Fusing mobile technology with the physical is a notoriously difficult challenge. Its purpose is often under-thought and the result gimmicky at best. The wifi kettle is at the pinnacle of this inventive lunacy, with its flagship feature of remote boiling. The feature that has inevitably fallen flat thanks to a buggy iPhone app rendering the kettle useless. So when products get it right it’s really worth shouting about, because we really can’t go on like this. Granted, the internet of things has only just blossomed and, like the WWW, we should expect to journey through a patch of wacky before figuring it all out.
Fabulous Beasts is a physical game that has been truly enhanced by mobile, not simply existing with the addition of it. The game can be likened to Jenga, though vastly better looking. The wooden pieces have been replaced with crafted animals which can be stacked in no obvious way. The stacking alone is fun, however the goal is too quickly achieved. Introducing the iPad multiplies the playability of the game. Now, it is not just a case of seeing how high you can get the tower, but how many points you can accumulate while adhering to the dynamic limitations formulated based on the previously placed pieces. In essence, the game simply wouldn’t be as fun without the iPad.
I wanted to learn more about how they designed it so perfectly, whether it was carefully guided into its final form or victim of good fortune.
Lead Designer, Tim Burrell-Saward, showed me some early pieces which bore no resemblance to the final result. Cut off rods and odd shaped plastics were used for mere exploration. Those in the world of software will understand the concept of Minimum Viable Product, an initial design used to try things out and see what works. These simple shapes were the pieces at their most basic, to be built upon, opposed to cut away at.
Stepping into design introduced them to the challenge which would require soft footing. One of their first designed pieces was a fantastic geometric lion, the kind of thing you’d be happy with sitting on your mantlepiece. Unfortunately, the piece’s narrow features made it difficult to stack, and so it was reworked into a cubic animal. It was a minimalistic design at the opposite end of the spectrum. This piece did play well, but all of its appeal had been lost, signalling a need to find a sweet spot between beauty and practicality.
Once the set of creatures had been designed and tested the team worked closely with manufacturers in China to help develop them further to make sure they could be made as efficiently as possible. Pieces too complicated required specialised tooling which would slow down production considerably. Intricate tori and spiky fish were out and redesigned into more simplistic counterparts.
Tim explained to me that communication at this point was crucial and that it is often where projects fall into trouble. JDH Sourcing was used to help connect them with a trusted manufacturer. Doing so avoided pitfalls such as a lack of understanding due to the language barrier, poor quality, and being shunted out of the way for bigger projects.
User testing played a big role in the development of Fabulous Beasts. Hundreds of hours were spent with testers to make sure that the game was fun and not too easy. Through countless Eventbrite play-and-learn events with fans they discovered that players would often start a tower in a particular way, setting them up for a complete tower and therefore finishing the game way too early. To counter this, careful modifications were made to make them less stackable. One piece had its flat top rounded off, another, wider piece was narrowed to reduce its area. These slight changes enhanced game play dramatically. Furthermore, the user testing confirmed that the game really was appealing, that the addition of the iPad provided gamification and changed the mindset of players.
Fabulous Beasts launched this week on Kickstarter with the aim of raising £150,000. The amount will allow the team to comfortably produce sets for backers and set them up for continued production. The game is an example of how hardware should be made – with consideration and a whole load of user testing.