Friday, 22 April 2011

Them Vs. Us

Unrelated Image
Last time I wrote a bit about how getting players to wave their phone around like ninnies wasn't surest approach to create great games.

This week I thought I'd try to write a bit about the creative process of coming up with a game idea. Or rather, to be precise, as I don't have a process, to discuss what happened (as opposed to rolling my face around on my keyboard and posting the results).

However, before we go any further, lets back up. You may be reading this expectantly, as is human nature, assuming that this bread crumb of game design meanderings will lead to pot of gold. It wont. It'll be a pot of tin at best.

So despite my promises (which, politician that I am, lie broken at my feet) we reenter my game design process at a juncture where I still hadn't given up on making players wave their phones around like ninnies.

My Kindgom for a Game Design Document

One of the struggles with this project has been working out exactly what I want to make. Another struggle has been to figure out how much I want to compromise or deviate from my original vision.

The first thing I wrote originally was a simple test which allowed me to toss a square around on my phone. I spent a while trying to get the feel right, measure the forces involved, and come up with a system that tossed the square when a player deliberately jolted the phone, and not when the feeble shaking of their hands triggered it.

With that out of the way and proven (technically), I had to sit down and assess the tech, my ability and my chosen control mechanic, and work out what I was going to make.

Sticking to what you know

One thing I discovered was that when working from base principles like that, my mind quickly harks back to what I've already created. I'm like an Igor, constantly rooting round in the graveyard of my past projects looking for useful components I can add to the current corpse to make it live.

Some of my first ideas resembled the first game I ever made, which itself resembled Arkanoid crossed with Space Invaders, with some basic physics and a wrecking ball. While admittedly promising on paper, I never really managed to make the most out of that one.

A match-three-of-a-kind game
What followed next looked a lot like my first commercial game for Jagex: Geoblox.

Last post I mentioned a concept for a platformer, steered by motion controls (tossing the phone), in which the character would witness or visit historic or important moments in world history running as a video collage in the background.

My main concern with that project - other than that people might have been upset at having the Crucifixion or the Civil Rights movement appear as the background for a mobile game - was that the motion controls lacked sufficient precision. I felt that a platformer which might require precise controls would just be to frustrating. Plus I might be stoned.

Hating what you know

Button Moon
The problem with missing a jump in a platformer is that it either results in death, or worse it requires players to retread old ground repeatedly. I wanted to have a game where being slightly off wasn't going to be the source of frustration - instead it need be only a nuisance the player would have to take into account as they progress. Geoblox was all about shapes hitting a disk. They never miss the disk, instead they might land in the wrong place, however you can make amends later down the line. I started to think about throwing shapes at a disc instead.

Something that is never far from mind is Button Moon, which really has one of those "does what it says on the tin" titles. I love the setting and, though it's not something I intend to pilfer for this project, it caused me to quickly fall for the notion of making the disk a planet. A planet with gravity and other things that planets have.

When Tetris block attack...
Thanks to Button Moon's impact on my childhood the Geoblox clone quickly morphed into a concept about planetary space colonisation!

I already had prototypes where the player could chuck a square around, but now the square took on a new significance. It became an apartment block. Just toss 'em down and build 'em up was the new mantra.

Each block would contain a social group: jocks, goths, geeks, well adjusted people etc. The geeks would love to be next to other geeks and not like living near jocks. The location, both in terms of neighbouring blocks and scenery, would determine the points you got for the block.

homogenous society 
It's an idea I still love. As I look out my window, it seems clear to me that society is gradually becoming more homogenised. As we're able to commute to work, to our hobbies, to our friends, we don't have any need to socialise with people who are not like us. Those unlike us hold conflicting views, have or don't have faith, they value different attributes, eat differently, talk funny and probably smell.

Why make the effort to talk to your neighbour when they probably don't agree with you and it'll be such effort to make a connection. Plus they're probably an alien anyway! You don't need to talk to your neighbour, instead you go to work full of people who were hired for having similar background and attributes to yourself. When you go home you can chat on your computer to people with whom you share a common background or you can go out to your interest group where people all like the same things you do.

Maybe you disagree violently with me one this, but lets face it: you're wrong just like everyone else not like me. It says so on the wiki page about you.

I still have a desire in me to make a game about social groups and how I think they interact. However it's an idea which I've had to wave goodbye to. More on that another time.