CO-OP: Decrypted – Creating Puzzle Games, Sans the Puzzlement

Everyone at least once in their life has played puzzle games, whether it was a shooter, an adventure or a role-playing game. Puzzle platforms appeared in the early 80’s and became even more popular in the mid-90’s, having later experimented…

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Vlad Solodovnyk
6 Nov, 2015

CO-OP: Decrypted – Creating Puzzle Games, Sans the Puzzlement

Everyone at least once in their life has played puzzle games, whether it was a shooter, an adventure or a role-playing game. Puzzle platforms appeared in the early 80’s and became even more popular in the mid-90’s, having later experimented with 3D.

During the golden age of consoles puzzle games reigned as the most popular genre of video games. At the peak of their popularity from one-quarter to one-third of all console games were puzzle games, with no other genre before or since reaching a similar share. From around 2006, this genre has become less popular but has since attracted interest starting in 2010.

There were some issues with adapting platform gameplay to three dimensions that led some developers to compromise by pairing the visual flash of 3D with traditional 2D gameplay. These games are often referred to as 2.5D games. One such game recently released on Steam is called CO-OP: Decrypted developed by Pixelz Games.

You can watch the game trailer here:

We spoke with Raphael Fortin, founder and creative director of Pixelz Games about the challenge of giving a new lease to a largely lost game genre.

The Gameplay

CO-OP: Decrypted is a 2.5D puzzle-platformer with two robot characters: RD3 and BLU3. RD3 absorbs energy from all the light sources around him, while BLU3 converts it into explosive energy. In order to progress through the game players must use both of these abilities.

The game scene is set inside a recycling factory, where characters appear to be under surveillance of the factory’s security drones. Players can switch between the robots and swap between them to move forward. While the game mechanics are mostly meant for co-op play, individual players can easily switch between the two characters and complete levels as a single player. The puzzle games tasks are mostly simple and take no more than 5 minutes to complete, but all together they make long levels (the game consists of three chapters, seven levels each).

In this game players need to collaborate and complement the abilities of each character in other ways than harvesting and using energy. The red one moves faster and can move boxes, while the blue one is slower and can be helpful in demolishing obstacles.

The game has 3D graphics, but 2D gameplay, which means that characters move only in one Z coordinate. This makes the game quite simple to play and approachable for all kinds of players. The number of moves is restricted because of the 2D movement, but there are some tricky parts as well (electric barriers, conveyor belts and force walls). In general, it’s one of the simple puzzle games being optionally challenging without becoming boring. Taking into account that only two people have worked on making this game a reality, we think it is an impressive achievement!

Puzzle Games Creation Process

When creating a game one can face many problems and even develop a strong desire to give it all up, especially if a game appears to be similar to many others. This also happened to the developers of CO-OP. At first they were excited about creating a mechanic where players control two robots alternatively. It seemed like this has never done before.

“Quickly, we saw more and more games with similar mechanics, including the massive GTA V in which the player can literally choose any character to control. So of course we changed the design many times and thought of giving up many times as well”.

Initially, CO-OP started out as a student project when Raphael worked as a teacher at a video game school in Montreal and one of his students kept asking him to help in publishing his own game. Once this student graduated, the two of them became good friends and, being perseverant enough, continued working on the game just for fun, developing on the ideas from the previous semester. “We had no idea it would go on Steam one day”.

There is no way to create a game without inspiration. Ideas can be found everywhere: a movie, a game previously played, a dream. Raphael said that he always carries an inspiration notebook with him where he writes down all his ideas.

Due to the fact that the game wasn’t designed from scratch it was quite hard to evolve the concept for pre-production and release. “As a platformer puzzle games, you need to have good ingredients and a good units system to measure movement and jumps. We didn’t have any of this. Developing all the mechanics was a real pain. Today, I know it would have been faster to just start from scratch completely”. The main issues during the design phase appeared to be the lack of units and good measurement, as well as lack of appropriate ingredients, sub-mechanics, blueprints and level layouts. These are the usual problems faced by game developers when planning the game content development.

Mistakes and Challenges

co-op decrypted game art blue robot

CO-OP was build with Unity 3D. When working with Unity, game developers need to be prepared to pay lots of attention to game physics. This mostly becomes one of the bottlenecks for the developers: objects disappearing, going through other objects, etc.

“We worked really hard and did our best for it to work with our game but that was a real challenge,” admits Raphael. “The choice of game engine was obvious – Unity is great for simplicity and bad for you, at the same time. You need to know what you’re doing with Unity in order to make something look appealing.”

However, there were some mistakes the developers hadn’t foreseen. For example, they didn’t spend much time on storytelling and the game’s narrative. This is one of the drawbacks the users indicate while playing the CO-OP.

Like any other creative work, game development is very stressful. Raphael had to change his team twice: “The first time was because my business partner (the guy who started the game with me) burned out. His doctor told him to stop working, thus he left the company and the project behind. I took a month off during that time and most of our team left and found something else”.

Human factor appeared to be another stumbling block. It took a while to find new people. Luckily, it’s not that hard to find decent specialists nowadays. Many people send resumes and letters every day that makes it a lot easier to build a team.

But again, people are unpredictable and sometimes it is hard to set up deadlines or a project plan due to the instability of the team. In a situation like this, developers are likely to run out of time for most of the tasks you set.

Also, unlike many similar companies, the team of Pixelz Games didn’t outsource any parts of their game development. “It is easier to manage your projects using collaboration tools. At first we were using Mavenlink to manage the tasks, resources and budget, but I quickly changed to a custom made Google Documents and Spreadsheets. I found that to be the best tool,” says Raphael.

Once a game is ready you need to test it and get feedback. Some think it is better to release the game as an Early Access on Steam or any other game distribution platform, the way Raphael and his team did. They learned not to do that again, though. “Playtesting by inviting people over or by going to conferences and events is the best way,” according to Raphael.

Another key element in game development is fundraising. There are many ways of getting enough money for a project, and one of them is a Kickstarter. “The first time we did a Kickstarter, we were featured as a Staff Pick. This meant that during two full days we raised $16,000 out of $35,000 goal. It was all going well until Kickstarter sent us an email and blocked our page completely.” It appeared that our page still had to go through some step in the review process and somehow had to be approved beforehand.

Raphael explains: “In the email they said that one of the description texts we wrote for the Challenges section was not good enough. Only when they fixed the little part in this section they were able to get back on the Kickstarter, though they still had to wait for more three days. Second time around we were no longer highlighted and our project was not findable anymore”.

The last, but not the least, was the problem that the “disappearance” was not creating any awareness for the game. The reason for that was that they no longer expected the game to actually be released.

Looking back at all the mistakes and problems the team had while creating the game, Rephael agrees that doing a better job managing the project professionally would make it a lot easier. “We kind of improvised during that project and that cost us,” he confesses.

What’s Next?

Various studios just getting started in game development today can surely succeed, just as the Pixelz Games did, since the door to the world of gaming in now wide open. It is even so open that too many companies can go through it, which leads to a great number of new games appearing. “The problem is not the door but the visibility,” according to Raphael.

The current team at Pixelz Games has great plans for the future, and they are already developing a new game, which they hope will also succeed. Stay tuned!

About Pixelz Games

Pixelz Games is an independent game studio based in Montreal. Founded in 2014, the company is already working on its second title. Pixelz Games is aiming to generate the best PC and console experiences with video games.

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About the Author

Vlad is a writer with over 10 years of experience in the IT industry. He thinks of technology as a tool and likes to write about the ways people choose to use different tools, often with unexpected consequences.

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