Pizza! Fast! is the game that I've been working on as lead designer of Seven Layer Studios. It's a time-attack, pizza making game for mobile devices, and the objective is to make pizzas. Fast!
At the beginning of development, the game was much different than it is now. Our first idea was for a game called Pizza Underground. In Pizza Underground, you play as the owner and head chef of a pizza place in a city where pizza has been outlawed. You made pizzas, bought ingredients, managed a team of drivers (all with individual traits and stats), and controlled the driving routes through the city. There were various obstacles that the drivers could run into while out on delivery and obstacles that could pop up in the pizza shop.
Now there are two things wrong with Pizza Underground:
- That game was so HUGE! Waaaaaaay out of scope and impossible to do well in the amount of time we had.
- Macaulay Culkin already made a The Velvet Underground coverband called The Pizza Underground.
So we made a tough decision and cut the game in half. We decided to scrap the "Underground" part of Pizza Underground and just have the player make pizzas. Fast!
In the game, players are pizza chefs at a restaurant. They're given orders for pizzas and are tasked with quickly making the pizzas to the specific orders and within the time constraints of each order. After a pizza has been finished and placed in a pizza box, it is immediately graded and the player earns profit that is proportional to the quality of the pizza.
Being that the game was designed from the start as a touchscreen mobile game, we had to comply with the controls of touchscreen devices. This meant that we had no buttons to work with and instead had to create a pizza making control scheme using only taps, swipes, and accelerometer input.
We originally decided that the touch-gamified version of dough rolling would be moving your finger around on the dough. The dough is placed on the pizza board automatically and you move your finger on it to spread it out and make it increase in size. Keep spreading until the dough is the size the order asked for (small, medium, or large) and then move on to topping placement.
How and why it changed
The issue with that dough rolling system was that it was very boring. You just rub your finger on the dough until it's the right size. Big deal! It's not engaging. There's no challenge to it, but at the same time it's difficult and frustrating to get the dough to be the right size. Also, it doesn't match the sense of speed that we are trying instill in the player.
With that, I knew that the system needed to change somehow. I came up with a new system that placed a circle behind the dough on the pizza board. Now when you rub the dough, you are actually rubbing the circle. Ok, big deal now you're just rubbing out a different thing. How is that any better?
When the circle reaches a size (small, medium, or large) the real dough instantly grows in size to meet the circle's size. This is interesting. It's a quick visual and it feels like a lot is happening with a simple movement. So this is nice, but it still doesn't fit the speed of the game and it's still not challenging. In fact it's easier to get the correct size...
Next, I made it so that the faster the player moves their finger on the screen, the faster the circle expands and the faster the dough reaches the next size. Speed! This means they can also go slow, if that's what they need. This is more intuitive and the player's intentions are matched in the game. I also made it possible for the player to go too far above the large size and tear the dough. This way they have to keep their speed in check. Challenge! To add another level of challenge, I made it so that if the player lifted their finger off of the dough, the circle behind the dough would shrink back down to the previous size that it passed. This way they have something working against them. A risk.
Did it work?
After creating a visual design document showing how the system would work, I created a test scene in Unity and made a prototype. I showed it to the team, and unanimously everyone said that it definitely felt more engaging. There's a better flow with this system. With that, I implemented the system into the game, and it's the dough rolling system that we've been working with ever since!
The character being played in this video is Steve X-treme. He's so action packed that he makes his pizzas with explosions!
Keeping in line with the touch controls, we decided to have toppings be something that are "painted" onto the dough by selecting a topping and dragging a finger on the dough. The topping that was selected is painted in a trail following the path of your finger.
We've had that mechanic in place from the start for sauce and cheese. It just made sense for those, but for toppings like pepperoni and onions, we originally thought it would be best if they were tapped onto the dough instead of painting them. Of course, we eventually realized that this didn't work for the player at all. We just taught them that sauce and cheese were painted on, and then changed the rules for all the other toppings! Needless to say, that was very confusing for the player. When we realized what was happening, we changed topping placement so that all toppings were placed by painting them onto the pizza. This makes much more sense and keeps the rules of topping placement down to one mechanic.
As the player progresses through Pizza! Fast! they unlock new and interesting ingredients to put on their pizzas, ranging from green peppers and chicken to candy and toys. Pizzas can get pretty wild toward the end of the game.
Back when Pizza! Fast! was still Pizza Underground, we still had all of these cool unlockable toppings, but we also let the player keep all of them at once. We have almost 200 unlockable toppings. On the limiting screen of mobile devices, our plan was to have multiple pages of toppings. For each pizza, the player would have to scroll through these pages to find the toppings that they needed. Even before getting these pages and all of the ingredients implemented, we realized how big a pain this was going to be.
The alternative we decided on was just letting the player keep ten toppings at a time. When they unlock a new ingredient, the oldest one is kicked out of the inventory (we did, however, decide to keep sauce and cheese as permanent members of the ten so that pizzas would always at least be recognizable as pizzas). This new method of unlocking toppings keeps the game fresh while also keeping a manageable number toppings so the player doesn't have to search forever to find what they need.