Pacific Rim: Breach Wars

The Challenge - After developing the highly successful mobile title "WWE Champions" on behalf of an external publisher, the studio maintained the rights to the technology developed. In order to build off that previous success, we would need to find a new IP to fit to the engine, and iterate on the system designs so they would serve the new IP as well as the studios own goals. This was achieved by defining the goals and identity of the product at the outset, and then repeatedly iterating on the systems until we felt those goals were met. The outcome was the significant achievement of the first self published title in the studio's history, under the Pacific Rim movie franchise IP. I acted as the main UX designer, creating wireframes, guiding art development, implementing user testing, and implementing UI in engine.

The Heart of the Game

The core of WWE Champions, and therefore Pacific Rim: Breach Wars, is the match-3 style battler game loop. The Champions core game comprised a handful of systems that created the successful experience of that game - a visually pleasing game with plenty of thematic elements, driven by a simple core mechanic with discoverable depth. Those systems are:

Breach Wars needed to carry over all these systems, with the addition of one more determined by the design team:

The main goals for the update of the core game were as follows:

The Process - Since the core game already existed in engine, the design and UX teams were tasked with creating system specs and UI layouts which were then given to an engineer skilled at rapid prototyping, allowing us to see each iteration implemented in engine. We iterated several times, testing the game ourselves, and involving friends and colleagues uninvolved in the project for quick feedback. Once the team was fairly happy with the direction we were going, builds were sent out for user testing by an external vendor. Fine revisions and polish continued all the way up until release.

The Result - In order to keep the UI uncluttered, and allow the user to focus their attention where it is needed, we came up with a dynamically expanding system of flyouts and widgets that allowed users to drill down into a system for more information when necessary, and allowed us to hide systems at times when they are not useful to give more attentional resources to UI that is useful - or to the joyful experience of simply playing the game. Advanced interations such as press-and-hold and double tap were used to drill even deeper into information systems, or to bypass systems that an advanced player might not need to review on every interaction. The action was kept quick and lively, and exciting visuals in the rendered 3d scene itself were used where possible to convey information.

Feature Hightlight - Find System

The Find System is a great example of where UX can inform the system design process. This system was built off of an existing system within the engine that was not well developed and very specialized. It would have most likely been cut entirely, but I saw a way it could be expanded upon to serve an important need we had, and managed to get it specced into development along with another, larger system.

The Problem - The economy for Pacific Rim included numerous different currencies, items, and characters which, while providing a deep meta for the user to explore along with multiple axes of progression, are a lot to keep track of:

The Solution - We designed and built a comprehensive tool for the user to find literally anything they might need in game. It helps the user navigate the game systems and economies in a number of ways, and has become an indespensible system in all of our titles:

User Testing

As our first self-published title, it was important to get user feedback without relying on an external partner. As our studio did not have any internal capabilities in this regard, we had to develop some methodologies for this project. The testing methods we ended up using fell into several categories:

Surveys - As we were approaching our soft launch date, we held a small closed beta, mostly with friend and family members of studio employees as well as those of the IP holder. After the beta period was over, I designed a survey using mostly Likert scale type questions, as well as allowing some opened ended responses at the end. I collected and charted the results, and made recommendations based on this to the product and design teams.

User Testing - Since we did not have the capability in-house, we sent a number of builds out to an external play test vendor. They returned videos of users playing the game with live commentary. I carefully annotated the videos and built up recommendations based on these observations.

Analytics - Analytics were built in to most systems of the game, which resulted in an ongoing stream of live data. Most of these were driven by product level concerns, but they also provided valuable data on user progression, churn, and how users chose to flow through the game.

The Result - The value of gathering user feedback cannot be overstated, of course. It allowed us to focus our development resources appropriately, not merely to add cycles to systems that did not perform well, but it also allowed us to avoid spending time on systems the team didn't feel were strong, yet turned out to perform adequately. It was also instrumental in tuning our onboarding and guiding us toward our KPI goals.


It was exciting to launch our first self published title, and the fact that we were able to ship the game and continue to maintain and operate it was already a success story. However, we were counting on the lessons learned to carry forward into future endeavors.

Cutting corners can cost you - While every product team wants to cut development costs by reusing tech or designs, leaning to heavily on this can cost you in the long run. Design for the specific challenge at hand, or you may find yourself doing numerous costly iterations on route to finding the solution you should have been shooting for from the start.

Design for the problem at hand - Each product, as well as each system, is a new endeavor. Make an effort to define and understand its unique goals and challenges.

Let the users speak - It's always tempting to simply trust our own extensive experience in the industry, but the fact is, sometimes things we think are great aren't actually working, and things we are sure need to be redesigned simply aren't a problem. Make sure you're putting your effort in the right places.