After over a year of pouring our hearts and souls into Whale Trail, we wanted to make something new, quick and agile. Introducing Blip Blup: a minimalist puzzle game.
What it is:
- It’s a game about thinking
- It’s a game about stopping and taking your time
- It’s a game about logic
What it isn’t:
- It’s not a game about speed
- It’s not a game about timing
- It’s not a game about quick reflexes
The idea for Blip Blup started on paper. Manesh Mistry, programmer at ustwogames, had been a gamer for most of his life, with a particular love for puzzle games. Based on just a few basic sketches, he asked himself:
“How would it feel to tap on some squares and see light spread out from my finger?”
“What if there were things that blocked the light?”
“Can I create a puzzle from this?”
The result was a minimal prototype in which the screen starts with a grid of dark squares. Tapping anywhere sends out a pulse of light in all directions. The aim was to light up all the squares of the grid within a given number of taps. Something about the prototype just felt right. There was a core mechanic that was in itself satisfying, and that mechanic has served to be the pillar throughout the entire development of the game. Over the following weeks, we took the prototype further to include a level editor which allowed us to quickly and easily prototype new concepts within the game.
As we built more levels, we were also delving deeper into the puzzle aspect and starting to build an arsenal of levels that explored different puzzle elements, and this led to the inclusion of what are now known as the “special tiles”, tiles which might change the direction of the light, or “kill” the player if touched and so forth.
The 3 most important strengths of the prototype were:
- It was simply fun just to tap anywhere and watch the light spreading.
- The level based model made it easy to visualise a complete game with a large number of levels.
- There was a clear puzzle arc that allowed levels to vary from very easy to very difficult.
After iterating on this theme we felt we had an engaging prototype to take forward to production.
There was something engaging about the minimal style of the prototype and this influenced the overall design in many ways. We steered away from heavy characterisation and went for styles that were more stripped down and abstract.
The visual style of the game has evolved multiple times before settling where it is now. We started with a skeuomorphic aesthetic which made the levels feel tactile and physical. While it was wonderful to look at, over time it became clear that it wasn’t conducive to puzzle solving. Getting to the final treatment was an exercise in finding a balance between our love for beautiful design as a studio and simple graphics that allow the puzzle-solving to be centre-stage.
The core gameplay of Blip Blup is rooted in the levels themselves. The challenge as a level designer is to create levels that are fun to play, actually require puzzle-solving, and are visually interesting. Many gruelling hours were spent playing, tweaking and re-playing levels until we’d gotten the difficulty and balance to a place we were happy with.
One of the biggest problems we faced was creating the tutorial. The original intention was to try and teach by exploration and experimentation, developing gameplay purely through a series of levels that progressively introduce different aspects of the mechanics. It only took a few short rounds of user testing to find out that this approach didn't really work!
Blip Blup is not a game about trial-and-error. Every level solution can be arrived at through logic, but it requires an understanding of the way the mechanic works. Without an adequate tutorial, we found that users were either resorting to trial-and-error or giving up altogether.
The vast majority of people simply didn’t understand the way that the tiles were spreading, resulting in us instead creating a dedicated tutorial. This began as a handful of in-game text prompts and evolved into a more conventional approach of having some pre-level explanations and visual guides.