From Concept To Completion

Different concepts for the game that became Bonnie’s Bookstore
Concepts for Bonnie's Bookstore

If you’re not in the game development business, you might not realize how much experimentation it takes to arrive at a final product. My recently launched game, Bonnie’s Bookstore, started off as a vaguely defined word game, without an overriding graphical concept or story.

Before any of these images were created, I had already settled on the basic game mechanic, after trying and discarding two other word game concepts/mechanics.

Now I had to settle on a theme. I had a list of possible game settings, as follows:

CONCEPT_______________RATING (Higher is better)

Traveller's Tales_____7.6_________7.4
Monkey Tails__________5.5_________5.9
Tropical Fish_________5.4_________5.1
Paints/Paint Factory__5.3_________4.2
Birds (parrots, etc)__5.0_________4.6
Writer's Block________4.9_________5.1

I submitted these concepts (with additional details) to a panel of 24 people who had volunteered (mainly as a result of my postings on my blog) to provide feedback. The first numerical column is the average rating for the concept, by all respondents, the second is women only, which I was particularly interested in, as I felt the game’s sales would skew towards women.

Originally, Writer’s Block and Bookstore had been my favorite concepts, and StoryBook was among my least favorites. But everyone else, especially the women, liked StoryBook best, so we included that among the finalists.

Based on those results, I contacted an artist named Ian Wilmoth and had him create multiple concepts for me. He in turn created the Traveller’s Tales (i.e. travel guide, first one in Egypt) concept, as well as a Penguin concept that we had come up with after the original survey. He also subcontracted the Cooking, Monkey Trouble, and Storybook concepts.

Cooking Caper
Cooking Caper

Monkey Trouble
Monkey Trouble

Penguin Puzzle
Penguin Puzzle


Traveller’s Tales (i.e. travel guide in Egypt and other exotic locales)
Egypt Travel Guide

(Note that the names the artist included in the mockups don’t always correspond to what I called the concept, as my naming whims were rather fluid at that point)

To my surprise, even with the unconventional art-style, the StoryBook concept was getting great responses from people I showed it to.

However, the method by which the storybook concept was produced, hand painted water-color, would not scale up enough to allow me to make my targeted 40 backgrounds in a targeted 2-3 month window (we ended up with 50 backgrounds, plus other art, in a 4.5 month window). So I commissioned another artist who had contacted me, Von Caberte, to try his hand at the storybook style, using a somewhat different technique.

Von’s first pencil sketch
Von's initial pencil concept

Von’s first colorized image
Concept in color

I loved Von’s work, and signed him up to do all the art for the game. Since the above sketch didn’t fit within a specific fairy tale, the first image that was done that actually made it into the main part of the game was from ‘The Frog Prince’.

Pencil Sketch
Golden ball concept

Final Game Screen (incorporating a lot of interface revisions made along the way)
Golden ball final

So I was going with the ‘StoryBook’ concept – a sort of children’s story world brought to life. But I ended up bringing in elements of my other two favorite concepts (Writer’s Block, and Bookstore) as well, by creating a backstory that the lead character, Bonnie, ran a bookstore she had inherited. Somewhat bored with the lifestyle of a small shop owner, she soon began writing children’s books on the side (thus leading into the main gameplay). So I got three concepts for the price of one, I guess.

Anyways, here’s the title screen, which ties into the backstory.

Pencil Sketch
Title screen pencil

Title screen final

Some other Screens from the final version of Bonnie’s Bookstore
Other Screens from Bonnie's Bookstore

All total, the art side of Bonnie’s Bookstore started about 2 weeks into the project, and included 2 weeks of concepting, and 4.5 months of production art. The overall development schedule, including programming, design, and art, was about 6 months.

10 Responses to “From Concept To Completion”

  1. Make Mac Games Says:

    Casual Game Artwork: From Concept to Completion

    What’s involved in building a casual game these days?
    There is a lot more to making a casual game than most people realize. I learned this first hand recently, as I participated in the 2005 OMG Cup these past two months. I always believed …

  2. Make Mac Games » Blog Archive » Casual Game Artwork: From Concept to Completion Says:

    […] Phil Steinmeyer has given us a hint to just how much work is involved by sharing with us the artwork life cycle for his recently released game, Bonnie’s Bookstore. […]

  3. Jason Maskell Says:

    Hey Phil – where’d you get your focus group?

  4. Game Producer Says:

    Nice post. This idea/concept testing is something I gotta steal ;)

    Have you consider re-skinning your game? (Same way as Retro64’s WaterBugs…)

  5. Phil Steinmeyer Says:

    I probably wouldn’t do a reskin – I’d rather put the effort into something new.

  6. Raph’s Website » (Un)dressing a game Says:

    […] Phil Steinmeyer has a great post up going over the process of creating a look for his word puzzle game Bonnie’s Bookstore. What this reveals is both how important the dressing of a game is, and also how paradoxically unimportant it is. It also suggests ways in which we can drive innovation in games in general. […]

  7. » Blog Archive » From Concept To Completion - Follow Up Says:

    […] Phil Steinmeyer’s rumblings on the game biz, programming, and life « From Concept To Completion […]

  8. Kate Harrop Says:

    I love Bonnie’s bookstore. I think its a grat game. Your dong a great job! I would Love to try any of your other word games. Kate Harrop

  9. Word Games at Suttree - Real Artists Ship Says:

    […] It’s a shame that word games have become the ugly cousin to Match Three, Grouper style games. Word games are notoriosuly hard to create and localise though, as Phil Steinmeyer has illustrated. Raph Koster calls it ‘don’t pile in your dressing until the game is fun‘, and this is where I think word games get discarded as too difficult in comparison to match three and card games. PopCap go clearly have a culture for rapid iteration which is something that their framework surely helps with. I think that this is why so many casual games actually aren’t that much fun to play. Recently I’ve found that there are so many of the same pick-up-and-go style games, except that I don’t revisit them often. Nice idea, shame about the execution. This lack of addictiveness and shallow pool of ideas is really killing casual games – rapid iteration of game concepts is key to a games’ re-playability and it seems that, with the exception of PopCap who look like a jolly good publisher, agile game development just isn’t happening in large numbers. For word games, to get back to my original point, it often takes so long sorting out a dictionary that gameplay and re-playability gets lost. Without a framework for building word games, that’s a classic example of a frustration loop. […]

  10. The Ludologist » Blog Archive » Three New Blogs: Phil Steinmeyer, Chris Crawford, Clint Hocking Says:

    […] Phil Steinmeyer’s blog is about casual games, and plays a role in his development work, such as with the creation of Bonnie’s bookstore and some prototypes he recently asked his readers to rate. […]

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