12 Tips for Making Sifteo Games

posted by scott, 08 Jan 2013


Sifteo cubes give developers an exciting opportunity to design new types of games. Forget traditional screens and controllers. Sifteo cubes are small magic blocks, each of which has a screen. You play by manipulating the cubes themselves, as you would play with board game pieces or building blocks.

Like the Nintendo Wii and iOS devices, Sifteo Cubes are intuitive and easy to use, which means people of all ages are attracted to playing with them.

Because Sifteo Cubes are so different from other gaming platforms, it can be challenging to design games for them. Just as Nintendo Wii made us think about moving our arms, and iOS devices made us think about swiping and pinching, so Sifteo Cubes have their own idiosyncratic language of gestural controls. And because Sifteo Cubes are not one device but several, you must think about games with multiple movable screens. You have no choice but to innovate.

To give you a head start designing games for Cubes, here are twelve guidelines that we use here at Sifteo for generating and evaluating game ideas. Keep these in mind as you develop your game.

Essentials

First, here are the essential requirements that we look for in every Sifteo game.

1. Sifteonic

Your game should fit the unique capabilities of Sifteo Cubes like a glove, creating a magical experience that would be hard to reproduce on another platform. We call this quality “Sifteonic.” For instance, players find it magical when characters walk from one cube to another in Sandwich Kingdom, or when putting cubes together causes colored dots to explode in Chroma Splash.

To make sure your game is Sifteonic: use large, simple graphics (we only support simple 2d graphics) keep text short have cubes interact with each other use cube gestures like neighbor, tilt, and press as the way you play the game Sifteo technology supports only a small amount of tile-based 2-dimensional art, plus up to 8 sprites per cube, so avoid 3d graphics and large amounts of art

Here’s a video that highlights the unique things that Cubes can do.

Here’s a rundown of all the features that together make a game Sifteonic.

Physical: Slide, stack. Use the cubes for their size, weight, and physical properties.

Multiple screens: We have multiple screens, so each cube can be a single object.

Neighboring: Actions triggered when two cubes are neighbored.

Configuration: The configuration of all the neighbored cubes matters.

Rotatable: Cubes are directionless — any of the four sides can be up.

Gesture: Cubes have accelerometers that can detect orientation and gesture.

Touch: Detect pressing the screen as one big button.

Networked: Communication between cubes allows coordinated visual displays.

2. Intelligent Play

Your game should make players feel smart. Parents should feel good about their kids playing it. Sifteo game are NOT educational software, but they should clearly exercise such cognitive skills as pattern recognition, strategic planning, problem solving and creativity.

At one end of the intelligent play spectrum, the action game Bleep requires only simple recognition of colors and patterns. At the other end of the spectrum, the puzzle games Chroma Splash and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles require deep problem solving skills.

3. Multi-cube

Sifteo Cubes sets come with a minimum of 3 cubes, so all Sifteo games must be playable with 3 cubes. At the same time every set can handle up to 12 cubes, so all Sifteo games should get even better with more cubes (yes, we want people to buy more cubes). Most games we have published are playable with up to 6 cubes; some work with as many as 8 or 12 cubes.

Sandwich Kingdom works naturally with many cubes

Sometimes crafting a game for different numbers of cubes is easy; sometimes it takes considerable extra work. For instance: - In Chroma Splash, the randomly generated Survival Mode expands naturally to any number of cubes, and the game is easier to play with more cubes. - In Chroma Splash’s Puzzle mode, puzzles are carefully crafted for specific numbers of cubes; 40 puzzles are crafted for 3 cubes, 15 for 4 cubes, 15 for 5 cubes, and 10 for 6 cubes. - In Sandwich Kingdom cubes act as windows into a larger world — the game works naturally with any number of cubes, and tends to get easier with more cubes.

Prototyping a game with Post-Its

4. Fun

Of course your game must be fun to play. Two suggestions: tap into your passions for what is fun, and test your game early and often (square Post-Its are great for paper prototypes) on other players to make sure other people find it fun too. Since Sifteo Cubes are halfway between traditional video games and physical toys, we often look to board games, books and toys for inspiration.

5. Rated E for Everyone

Sifteo only publishes games rated E for Everyone. Like Pixar movies, our games must appeal widely to all ages, including kids as young as 7. But that does not mean our games should be childish or unsophisticated. Aim instead to create universal games that appeal to the pure intelligence in all of us. As Walt Disney said: “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.”

