Much like a real estate tycoon staring at an empty lot, HipSoft had a blank canvas in front of them as they pondered their next project. So why, with all those possibilities, return to Build-a-lot, especially just a month after the first game was completed?
Sure, there was the obvious: A lot of fans of the original meant a lot of repeat business. But company co-owner Brian Goble said that there was much more to it than that.
“Another part was that we simply had a ton of fun developing the game,” he said. “The character development, creative writing and coming up with the ‘mission’ goals for each level was challenging … but in a very fun way.”
Luckily for fans, everyone seemed to be having fun where Build-A-Lot was concerned, making Build-A-lot 2: Town of the Year all but a foregone conclusion.
Though there were plenty of new features they wanted to implement (another reason a sequel was so tempting), Goble said he knew there was a basic foundation that had to be in place for the game to work.
“The most important thing we wanted to keep was the core game mechanic of constructing, upgrading, buying and selling houses,” he said. “The RTS-style gameplay seemed to work really well with the casual audience based on how we introduced new elements along the way.”
Interestingly, Goble says that some of the features that didn’t make it to Build-a-lot 2 weren’t left behind because they weren’t working as is so often the case.
“We wanted both games to have unique features so that they would be more enjoyable for players that play both,” he said. “For example, upgrade permits and premier lots are not in Build-a-lot 2, only in the first one.”
An appeal for change
Though there weren’t many changes to the game’s basics, almost every aspect of it has evolved, if only slightly.
The biggest change though came in the form of the “Appeal” system, which can increase the value of houses depending on their location and certain upgrades. Though there are a lot of different factors that determine appeal, Goble is able to sum up the whole system pretty succinctly.
“The basic premise can be described as, ‘a freshly painted and landscaped house next to a beautiful park should be worth more than a house next to an ugly workshop,'” he said.
Though the idea may be easy to grasp, Goble said that the team worried the system itself may not be as intuitive. To combat this, players will find that the system is introduced piecemeal throughout the game’s early stages rather than in one large lump.
Feature of the year?
Another big change players will find is, true to the game’s subtitle, they’ll also be charged with selecting one “Town of the Year.”
Though it’s used as sort of a unifying theme tying the game’s narrative together, Goble said that the Town of the Year competition was originally supposed to play a much larger role, even uniting the entire Build-a-lot community.
“We originally had plans for a more robust raiding system that would tally ratings from all players and determine a ‘winner’ based on everyone’s votes,” Goble said. “However, we scaled this way back during development with the highlight being the final voting after all the main levels have been completed.”
A fresh coat of paint
Save for those changes a few other tweaks, the structure of the game hasn’t changed much. But it is a sequel, so a sprucing up of the graphics was all but expected.
“I think the biggest change was moving to a ‘slicker’ looking style. This included glossy buttons, more use of gradient fades and water-marking and just generally a bit more polish and color,” Goble said. “We were also able to spend more time on the neighborhood backgrounds and give them more variety in how they looked relative to the others.”
It may be a bit shinier, but HipSoft didn’t make big changes to the layout of the interface itself, one of the more difficult factors of Build-A-Lot 1 for the team to nail. There was one exception though: The “Demolish” button was moved to the far right of the screen after some players had a few “accidental deconstructions” in the first game.
“We got a few complaints about that,” Goble said.
Bigger and better
Though it was an iterative project rather than a fresh IP, it took the HipSoft team the same amount of time to finish it as it did the first game: Six months, with the work finishing in April of that year.
If early response is any indication, by blending what worked in Build-A-Lot 1 with some fresh ideas, it seems that HipSoft has managed to pull off a product that pleases fans, but leaves them clamoring for the foundation to be laid for another expansion.
“Our main goals were to release a sequel that introduced new strategic elements, was not overly complex and was still a ton of fun to play,” Goble said. “Overall, I think the response has been very positive … we already have a lot of fans asking for Build-A-Lot 3!”