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The Magnificent Train Journey

Our first game for 2021 is this fun transport puzzle game, working with Transport for Wales as part of a new national campaign. Read more about the game below and also…

PLAY HERE (recommended on desktop browsers!)

Tackle puzzling routes to guide your train to its destination.

In January we were asked by TfW to design and develop a game to encourage school kids engagement with their new campaign. We settled on a browser platform distribution to best reach the target audience and went to work creating a Web GL game that best met their needs.

TfW want to inspire children and young people to travel in a greener way, and as part of this mission they have set up a competition asking them to name the new fleet of trains coming to the Welsh rail network. There are 148 new trains, the winning names will be displayed on the side of each.

We came to this project having worked on a number of games for the target demo and also having worked on educational content for this audience.

For the gameplay we wanted something that felt intuitive, responsive and had a puzzle element to be a good fit, creating an impression on the player with a meaningful challenge and reward that celebrates what that player has achieved. The game is about connections, the player customises their train avatar, a nod to the ownership ideals of the competition, and then takes that through the stages. Working out the puzzles of connecting rail (and road), they must find the most efficient way to make links. How many moves they use, meeting secondary objectives and the time it takes all contributes to their end score and position on an arcade style global leaderboard.

Design

We aimed to create a clear, bold style in the game’s 3D art to align with the campaign’s 2D print and web assets; here there was collaboration with agency Golley Slater who were working parallel to our development. When creating the assets for this project there were a few things to consider to make sure they would run as efficiently as possible across the variety of online browsers and platforms.

We leant into these limitations to style a set of assets that were low poly, had clean materials and silhouettes that were easy to light, bringing variety and identity to the stages.

To ensure models were efficient the approach was to build with simple base shapes and block out details, like windows/doors, with geometry in Maya; this allowed adjustments to be made more quickly. Once happy with the compositions they were baked down, with any detail other than overall shape being interpreted as a texture map.

Packing groups of similar assets to use one texture map and material creates less draw calls in the game engine making it run more efficiently than if each 3D asset had one individually. This is more important than ever when developing for Web GL as a few draw calls can make the difference between playable or stuttering frame rates. We packed it down to just two maps, one for all buildings and one for all track and road pieces.

Each tile is a square, 3×3 unit in Unity; meaning the tracks and tiles are modular sets which join together to make a variety of combinations. In this case the player can rotate each piece to connect them up. When considering building the track/road pieces we needed to ensure the connections were seamless visually in modelling and texturing. Creating the straight pieces first allowed us to confirm a visual style, from there it was a process to make the various pieces in alignment, always working with a straight piece either side.

Development

Work began in Jan and delivery was required in Feb, so a very focussed period of development was needed to ensure we could meet the launch date with a complete and robust game. We went straight to blocking out and prototyping the layouts and stage puzzle concepts as ‘grey box’ with the asset design running parallel.

Due to the nature of intended delivery we setup a testing server where regular builds were hosted to be put through their paces; this meant feedback could be received and implemented in regular passes. It also helped us get ahead of optimisation with platform tests throughout.

A custom spline route creation script was built in Unity so that the vehicles would respond smoothly to the changes made by the player (or developer when adjusting the stage layout).

The UI was created and composed in Adobe Illustrator with the elements then exported as sprites and recreated in the game engine.

Aside from the stages, the game has a train customiser which allows the player to mix and match brand colours on the materials of the 3D model. It will also snapshot this design to be included in a leaderboard which hosts it along with the player’s initials on a database.

Lastly sound design and spot effects were implemented for the final polish and the game went live. TfW were very happy with the resulting project, something unique for the campaign running through the year.