Polaris – From Concept to CompletionFebruary 9th 2010, 1 Comment
As someone who enjoys reading and watching “making-of” stories, I thought it’d be interesting for developers and players of Polaris to see how the game evolved over time.
I’m an aficionado of block-falling puzzle games such as Tetris and Lumines. So it seemed only natural for me to make a game in that vein. But at the same time I wanted to make a game that is different from the vast number of puzzle games already out there. You may be surprised to hear that there are over 50 variants of Tetris alone! So coming up with something new turned out to be quite challenging.
Polaris was born from the idea of transforming the game board into polar coordinates. The name and celestial theme of the game naturally followed from there. To convince myself that this would work on the tiny iPhone screen I made this concept design in Photoshop:
At that point I wasn’t sure what the game rules would be, but I had a pretty good idea of how the game mechanics would work. First, blocks would appear on the sides of the screen and fall towards the center, where they would pile up. Second, rather than moving the block directly like one does in say Tetris, in Polaris you would instead rotate the grid (or polar map) underneath the block, while the block stays anchored to the side. After about two weeks using and learning the iPhone SDK, I had my first working prototype:
It’s a far cry from the more polished concept art to be sure, but all the game logic is there: you can rotate the grid with your thumb, and use the other to push blocks in order to pile them up at the center of the polar map. After some aesthetic tweaking this was the result:
This is where the long experimentation phase began. First, an interesting idea presented itself: by switching to polar coordinates blocks no longer need to appear and fall from one direction only. They could appear on either side of the screen; or better yet, two different blocks could be on the screen at all times. This adds a completely new strategy element to Polaris: the player can choose which block to place on the pile, as well as reserve a “rare” block for later use. And if the player is really clever, then perhaps they could use both blocks at the same time!
Eventually I settled on game rules that require the player to form complete rings of “deactivated” tiles. The player can deactivate any tile by matching it up with a neighboring tile of the same color. Once a complete ring of inactive tiles is formed, it “collapses” into the polar star at the center. Whatever remains of the pile then settles under gravity.
The player can follow two distinct strategies in order to achieve high scores. The first is to clear multiple rings at once. This is done in a similar manner to Tetris, where the player intentionally leaves a gap in the rings. Unlike Tetris, the player can fill this gap with up to two matching blocks in one move. In this manner, up to 5 rings can be cleared at once.
The second strategy is to set up chain reactions. The player does this by building up layers of complete, but not fully deactivated rings. On top of the outermost ring a carefully color-coordinated pile of blocks needs to be placed, such that the outer ring’s collapse causes the pile to settle under gravity and successively deactivate and collapse inner rings one at a time.
This dual nature of Polaris arose out of experimentation with different game rules and game mechanics—one that I did not anticipate when I first conceived of the game. Pictured above is the final look of Polaris. To see some of the game mechanics mentioned here, please watch the video in my previous post.