… I’m playing Puzzle Craft. Just one more… carrot.”
Chillingo: Can you tell us about the development process for Puzzle Craft? How was your experience working with Chillingo?
Rozbicki: We began to work with Chillingo in December 2011. We got very good producer: Tom Kinniburgh who previously worked on Contre Jour, Helsing’s Fire and Anomaly Warzone Earth, to a name of few. Really great guy! We spoke every week about the game. “What do we need to do to push it to next level?” Sometimes we had, of course, different opinions on various subjects, but the overall vision of the game was the same. We have really tough decision to make: what model of monetization we should we bring to Puzzle Craft.
Overall, working with Chillingo was great experience. There are plenty of amazing people there (Dan, Carmen, Levi, Ed, Andy, James, Martin, to a name of few). Thank you all for your incredible support on the game!
Chillingo: What was some of the best or most useful feedback you received during the development of Puzzle Craft and how did it affect the game?
Rozbicki: I remember one thing Tom said. “I love the game. My role here is to push it from great game to milestone of the genre.” I think we succeeded. Puzzle Craft is new and has different approach both in puzzle and simulation games. I’m really happy. My dream came true.
Chillingo: What should fans of Puzzle Craft look for on the horizon?
Rozbicki: We are working on a new content update, which will be free. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it will be great for everyone: for those who just starting the game and for those who already build the castle. The new update is a mystery, so stay tuned!