As a producer you have to be open to reducing your expectations. Your customers only know what the end result is, not what you were thinking anywhere along the development process. I think it is always best to start with an idea that has a lot of room for expansion, then cut it back as development progresses. To me, iterative development is the fine art of “backing off”, and this article details how we have continued to back off on a concept until it is something that I think we are actually going to get completed soon.
Next week Push Button Labs is calling all hands on deck and attempting to create, Grunts: Skirmish, a “Game In A Week”. Adam is coming down from Washington, and we are going to hole up in our offices and see if we can actually do it. There are many reasons for us to make this game, but almost more interestingly was how ended up with the Grunts concept.
Josh Williams, CEO of GarageGames/Instant Action, wanted us to propose a strategy game for IA, so I set to work thinking about a huge strategy game with unique characters, story, and a big persistent back end. Without giving too much away, the working title was BattleTribes: Commander (no relation to Starsiege: Tribes, we just like the name). It is a cool design and idea, and we will get back to it some day, but even in Torque, this is a huge title, and we wanted to move faster getting products to market.
As I have been hinting in other posts, PBL is working with Flash. We think front line games for non-hard core audiences can best be made with Flash, and we are working on underlying technologies to allow that to happen. We needed a test case, so we decided to cut a bunch of the concepts in BattleTribes way back and make a multi-player RTS game with unique characters that had minimal art requirements and could be created in our new Push Button Engine.
As a side note, in keeping with minimal art requirements, I have long been a fan of “stick figure” games, and at one point a long time ago while I was at GarageGames I picked up the rights to Stick Soldiers, but we never did anything with the IP. I’m still a fan, so using stick figures as a jumping off point, we started messing around, and Tim came up with the idea of using mannequin figures instead of sticks, and the result is much better, so BattleTribes: Commander backed off into Mannequin Warriors. Continued work on the characters and signing up Todd Pickens to actually create some models resulted in further changes, and the awesome little characters you see in this article.
Since the characters morphed, the game IP morphed along with them, resulting in a working title of Grunt Commander, still an RTS, but with some very nice game play differences, and a bunch of back end persistence, customizations, community, etc.
As we were nailing down the characters, art processes, engine support, and back end definition for the GC game, I was looking into the emerging Flash game distribution process, and realized that we did not know much about it, and needed a test case. I did not want to sacrifice a huge project with man years of development, so we backed off yet again to the current GIAW Grunts: Skirmish concept.
Grunts: Skirmish is a single player Tower Defense meets Advance Wars game. It has some really nice innovations that we think will work, but we won’t know until we test them next week. That is the cool thing about iterative development on small games. We know that come combination of features will work, and we are pretty sure they will be the features we have laid out, but it does not really matter if it is something different.
Things we are looking to learn with Grunts is how the distribution process works, how much money can you make from a Flash game, how do the in-game ads work, how do the tracking systems such as Mochi Bot work, etc. On the technology side we are also wringing out the Push Button Engine, creating components that can be used in other games or for sending out to the community. As far as intellectual property goes we are setting up an initial IP that can be used in a bunch of games, finding out if people like it, bringing people to our sites, and setting up Push Button Labs for the future.
I really like the virtuous circle of all of this. Flash games are the future. There is so much to blog about in this area, so stay tuned. I am stoked.
-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
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