What do you do when you’re just not ready to say goodbye?
That was the problem faced by the Peggle team. They wanted to continue their franchise, but they weren’t quite ready to let go of the game that they’d had such success with.
“We wanted to do Peggle again but with extra content,” said co-producer Sukhbir Sidhu. “The original idea was that it would come out relatively quickly, and give us some time to gestate some ideas about Peggle 2.”
Of course, Peggle is a valuable name these days, which co-producer Matthew Lee Johnston was well aware of.
“We wanted to add content and do it quickly,” Johnston said. “But we also care deeply about providing a lot of value. We found ourselves having to fight our own desire to cram more stuff in there.”
Finding the themes
It was decided early on that one of the primary ways the then-untitled Peggle Nights would set itself apart was a larger reliance on themed-levels, a switch from the previous Peggle.
“In Peggle, the themes sort of came after the levels were devised, so this was a different way of thinking,” Sidhu said.
“The way we’ve found to make a really great Peggle level is created is that you create a really fun layout, so the level’s really fun to play first, then you create a background based around that,” said Johnston, who compared the process of creating themes around peg layouts to trying to divine an image in a Rorschach test.
PopCap staffers had to completely reverse their thinking for Peggle Nights, which actually tells a loose story by delving into the dreams of its lead characters.
“When you’re trying to build a story progression within a stage, there’s an extra challenge there, because they need to make sense, but you still have to make fun levels,” Johnston said.
Getting more difficult
As level designer Stephen Notley explains, the Peggle Nights approach required a more abstract procedure.
“One way is playing around with the level editor and just playing with it and trying to create a shape or movement that’s kind of fun and building your level around it,” Notley said. “With the more story-based levels, the team was able to pick a basic idea they wanted to create, and just find the most fun way to create it. It required a lot of back and forth.”
Even after the basic designs were complete, there was still the large task of balancing the difficulty of each level.
“That was where it became quite difficult, because we had these basic levels and images that we were sort of committed to in rough order,” Notley said.
The team needed raw data on how tough their levels were, so they created an AI, a Peggle-playing machine that would rate the difficulty of each stage, which they could then try to tweak.
Even that wasn’t an exact science.
“It’s the weird thing about Peggle,” Notley said. “Because there is that element of randomness, the difference between a level being easy or hard could be a simple as whether you get a few balls in the bucket or not.”
“You can make a level more difficult, but there’s always the danger of making it less fun. You don’t want to gimp your own level that way,” Sidhu added. “It’s a bit of difficult balance.”
If it ain’t broke
What wasn’t so difficult was the decision to basically keep Peggle‘s gameplay the same in this semi-sequel. That didn’t mean the team didn’t toy with some new ideas.
“We did a few experiments in Peggle Nights that didn’t really pan out, so we took them out at the last minute,” Sidhu said. “One of the things we took out was a super ball which, when you got a shot that was 75,000 in addition to getting two free balls, you’d get a ball that would give you more points. It sounded pretty good on paper but, in practice, it worked really poorly, because if you hit enough pegs to get to 75,000, there wasn’t a lot left for the super ball.”
“The things that tended to fall off the table, were the things that sort of affect the core gameplay,” Johnston said. “When you nail a solid, fun core game mechanic, it’s really hard to amend that with new features that don’t threaten that core gameplay.”
There was still the matter of coming up with that utterly odd title. Savvy trashy TV fans might recognize Peggle Nights as a subtle tip of the cap to spin-off series Baywatch Nights.
It was a running joke that dated all the way back to Zuma, which Sidhu joked should have sported the “Nights” suffix, should it ever get a sequel.
Imagine the team’s surprise when they created Peggle Nights‘ plot and realized that their silly title wasn’t so silly after all.
“When we came up with this idea of character’s dreams,” Sidhu said, “we realized it actually really worked.”