In February 2013, we released NYC Mafiosi. This was a serious project, that took an entire year to finish: whilst more was expected from it commercially, the experience of making a game from scratch – from initial planning, inspirations, drawings, design and all the way through development, publication and release – was totally invaluable knowledge. A realisation of how I expected the game to perform on general release, and how it actually did – thereabouts 300,000 plays since release, and 100,000 of those coming within eight days of publication – showed that this business is far tougher than it seems. We expected more.
The vision was a large and overwhelming one, and the game plays out with the same grandeur as the board games it takes inspirations from: Monopoly and Risk. Designed with the ideals of conquering the city by pursuing successful, intelligent strategies was something we wanted to inspire in the player.
As such, much of the game is front-loaded, and requires a lot of learning early on: as we have found, this is a whole lot to ask of people. Games are increasingly being designed to be very digestible experiences: players want fun, and with immediacy. There is nothing wrong with this, but it makes the job of design much harder. It’s always tricky to impress upon people just how complicated simplicity really is.
One of many projects due for a 2014 release, project-named Graveyard Shift during development, came about as a result of the development of my Games Design university thesis. An investigation into the role in which Behaviourism relates to games – and if there even was one – ended with the design and production of this project. To produce engagement, Graveyard Shift is designed to provide highly variable gameplay using a kind of developed whack-a-mole mechanic: as such, the appearances of different stimuli on the map have positive and negative effects upon the player’s performance. From the Behaviourist perspective, the game is designed to be highly extrinsic. It uses a very stimulating, visually and audibly feedback-intense environment to provide reinforcement: the player’s performance is also measured metrically.
Since the completion of my dissertation, work has continued on the development of the project, for general release. We’re hoping to get this out soon, and see how it performs in the wild, so to speak: learning from the experience of NYC Mafiosi, of which much of the learning was front-loaded onto the player, conceptually this game is designed to be more simple to play, with an escalating hook of challenges and features. So far, less than a month’s worth of work has gone into Graveyard Shift, yet the feedback so far from playtesting has been resoundingly positive. How much this proved in terms of Behaviourism was objectionable; but as a game, we think this has potential. The name will change for the released version from the prototype (there already is a Graveyard Shift Flash game out there!).
One project that has been in long-term development is Kaleidoscope Runner. Conceptually, this is a prototype that we are really excited about, sheerly for its highly original core mechanic. Inspired by the endless-runner craze of the last few years in the Flash and mobile scenes, we wanted to take a familiar concept and put a different spin on things (so to speak!). Commissioned by representatives of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, our brief was to create a game prototype with reflection at the heart of its challenge: a really open-ended and interesting proposition. How could we go about producing a game based around a concept like reflection?
This is what we came up with. Kaleidoscope Runner sounds like its name: we wanted to make something that was mind-blowingly psychedelic and positively trippy to play. The prototype was shown in the University of the Arts London’s Future Map exhibition ’13 during London design week, selected ahead of thousands of different pieces of degree-level work from all manner of arts and design courses across the UAL’s colleges. Post-NYC Mafiosi, I wanted to create a project that had very little front-loading of information at the start of the game: as such, this game is about as simple as it gets, to start off with. Our mechanic revolves around the idea of jumping two characters simultaneously, across a mirrored landscape: the game spawns out from the centre of the screen, giving us as designers much scope to keep escalating the challenge to the player. We’re scheduling a release on Flash and iOS.