Dead prototypes: Osmosis DX

It is a truism that game developers have a severe case of greener grass syndrome as soon as a project starts requiring serious work. We all have so many ideas and the temptation is always there to start a new project before you’ve finished – often even before you’ve properly started – your current one. In this new series of posts I’ll talk about little prototypes I’ve spent some time on, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, only to decide not to pursue them any further for a variety of reasons.

What is it?

Osmosis was an early Score puzzle game on iOS devices (no longer supported). On a limited grid were placed a selection of cells (think organic cells) that you could slide up, down, left or right. If they encountered no resistance they’d loop around the board and arrive back where they started. If they hit a cell of a different colour they’s stop. But if they hit a cell of the same colour they’d merge. A merged cell couldn’t be moved, but a third cell of the same colour could be slid into it to form a whole new cell one level up. Once all cells had been merged into one you cleared the level.

In this puzzle the three smaller cells would have to be combined into a larger blue cell, which then would combine with the other 2 larger blue cells. Hitting a red virus would kill the cell.

It sounds pretty complicated, but playing it was simple enough.

As it was an old game it was made in a custom engine with 2D graphics. I thought it’d be fairly trivial to recreate it in Unreal Engine 4 with updated 3D graphics.

How far did it get?

Not too far. I created a game board with a free 3D cursor that would snap to cells when you got close enough to them. You could drag and sling cells, and I started playing around with a gooey material on placeholder a 3D model.

About to fling the middle cell downward.
Experimenting with transparency, reflection and vertex offsets.

I needed to decide if it was worth working it up beyond that point. I decided it wasn’t, at this time.

Why kill it?

Osmosis was a puzzle game but it wasn’t a picture-based logic-puzzle game; I would have a hard time fitting it into the Piczleverse of titles. Aside from vaguely styling the new cells in-game on our Piczle heroes and perhaps adding a Prof’s lab story line around it it wouldn’t really fit.

It was also a very hard game, it seriously could confound, despite its simple premise.

It would require a lot of work and polish to lift it out of a super-budget price range of game titles currently available on the Nintendo Switch. It is difficult committing yourself to months, years of work with the idea you’ll be offering it at 95% discount for $0.29 soon after launch just for the visibility.

What did I learn?

  • Dynamically creating a playfield and pawns using BluePrints.
    I had previously used widget 2D for creating Piczle’s game boards and that caused its own bucket of issues. For Osmosis I moved to 3D and using the engine’s capabilities I learned how easy it was to dynamically create a gameboard from 3D pieces on the fly.
  • Creating a dual controller/touch screen input for drag-flinging pawns.
    The game would have to be controllable by Joy-CON or touch screen. The controller part was easy but I spent a little time learning how to drag into a direction on the touchscreen to then release it in the opposite direction and to measure the power of the fling. Think the Angry Birds catapult but on a 3D grid seen from above (and limited to the horizontal and vertical axes) . Using the controller would give you a free moving cursor that would snap to the closest cell.

Dead for good?

Perhaps not. I do still like the premise of the puzzle. At worst I could try and find a place within a Piczle grand adventure game to have it as a mini-game or hidden extra. We’ll see.

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