For the first time in Gamezebo’s history we’re publishing a Behind the Game feature about a title before it launches. With expectations for Cake Mania 3 running high, Sandlot Games Founder & CEO Daniel Bernstein took us behind the scenes for an in-depth look at how the anticipated time management sequel came together.
Growing up is hard to do (or is it?)
Just because you have a hit game on your hands, you can’t necessarily just bang out a sequel that gives players essentially the same thing. Sandlot Games found that out the hard way when they launched Cake Mania 2. Not a bad game by any means, it was nonetheless perhaps not as well-received as it should have been given that it followed on the heels of one of the most influential time management games of all time.
"I think we learned our lesson," Bernstein said candidly. "In Cake Mania 2 we gave gamers more of the same – people wanted more than more of the same."
Cake Mania 2 was more a direct evolution of the first Cake Mania, whereas Cake Mania 3 takes a few big leaps forward on the evolutionary scale. Or, as Bernstein put it, "If Cake Mania was a fish, then Cake Mania 2 was an amphibian, and Cake Mania 3 is a full-on mammal."
According to Bernstein, one of the things that differentiate Cake Mania as a franchise is the story. In Cake Mania 3, Jill has matured from a 20-something young lady into someone who’s on the verge of getting married.
"We decided that Jill needs to grow and live and not just be someone stuck in a certain period of their life," said Bernstein. "You build a character by creating a compelling storyline arc that takes them through their entire life."
A slice of history
The centerpiece of Cake Mania 3 is Jill’s wedding, and the game’s story, which unfolds through 30 minutes of fully-animated and fully-voiced cutscenes, opens 24 hours prior to the big day. In the typical craziness leading up to any wedding, the Time Bender – a trophy that Jill received at the end of Cake Mania 2 – gets broken. Jill’s family and friends each grab a piece and try to put it back together but in the process of doing so are each teleported to a different period of time.
"Jill also picks up a piece and she gets teleported, and at that point her task is to get all her family and friends back," explained Bernstein, "and she does that by going to all the different places – and baking her heart out, of course!"
Every bakery represents a different time period with distinct and unique customers. In Medieval England, for example, you’ll see wizards and Robin Hoods, while in Ancient China you’ll see emperors and Chinese opera stars, and in Ancient Egypt you’ll have Osiris, Anubis and other Egyptian gods.
Bernstein said it was important for the customers to not simply be carbon copies of each other. In fact, Cake Mania 3 even features some unique interactions between the customers themselves.
"For example, if a customer comes in and it’s Anubis, he turns all your existing customers into mummies," Bernstein explained. "And when he turns them into mummies, all their orders change! So it really challenges our audience to change their game dynamic according to where they’re at and who’s being served."
Another example of how Cake Mania 3‘s gameplay keeps players on their toes is Medieval England, where if money is left on the counter for too long, Robin Hood will steal it. (It’s not exactly stealing from the rich, but what can you do?) Of course, this requires people who are used to chaining commands together for bonuses to rethink their gameplay strategy.
Bernstein said that the decision to shake up the gameplay in this manner was one of the biggest risks the Cake Mania 3 team took, but it was in the interest of keeping the experience fresh and challenging.
Upping the ante with extras
Every few levels, players get to compete in bonus games like decorating a wedding cake, stacking together cakes on a conveyor belt, and filling a quota of cakes to box them up and send them to customers. These bonus games not only award the player extra cash, but also power-ups like speed boosts or the ability to stop time.
Players will also have a hand in creating Jill’s wedding cake by selecting patterns and toppings, and even using the trophies collected in the game as cake-toppers. Finished creations can be emailed to friends.
Cake Mania 3 marks Sandlot Games’ foray into microtransactions and downloadable content. Through a service called Sandlot Connect, players will be able to purchase additional bakeries with new locations and customers, as well as new outfits for Jill to wear.
"We’re going to start out with a free bonus pack that’s Jill back in her old location with all the customers from Cake Mania 3, and in about the middle of September we’re going to be coming out with a new location with all-new customers and players are going to be able to purchase and download them and play them within Cake Mania 3," said Bernstein.
Keeping the faith
Sandlot Games made Cake Mania 3 available as a preorder for newsletter subscribers and focus test participants at a discount. According to Bernstein, the conversion rate off of newsletter preorders alone was 25%, which is significantly higher than the industry standard conversion rate of 1%-2%.
For Sandlot Games, it’s all part of the evolution.
"Cake Mania is a very compelling franchise, and as a compelling franchise it needs to have a very compelling game associated with that," said Bernstein. "I think we’re held to a higher standard than a lot of other time management games are, that just don’t have the strong franchise.
"People do take what happens to Jill seriously and they want to see the best and the greatest in whatever we do, we’re taking it to heart and really pulling out all the stops here."
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