Interview: Sly Trunk’s Shape Shuffle could be next big thing in mobile puzzle games

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CAN the maker of NFL.com’s Fantasy Football now claim to have made the App and Google Play Store’s most addictive – and original – new puzzle game?

In our opinion: hell yes!

In a world-first exclusive, Gamer Thumb went hands on with Sly Trunk’s new Shape Shuffle puzzle game, which launches this week on iOS (both iPhone and iPad) and Android for free.

Check out the gameplay video to see what you’re in for. Gameplay involves arranging coloured shapes in layers until you match the original puzzle picture.

On easy mode, it’s a great game for puzzle newbies. On hard, it is mind-bendingly fun. We can’t wait to experience more puzzles as the Sly Trunk team adds them.

Gamer Thumb will have a full review soon, but in the meantime, we sat down with Aussie ex-pat and Shape Shuffle designer, Adrian Phillips, for an intriguing interview about Shape Shuffle’s creation.

THUMB: Hello Adrian and welcome to Gamer Thumb! What gave you the idea for Shape Shuffle?

ADRIAN: We were inspired by the emerging trend towards very simple, uncluttered, visually appealing games such as Dots and Letterpress. We wanted to do something colorful and exciting that user’s could pick up for a moment or play for hours.

THUMB: How long did it take to make the game?

ADRIAN: Just over 3 months.

THUMB: What were the challenges in making a puzzle game? Have you ever made one before?

ADRIAN: This was our first time developing a puzzle game. I’d have to say the biggest challenge was crafting an interface that felt as natural and intuitive as stacking, rotating and reordering real physical shape tiles without overloading the user experience. We’re used to developing for the web so designing a rich native touch interface, with sounds and character art was a refreshing new challenge.

THUMB: On the design: why did you choose to allow players to rotate shapes as opposed to, say, dropping a shape into a grid?

Initially, we drew up a list of possible variations of how the shapes could be manipulated on the board by the user. We settled on the current style of gameplay as we wanted to give users a structure that they could become familiar with and control very easily. This in turn would lead them to solving their first puzzle rather quickly and getting that initial “Hooray!” of satisfaction. We spent a long time refining the goal of building a game that has mechanics conceptually simple enough for everyone (including kids) yet provides challenging enough puzzles that at the hardest difficulties stump even the best of puzzle gamers.

We’re proud of the balance we struck with Shape Shuffle and believe that folks will spend the least amount of time figuring out the game mechanics and all their time solving puzzles. Looking to the future, we’ll revisit the feature list for every app update and try to layer in new features and functionality where they fit naturally or are requested by the community. There may even be a whole new game in that list…

THUMB: I note that Sly Trunk was responsible for NFL.com’s Fantasy Football. Which has been more challenging: designing a platform for a tried and tested formula, or creating a new puzzle game?

ADRIAN: Since some of the team had experience building a Fantasy Sports products over at Yahoo before the NFL (and hence a head start on that stuff), I’d have to say creating a new puzzle game for two native mobile platforms consecutively (Android & iOS) was definitely a new, exciting & more challenging experience not only from a development perspective, but a design and product one as well.

THUMB: Who are you trying to appeal to with Shape Shuffle?

ADRIAN: There are a few parents on the team so we were drawn to the idea of creating something that our kids will play. But we’re also selfish, and wanted to build something that we would enjoy playing too. There is a precedent for such broad appeal with games like Sudoku & Plants vs. Zombies for example. Shape Shuffle is simple enough that kids can master the gameplay very quickly, but the levels range in difficulty so there is a challenge for everyone.

One ideal scenario that always came to mind was a mother playing through the hard puzzles on the family iPad with her son / daughter complaining about not being able to finish all the levels in “Shape Salad” because mum is always playing.

The short answer though, everyone who enjoys playing puzzle / board games on their mobile devices.

THUMB: Will it be a free or paid app upon launch?

The app will be available for free when it launches with just over 100 levels immediately available.

Additional episodes can be purchased via in-app purchases. We want to make games people enjoy enough to want to pay for more – we don’t believe in tricks or making people pay before they play. We will of course keep a close eye on data & user feedback to make sure we’re giving our audience what they want when it comes to rolling out new episodes and levels.

THUMB: Are there any plans for a) Game Center integration, and b) social gaming?

ADRIAN: There are plans for achievements which will most likely use Game Center integration. We know how much fun achievements are, and how they add another storyline to apps that can be very compelling so we’ll be listening to our users and respond accordingly. Achievements for example may unlock hidden episodes (I don’t want to give too much away).

Regarding social gaming, when building a game for kids and their parents, social integration can get complicated and are often a headache for the parent. The only headaches we want to cause are related to the especially tricky puzzles. There is the potential for some great social hooks around how quickly or efficiently you completed a puzzle versus your friends etc. We’ll introduce such hooks sparingly, clearly and with care.

THUMB: Are there any plans to release Shape Shuffle on any other platform?

ADRIAN: We developed Shape Shuffle for Android in parallel, and that will be in the Google Play Store (optimized for 7″, 10″ tablets) at the same time as the Universal iOS app. Should the people demand it, a web app and Windows 8 (Phone too) version is absolutely in the cards.

THUMB: When people hit ‘yes’ to like a puzzle, does that tell you what people are enjoying, and therefore help the game’s development in the long run?

ADRIAN: Spot on mate. We know from playing ourselves and watching others that there are those levels that present a really fun challenge, and when you emerge triumphant from such a puzzle we want to know about it (anonymously) so that we can refine our puzzle making. Each level and episode is hand crafted, we take great pride in them and want to make sure they’re a pleasure to complete as well as great to look at.

THUMB: I notice that you can buy expansion packs. Will you continue to add more packs?

ADRIAN: Definitely, I have an absolute blast creating these levels. We have some fun ideas for new episodes / packs in the works already that will include new shapes, colors and cheeky shape characters.

THUMB: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ADRIAN: We’re all really excited for the launch of this game over here at Sly Trunk and have big ideas for the future that will absolutely be informed by how our users are playing and the feedback they give us.

If your readers would like to receive updates / leave feedback and hear when Shape Shuffle will launch, I’d encourage them to Like our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ShapeShuffle.

Any feedback or questions can be directed to me (adrian@slytrunk.com) as I am always happy to respond to one and all.

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