In Where's My Water?, players use their finger to cut dirt and guide water to Swampy's broken shower! The original team was small and scrappy - three programmers, an artist, and producer. That meant everyone did a little bit of everything - prototyping, design, art, story, implementation, janitorial work, UI, you name it!
After the team decided on the core conceit, I developed the prototype in Unity to prove out the gameplay (And prepare for the project green-light). Since Unity doesn't have a built in water physics simulation, we faked the water using a series of bouncy spheres, and made the dirt a grid of box colliders.
Through rigorous play testing, we realized the best levels in Water? are the simplest ones. Simple levels help focus the players attention, as well as reducing the amount of time between solving a puzzle in their mind and then carrying it out in the game. I designed over 25% of the levels in 1.0, including Mixing Bowl, Half and Half, Water Temple, and Rhythm Nirvana.
One of my main tasks was implementing new mechanics. This required coding the logic and behaviors, in addition to hooking up the artwork and developing great feedback. New mechanics also required additional level editing tools, whether it was linking together objects (like switches and gates) or defining behaviors (like custom paths).
Water? was built in a custom C++ engine, which meant there was no visual editor. So I worked alongside our artist to layout and implement all of the screens via XML. We focused on making the content entirely data driven, so that updates could be developed faster (and not require additional layout work).
Water? has only one tutorial - "Drag to cut the dirt!". The remaining tutorials were implemented through level design and level ordering. We required more playtests to iron out all of the kinks, but reinforced the mantra of play and discoverability.
All of the collectible descriptions in Water? were written by yours truly. While they were supposed to be throwaway jokes, many of them started to develop and inform Swampy's character and the larger Where's My Water? world.
The update schedule for Water? was
borderline insane - we updated the game four times in four months. Each update consisted of a new mechanic, 20 new levels, and a new story moment. Brainstorming, implementation, level design, play testing, and QA all had to happen in just four weeks.
Great game stories help explain the game's rules. Originally our character was a seed (underground), but it's hard to show a seed filling. Instead, we focused on what feels good to fill, like a bathtub. But who bathes underground? Maybe those alligators living under New York City. And thus, Swampy was born (Complete with my rudimentary prototype Swampy animations).
Water? became a huge success: over 100+ million downloads and a 90 on Metacritic. It spawned several spinoff games (Where's My Perry?, Where's My Mickey?, and Where's My XYY?) in addition to the sequel Where's My Water? 2. Water? even became a web series, was merchandized, got a board game, and even won an Apple Design Award.