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After Hours Prototyping – Grey Out 2

While on the train home yesterday, I decided that it’s about time I did a post-mortem on Grey Out - the game I wrote about a year ago under the banner of Last Level Games. Grey Out was a combination of a 20+ hour flight back from South America, learning more about Unity3D, and an exercise in getting something onto the App Store. I designed it while in transit, and coded it in a 10 day crunch.

You can read more about the development of it here, or play it online here.

For the very quick run down on what it is, have you ever stared at different coloured tiles and tried to find shapes? That’s the game. There are 5 shades of grey, and using only similar shades of colour, find hidden shapes. There is a swag of levels available to work through.

Once I started thinking about what worked and didn’t work with Grey Out, I immediately started thinking about what I could do to fix it. Rather than reflecting on the process, I just started designing the sequel, playing around with different ideas on how to use the matching-like-colours mechanic. So, like any self-respecting game developer, I went home and coded a prototype.

A prototype you can check out here!

There were a number of things wrong with Grey Out, but that’s to be expected with something hastily developed and shovelled onto the App Store. I think the basic matching mechanic needs tweaking. Presently, it uses 5 shades of grey, and they can get difficult to tell apart. It’s not impossible, but tricky. When prototyping another version, I’ve made sure that I have a lot of control over what colours I’m using, and how many are available to the player.

The first change I tried was to shift the colour-like rules from shades of grey to mixing colours. I tried using a circular matching pattern of red -> orange -> yellow -> green -> blue -> purple -> red. This definitely livened up the board, it was bright and colourful. My hobbled together programmer art actually looks pretty nice. It was interesting to play, but ultimately I had trouble matching yellow -> green -> blue. The eye just doesn’t flow on from one to the other, and without that transition, I can’t loop the colour spectrum back round.

Next I tried just not letting the pattern loop, and move back towards yellow -> orange -> red.

Funny thing was, I found I was just working my way back toward the original design of shades of grey. So, as you’ll see in the prototype, I’ve actually gone with shades of grey, but tinted blue to liven it up. Because I have such tight control over the colours, I can change them as the player moves through the game. This helps solve one of the art issues with Grey Out, it’s not too interesting to look at. It’s an awful lot of monochrome.

I’ve also removed a shade of colour, to bring it down from 5 to 4 – I’m not convinced this is a good choice just yet. While it makes it easier to tell the difference between tiles, it also increases the number of moves available to the player, making the game easier. Once I get more time to throw at it, I’ll get a better idea. Options I’m considering are either reducing the window of allowed colour shades in a selection to just two, or use the matching mechanic I’ve prototyped, where the player is only allowed to select adjacent colours as valid option. The difference is that Grey Out 1 the player is allowed to select a total of 3 shades - Shade 2 -> Shade 3 -> Shade 1 -> Shade 3, while in the new mechanic, the player can select using only adjacent shades – Shade 1 -> Shade 2 -> Shade 3 -> Shade 4. I’m leaning towards the latter because it’s much more readable and easier to explain, but it may make the game too easy.

I have new game modes I want to implement, not just the puzzle mode – a zen mode and a blitz mode. A level editor is a possibility too, I know my girlfriend had a great time making content for me using the janky editor I threw together in C# and WPF. There are a number of things I think Grey Out did well – there is a good amount of content, and I think I did a fair job at introducing the mechanics to the player through the first two sets of levels. It’s satisfying to complete levels and find the shapes, and I think between Wesley, Cheryl, and myself, we make some challenging puzzles – it just needed a lot more love than the pittance of time I threw at it.

I know I’ve been working on deSYNC for a few weeks now, but unfortunately there are new projects ramping up at Defiant and I won’t get the time to devote to it for a few months. I’m certainly not forgetting about the game, it’s something I really want to make, but in the mean time I want to focus on something smaller, something I can get done with my spare time.

Maybe, it’ll be Grey Out 2.