Venture as mice of chivalry descending into an ever-shifting dungeon filled with golden cheddar. Lethal traps and puzzles — and the greed of your friends — threaten your valiant pursuit for riches and glory.
How will you and your friends cooperate? When will you betray them? In the end, only the most daring mouse can escape alive.
Nostalgic of the multiplayer couch games that we used to play with our buddies late into the night, our goal was to deliver a party game that would have:
- Steep learning curve: Simple controls and objectives so that players of all skill levels could pick up the game immediately.
- Face-to-face interaction beyond the game: We wanted players to occasionally put down the controller and interact with each other—bumping fists or spitting curses.
- Replay value: Each playthrough would feel fresh because of the people that play it together.
My role as a producer and game designer ran across the full spectrum. Responsibilities included:
- Maintaining the product roadmap,
- Planning internal and external testing sessions to engage with players,
- Producing weekly social media content,
- Implementing animation state machines,
- And documenting game design specifications and meeting minutes.
All of that work was aimed at creating a positive player experience while streamlining the development process.
Although my team and I developed a handful of small standalone prototypes, we never tackled a large-scale commercial project before.
Leveraging my operational experience at Genentech designing business processes and managing high-profile projects, I developed a project plan with internal company objectives that we would try to hit each month or quarter:
- Maintain clean code and build for scalability.
- Be agile and prevent feature creep.
- Test repeatedly with players and actively engage with them on social media or at exhibitions.
- Develop a toolbox of skills that heighten our studio versatility.
While brainstorming, we jotted down our favorite couch games from our childhood. Two games—Mario Party and Legend of Zelda: Four Swords—particularly stood out, and it only became natural that we wanted to create a game that was a strategic hybrid of their most memorable features.
We settled on a game idea that would have dungeon progression and RPG elements like Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, and multiplayer mini-games and puzzles like Mario Party. The game loop would be centered around what we call opportunistic backstabbing: the players have a common objective that requires them to work together, such as completing the level or overcoming a death trap, but in the end there can only be one winner. This would create a chaotic atmosphere that transcends gameplay.
To validate our concept, we participated in the 2015 Epic MegaJam hosted by Epic Games. Within one week, we planned the MVP, designed and tested each level iteratively, and created a fully playable prototype with five different sections in the dungeon.
The game was played by Michael Allar and his friend in front of all the game jam participants on Twitch. Although we didn’t win, their positive feedback, enjoyment of the game, and comments that it reminded them of childhood couch games provided validation for our concept.
Mind the Trap is a party game that pits you and your friends against each other in a mix of dungeon platforming and minigames. The game plays on the mischievous balance between cooperation and opportunistic backstabbing.
Players must work together — and occasionally “use” each other — to overcome obstacles, while strategizing on their selfish need to grab every golden cheddar that comes into sight. It’s all about finding the right timing to come out on top. In the end, only the mouse with the most cheese wins the game.
The dungeons focus on player-versus-environment and are each themed to test the players’ cooperative puzzle solving skills and platforming skills. Each challenge is designed to be simple, but not singular, so that each experience feels new because of the people that play it together.
The mini-games, on the other hand, focus on player-versus-player. All players contribute an even amount of cheese to start, the total of which is then distributed by performance at the end of the round. This provides an opportunity for players to take revenge on those who betrayed them and reward themselves with their opponents’ hard-earned cheddar.
Cheese, the golden currency of the game, is scattered throughout the level in strategic locations, taunting the players as they sit sparkly behind deadly traps.
Run, jump, grab, and throw — that’s it for the core mechanics. The game is easy to pick up so players of all skill levels can enjoy it. The rest of the fun comes from how you and your friends play together.
Traps, items, and level objectives are each procedurally generated to make each playthrough feel different.
All levels went through extensive gray-box testing to make sure they felt good and looked good before being finalized with art assets.
Frequently demoing playable builds at small and large exhibitions allowed us to stay on track with milestones, gain honest feedback, validate our design choices, and compile user stories and bug reports—an iterative build model.
From the start, we opted for the highest AAA-like quality we could deliver. Maybe we were naive. Maybe we were enamored with the power of Unreal Engine 4.
Everything from the traps to the ruins to the landscape was handcrafted and delicately placed. We took every opportunity to output the highest quality we could offer.
At Casual Connect USA 2016, Mind the Trap won Best Multiplayer Game and was nominated for Best Game Design.
In July 2016, we passed Steam Greenlight within 9 days.
Steam Greenlight Campaign: Passed in 9 Days
And approached by Sony for an exclusive port to the PS4
In addition to gaining 4,003 unique views and 469 new followers, we were discovered by a Sony account manager, who contacted us expressing interest for an exclusive port to the PlayStation 4.
By the end of 2016, Mind the Trap reached the vertical slice milestone after a year and a half in development. We gave a bittersweet goodbye and stopped production due to a mix of personal and financial issues. As a group of fresh graduates, this was our first endeavor in indie game development. We were naive but unstoppably passionate, and although we can’t consider this a successful project, it was a tremendous learning experience that has molded us.
A big thanks to my readers, the game’s followers, and my team. I wouldn’t be here today without all of you.
- Kenneth Ng
- Christopher Ng
- Conrad Fay
- Michael Lee
- Jordan Henderson