Casey’s Contraptions on the Media

What an incredible last few days it has been! Casey’s Contraptions launched last Thursday, and it’s now sitting at the #2 slot on the top selling iPad apps in the US and it’s in the top 10 in many other countries in the world (and would probably be #1 if it wasn’t because Infinity Blade had a major update and is on sale).

Casey’s Contraptions went on sale on Thursday, and in a few hours it entered the top 100 charts all around the world. We were super-fortunate the Apple picked Casey’s Contraptions as their iPad Game of the Week worldwide and that gave it enough momentum to reach #2 on the top apps chart!


The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Not just the press, but the comments on forums, Twitter, Facebook, and even on the App Store. I keep reading stories of parents playing the game along with their 3 and 4 year olds (as well as sneaking out later and playing it by themselves). I’m really glad it resonates with people and so many people are able to enjoy it!

Here are just a few of the main reviews Casey’s Contraptions has received in the few days since launch:

  • TUAW I thought it was the most impressive iOS game I’d ever seen.
  • 148Apps Editor’s Choice. I don’t think I’ve played a better iOS puzzle game this year.
  • Pocket Gamer Gold Award […] one of the most polished iOS games you can currently lay your hands on
  • TouchArcade. I can tell you this – Casey’s Contraptions is a joy to play.
  • AppleNApps 5/5 Casey’s Contraptions is without a doubt one of the best games ever made for the iPad.
  • TheAPPera 10/10 Casey’s Contraptions is the best puzzle game on the iPad right now.

It has been an amazing release. I’ll write a post soon on what we did for marketing to create this launch. The only thing I could have wished for was that the story had been picked up by one of the super popular web sites like Gizmodo or Kotaku. It’s not every day that two indies can get together and storm the App Store charts!

We have lots of updates planned, so the story doesn’t end here. This is just the beginning! We’ll keep posting on our progress and some initial sales info as soon as the dust settles down.

Making Contraptions

Casey’s Contraptions will be available in the US in a few hours! For those of you living in other parts of the world, it’s probably already available on your App Store. Go get it!

For the rest of you still twiddling your thumbs, eagerly awaiting for midnight, here’s some insight on what went on in the level creation for Casey’s Contraptions.

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Built-in editor

From the beginning of the project, the idea was to have a level editor built in to the game. The level editor was the very first thing I implemented in the game. Before there were menus, or levels, or anything else, the game was a level editor without any goals.

That’s what Miguel and I used to create all the levels we shipped with. Nothing like eating your own dog food to make something solid and usable. This is the final level editor that players can use to create their own contraptions from scratch and send them to friends.

Level editor

The only difference is that user-created levels only have the goal of getting the 3 stars in the level, whereas game levels have a separate goal. This was mostly because of the UI work required to allow the user to set different goals affecting multiple objects. It would have been way too complicated, although we’re not ruling out the possibility of extending it in the future. Miguel and I had to edit level files by hand to add the extra goal information.

Levels. Evolved.

One thing that worked really well in Casey’s Contraptions is that we had a working level editor from day one. The first prototype was a tiny level editor! Of course, we’ve been refining it since then, but the core was there.

After a month or two of development, we implement some goals and the ability to play through the levels created. That means we’ve been able to make, play, and test levels for 6 months before shipping.

It was having that amount of time to create levels that allowed the level creation to mature and let us discover what went into a fun level, to refine the difficulty, and create much more interesting levels in the end. Some of that was influenced by what mechanics were fun and which ones weren’t (placing something in a pixel-perfect position).

The different game items also had a huge influence over the level design. Clearly their functionality is going to affect level design hugely, but the surprise was that the character of the items also influenced level design quite a bit.

For example, early on, most of the levels were about solving everyday tasks Casey had to deal with: put toys away, knock down a ball from the roof, pop a balloon, etc. But as soon as we started adding some of the more colorful items, like the doll, the piggy bank, or the RC truck, our levels shifted into being mini-stories: The doll is jumping from a building and you need to catch her, the piggie is being taken away on the truck, etc. That’s when we realized that we could make really fun levels based on playtime stories, not just real situations. Probably about a third of the shipping levels are playtime levels.


