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October 8, 2015

Inside look: anatomy of a skeleton

A glimpse inside the development process (and kids' perceptions) via ‘Rattle Me Bones’

Taking a product from ‘scribbles on the back of an envelope’ to ‘the High Street shelves’ is – you’ll be unsurprised to hear – a lengthy process. There’s an immense amount of work involved, not just on the concept and the rules, but on the packaging design, the marketing, the pricing… and on every single little item in the box.

Prototyping is a big part of this. And testing those prototypes. Essentially, if you ever want to work in games product design you need to be a pretty ruthless character when it comes to getting the littlest thing right.

Here’s a silly little example: the ribcage from our massively popular kids’ product ‘Rattle Me Bones’.

So we specified a ribcage. We drew it out in detail, sent it to the factory and said ‘build us one!’ And they came back with a lovely ribcage, and everybody was pleased.

Then we took it to testing. We test our products – boy, do we test our products! – and that means not just us adults playing them over and over again in the office (which we do), but bringing in big groups of enthusiastic yet hard-to-impress kids and saying: ‘there you go!’.

And we did this, and they loved it. But observing them, we reckoned that the gameplay would benefit from some tweaks to the construction. So we went back to the factory with very slightly revised specifications. And we do mean ‘very slightly’ – the numbers you see on the ribs are measurements; we opened out the ribs just very fractionally, which made the game a tiny bit easier for the kids to play.

And we tested it again, and this time they really, REALLY loved it. Which shows why we spend such time paying attention to such fine detail – it does make all the difference.

Anyway, we got a small test run done in this new specification – that’s the picture with the green ribcage. Colour wasn’t important by then, because we’d already made a decision based on the following conversation:

Us: “Here you go kids – check out this fantastic skeleton!”

Kids who are testing: “But… but… it’s not skeleton coloured…!”

Us: “What do you mean?!? It’s the most realistic ivory colour we could get! We spent ages on it! It looks brilliant!”

Kids: “But… but… bones are white!”

It transpires that very, very few children have never seen a real-life skeleton. Let’s not be unthankful for that. And we got the same response over and over again – ‘bones are white!’ So in the final version you’ll see in the shops, our bones aren’t a natural and realistic ivory – they’re a brilliant, shiny, child-approved white.

Little things! Big difference…


The very first ribcage prototype
The new version, with ribs adjusted by fractions of a millimetre
The small test run, with green ribcage. Which was previously ivory. And ended up as white.
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