The Wonderland series of games have been around for a good few years now and built up quite a following. Wonderland Adventures, the next addition to the series (and soon to be reviewed here on Binary Joy), was recently released so I thought I would throw a few questions over to Patrick, the series designer about the design and development of the game.
Ben : Hi Patrick – could you fill in some details about yourself for those who haven’t heard of you or your games.
Patrick : Midnight Synergy has been around since 1994. Before that time myself and other team members worked on a variety of shareware games for the Commodore 64, Atari ST, and PC. We are probably best known for the Wonderland series of games, but we have also released several other games, such as Operation: Carnage (a tongue-in-cheek shoot-em-up), Intensity XS (a space blaster) and Colony (a strategy game).
Ben : How did the Wonderland series of games start – there seem to be quite a few of them now?
Patrick : I have a fond memory of 2D tile-based action/puzzle games from the 1980s, such as Boulder Dash, Chip’s Challenge, Solomon’s Key. I always thought it would be fun to do these types of logic puzzles in a quasi-3D environment. I first experimented with the idea in 1996, but I started and stopped the project several times. Each time I tried to keep notes of what worked and what didn’t work, and I let those ideas percolate for several years. (One of the early designs, for example, had the player controlling different types of robots, each with a unique ability.)
The final version of the game was started in 2001, and was set in the world of “Wonderland” , which I think of as a combination of sweet, silly, and child-like. My hope was that this would put a friendly face on what is essentially a series of increasingly difficult logic puzzles. I wanted to make a game that could be enjoyed by both younger and more experienced players, in the hope that they would be drawn to different facets of the game.
Ben : The first game in the series, Wonderland, was relatively simple to play with the difficulty and variety increasing with each new game. How do you make sure the levels are challenging enough for the veterans without making things too difficult for newbies?
Patrick : I generally follow three guidelines to help make the game accessible to players with different ability levels: First, I introduce new gameplay elements very gradually, which allows me to sprinkle in several easier “let’s learn how to use this new gadget” levels among the more difficult puzzles. Second, I try to give many levels multiple paths to a solution – often players will come up with very ingenious ways of solving a puzzle that I didn’t even think of. I feel that this helps keep things fresh for them, even after having completed the game. Finally, I always include lots and lots of extra things that can be done. For example, the main storyline of Wonderland Adventures can be completed with roughly a third of the puzzles unsolved. However, there is a place at the end of the game that players can only enter if they complete every single adventure. Hunting down and solving every last adventure is not necessary to enjoy the game, but gives even expert players some tough puzzle nuts to crack.
Ben : A lot of the levels in your games are complex… very complex. How do you go about creating the levels and making sure they are fun to play?
Patrick : It really depends. Sometimes I have definite plans for a level right from the start. But quite often it is a more iterative process. I load up the level editor and simply start putting together elements in new and different combinations. Then I play the level to see what is fun, what could be fun,
and what just doesn’t work. Then I rinse and repeat.
I also always keep notes. If I stumble over a great puzzle that just doesn’t fit in a level, I make sure that it gets used in a different situation.
Ben: The jump from simple puzzle game to adventure game has worked incredibly well. Where did you get the idea for this?
Patrick : My main goal was to give the story a bit of an “epic fantasy” feel, but keep the game firmly rooted in the sillyness of Wonderland. In a way the main idea was “Miyazaki meets Myamoto”. I wanted the richness of a fantasy world such as in the movie “Spirited Away”, combined with the simple yet complex gameplay of “Paper Mario” or “Zelda Windwaker”. I certainly don’t think I got all of that with Wonderland Adventures, but it is a first step in that direction. We’ll see what’s next.
Ben : You have a strong player community behind your games. How do you keep these gamers interested in your games and keep the community growing?
Patrick : At first, the community was primarily a place for players to swap user-made levels for Return To Wonderland. The first few months required a lot of involvement from me, starting discussion topics or having level creation competitions. Pretty quickly, though, the community took on a life of its own and evolved into a pretty close-knit group of people. Some of them have been very dedicated to both the games and the community over the years, making their own websites, hosting competitions, even organizing “real life” meetings and mini-conventions.
Ben : Have you thought about making any other types of games or will we be seeing more Wonderland games in the future?
Patrick : I’m always toying with different ideas, and I’m sure I will explore at least some of them in the future.