Mini-game #1: So, I Made This Mini-Game In 2-3 Hours… (“Box Thief”)

Short version: Download Box Thief (boxthief.zip) (1,8 megs), mini game spending 2-3 hours of time (on 2 separate days – had to watch ice hockey ;)

Here’s a short video of the mini-game:

In the beginning of year 2009 I kept this idea about prototyping in my mind. I then made a decision that at some point during the year 2009 I might get involved with prototyping games. At that time, I decided that I would first finish Dead Wake before doing any prototypes.

The last weekend (Levels event) got me thinking that even though my main focus is on my game, why wouldn’t I still leave some room for prototyping too? I started wondering if it would be possible to spend like 2 hours every week or two to prototype some crazy game idea. I thought that adding 2 more hours into development (instead of spending that time for watching tv, email, playing NHL 94 and other stupidities) I’d lose nothing in terms of efficiency.

In the past years I’ve learned to respect about the methodology of “trying out stuff, and if it goes crap – stop doing it“. So, I thought to give myself a permission to do this game prototype. Who knows what good stuff could happen? And, if it goes bad after couple of games – well, I’ve done worse things than “wasting time on prototyping games”. Nothing to lose here really.

So, what (good?) stuff happened…
I – like most of the game developers I know – have plenty of ideas sitting in some big pile of papers. Game ideas that will never happen. One of these never-happen ideas I had was “push your luck” type of game. I had wanted to create such game, and decided that it could work well for the first “2-hour prototype”. I took pen & paper (while watching TV by the way) and drew some boxes on paper (I can sketch stuff decently). I drew some boxes with big eyes and came with this idea of thief stealing boxes, guard preventing it.

On monday I pretty much nailed the whole game in the evening (I actually had been working all day, and had several “house duties” in my list – not to forget ice hockey matches of course) but I took some minutes here, and some minutes there to pretty much do the prototype. Yesterday, I decided that I’d do couple of last touches and declared the game done. I must admit that I didn’t calculate the exact time spent, and eventually it was over 2 hours (maybe closer to 3 hours) – and since I was multiprocessing (mainly watching Finland – Denmark ice hockey match, but also coding at some point) I’m not totally sure how long time I spent: “2 hour game” shouldn’t go too far way me thinks.

Next time I’ll put a timer on.

Anyway, I got the thing working… and thought to upload a youtube video and also write this blog post.

As with game projects, you get some more ideas on how to improve the prototype (I started thinking about lives, and different places to get the boxes, and online scores and, and, and…) but since my 2 hours mark had passed I simply decided to let it be that way.

At least I managed to nail the game, and it was done all by myself – except for the music (credits for the music goes to Tim at Indiepath Ltd).

Any lessons?
Writing this “post mortem” actually takes a bit of time. With that being said, reflecting how the stuff was done is actually quite beneficial way to go. From this mini-proto, I actually got one good idea that I could somewhat use in Dead Wake (picking the ammo in Dead Wake could work similarly as picking the boxes in Box Thief). Also, I noticed that I had no time to think too much about the design – but doing a some sort of GUI system to handle notifications and hints would certainly have been beneficial. Now the code just checks “the X location of player character” to see “which hint is displayed”. A proper way to do this would be to use GUI elements and triggers (“when players steps to place Y, show him hint text”).

Another lesson from this mini-project was that prototyping is really fun. (At least I like it). I know that prototyping can also be time consuming (thus, I decided to try with the “2ish hours every 1-2 weeks” – and not even think of spending many hours). Also, I think ideally it’s better to do the 2 hour proto in one session. Now I spent time in 2 different days, which can break the day (well, for me I had considered my day to be over and was bit like fooling around).

Anyway, this was fun for me. I have no clue what people think about the game – but… all comments & feedback would be very welcome.

Link: Download Box Thief (boxthief.zip)

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Eli: feel free to steal it ;)

    bonder: heh, well… we’ll see… maybe you do that? very nice ideas! :)

  2. I really like what you’ve been able to do so far! If you decide to invest some more time taking this to the second level, I would suggest the following:

    1) Maybe instead of a fixed timer, have a second guard move on a catwalk above the floor. If the guard sees the player (facing toward him), then the floor guard will be summoned to make his sweep.

    2) Consider letting the player toss a rock or something to distract the catwalk guard for a number of seconds.

    3) Make some of the boxes be randomly worth more or less than usual, so that when the player gets one, it could affect his tactics (go back now, or stay and collect more).

    4) Let the player toss boxes behind him to slow down the floor guard!

    Just some thoughts!

  3. Oh, I seem to have gotten distracted and only written the above; I MENT to mention something about the prototype’s actual game-play looks like it could be extracted and expounded upon to make something quite cool. Were I a more devious character I might steal it and improve upon it. Hmm….

  4. sneak cards with random catcher= baby games seriosuly i feel we will be on the opposing sides inany communique but i hope we do no not foght for real ‘:)

  5. I read through that and I got stuck on one word for a while…NHL94? haha

    There’s a difference if you are prototyping a game idea vs prototyping software. For your card game, it seems that the game concept is done and must be working well if you want to port it to facebook/iphone. So at that point if you do want to write a prototype, you will put more emphasis on the actual platform. You might write a quick prototype with facebook sdk, and one for the iphone just to see which fits best with your skills and needs. This prototype would be a quick technical prototype for drawing cards for example. The game engine is already done and just needs to be ported. The truth is that you probably would want to evaluate your market and see which of the two would sell better.
    If I would start writing a new card game from scratch, my first prototype would like be going to buy a deck of cards, sitting down with friends and play a bunch of hand from your game while tweaking the rules as you find flaws. I’m currently working on a board game, and this is exactly how I started it. Once I got down the game play, I turned to the computer and started to work on the IPhone equivalent.


  6. This applies to any major software project. I’m wrestling with a user group that created a really good card game and now we’d like to make it into a facebook game or an iphone game or both… any suggestions on how to just do a little prototyping first for that?

  7. What tools did you use to create this prototype?
    You made a good point, that prototype could be a great game making learning experience.
    And some really good games can be made in a very short time.
    I won’t do prototypes for now, because I am trying to finish my game, and it seems to distract me a bit, starting to work on other ideas.

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