Starting Our First Game, Face Mountain

After a lot of hard work, we finally got off our asses and documented our progress through our first year. This development blog marks another milestone for our game! Before we start, here’s a short introduction to Face Mountain.

Face Mountain Logo Horizontal

In its simplest form, Face Mountain is a puzzle adventure game that puts a new twist to the already familiar match-3 game genre. In it, you go on an adventurous climb on the tallest and most fantastical mountain in the world, Mt. Neverest. You encounter creatures that block the path to the top, and you move them around and match them in groups to clear the path forward. It will be available for iPhone and iPad this July, with Android to follow soon after.

#ScreenshotSaturday for Face Mountain

For more information, check out the new website for Face Mountain here. This site connects all Face Mountain-related content across many social media platforms:

How It Started

We came up with Face Mountain because of circumstances that forced us to brainstorm. Around summer-time last year, the team had just moved into our new apartment-turned-office. A car had hit a tree, which then hit a power line, and this caused a power outage which affected our whole block. The heat forced our whole team to leave the office and check in to a restaurant down the road for pizza, air-conditioning, and WiFi.

White Widget's Apartment-turned-office

My co-founder Allen and I were busy working on our clients’ games, so we used this down time to throw ideas around. Nathan had just joined us as our first ever hire and game developer, and my boyfriend John Joe also came in to help with marketing.

Our goal was to come up with a simple game that wouldn’t take too long to make. We had very limited time and capacity, so we couldn’t dream too big. Our first idea was a game where players could match the photos of their friends. We thought it would be funny to see your friends’ faces pop when you matched them.

Face Match!

We called the game “Face Match” and slapped together a prototype. We soon ran into issues with the game’s design, until finally we decided not to use profile pictures as puzzle pieces. Aside from the well-known match-3 mechanic, we added a new game piece: the player’s avatar. It would move along a path as you clear puzzle pieces in front of it. We took notes from Cave Quest, a game that employed a similar mechanic but buried it inside a lot of “Find the Hidden Object” gameplay.

We chose a magical mountain as the game’s setpiece, and filled it with bizarre creatures. We eventually gave life to rocks, plants, and fruits by giving them expressive faces. Allen started calling the game “Face Mountain”. It was catchy enough so we stuck with that name.

Shifting Art Styles

At that time, our art director Sigmund was working on another game idea we had for a multiplayer tower defense. Given that this was our first official title, we decided Face Mountain was the safer game to start with. We asked him to draw the conceptual mountain first and we split it into several different environments.

Face Mountain Sections Concept

The initial style was painterly, but this was hard to animate and looked too serious. So we redid the mountain in a flat, cell-shaded style inspired by Adventure Time.

Face Mountain Style Transition

We came up with the idea of a guide that accompanies the player to the top of the mountain. Our first thought was to design a Sherpa or a hermit. I don’t remember who suggested a Yeti mascot, but this made perfect sense. Sigmund brought him to life with a giant moustache and a friendly face. We named him Monty, and made him the game’s official mascot.

Are We There Yeti?

Now, we were still juggling client work so we started looking for more people. We expanded our game team with Marc Joel, and he started coding the engine. That left Allen, Nate and myself shouldering a tidy amount of client work, only touching the game when we were free.

We spent the little time we had for Face Mountain to come up with game mechanics. Eventually, we came up with puzzle pieces for the different levels, and we wanted these to ‘evolve’ like Pokemon. To add a layer of depth to the match-3 mechanic, each puzzle piece would serve a different purpose. The player would collect useful items like rope, energy bars, torches and wood.

Some of the early game art looked like this:

Face Mountain Early Prototype

The lighter tile blocks you see above would have been the path of the player, but it looked confusing and unnecessary. We decided to do away with the static background image, and aimed for a more immersive adventure-themed look. I also wanted faces on everything just because they were so much cuter that way. A month later we had a new background style and every puzzle piece turned into a living creature with a face.

Face Mountain Adventure Board Prototype

The game was looking prettier but it was hard to distinguish the playable from the non-playable elements. The creatures had to stand out from the rest, so we tried doing the background scenery again in a more painterly style.

Face Mountain Adventure Board Rejected Prototype

This was tough. We still weren’t satisfied with the new background art because everything looked too saturated. That’s when we decided to change the art direction for Face Mountain drastically. Stay tuned for part two of this series of blog posts where we cover these changes, added features and more exciting stuff.

What’s Next?

In the next update, we’ll present more art dumps and talk about Face Mountain’s creatures and how we landed on the current art style. If you have any requests for our development blog series, please feel free to leave a comment below. We’d also love to hear about what you think about Face Mountain so far.

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="5343749"]