“'Having an idea for a game' and 'designing a game' are very different things,” says Craig, stroking his imaginary Fu Man Chu. We're perched on top of a figurative mountain where the video game master attempts to teach the young grasshopper the ways of game design. Picture game design veteran Craig Duturbure as a white Mr. Miyagi and me dressed as an Asian Karate Kid. We're into our third week developing Tasty Tasty Grandpa and this young grasshopper is still learning to wax on, wax off.
“There are always conundrums with design that need solving, and the better the solution fits with the rest of the game in a wonderful holistic fashion...,” Craig tells me as I continue to wax the mountain peak (there's nothing else around to wax), “...the more solid the game design, and the better the player will enjoy the experience.”
Logo by Ty Carey.
As a foolish child who has already admitted to knowing nothing about making games, I will now admit that I was surprised when Craig told me he'd been solving the game's design problems. My first train of thought was something to the effect of Homer Simpson chasing a squirrel around a tree while circus music plays in the background. My second train of thought was: “Game design problems? What is he talking about? He already came up with the idea for the game, what's left to solve? What's the problem? Where did the squirrel go?”
It seems that coming up with a game idea is, in many ways, introducing a problem, or a series of problems. The idea is only a starting point – it is not the game itself. For example, in Tasty Tasty Grandpa you “level up” and gain energy by eating those who are older than you. Anyone who is younger than you is a predator, anyone older is a tasty treat.
“Sounds good to me!” I thought as the squirrels of my brain did judo rolls around imaginary trees.
“But if younger characters can only eat older characters and can't eat their own age, then what does Grandpa do to get energy back?” Craig asked.
A squirrel in my brain stopped judo rolling.
Craig continued: “And if the youngest character has no predators, what will push the player to keep moving the gameplay forwards, especially if they know it gets harder when they level up in age?”
All the squirrels paused.
“Then there are the issues of where the edible, non-playable characters spawn. How regularly do they spawn? At what speed does each age of character travel? Does the player move the same speed as an enemy of the same class? How long is each cycle of the game?”
“Well,” Squirrel #1 squeaked to the others with a lowered pudgy jaw. “Well I'll be damned.”
We Have Music!
Back in high school my class had to compose music for one of our assignments. We were given weeks to do it and all the help we needed. Everyone came back with an instrumental rip-off of Baby One More Time. As I squeaked my way through a poor violin rendition of a Britney tune, the difficulty of music composition hit me in the face with a giant maraca. Team Grandpa should be relieved that I did not put my hand up to compose the music. We should be doubly relieved that Matt Christensen did.
I didn't know of Matt until he joined the team. I'd been told he was a composer, an audio director, a genius at the saxophone, and a musician in Annie: The Musical. During our team meetings he'd listen to the team talk about prototypes and me talk about how I hate all the colours in my palette, and he'd nod, and then he'd nod some more, and then he'd ask some questions, and then he'd nod. He was either an excellent listener or a fantastic actor. As it turns out, he's the former.
The above image is a draft music score that Matt has composed for Tasty Tasty Grandpa. As a violin player who has only ever needed to read one line of music at a time, my mind exploded when I saw four lines. I don't even know what this means. It looks like there are four saxophones and Matt is going to play them all. It'll be a one-man saxophone quartet. I'm assuming Matt will play each line individually before layering them on top of each other, but a small part of me hopes that he'll be playing with his mouth, both nostrils, and one of his ear holes.
Oh Man, Those Backgrounds
I've been trying to tone down the contrast of the backgrounds I'm painting and it has proven more difficult than expected. My paintings look washed-out and my palette has turned pastel because I keep adding copious amounts of white paint to everything in fear that the contrast is too high. I've gone from pleasure painting to panic painting: I keep worrying about whether my backgrounds will work with the game instead of just enjoying the act of painting.
I brought this up with Craig while we were on the figurative mountain top. In this scene, Craig's Fu Man Chu facial hair was now the length of Mi-Goreng noodles when they've cooked and stretched out, and I'd gone from waxing on and off to catching flies with chopsticks.
I'd decided to tackle painting a city landscape to represent the adult period of Grandpa's life. With the worry of contrast on my mind everything turned out bleached and pastel – it was like my paintings had come from the 80s.
“Hmmm,” Craig said, doing the squint of wisdom. “I wonder if we could use Photoshop?”
“Pho-to-shop?” I asked, pausing from my fly-catching activities.
“Yes, we could change the contrast of the images in Photoshop after you've painted them. This way you can paint with as much contrast you'd like and we can adjust the levels later!”
“Hmm, yes,” I responded, as a fly landed right between my chopsticks.
We're Halfway There!
Top then L-R: Damian Pin (artist), Craig Duturbure (game designer), Matt Christensen (audio and music), Stuart McVicar (programmer), Tracey “Bubble-T” Lien (derper).
We still have a lot to do. Stu is now making a prototype in Unity after ditching one he made in GameSalad (it was too limited), and Damian has started testing animations for the characters. Yesterday I went and bought some new paints(no pastels!), and Craig has written a 25-page game design document that solves as many design problems as can foresee – it's like the instruction manual on solving a Rubik's cube. A Tasty Tasty Grandpa Rubik's cube. We have two weeks left to solve our own art/music/coding Rubik's cubes, so I guess this is my cue to put down the fly-catching chopsticks and pick up a paintbrush. Wish us luck!
The Tasty Diaries is a game development diary series written by the former associate editor of Kotaku, Tracey Lien. Over four weeks, she will try to make a video game with a team of developers. Follow the rest of the diary series here!