Going bang: The making of Blast-A-Way

Going bang: The making of Blast-A-Way
Thanks to iOS games such as Sway and the Touchgrind and Labyrinth series, Swedish developer Illusion Labs has built a reputation as one of the best European mobile developers.

Its latest game Blast-A-Way was released in August, and continued that tradition gaining critical acclaim and a Quality Index rating of 8.9.

Blast-A-Way is a puzzle game that charges players with rescuing cute 'boxies' character by using bombs and other throwable objects to interact with the world and make their way to the end of each level.

We caught up with chief technical officer Andreas Alptun to discuss the genesis of the game, issues with developing a simple control scheme, and how Illusion Labs adapted its internally engine for the game.

Pocket Gamer: Where did the concept for Blast-A-Way come from?

Andreas Alptun: Many years ago, our 3D guy Christoffer made an image of a game where you played as a couple of box-headed robots, tossing bombs around.

We brushed this off and started making a real game out of it. It started out as an action game but as development progressed it turned more and more into a puzzle game.

Did you consider any other visual designs?

Since we already had a concept from the old boxhead renderings we knew from the start that we wanted to do something minimalistic.

For a long time, we didn't even have any textures, just shading and colors. We didn't add the wood, metal, fabric etc materials until very late to make the game a little more appealing to the common crowd.

How long did it take to develop?

We spent about nine months on this title, of these about four months of prototyping and five months of production development.

What tools did you use for development?The Xcode suite, of course, Photoshop and a 3D editor in which we built our own level editor. These are the tools we most often use in development.

Why don't you use middleware?Every line of code is our own. Almost all our games are built on our proprietary engine supporting 3D graphics, physics, animations etc. We like to be in full control of the code, and the best way for that is to develop everything in-house.Was the engine an extension of what you've used in previous games?

Yes, large parts of it have been reused in this project and parts have been refined.

The animation engine was rewritten to fit this game, and parts of the collision detection module have been extended with new collision shapes, to better cater for what we needed in Blast-A-Way.What issues did you come across in terms of the game's physics?The one major issue with the physics was collision with broken blocks. The first straightforward approach was to test against each shard when inside a broken block. This took way too much processing power and the framerate dipped at times.

After many days of thinking we finally worked out a way to solve this problem. The solution became quite intricate but we manage to solve it.

What other issues did you face?

The design of the controls was very hard to decide on, and it involved a lot of trial and error. We worked on just the controls for at least a month before deciding on a scheme.

Moving around in a 3D environment is way harder than moving in 2D. We wanted it to be as simple as possible to the player, and while it can be quite hard to navigate I still think we did a good job.

Also the throwing mechanism required some thinking. Most other games use a slingshot mechanism, where you pull an item to set its force and angle, and then releasing it to fling an object. This didn't work at all in 3D so we had to come up with something new.

"Why don't you just tap where you want to hit?" somebody said. And that's what we did!

How did you decide on a pricing model for Blast-A-Way, and how successful have you found it?

We haven't really experimented that much in our previous games. Almost all our games are $5 and have been since the release.

This has worked out really well for us. We try to create premium games that people want to purchase for the quality, instead of freemium games where most of the time developers are trying to lure the player into buying all kinds of credits, gold, berries and what-not.
Blast-A-Way was released with a $4.99 price tag, but right now we have a $1.99 sale to celebrate the iPhone 5 release. Having sales is very uncommon for us. You can easily count them on one hand.

Thanks to Andreas for his time.

You can download Blast-A-Move here [iTunes link] or try the free version here [iTunes link].

Caleb writes about many things, not least of which is video games. Having been published on Gamasutra, GamePro and JumpButton Magazine, his next step is, obviously, to take over the world. He figures it should only take another few weeks.


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