Creation process

Initially, we just created levels without thinking too much about it. Used whatever items we wanted and created something that seemed fun. We were learning a lot by doing that: Playing with item interactions, seeing what was possible and what wasn’t, which items we were gravitating towards and which ones were no fun to play with. We weren’t doing it consciously, but what we really doing was exploring the possibilities of the “level space”.

As you can imagine, most of what we created early on went out of the window pretty quickly. Most of the levels were insanely difficult, and a lot of them were simply no fun at all. We were also creating the levels to challenge each other to solve them, and while that was really fun, a lot of those levels were devilishly difficult. We’ve been dialing back the difficulty level ever since then.

The actual process for creating a level wasn’t very involved. Either one of us would go ahead and create a first pass at a level. Sometimes I would sit down and consciously decide to create a new level (especially if it was a level designed to teach about a new item), but more often than not, an idea would come up while doing something unrelated in the game.

Once we had this first pass, we would send it over to the other person and have them either poke holes on the design (if the level can be solved trivially by just dropping a ball somewhere for example), or tweak it to tighten it and make it more fun. Later on, we would revisit levels based on tester feedback or us becoming more experienced.

I estimate that the average time to create a level, from the first item added to the time it was added to the game, was about half an hour. Some of them were much faster, and some much slower though. And for yet some others, we struggled with them for a whole day and finally dropped the idea completely.

What makes a good level

As we quickly learned, making a cool-looking contraption and removing a few pieces does not a good level make.

The best levels always have multiple solutions. Otherwise, it becomes a game of “guess what the designer had in mind”. There are plenty of games like that out there (and I hate them all when I feel that it turns into that). So even if we started with a complete contraption, we would always make sure there were at least two different ways of accomplishing the goals.

The other thing to avoid in a level is the possibility of trivial solutions. If a level can be accomplished by placing a single item that drops and causes the goal to complete, that’s not very fun. It was a tough balance between leaving enough freedom to create your own solutions, but making it so there were no really “cheap” and boring ones.

The stars were tricky. Each level has thee stars you can get, but they’re completely optional. Initially I wanted our levels to be easy to solve, but each star was progressively more difficult to get. Getting the third star required some serious thinking. My reasoning was that people would solve the levels first, get comfortable with the game, and then come back and get three stars in everything. Boy, was I wrong! It was clear right away that most people wanted (no, expected!) to get all three stars in their first pass through the game. So we changed most of the levels so getting the stars is not hugely difficult, especially in the early levels.

Letting the testers loose on the game was an extremely valuable experience. Not only did they catch a fair share of bugs, but they also had a fresh perspective on the game. It was amazing seeing them solve levels in totally different ways than we had anticipated. It was extremely rewarding to see people come up with solutions and even interactions I had never considered even though I had written all the code.

Here’s a good example (Spoiler alert. Skip ahead to the next section if you don’t want to learn multiple solution to one level).

Here’s one level I designed called “Angry Doll” (any references to popular iOS games must be purely coincidence, by the way 🙂


This was a level intended to highlight the use of the slingshot, but you already had the doll and one slingshot in place (and the doll misses the pig with its initial flying kick). One possible solution I had in mind was to use the remaining balls and slingshots to alter the course of the doll and knock the pig down.


There are a few different ways you can do that, which made it an interesting level. However, I was totally unprepared for some of the solutions the testers came up with.

This solution uses multiple slingshots on the doll, which changes its course and adds a lot more force to it. It flies straight for the pig and smashes it on impact. Not just that, but for extra style points, the tennis balls go flying out on a totally chaotic pattern, and they get all the stars!!


This other solution might be my favorite. It completely bypasses even the intermediate goal (alter the doll’s trajectory) and instead attaches a slingshot directly on the piggie bank and smashes it against the wall (getting a star along the way). Genius!


Item sequence

There was one additional constraint to making levels that we didn’t start dealing with until fairly late in the project: Item sequence. Initially, only a few, simple items are available to solve the goals in each level. As you play your way through the game, we introduce new items slowly, making sure their properties are well understood before introducing a new one.

The first time you complete a level with a new item, you’re “awarded” that item, and you can start using it in your own contraptions in the level editor. You can even see the stickers of the items you’ve earned so far on the cover of the “My Contraptions” book (I was playing Psychonauts at the time, so I suspect that might have influenced that design decision a bit).


