The following games are all ones that I have worked on as a Game Designer. Going from the most recent at the top to the murky past at the bottom…
Rugby League 3 (Sidhe, 2010)
A Wii only extension of the Rugby League franchise – Sidhe previously created RL1, 2 and the World Cup edition. With this being on Wii it was inevitable that we would try to milk the motion controls for all they were worth. Fling the Wii Remote left and right to pass the ball, snap it up to kick, we did it all. In hindsight that might not have been the wisest choice; the more motions you have the more time you have to spend sampling the motion, which reduces the responsiveness of the game. Also, subtle differences in players’ motions create unreliable results from the motion controls.
Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5 (Sidhe, 2009)
When we began designing this game the TV show was still being designed at well. Our aim was to create a car combat adventure game for kids, and I think we pulled that off. Usability sessions on this project were particularly traumatic as we went through a variety of control methods with the Wii Remote. My particular favourite was a pointer system – you simply pointed at where you wanted to go on the screen and pressed the throttle button. Unfortunately, kids get too excited for subtle pointer movement, so we had to ditch that one.
Personally, I am particularly proud of the multiplayer death match arenas we created. I thought long and hard about the form these should take and realised that the basic tenets of FPS level design would be appropriate guidelines for their construction. Essentially, I designed environments that are a series of junctions, where 2 or more paths open for the player to explore, and every route loops round, keeping the cars close together.
Writing dialogue and plotting out the game was amazing fun on this game, all ideas and crazy lines were welcome.
Madagascar Karts (Sidhe, 2009)
This was one of those weird projects where you have to hit the ground running and then get faster! I was only on it long enough to write the game design document and rough out the tracks before handing it over to the incoming lead; I was required on Hot Wheels as soon as possible.
Of particular pleasure for me was watching the movies to get references for the items you could pick up and use while racing. Sadly time pressures meant that a lot of these were changed and reduced in complexity.
Of all the licenses I have worked with I think this one was probably my favourite.
Shatter (Sidhe, 2009)
There was a point in the development of this game where it started to feel really special, like being in Pink Floyd working on Dark Side of the Moon. It was a consummate team effort with a considerable amount of design resources.
We designed rapidly, re-designed eagerly and discarded huge quantities: There are 10 bosses in the game but there were over 30 rejects. There is only one type of bonus level, but nearly 20 were designed. And the 90 levels in the game, well they’re only the tip of an iceberg 400 strong. We were brutal in our judgement of each other’s work – if a design didn’t have kerb appeal, if it didn’t sell itself then it was gone.
I have used this process wherever possible ever since and much as I don’t want to rest on my laurels, the very thought of Shatter and the reception it got makes me grin with glee.
Wanted (I-Play, 2008)
This was a mixed bag of a game. I think we’d have done really well if we’d just stuck to platforming and puzzle solving but we tried to put in some things which looked like they were going to be in the film but weren’t, like free running, and we tried to capture the bullet bending concept, with limited success.
All the levels were built using an in-house level editor which became really usable towards the end, I would have loved the chance to use it again.
World Rally Championship (I-Play, 2007)
This game came in two forms, 2D which we created in-house and the 3D version that was created by Firemint in Melbourne – well known these days for their epic iPhone success with the excellent Flight Control.
The 2D was particularly interesting to work on, having been a huge fan of Outrun in the 80’s it was intriguing to realise that you can’t make corners as sharp as they are in real life with this kind of game, if you do then the corner appears and you’re off the road before you have time to react. I would have discovered this earlier, on LT:BIA, but I didn’t work on the driving sections at all.
Jewel Quest Solitaire (I-Play, 2007)
Some projects are a lot more fun than you expect them to be and JQS was one of them. This was a conversion of the iWin PC game for mobile phones. At its heart this is a simple card game – it’s Tri Peak solitaire, which is a much easier version of solitaire than the one everyone plays on Windows, which really should be called Klondike, because that’s the permutation of solitaire that it is.
We went through a lot of iterations on the controls, but not on the design side, it was fairly obvious that up, down, left and right should move to the next card in that direction. What took the time was a tech solution to this; when the cursor finally went to the card you expected every time, in any direction, no matter what the card layout was, it was a joyous occasion.
