As we develop BioHarmonious adaptation and flexibility have been critical. As the project evolves concepts have to change direction mid-production to avoid any inflation in the game's scope. Limitations due to time put pressure on the team to come up with creative solutions. Rather than cut things or compromise ideas completely, we try and find new approaches to simplify and economize implementation. This way the visual, audio and game-play style is still rich. Although a system may not be as complex as we would have liked, the fundamental element of fun is there in a simpler form and will hopefully stir the audiences curiosity. The goal is to have audiences finish the experience wanting more and not just wishing for more.
An example of the necessity for adaptation, coupled with ability of letting go, came about when developing the visuals for the object transformations. We started with an iterative process, with small changes being made by multiple objects. For example, you would grab one natural object at a time, figure out what building it combines with, then make the transformation. Each building had about 3 or even 4 possible transformations. This would lead to a system of mixing and matching multiple natural objects with a manufactured object. When they were all implemented, it would then cause the building to look dramatically different from it's original state. Below is an example of an early visual mock up of the transformation system along with some animation notes.
An important detail to consider outside of the short development cycle is the game's primary venue. This experience will be featured in museums among many other pieces (There will also be a web version). The average play time will be short, maybe only a handful of minutes, So the experience needs to properly scaled, so that even in a small amount of time there is a sense of reward, accomplishment and discovery. A complex system that demands long play times, would leave most players only experiencing the tip of the iceberg. This would have been a huge oversight on my part, but thanks to the great mind of lead Designer Amanda Dittami, we were able to properly revisit our plans.
(The plan is scaled and developed to not only accommodate tight deadlines, but scale the experience to the expected play time. This way we are ensuring most players will get the full experience we intended. Objects now under go single transformations and no longer layer natural transformations.)
The second most important attribute for the project has been patience. We are a small team which means everyone has to wear many of the figurative hats. In my case, I concept characters, buildings, environments, prep in-game assets, plan animation and manage the art production pipeline. Meanwhile, the developers and sound engineer are relying on a steady stream of assets in order to start testing and advancing their end of the game. Creating something for testing purposes is important. What that means is, similar to writing, sometimes it is critical to get a draft done, whether you like it or not, ready and into someone's hands for review. This needs to be done so some other aspect of production can me dealt with. Nothing is final on the first pass. Assets are constantly prepped to a workable state with the understanding they will be revisited and truly finished at a later date. It takes patience to let go sometimes, but it is for the better of the project as a whole.
(One of the first concepts developed that helped define the design of the manufactured planet. Time spent on this concept was pushed, trusting it would help mold the overall visuals in the long run. Eventually it was scrapped as the games character. However the idea is currently being revived and redesigned for a smaller role. The character above currently survives as placeholder art and has the spirit in the design of the manufactured objects.)
A key to maintaining this patience is communication. The advantage of a small team is flexibility and the ease of communicating. Less people to manage means less damage done if we decided to change directions mid production. There aren't as many gears screeching to a halt. However, it also means workloads are more intense so communicating, although easier, cannot be taken for granted. Everyone is responsible for a number of things, having production plans laid out in their minds. So it is important each discipline meets to ensure we remain on the same page and those plans don't stay confined to an individuals imagination. At times I have drifted a bit, meeting with Amanda helped reel art production in and keep the over all development, outside of art, in mind.
We set out to create a rich experience of discovery. We wanted the worlds to feel complex, alive and intriguing. As we develop the game we are constantly fine tuning how we will achieve that level of immersion in such a small window of play time. At times we may be a little over ambitious, but we seem to be on the right track. The world is shaping up to be an intriguing one. The hope is that we can be successful enough that audiences enjoy poking around the world as much as they enjoy playing the game.
We will begin closed play testing shortly which is bound to bring in a wave of adjustments and tweaking. The next entry will go over the interesting elements of processing, dissecting and implementing play test feedback. A process I have always found to be an exciting pool of psychological discussion. A few months after this stage, barring any major set backs, we will see the full release of Art Works for Change's web and exhibition game BioHarmonious. It is right around the corner which means longer hours and a frantic increase of production.
Thanks to those who continue to make it through hundreds of digital words. For those new to game development, much like myself, I hope that these entries prove helpful. For those who aren't I hope I haven't wasted your time. The words will end after this.
Note: If anyone is interested in joining the closed play test session please feel free to contact me. If you don't have a contact for me you can find ways to reach me on my portfolio site (sixtoart.com) or find me on Twitter (@AnthonySiixto).