Developing a Winning Sandbox Game in 2 weeks

Developing a Winning Sandbox Game in 2 weeks

Here’s the post-mortem on the game design and creative process.

The Sandbox Game Jam — Beast Quest was a competition with a prize fund of 100,000 $SAND to reward the creators with the best imagination. The game was to be created using sandbox’s own no-code Game Maker. To be eligible, the game had to be related to the Beast Quest theme which includes fantasy elements and monsters. The sponsors judged the competition based on the idea, design, creativity, playability and the wow factor.

Tentango’s game, “Holy King’s Sword” placed within the top 10 of all submissions for the beast quest game jam.

Here’s the TL;DR:

  • Get inspired by good games. Instead of starting from scratch, find mechanics you already like from good games.
  • Understand the essence of the IP. Incorporate what the IP is about into the game.
  • Leverage someone else’s expertise. Focus on your strengths and outsource the rest.

Our goal heading into the Game Jam

One of our main goals was to experiment with the Game Maker to see what’s possible.

Apart from the experience and the skills we would learn from the game jam, the prize fund which included $SAND and LAND was too good to pass up. At the time of this writing, the top prize is valued at more than $300k.

Due to the limited time available to submit the game, we were already thinking what good games could we try to recreate.

Games that inspired us

We saw that there were many 3rd person RPG-styled games in previous Sandbox game jams. We wanted to create something different to stand out. We thought that by creating something different, we could show off the flexibility of the Sandbox Game Maker engine.

The first game that we thought of was Archero. It was a very successful mobile game where the player was in control of an archer to slay all the monsters. The archer had to use combinations of different skills to progress through various stages within the quest.​​

It was a success both in terms of it being a fun game as well as being very profitable for its creators.

Archero Trailer

Game Maker limitations

One of the limitations of the Game Maker is that a projectile attack system isn’t developed yet for creators to use. However, characters could easily avoid obstacles in the Game Maker, which prompted the team to pivot towards a level-based puzzle game

“Lara Croft Go” was the game we thought of immediately. This game was a turn-based puzzle adventure where Lara explored the ruins of an ancient civilization while fighting enemies and overcoming dangerous obstacles and traps along the way.

Lara Croft Go

Finding the essence of the IP

To find out more about Beast Quest, we dove deep into their wiki and Youtube videos of their games. Tom is the main protagonist of the Beast Quest series where he saves many lands with the help of his allies and beasts.

As the name implies, the key essence of the game was to go on a quest. This inspired us to work on our storytelling muscle and introduce a story for the game. Therefore, we designed the story as a prequel to Tom getting his Sword and Shield and added in some characters and places to make the game more interactive.

To show our understanding of the IP, we decided not to include any combat for Holy King’s Sword. This is because the first book in Beast Quest had no combat where Tom explored around and didn’t kill any creatures.

How we structured the work in 2 weeks

We highlighted the importance of the prototype phase when we laid out our process to create amazing builds in the Sandbox game. The same idea applied in this Beast Quest Game Jam where we aimed to get the first playable version out within a week. We challenged ourselves to create the game’s core loop.

Due to the time constraint, innovating and building a game from scratch wasn’t an option and this is why we sought out games to be inspired by.

First 2 days

Within the first 2 days, we figured out what each level map would look like. Archero had a cool level map so we decided to implement that. Then, we moved on to brainstorm and test different puzzle mechanics such as arrow projectile traps and a bomb that blows up a section of the wall. A combination of these 5–7 unique puzzle mechanics would make a level very difficult.

Example of one of the unique puzzle mechanics used

Level design

We hired a level designer on Upwork to create levels on an excel spreadsheet. As level design is not our team’s strength, we leveraged the expertise of someone else which freed up our time to focus on other aspects.

Level design spreadsheet

Final thoughts

We felt like we could have integrated the story better into the levels but given the limited time, Holy King’s sword still managed to come within the top 10 games. We could have improved the game time and integrated the story better if we added 20 more levels.

We believe that our key to success in this Game Jam was the due diligence done on the IP, planning and Sandbox building expertise.

Holy King’s Sword Trailer