Toast Boast Postmortem

    Toast Boast is a competitive toasting simulator for two players. It was initially made in about a week as a final project for a class I was taking in creative thinking, and since then it's made appearances at the Mississauga Comic Expo, the 2018 Hand Eye Society Ball, and the Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo (EGLX) afterparty secret showcase.

A player getting toast'd

    The objective of Toast Boast is to smash your opponent's mug, thus wishing them good health. You do this by toasting (which is essentially just punching their beer mug with yours), but you can't toast with an empty glass, so first you have to collect beer that falls from the taps at the top.

    Making Toast Boast was a lot of fun. The class that it was made for was very laid back and, because it was all about creativity, the final project essentially boiled down to "go make something creative". My partner for the project was also a game designer, so the two of us knew that we wanted make a game, but figuring out what was a bit more of a challenge. We spent a few hours brainstorming, but didn't have anything that we were really attached to. Eventually, we began to look for inspiration elsewhere. My partner told me that he had once worked with another designer that had a list of keywords that he would use for inspiration whenever he was stuck, and it sounded like a good idea, but unfortunately we didn't have said list.

    So I came up with the idea of using a different list. Specifically the list of all Pokémon abilities. I'm a big fan of Pokémon and I've probably spent hundreds of hours looking over stats and moves to build the perfect team in each game. Pokémon abilities were a perfect substitute for a list of interesting words. After all, how often do you use the word "Galvanize"?

Galvanize isn't actually that great of an ability.

    We probably could have used one of the many game idea generators online, but using Pokémon abilities worked out well enough. We got neat combinations like "Prankster Healer", and "Fluffy Impostor", but the one Toast Boast was born from was "Reckless Hydration". Fun fact, neither myself nor the other developer I made the game with drink, so Toast Boast is actually alcohol-free.

    The original idea was that two players would be fighting over water, which later we changed to beer, flowing out of a tap, but we found that players would never move away from the tap and were constantly fighting to be underneath it. To get around this, we added two more taps, one on either side of the screen, but then we had the opposite sort of problem. With taps on either side of the screen, players would usually stay away from each other until their mugs were full before going in to toast each other, ending up in a slow and sort of dull game. Our final setup had it so that the taps on the sides of the screen gave out beer constantly, but at a slower rate. The tap in the middle of the screen gives out beer much faster, but it only turns on at certain intervals. 

    However this is all tuning that came later. For the first bit of  the project I actually spent most of my time working on visuals and effects. One interesting problem I had with this was the arm of the player. We wanted players to be able to move their mug freely around on screen, but the original arm I made wasn't actually long enough to reach the other side of the screen with the resolution we were using. I continued to make the arm longer and longer, but, each time I did, it still wasn't enough and we had long passed the point of the arm being a normal length. At one point I was so sick of making the arm longer, trying to get it to stretch across the screen, that I simply copied the arm and attached the two ends together. It worked so I said screw it and we went with the comically long arm that's currently in the game.

    This actually ended up working in our favour. When I brought the game to the Mississauga Comic Expo the kids that played the game there absolutely loved the long arm, probably more so than the game itself.

Toast Boast is safe for consumption by children.

    The rest of development went fairly smoothly, but that doesn't mean that the game doesn't have its share of flaws. The first thing I noticed when we got it into the hands of the public was that we did an absolutely abysmal job communicating how the game works. For example you can't toast on an empty glass. That makes sense, but what doesn't make sense is that there's a minimum amount of beer you need to be able to toast at all.

    When you toast, you use up about a quarter of a mug's worth of beer, allowing you to store up to 4 "toasts" at once. This is indicated by a line on each player's glass. When the head of your beer reaches the line, you're able to toast. Not a single person ever actually noticed this. It's not their fault though, because we also never explain it.

    Toast Boast doesn't have a tutorial, or instructions screen, or anything that teaches players how to play the game and it suffers for it. That's not to say that every game needs a tutorial. Some games can get away with letting players explore and figure things out for themselves, but Toast Boast is not one of them. During the play tests that we did, while balancing the taps, we would explain how the game worked to the people playing it, but game itself never actually teaches the player anything.

    In addition to basic things like how much beer you need to toast there are a whole bunch of mechanics that I'm pretty sure no one playing the game has ever noticed. For instance, the more beer you have when you toast your opponent, the more damage your toast does and if you toast an opponent head on, instead of hitting the edge of their glass, it does extra damage indicated by your opponent flashing red instead of the normal yellow.

A mug with one toast worth of beer in it.

    In addition to people not noticing several mechanics, our efforts adjusting the taps and their flow speed didn't quite work the way we wanted. The taps at the sides of the screen were intended to give players a way to fill up on beer while having some space between them and their opponent, but in reality the tap in the middle of the screen that gives out beer in bursts is far superior to the taps on the side that offer a steady trickle. Once players realize this, it's back to constantly fighting over the tap in the middle, which is exactly what we didn't want.

    But it worked. Contrary to what I expected, players would usually get a laugh out of fighting to be underneath the central tap, and this is because, of the other taps that we added. Previously, when we only had one tap and players were fighting to be underneath it, the game wasn't much fun. You couldn't play the game if you didn't have beer, and if you didn't win the shoving match to be under the one tap then you were basically screwed. But, with the addition of the taps on the side, you could still grab some beer and continue to play. In addition to this, because the tap in the middle isn't always on, players become a bit more wary of waiting underneath it. Even if you know that the middle tap gives you the most beer, it's still a little nerve-wracking seeing your opponent slowly fill up while you're waiting for the next burst of beer.

    Despite all of Toast Boasts flaws (or maybe because of them?) people still enjoy the game. It's short rounds makes it perfect as something to pick up and play at a party, which is probably why it's been showcased at a couple of them. If I were to go back and do it again, there are dozens of things I would change, most notably adding a quick tutorial, but a part of me wonders if some changes would actually make it a little bit worse. A bunch of things that ended up working in Toast Boast were side- effects of other things not working so great, and without further testing it's impossible to know how things would go.

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