Butter Royale (2019-2021)
Butter Royale is a food-themed Battle Royale game for Apple Arcade, that supports both offline solo play against bots and online play with up to 32 players. Players can play solo, as a squad, or – in special recurring events – as a duo. The game was heavily featured by Apple at launch, and has received glowing reviews and praise as a “non-violent, family-friendly alternative to Fortnite“. Due to the nature of the platform the game was published on (Apple Arcade), it had no microtransactions or in-app purchases, and no advertisements.
In my role as a game designer on this project I was responsible for level design, combat/economy/progression balancing, quest design, weapon and powerup design, LiveOps planning and scheduling, FTUE design and more. I used analytics data and player feedback to inform balance changes, planned and implemented pacing and rewards for 16+ seasons of the game’s (free) season pass system, handled initial placement and balancing of spawn points for players and collectibles, and scripted behavior trees and difficulty profiles for the game’s AI opponents.
Below you’ll find some highlights of the work I’ve done on this project, as well as some screenshots (at the bottom).
Game Design (Implemented)
- Designed and prototyped the game’s initial weapons, and balanced these based on feedback from internal and external testers, combined with spreadsheets I set up with estimations of weapon properties like damage over time, time to kill, and comparative power ratings between each weapon.
- Incorporated additional weapons and variants on existing weapons into spreadsheets later to further maintain the balance.
- Designed a “flick to shoot” mechanism to allow players to quickly flick the right virtual joystick to fire an instant shot in the direction of their choosing. Instant shots have some disadvantages over aimed shots, and are normally fired at nearest opponent when tapping said virtual joystick.
- Designed the FTUE (First Time User Experience) for onboarding of players and teaching of basic game mechanics
- Designed initial layout of FTUE level, and fine-tuned this in collaboration with art team
- Handled pacing of FTUE steps, and placement of collectibles and target dummies used in FTUE
- Designed and balanced a “session limiter” for XP and currencies for launch, intended to slow down player progression and prevent them from burning through content too quickly.
- This was later replaced with a quest system to reduce friction caused by similarities to F2P session limiters.
- Designed and implemented system for Daily and Weekly quests, and balanced rewards for these, as well as for “Squad Goals” – a quest variant where players had daily, shared goals that could only be completed in squads.
- Later extended the system to include “Hard Quests” and a reroll system allowing players some limited control over which quests they’d be presented with
- Handled design for the base system, feature parameters and edge-cases for Supply Drops, and balanced frequency and placement of such supply drops via iteration guided by feedback from internal and external testers.
- Balanced match length and session times via rules for safe zone placement and timings and environmental damage, based on feedback from internal and external testers
- Balanced placement of player and collectible spawns on map for multiple different game modes
- Created organic hotspots for player activity around the map by concentrating certain types of collectibles – or types of weapons – in specific areas. This allowed players to make some meaningful decisions on where to spawn in each match, based on risk vs reward and whether they’d like to engage with other players early or late in matches.
- Designed and balanced pace of and reward distribution in game’s player progression systems – for both the offline “player XP/level” system, the (free) season pass system and for the daily/weekly quest system.
- Created analytics dashboard and graphs and used this data and player feedback to inform balance changes to progression systems
- Planned out and scheduled game’s LiveOps schedule which determined which “Limited Time Events” with alternate game modes would be available to players every week
- Designed system and UX (in combination with UI/UX designer) for allowing players to stream, record and share videos of their matches using ReplayKit API
- Designed a login-calendar system and planned out reward distribution for this system, which provided beginner players with increasingly desirable rewards each time they logged in, for 7 (non-consecutive) days, in order to boost day 1/3/7 retention.
- Designed a Squad Ping system that allowed squad members to communicate with each other in a limited fashion. The game platform and family-oriented target audience would not allow direct communication between players, but by allowing them to ping the map and leave a marker for a limited time, they could highlight pickups, send warnings or call for the assistance of their squad members.
- Co-Designed a Power Up system and a number of power-ups which provided players with additional tools to engage/disengage/interact with other players.
- Co-designed system, UX and modes for game’s Time-Limited Game Modes – alternate game modes with tweaks and adjustments to the rules, pacing, spawns and victory conditions that would run on a regular cadence every week
Additional Game Design (Not Implemented)
Additionally, wrote a number of designs for features that were approved, but ultimately cut due to time and resource constraints, such as:
- Weapon lock to allow players to “lock in” to one weapon to prevent accidental weapon replacements
- Update to spawn selection system that would give players some limited information about where other players would be spawning
- Action indicators on map and minimap to help direct players to the action (or to stay away from it)
- Revamp of customization screen to make it easier for players to view, sort and select skins to use for their character, melee weapons, flags and trails
- Player profile with lifetime match and performance stats
- Leaderboard system with weekly competitions, multiple tiers/divisions, promotions, relegations, rewards
- Achievement system presented as a “sticker collection”, with players gradually unlocking stickers in their collection with each achievement they’d complete, which would ultimately result in the player being rewarded with a skin associated with that sticker
- In-match announcement system that would highlight player actions like killstreaks or match-events to all players as they happen, to give them a better view of what happens outside their limited field of view in a given match
AI Design and Scripting:
- Designed and scripted AI for NPC opponents via behavior trees setup in visual scripting tool NodeCanvas.
- The AI opponents were designed based on a “what would a player do” approach, with the ability to dynamically react to events happening around them. This allowed them to play the Battle Royale game mode as normal players would, and effectively blurred the lines between real and “fake” players.
- The AI opponents would seek out new safe zones, collect weapon upgrades, hoard ammo and armor, and seek out health kits when needed. They could camp in bushes for unsuspecting players, circle-strafe around targets as they sought to stay in optimal weapon range for their equipped weapon, and flee when faced with overwhelming odds. They would also stay close to squad members while moving through the map, assist downed squad members while simultaneously engaging with nearby opponents, and seek out nearby squad members for assistance when needed.
- Setup and tweaked difficulty profiles for AI opponents, with parameters that when used with behavior trees would determine each AI profile’s survival instincts, eagerness to engage with players, desire to seek out weapon upgrades, willingness to assist squad members, etc. This allowed us to include AI opponents of varying difficulty in regular matches, ranging from “newbies” to “survivalist experts”.
- Check out my Medium articles A Gentle Introduction to AI and Butter Royale AI – Continued for more detail on how the AI for Butter Royale was designed and implemented.
World Building/Level Design:
- Designed and greyboxed 12 out of the initial 14 zones for the game’s map. Some of those zones were replaced with others as we tested and iterated on the map, and some made it into the final map after balance adjustments and additional polish.
- Collaborated heavily with art team to take map from greybox state to final polished state in an effective manner.
- Used macroscopic, mesoscopic and microscopic principles of level design to guide the construction of the map, keeping in mind how players would move across the map between safe zones at the macroscopic level, how they’d strategize around paths and area transitions at a mesoscopic level and how they’d use nearby obstacles and map elements like bushes as they engaged with other players on a tactical, microscopic level.