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Coming Full Circle

This entry was originally posted on the Microsoft UK Developers Blog. View the original HERE.

It’s odd how things tend to come full circle… The development story behind ‘The Quest’ is evidence of this.

The four founding partners of Guerilla Tea met in 2010 on the Professional Masters course in Game Development at Abertay University. During the first semester we were randomly put together into a team and given the brief of building a small game prototype titled ‘The Quest’, and by chance we were assigned to work with the Windows Phone 7 platform.

After a night of brainstorming we hadn’t fully settled on a design to carry forward. We wanted to make a puzzle game and we kept coming back to the idea that ‘to be original is to return to the origin’ and when it comes to puzzle games the origin for all of us was the Rubik’s Cube so we kept returning to the idea of a game based on the Rubik’s Cube mechanic. This lead fairly swiftly to the core Quest mechanics.

Before settling on anything, we went out to the local shopping centre and bought a Rubik’s Cube along with some paper stickers, and applied them to cover over three of the colours on the cube. The result was the very basic physical prototype shown below. Needless to say, the gameplay mechanic worked incredibly well. You could actually play by holding your finger against a specific tile, rotating the cube to align specific coloured tiles, and then sliding your finger along eventually reaching the goal, which we’ve marked with the ‘X’ below.

Physical_Quest_Prototype

With the core of the game working, we needed to make the whole experience a little more vibrant. We decided to go down the light hearted humour route, and wrote a brief story around the game.

Our hero would be a brave but bumbling knight, who we aptly named ‘Steve’. He would be tasked by God to retrieve his favourite tea mug, otherwise known as the true Holy Grail. God would grant Steve the ability to manipulate the surrounding terrain in order to aid him on his quest.

And from here, the overarching story neatly fitted into the gameplay mechanic. Steve stands on the Rubik’s Cube-like world with varying terrain such as grass, water and mountains covering the individual squares. The player taps on squares to move Steve, and the idea is to guide him over the terrain to the goal square (ultimately containing the tea mug). Rotating the segments of the cube world allows the varying terrain types to align ultimately creating a path for Steve.

To add additional depth and complexity to the gameplay, we added special ‘transition’ squares which allow Steve to move between two terrain types. These transition squares became specific vehicles, such as a sledge which links grass and mountains.

By the end of the first semester, we had created a vertical slice for the game. Here’s a screenshot from ‘The Quest’ in its university project form:

early_Quest_1Our prototype was very well received in academic circles, and was shown at a number of conferences by academic staff from Abertay. In 2011, it picked up a Creative Loop award under the ‘Best Computer Game Concept’ category.

From here we moved onto other university projects right up to the end of our course, and The Quest remained as a great portfolio piece to take forward.

It was only after the course had finished that we managed to return to working on The Quest. In the run up to Christmas 2011, our CEO and producer, Mark, worked some magic and managed to secure the IP for the game back from Abertay University.

Over a period of 6 – 7 months, while Guerilla Tea was a very new indie studio finding its feet, we fully rebuilt The Quest in Unity for an iOS and Android release, expanding it from a vertical slice of gameplay, to a fully-fledged commercial game. Unfortunately at this point, despite the fact that the prototype worked wonderfully on the Windows Phone 7, the platform just wasn’t commercially viable yet so we were only able to release on iOS and Android.

From here we became BAFTA nominated, and in April 2012 The Quest was released as a premium app for Android and iOS. It was also featured in the New and Noteworthy section, and was generally well received, picking up praise from Pocket Gamer:

“The Quest takes a well-known concept in the form of the Rubik’s puzzle and gives it a fresh new challenge by adding in the task of getting Steve to the mug of tea. In this respect, the game is something of a triumph – few puzzlers have grabbed us in quite the same manner.”

Things were looking good, but despite being an excellent first release for the company, The Quest didn’t perform quite as well commercially as we’d hoped.

 

Fast forward 2 years…

 

After stabilising and growing the studio with a series of work-for-hire projects, including work on the Beano and Dandy brands, and most notably Play to Cure: Genes in Space for Cancer Research UK, we returned to working on The Quest in early 2014 to mark the second anniversary of the original release. This involved a full re-skin and we also took this chance to include a third Egyptian themed world which had been previously built but sat gathering dust without ever actually being included within the 2012 release for iOS and Android. Seeing the re-mastered version, it was refreshing to see how far we’d come in the intervening period…

The updated version was launched on iOS and Android in March 2014.

new_Quest_1

We’d been keeping an eye on the Windows Mobile since we first developed The Quest so when we saw Microsoft and Unity holding a porting day in Glasgow just a few weeks after we had re-launched The Quest we sent some of our coding team through to participate.

During the day, all current Guerilla Tea titles were for the most part ported successfully to Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. We met some incredibly helpful people from Microsoft, and over the next few weeks, took the chance to polish and finalise the Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 versions of our games.

Firstly, there was The Quest, but we also ported our casual strategy title Staking Claims over to Windows 8. It’s a digital remake of the classic pencil and paper game, Dots and Boxes, which took up a lot of time during our rainy school lunchtimes years ago.

This was something we’d been looking forward to for a while so we wanted to make it a bit special so we decided to launch our new logic puzzle game Array on the Windows Phone 8 marketplace along with our ported games. Eventually we’ll move it to iOS and Android but for now it’s a Windows Mobile exclusive.

The Quest had a slight name alteration for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, becoming The Quest: Anniversary Edition, and has now come full circle, returning to its roots for a release in May 2014 on Microsoft’s platforms.

Guerilla Tea began with the four of us working ridiculous hours on PCs set up around our producer’s kitchen table, while at the same time holding down part time jobs to pay the bills. We worked hard and managed to get our start with some small projects for DC Thomson regarding the Beano and Dandy. From here we began to build up the studio with a balance of original IP and work-for-hire, and eventually Guerilla Tea became a full time job for us all. We also moved out of the home and into premises in Dundee city centre, and expanded our art and code teams.

Our recent major project was the hugely successful Play to Cure: Genes in Space developed for Cancer Research UK. We are going strength to strength and continuing to work on a variety of interesting projects, including a series of original titles.

Everyone at Guerilla Tea has been incredibly impressed with the Microsoft support operation and it’s been a really smooth process to port and launch our games onto Windows and Windows Mobile. We’re now nearing completion of our next game, which is to launch on all our core platforms simultaneously; Android, iOS and Windows Mobile. I have no doubt that other developers will do the same.

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