If you follow me on Twitter (@Readmore) you’ll know by now that House of the Lost has been submitted to the App Store and will hopefully be out just in time for Halloween. While we wait for release day, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the development of the game. Since the development for Hotl ( as we sometimes call it ) was so short I’ll be able to take you through the whole ordeal in just one sitting. So grab a drink and let’s dive into the making of House of the Lost.
We first came up with the concept in August, about a month after the release of Pocket Heroes. After a year of working on a turn based RPG we knew that we wanted to work on something that was more action oriented, had a faster pace, and that we could complete quickly. Since all my game prototypes seem to start out as Zelda games it didn’t take long to come up with a randomized dungeon action game about a boy trying to survive in a haunted house. Once we had a game idea and style in mind it didn’t take long to come up with our first ‘gameplay concept’ which you can check out below.
It’s good, but it needs something….
From this initial mockup we started fleshing out the concept and built out our first prototype. In the early stages the game was much closer to Binding of Isaac than Zelda, mainly focused on combat, with the addition of the weapon crafting system to provide progression. Once we got the prototype into the hands of our early tester however, we realized that we needed to make some changes. Each tester that we showed the game to quickly made the connection to the early Zelda games and as soon as they did, they started looking for puzzles. From the way that they were pushing every block and checking every wall, it was clear that we needed to focus on more than just combat in House of the Lost.
So we went back and made changes to the game that moved it more into the adventure/exploration style of gameplay while still retaining a fun combat system.
Once we started adding more and more secrets and puzzles the game really started to come together. We also started having fun designing ‘crazy rooms’ that didn’t follow the ‘everything must be a rectangle’ method of Zelda and Isaac. This really let us give some of the later levels more of a maze-like feel even through each ‘room’ is the size of one screen.
Random but not Procedural
Early on we made the decision to not have the layout of each map randomly generated. We decided to go this way because we knew that we would be able to do more in the way of clever level design and puzzles if we controlled the map layouts, but we also wanted this to be a game that people would play through over and over again so we needed a way to keep it fresh. The solution we settled on is the same one that we’re currently working on for Pocket Heroes, to have multiple map layouts for each ‘level’ and then randomly pick one when the player starts to play. In addition to the random layouts we also randomize the enemies and items in each room so that even if you’re running through the same level you still won’t know what’s waiting for you behind the next door.
Another fun side effect of this method is that we can hide alternate routes through the game in some of the levels. We’ve got some really cool ideas for secret boss levels that will require you to find a secret entrance if you want to face them. We’re expecting those Game Center Achievements are going to be a real badge of honor.
Once we got the secrets/combat balance leveled out the game really came together quickly. The only other tough area has been balancing the difficulty, and that is one that we’re still working on. It’s really hard to find the right balance for a game like this, especially since part of the appeal is that the game really challenge you. We’ve tended to lean toward making the game more difficult instead of less but there is a chance the game could be too tough for some players. I hope it hits the right balance for all of you. Once you get your hands on the game I hope you’ll let us know what you think about the difficulty so we can continue to improve it as we move forward.
Now we wait….
So that’s the story behind House of the Lost’s development, now we’ve just got to get through the toughest part; waiting for all of you to try it out. I’ll continue to post some more info and screenshots here over the next few days before release, so check back soon and keep your eye out for House of the Lost to hit the app store in the near future.