Patrick Curry’s Thoughts on Game Design

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July 2nd, 2006

Game Idea #27: Sandcastle Creator

Summer has officially arrived in Chicago. The windows are open and the fans are on… and I’d rather be at the beach…

High Concept:

Sandcastle Creator is a creative sim/construction game set on a sandy beach. Using the simplest of building materials – sand and water – you can create the sand-structure of your dreams. Design an epic castle, a twisty labyrinth, or a series of murky caves. Better yet – combine them all into a sandy superstructure!



Why it needs to be made:

I’ve always loved games where I can build little cities – be it a full-blown city simulation, or just constructing a town that’s easy to defend in real-time strategy games. But I’ve never felt like I had enough freedom in the process… I want to be able to sculpt the terrain and the buildings at the same time in the same game.


Unlike my other ideas thus far, Sandcastle Creator is a game that lets you be creative by both building up and tearing down at the same time. Since the entire game world is made up of two basic elements – sand and water – the process of building in one location is the same as digging in another… and vice-versa.

The interface is extremely simple! First you decide what tool you want to use: your hands, a small cup, or a large bucket. This tool is going to determine just how much sand or water you scoop up. Secondly you decide from where you want to scoop. Do you want to pull some water from that hole you dug that’s starting to sink in, or do you want to carve you some sand to create a doorway for your castle?

And then you decide where to dump, and how. Do you want to trickle water down onto your castle, giving it an aged look, or do you want to plop down an entire bucket of sand to start a new structure? Once you’ve built your structures you can tear it down and start over, sit and admire it as the waves start to tear it down, or play fun game of “trap the sandcrabs in the dungeon.”

Why it will be fun:

I have to say I’m a little biased, as building sandcastles is one of my favorite activities. But to dig into that a little bit – I really think that sandcastles are fun because you get to be both creative and destructive at the same time, at the same place, and in the same way. These two tenets of gameplay – creation and destruction – are at the core of so many of the most popular games.

Final thoughts:

I hope everyone has a safe weekend. I’m going to be spending the holiday on the water, which inspired me to write up this week’s idea. Thanks to Devin and Erin for the support with this one.

7 Responses to “Game Idea #27: Sandcastle Creator”

  1. Granite commented:
    posted July 4th, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    That sounds like a really cool idea.

    I remember going up to the beach with my family when I was young, and building giant castles with sandy spires and parapets.

    Definitely a nostalgic game, and it could be very cool building entire cities of sand to be destroyed by the tide.


  2. Patrick Moran commented:
    posted July 11th, 2006 at 9:12 am

    This idea is really brilliant. I wonder if you could work in a puzzle/strategy aspect in addition to the “sandbox” mode. I hate to compare one game to another because this game isn’t really like anything else. So I will hold off on the example of what I am talking about and let your idea be your idea. Great work.

  3. Patrick commented:
    posted July 11th, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Yes, I think some puzzle and strategy elements would be called for. There could be some time limits based on the tide or incoming bad weather. Or perhaps you have to be strategic about where your digging, such that your shadow doesn’t block the sun — which is used to cook the wet sand into a hardened castle.

  4. erik commented:
    posted July 11th, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    The idea of moat puzzles reminded me of part of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, which i’ve dug up:

    “… The second castle (after Castle Turing) was built on the slope of a mountain and had an elaborate irrigation system in which water from a bubbling spring was routed through a system of gates. There were many thousands of these gates, and they were connected to each other in small groups, so that one gate’s opening or closing would, in some way, affect that of the others in its group. This castle grew its own food and was suffering a terrible famine because the arrangement of gates had in some way become fubared. A dark, mysterious knight had come to visit the place and apparently sneaked out of his bedroom in the middle of the night and fiddled with connections between some gates in such a way that water no longer flowed to the fields. Then he had disappeared, leaving behind a note stating that he would fix the problem in exchange for a large ransom in gold and jewels. Princess Nell spent some time studying the problem and eventually noticed that the system of gates was actually a very sophisticated version of one of the Duke of Turing’s machines.

    Once she understood that the behavior of the water-gates was orderly and predictable, it was not long before she was able to program their behavior and locate the bugs that the dark knight had introduced into the system. Soon water was flowing through the irrigation system again, and the famine was relieved.”

    ( Apologies for plopping down the entire bucket. )


    And, when thinking of how to divert and control the incoming tide, I was reminded of the falling sand game:


    I think having a few tools could help your designs have more uniform shapes, straighter lines, rounder towers, smaller details, etc.. Then players who aren’t necessarily skilled artists can end up with a castle that isn’t totally lopsided.

  5. BJ commented:
    posted July 20th, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    i like the idea of a little robot combing the beach farting out little sand castles, like about 6 inches high. really simple. you could get a few of them going and really make a pretty cool art project!

  6. Antsan commented:
    posted December 9th, 2007 at 5:48 am

    This idea is brilliant and it would be even more brilliant if you could export the models into some widely known 3D-Format. You could use this “game” as an easy-to-handle modelling-program.
    It would just be a little bit more intuitive than most tools, you use by now. I’m not sure, if the now existing sculpting-tool you can find in some 3D-software would be something like that sandcastle-creator, but maybe it would be a good idea to start and built up from there.

  7. Peter commented:
    posted July 6th, 2009 at 5:17 am

    I love the idea! Really love it. Perhaps you could have various modes, so you could have a stream on the beach, or turn off tides and whatnot. Some other materials would be good too, say stones and seaweed. I hope this game gets made…

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