Having a set item sequence meant we had to be very careful which items were available in which level. We kept a spreadsheet with all the levels, and which items were introduced when. Every new item we introduce follows the following steps:

  • When an item first appears, it’s already placed in the level. That means the player gets to see how that item behaves.
  • The next level, we give that item to the player so he or she can place it in the level to solve the contraption.
  • Another level or two making use of that item. That reinforces the behavior of the item and makes the player comfortable with it before moving on.

We were shooting for fewer levels, but it’s not hard to see why we ended up with 72 levels in the first version of the game.

To be really sure we were respecting the right item sequence, we even wrote a script that parsed all the level files in order and spit out where each item was used. It even made sure that every item followed the rules above (first placed in the world, then available to place by the player). This will continue being extremely useful as we add more items and levels in future updates.


Make your own

There you go. That should give you an idea of what was involved in creating the levels for Casey’s Contraptions. In the near future we’re planning on holding contraption-creation contests and we hope to highlight some player-created contraptions. Go ahead and buy the game and start practicing to make your own contraptions. Remember: The crazier the better!

The Curious Case of Casey and The Clearly Deterministic Contraptions

As we gear up for Casey’s Contraptions launch on May 19th, this is the first post in a series dealing with different aspects of the game. I’m planning on covering technical aspects like today, but also design and other parts of development.

Casey 640x100

For those of you who have been living under a rock and haven’t seen the Casey’s Contraptions video, go watch it now. I’ll wait. Or even better, here it is. You don’t even have to leave this page:

Continue reading

All It Needs Is Love

The App Store today is a different beast from the one in early 2009, when iShoot ruled the charts. Look at the top paid games on the App Store today. Actually, don’t worry, I did all the leg work for you. Here they are:

Top paid
What can we tell by looking at those games? I see two clear categories: Games with a strong, established IP (Street Fighter, Sonic), or independent games with a huge amount of polish and style. Continue reading

Casey’s Contraptions Weekly Update (Jan 7)

So much for “weekly” updates. Last time I wrote one was Oct 29. Oops! That’s what happens when I get really busy and then the holidays hit. But now that’s over (the holiday part at least), so I’ll write to write more frequent updates.

This Week

caseyescape.jpgThis week Miguel and I are wrapping up our current iteration with the main focus of the first five minutes of gameplay. The reason we’re doing this now is that we spent quite a bit of time on the user interaction experience and we tried to nail that before adding more items and more levels. All along, we’ve been testing the game with unsuspecting victims and we quietly watched over their shoulders as they fumbled with the game without any instructions or tutorials.

I really believe we made huge improvements. We designed the whole game with touch interface from the ground up, and it really shows. I think it’s a very direct and intuitive interface, but even so, there’s only so much you can do without any instructions.

So, the focus of this last iteration is to concentrate on what a new player will see in the first five minutes of gameplay. That way, we can continue testing the game on new players and get a much better feel for how they learn to interact with the game and what works and what doesn’t.


For every iteration (roughly about 2 weeks each) we focus on one main area, based on what we feel needs to be addressed the most at that point. To give you an idea, these have been the focus of some of the past iterations:

  • Proof-of-concept prototype
  • New, non-physical items
  • Game screen flow and level progression
  • Final user interaction
  • New items and locations


One thing that we’ve been doing is trying to take each goal to completion. This is an idea from Scrum and Agile development that I really like. If you implement an idea to the 90% state, apart from the fact that the remaining 10% is going to take another 90% of the time, you probably don’t have a good idea how it will really be once it’s completed. That makes future planning and re-prioritizing more difficult.

Obviously there’s such a thing as going overboard. Trying to get every single, tiny effect and animation to fully complete before moving on would be crippling. I try to think about the impact that feature, even if it’s very small, will have in the final game. The exact effect when you pick up a star isn’t crucial (assuming you have some sounds and some effects already), but the animations for the item selection and manipulation contribute a lot more to the feel of the game, so they’re more important.

In some of my past projects I took a different approach and built the game bottom up. At the very end all the little niceties and polish touches went in, which made the game radically different. Now I’ve come to admit that all those little touches contribute a lot to the final feel of the game and should be considered all along and not as an afterthought at the end.