Some games work naturally for all ages, while others require special modes aimed at different age ranges. For instance, the abstract puzzle game Chroma Splash works naturally for all ages. The math game Code Cracker includes different difficulty levels aimed at different ages — Beginner features just plus and minus, Intermediate also includes multiplication, and Expert also includes division and fractions. Word Caravan cleverly skirts the issue of different versions for different ages by including a hint mechanism that allows young readers to make words even if they can’t spell.

Desirable Characteristics

Next, here are characteristics that are desirable in all games, and how they play out on Sifteo Cubes.

6. Easy to learn

With small screens and little room for spoken audio, Sifteo games must be easy to learn. I recommend you integrate instruction into gameplay, so the players learn by playing, not by reading pages of instruction. Simple games like Bleep explained the rules during the course of gameplay. More complex games like Cube Buddies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ninja Slide unfold the rules gradually over the course of many chapters.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ninja Slide begins with a series of lessons in the Dojo

7. Replayable

The flip side of “easy to learn” is “hard to master”. There are three ways to make the player want to play again.

  1. Games with authored levels (like Cube Buddies) challenge players to conquer a series of increasingly difficult puzzles.
  2. Games with randomly generated content challenge players to achieve higher and higher scores.
  3. Finally, multiplayer games invite players to keep coming back because the human element makes each play session a unique experience.

Chapters in Cube Buddies get increasingly difficult.

8. Marketable

For a game to be successful, people must hear about it. Can you pitch your game in 10 words or less? Can you give your game a name that draws people in? What character, action or thematic element will give your game a memorable identity? The most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth; what will players of your game tell their friends about your game?

Optional Characteristsics

Finally, here are some optional characteristics for you to consider including in your game.

9. Original

A Sifteo game does not have to be original to be successful, but since we are just starting to explore the range of games possible with Sifteo Cubes, we certainly value games that strike out in new directions.

Johann Sebastian Joust, by Die Gute Fabrik, for Sony Move

For instance, our initial suite of launch games focused on thoughtful single-player puzzle games where the cubes lie flat on the table. So we’re now exploring fast-action multi-player games where the cubes sometimes leave the table, working with such developers as Die Gute Fabrik, makers of the wildly innovative game Johann Sebastian Joust. Other types of games we’d like to explore include games for girls, early learning preschool games, open-ended constructive games, and games that tell stories.

10. Multiplayer

Some of our games are single-player, some are multiplayer, some are both. Generally we prefer multiplayer. Our launch games are single-player, though they easily accommodate extra players who want to join in cooperative play. Many of our games in development are specifically designed for 2 to 4 players. Multiplayer games can be deliberate turn-taking games like the forthcoming battle game from Richard Garfield, or fast-paced free-for-alls, like Bleep, where everyone plays simultaneously.

Miami Heist uses uses Cubes as game board pieces

Besides thinking about other players, think about using other objects in the environment as part of the game. For instance, the student-produced game Miami Heist used Sifteo Cubes as playing pieces on a game board that looked like city blocks. You can also make games that dangle the blocks on strings, or slide them down ramps.

11. Episodic

To extend the lifetime of our games, we are creating small episodic sequels, where each new episode sells for just a few dollars. For instance, the first follow-up episode of our launch game Sandwich Kingdom is called Ice Palace. It features completely new art, with characters that extend the original story, all built on the same underlying engine.

Sandwich Kingdom, and its episodic sequel Ice Palace

Episodes are less expensive to build than original game, since the code remains largely the same. And they have a built-in audience, so they are easy to market. Consider building your game so it supports to episodic content.

12. Customizable

One of the most popular features of the previous generation 1 version of our system was Creativity Kit, which let players author their own content by typing words into fields. Authoring for creativity kit took place on the player’s computer, and was then downloaded to the cubes to create custom games.

Creativity Kit for Generation 1 Sifteo Cubes

Another form of customization is open-ended “sandbox” games that let you build things by manipulating the cubes themselves. Bliss Bomb starts to do this, as do music construction games in our previous generation 1 system. We would love to include more creative customization in our future games.

Delight us!

Sifteo Cubes are magical technology. Our job as game developers is to release the magic in the cubes. We’re still learning what is possible, and are delighted by all the new ideas coming from independent developers. We look forward to seeing what you build.

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