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2011 January

Forever Hunted Design Laboratory

     Now that Forever Hunted is off to the races, I wanted to set up a highly creative battle lab for generating ideas around the design of the game. Every Friday from 11am to 7pm in the old fine arts museum we have an open forum design session where the entire team is free to come and go as they please. Research on generating fear and fun are ongoing processes — we brainstorm both ideas for creating scary moments and great play mechanics, watch scary films/play scary games and discuss their merits or failings. The battle lab process is loosely built around how the design firm Ideo approaches their product design. I think it will apply extremely well to games (and probably already does.)

Yesterday we had our first meeting and it was highly productive, resulting in a cohesive and near finished player experiences list as well as some grand ideas for monster and maze characteristics.

As Lead Designer, I am the gateway to the Scrum feature set backlog, so I will ultimately decide what features go in and how they are prioritized, but having everyone involved in generating ideas is getting our best concepts up front fast.

Serious Game Promotion for Malifaux

     In studying gameplay I’ve been playing more tabletop and board games — they’re frequently referred to in texts, and are excellent sources for examining distilled mechanics and social dynamics. In becoming more familiar with table-top games, I stumbled across one that has me legitimately hooked — Malifaux.

The fluff for Malifaux is terrific, and its world is peopled with a whole host of bizarre characters (a crew of gremlins dressed up like Wild West gunslingers, a Snow Witch, or an Irish serial killer and his horde of zombie courtesans, for instance.) The game uses miniatures, which means you choose 6 or 7 of these characters take turns moving them around on table terrain using a ruler. Mechanically, Malifaux has terrific depth of strategy and element interaction, reminding me in some ways of a miniatures version of Magic: The Gathering. The balance is surprisingly excellent given the depth of the game’s possible emergent strategy. Each character has at least three or four different functional abilities, and leaders can have upwards of ten.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of social stigma around miniatures games, relegating them to the back rooms of hobby shops around the world. I feel this is a shame, as playing Malifaux with friends for a night is every bit as fun as Halo: Reach or Left 4 Dead, and promotes a different and fun social atmosphere as well.

I’d like to propose making a video game to promote the Malifaux tabletop title called The Heart of Malifaux (working title) that will extend the product viability beyond miniature hobbyists and into a larger arena. Heart of Malifaux is Diablo with tactics — a series of random dungeons that are turn-based and grid-based, generating hordes of loot and experience for a player to outfit and level their character as they see fit.

In order to not compete directly or indirectly with the core IP, the game would be a a strictly co-op dungeon crawler, providing an entirely different but complementary experience. Made for one to four players, each would choose one of the leaders available in the original Malifaux game to be their character. Dungeons would be randomly assembled from preset “rooms” representing the streets, sewers, and interiors of the magic city of Malifaux in which the original game is set. As players explore from room to room, they would encounter random monster spawns with simple AI to defeat, story events, or find treasure that would allow them to outfit their character and acquire new skills. Each randomly assembled portion of the city would have a random overarching mission associated with it (defeat this boss, find this artifact) much in the way the tabletop games have randomly generated goals for each skirmish. Players would take their characters from mission to mission, improving them in a fun and social atmosphere.

The implementation is heavy on content, but light on technical demand. If the game could utilize assets already generated for the tabletop game, implementation would be properly scoped for a small, dedicated team. This project would be ideal as a free flash title, similar in spirit and genre to the smash hit on Kongregate, Monsters Den: Book of Dread.

Looking at Three Serious Games

McDonald’s Game
     The McDonald’s Game is designed to portray how McDonald’s business operates vertically (with a very negative spin.) The game itself ends up being a fairly complicated business sim with a very steep learning curve. Unfortunately, this ends up defeating the crux of the game’s message. The tutorial is mostly tailored toward educating the player about the real-world dynamics of McDonald’s operations, and the process of learning gameplay was sidelined in the process. The game needed a tutorial geared toward gameplay.
     As is, the game was fun to mess with, but the tutorial was more effective at conveying the game’s message. For the purposes of the course I took the time to learn the gameplay, but if I didn’t feel partially responsible to dissect it, I wouldn’t have bothered. The cutesy graphics also hurt the message as well. While the game was supposed to portray the brutalities of a ruthless and amoral industry giant, the graphics were inviting and enjoyable. It felt very dissonant from the message — I actually liked being McDonalds.

Congo Jones
     Reskinning a platformer with an environmentalist theme is not enough to accurately convey a message. I find I tune out the graphics more and more as I engage with the gameplay more fully in general, and it’s no different here. Furthermore, the gameplay in Congo Jones is atrocious. The mechanics are clunky, buttons are sticky. While the graphics were bright and compelling, I felt compelled to quit after minutes. Total failure.

Border Patrol
     Outrageously offensive. The gameplay is simple point-and-click, so nothing to write home about. If anything, the difficulty was too high. In terms of agenda, Border Patrol definitely had an enormous effect. However, it didn’t specify any intention for that effect. As such, I don’t feel that this game changed my opinions at all. All it did was offend and make me incensed. I feel as though, because there is no stated intention for the game, this game will only retrench people’s opinions as they exist. Failed as a game and in promoting an agenda.

Forever Hunted Chosen!

     Busting with pride. Forever Hunted was chosen, along with Pinball Galaxy, by the professors of the University of Utah EAE:MGS program to be built by the cohort. The decision was made by weighing input from the eight industry professionals present at the pitch, a student vote, and the professors own thoughts on what would be successful. I have the utmost confidence that this project will be an amazing journey and will produce a fantastic showpiece for the nine grad students that are building it, myself included.

As near as I can gather, the idea was selected due to its focus on player experience over mechanics, its appropriate scope, and the process of player-centric iteration that was pitched with it. I’m incredibly excited. Along with the choice of game, we also found out how the cohort was divided among the projects. I’ve worked with almost everyone on my team, and they are fantastically talented.

Forever Hunted Team:
Matt Anderson
Greg Bernini
Ryan Bown
Chris Diller
Sean Forsgren
Jamie King
Robert Lamb
David Lewis
Jon Powell

Forever Hunted Pitch

“An adrenaline-soaked, heart-pounding distillation of the experience of being hunted. Silent Hill meets Pac-Man in the first-person perspective.”

     I pitched Forever Hunted yesterday not only to my classmates, but to a large group of industry professionals — a tech director and programmers from Disney Avalanche, two senior producers from EA, and representatives from Chair and Smart Bomb. The concept began with a desire to modernize, re-imagine, and reinvent the old Sinclair ZX game 3D Monster Maze, and it was received incredibly well.

A highlight was my proposed agile design process, where we reach a fun baseline at around six weeks into a year-long development cycle, then spend the rest of our time refining the game by experimental “this build or that build” play test scenarios. They said the scope was correct and that the process of perfecting one mechanic and then iterating through play testing was the process they used professionally. I’m totally stoked, think it may have an excellent chance of being chosen as one of the two games out of seven that will be built out by the program over the next year.

Glad I chose to pitch Forever Hunted — I very nearly went with pitching Nether Steam 666, which would have been great in its own right. Forever Hunted is a much clearer vision though. I feel it’s a stronger place to start.