I’m not sure where my (Ciro’s) wife found this artifact, but it’s been on our table for quite a few years. One afternoon, about 3 years ago, I was washing the dishes while thinking about Kokoromi’s Gamma 4, a one button game showcase that caught our attention. Suddenly I remembered feeling my fingers grabbing the bowl of washers. What could happen if I could run along those rings, switching from one to the other?
It was very clear to me that there was something interesting there, something I had never seen, and that could end up being a game mechanic.
It seems that the idea stuck. Leo and I were going to stay in Montevideo that January, so we started working as hard as we could to reach the end of the month with a playable prototype.
At some point the game became playable, but it was obvious that something was missing: Combat! Combat! Combat!. When we put the ability to attack other players or enemies into the game everything changed. I have this mental image of Leo and I laughing as we were trying to hit each other. It was fun! This was an important step.
By the end of January all of us at Kalio were working on the game. We reached the deadline and sent RingRun to Gamma 4. We wrote a post about it. Even though this prototype was not selected we knew the core mechanic was worth exploring and strong enough to build a game around it.
After a 9 months hiatus, Juanma joined our team to take care of the art. We were back on track to finish the game for Christmas 2010.
After a couple of weeks Juanma had some beautiful chips to replace the ones we were using. We were trying to move towards a more inviting look. That’s when the eyes appeared in the chips and all the plans went to hell.
I remember a meeting where we discussed two paths: the chips with eyes or the circus folk. At that point it did not seem much of a difference except for the time it could take to create the art, so circus folk it was. We changed the name to Ring Run Circus.
It took us a few months to understand how the new characters will move and jump from ring to ring. Many ideas were tested but all of them had the same problem: they did not flow as the Gamma 4 prototype. It took some time, but we finally found a hybrid approach that allowed us to walk the outside of the rings and also flow nicely when changing rings.
But movement was just one thing. Now that we had characters we needed a lot more: story, matching enemies with understandable behaviors, rings and props, circus music, just to name a few. But the devil was not in the assets but in the actual language of the game.
We rushed to get a demo of the game ready for IndieCade 2011. It worked, and we got some interesting comments from the judges, but it was clearly not ready. By that time the game still had one button. We had a main character, a few enemies, a structure and a story.
Looking back, there were two big problems with the IndieCade version: we did not understand the language of the game and there was not enough depth for the players to develop their skill.
In November 2011 we attended the EVA where we did a lot of play-testing. People loved the look of the game immediately, which for us was a huge step forward compared to the previous look. The game-play itself was still difficult. Understanding how to move between rings was still a mystery, and let’s not talk about attacking the enemies. Also the objectives were not easy and they never understood the game was timed until they lost. These are just examples of the issues we found, which later started solving, one by one.
It took almost five months to start speaking Ringrunese fluently enough to make interesting levels. I started seeing patterns in the levels; structures that could be repeated and expanded while keeping the main concept. Combining these patterns and increasing their complexity makes challenging but approachable levels, as the players have already understood, in easier layouts, what the game is about.
Along this iterative process we discovered many situations where the skill of the player could be applied to make a difference. This is how we give depth to the experience. We’ll talk about this in other posts.
So, to finish this post, I can tell you that we’re happy with the game we have now, or better, we have a game now! There is a lot of work to do regarding the design of the levels and general polish, but I believe the game is fun, easy to play and with some depth for the most skilled players.