Jetsam #6: Endgame Design

We view Jetsam, progression-wise, almost like two different games. Some players will enjoy one section more than the other, but we want to make sure our appeal is as broad as possible by giving both our best attention.

A level in the upcoming Jetsam Beta

The “campaign” in Jetsam (consisting of the main puzzle missions) can rightly be seen as a game in and of itself. There are progression aspects, the player learns new mechanics, secrets await discovery, and more. Plus – all of that is totally free to play, no strings attached. No ads, no annoyances – just a great offline puzzle game.

We could’ve stopped there, but decided not to. A lot of games these days attempt to bring players to an “endgame” state – the point where most players perceive that they have completed the content available in the game, but discover new, more advanced forms of gameplay they can repeat. This is a valuable goal for us, because we want to give something really rewarding to our most dedicated players, while also giving our more casual players something that keeps them coming back.

To do endgame “right” requires that we design a whole new set of mechanics that veteran players can keep doing forever.

It’s hard to articulate how intimidating “forever” is in game design – it requires thinking about a game in sandbox terms instead of completion terms, which is a pretty radical development mindset shift.

So what do other games do?

Endgames in first-person shooters are usually centered around competitive PvP play: ranking systems, matchmaking, etc. Endgames in MMOs usually focus on collaborative PvE experiences: dungeons, raids, and clans come to mind.

But what the hell does an endgame for a puzzle game look like?

After looking at endgame experiences across a lot of titles and genres, we found that the successful ones usually emphasize some form of player-to-player socialization aspect. We thus concluded that a level editor with sharing tools would be a great place to start. We have so far structured our endgame around building and sharing levels, enabling that socialization in our specific genre’s context. The idea is that an otherwise solo experience becomes dramatically enriched by others once you reach “endgame.”

Work-in-progress: Jetsam’s level editor

Making levels buildable was exciting – we designed a new interface for our game that lets players “stamp” the tiles they want to create onto the play space. Given that we’re making a mobile game, the touch interface is perfect for something like that. Obviously lots more polish is needed, but the basic idea was effective enough that we have been able to develop the main game’s levels using the editor!

But making levels shareable was trickier – essentially we had to compress level data down to the most succinct format possible with some bit-level hacking, which resulted in what we call “level codes” – shareable strings of ASCII text that fully encode levels created by players in the editor. They’re so compressed, in fact, that you could conceivably tweet them…

The way we see it, the main game trains players to understand the sandbox, and the endgame frees them to go wild with it. That’s the philosophy underpinning our endgame experience. We want to empower players to build their own worlds in our game, and we hope that gives players of all stripes reasons to stick around long after they start playing Jetsam.

We’re serving up a delicious taster of Jetsam soon, so if you have an iOS device, sign up for Jetsam’s Beta here.

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