Big Loop Studios told us about the idea behind Boxes: Lost Fragments and shared the asset production, texturing, and testing workflows.
We founded the company in 2013 with a small investment, trying to make a big city builder browser game. Naturally, we ran out of money at around 25% of the job and couldn’t raise more, so we abandoned the project and started offering game development services to clients. We released a tiny but gorgeous puzzle adventure game called Escape From 26 on the web, which was a pet project of one of the co-founders, with a very positive reception. This led to a 6-game development contract for the then-biggest mobile escape game publisher.
After completing the contract we now had the expertise, the engine, and the team to do our own successful escape game, which we did in 2016 with Dreamcage Escape. Since then, we’ve published 10 more puzzle escape games with our publisher Snapbreak Games and are currently working on 2 new bigger ones. With every new game, we increase the scope and the quality of the gameplay and graphics.
Boxes: Lost Fragments
Boxes is a natural progression of our successful mobile puzzle escape series Doors: Awakening, Doors: Origins, and Doors: Paradox, which we also released on Steam as one bigger game. With quite an increased budget and experience, we try to bridge the gap with the leaders in our niche The Room series by Fireproof Games. You can tell Boxes is heavily influenced by the first The Room game.
After completing the 6-game contract and seeing that all of the games we did are successful, we decided to focus solely on making mobile puzzle escape games. Although it was a work-for-hire contract, we did everything for these games: initial idea, development, QA, and marketing materials.
The main gameplay mechanics are orbiting in first-person view around a big puzzle box placed on a table, zooming in on interesting parts, collecting objects, transforming the objects in the inventory, using the objects on other parts of the puzzle box, pushing/sliding/rotating different parts of the box and table, and solving classic puzzles, integrated nicely into the level. All with the single purpose of uncovering a special object inside that helps you progress in the game.
We begin by gathering various references as a starting point. Initially, we mainly used Pinterest, but recently we've been exploring the use of AI tools like Midjourney to generate concepts.
Once we come across an idea that we think fits, we create different prototypes and concepts using Blender. Throughout the project, we have developed over 60 very detailed level prototypes, with only 20 making it into the final game.
To visualize how these prototypes will appear in the game, we export them into Unity for further evaluation. If we find something we like, we return to Blender to refine it. Given the nature of our game, the boxes are intricately connected to all the props. As a result, we usually model them together, then if necessary, we export them separately.
We rely on Substance 3D Painter as our primary tool for texturing the props in our game. We take a custom approach and create textures specifically tailored to each prop. To streamline our workflow, we have developed a library of Smart Materials that we frequently reuse across different assets.
In addition to Substance 3D Painter, we leverage the capabilities of Photoshop to create alpha textures. These textures are then imported into Painter and incorporated into the overall texturing process. We have also integrated Midjourney and other AI software into our workflow to generate unique and intriguing textures. These textures are further refined either in Photoshop or directly within Substance 3D Painter. At times, we used ZBrush to add high poly details and bake them as well.
For certain materials in Unity, we utilize tileable textures. To add variety and uniqueness, we employ vertex painting techniques in Blender. This allows us to create different variations of the materials and apply them to the models.
By combining these tools and techniques, we aim to achieve visually appealing and diverse textures that enhance the overall visual experience of our game.
When we have a nice 3D prototype for a level, we then generate a huge list of potential puzzles, collectible objects, mechanics, etc., that would make sense and fit in the level. Every team member, no matter their actual job, is required to participate in this stage of initial idea generation. Usually, we generate more than 100 ideas per level before we are able to find 20 or fewer, that are good enough to go in the final level design.
After we program a level, we do face-to-face player testing to get feedback on the fun, difficulty, and clarity of the puzzles. Post-release, we log every action that the players perform into our analytics system. We do several rounds of identifying the bottlenecks for each step along the level progression and fix/balance/remove the problematic parts. After doing this 2 or 3 times with the first 50-100k players (on mobile), the game is in great shape for the millions of players that we expect to play it.
We are just completing the development of all levels. What is left is adding some cutscenes and side objects in the levels that support the story, level selection and other menus, and some of the sound effects. Then post-production, quality assurance, and marketing materials, and we are done! Meanwhile, we are working on another puzzle escape game with a totally different concept.
If you wanna play Boxes: Lost Fragments, wishlist it here.