The Water Horse (Atomic Planet Entertainment, 2007)
This was a kid’s game of the movie. As with so many of the games I designed for APE, my involvement was much more at the scoping and paper design level and I didn’t get enough time to play and balance the experience. Although I was only at the company for 8 months.
Jenga (Atomic Planet Entertainment, 2007)
In real life Jenga is one of the greatest games ever created, it’s so wonderfully tactile and simple. However, the video game didn’t really turn out the same way. I’d left the company by the time this went into production and I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t have found it a hard game to make, it’s tough to translate the tactile nature of some games into the digital realm. I’d like to have a proper go at this one though.
Oddly, I got to see the design again when I was at I-Play, because they were looking into doing a cellphone version. That would have been even tougher!
Top Gun (Atomic Planet Entertainment, 2007)
Who doesn’t want to be able to research F-14 Tomcats in extreme detail? Mission design took up most of my time on this project but it was mostly on paper, rather than implemented in the game, as I left the company early in development. Although I do now have a good knowledge of F-14s and advanced aircraft ordinance, and I also have a stash of icons for making mission maps for air combat games that I made in Flash.
Bob The Builder (Atomic Planet Entertainment, 2006)
When the Eye Toy came out in 2003 I was the first in the queue to get one, well, I would have been if I hadn’t been at work, playing Wishy Washy on my bosses newly bought Eye Toy. A few years later I got to make a game for it to, using everyone’s favourite cash cow builder, Bob.
Although I have no talent for pinball, I enjoy the epic scores that the machines throw at the player. I didn’t try to add scores anywhere near as big as that to BTB but I learned that anything over a few tokens is too many for pre-schoolers. I should have known that already and still feel foolish for my error. I did compensate for these diminutive scores when I worked on Shatter though, where top scores tip a BILLION!
Animaniacs: The Great Edgar Hunt (Warthog, 2004)
This was a strange project that had been put on hold for a time while the company redoubled its efforts on other things (HP basically) and when that finished it was time to polish off Animaniacs. The bedrock of the game was in place but it needed all the gaps filling in, which mostly meant cut scenes and sound design for me. However, this was the first time I had the opportunity to do sound effects with a lot of memory, and on an Animaniacs game that equals a whole lot of fun.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Warthog, 2003)
For such a large game this one had a fearsomely short development time. I was not on the project from the beginning and was brought on to design and implement a variety of cut scenes. Focusing on these allowed me to learn a great deal about setting up shots sequences and I was really pleased with the results. It also gave me an opportunity to become familiar with Warthog’s newly crafted Tusk engine and editor.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Warthog, 2003)
This game had one seriously powerful editor, just about everything was under the control of design. We could build levels, stitch together graphics, set key frames, control all the sound effects and script the behaviour of everything. The editor was even largely complete because it had already been used to make another game. It was on this game that I really learned how to script and create worlds that were full of interactivity. Unfortunately, it was incredibly labourious to put that detail into the game, so there were only a few parts of the game where that level of attention to detail could be enjoyed.
If I could do it again I’d make lots of small levels, rather than a few giant ones. I can’t remember how that decision for made but it was a bad decision. I’d also remove all the running and jumping from the game and turn it into a puzzler – isometric is hideous for fast movement and precision bounding.
Robot Wars: Extreme Destruction (Warthog, 2002)
I didn’t write the pitch document for this contract and was staggered by how much the company was promising when I read through it. Still, there was nothing for it except to roll up my sleeves. The first problem to contend with was the design of the robot workshop. Looking at the list of robots that featured in the TV show I had no idea how to offer such an apparently wide range of shapes and features in one system. However, once I started listing them all out I realised that most of them had one of four body shapes, there were two types of wheels and most weapons were mounted on the front or the back of the robot. The cases that didn’t fit the system were so specific in their design that they could only come in the configuration of the exact real life robot, and they were all covered by custom built All Star robots in the game.
We implemented a huge unlocking system into the game, with nearly every win or event in the game rewarding the player with a new robot part. We even had a Pokemon element – you could build a gold robot of supreme power if you could unlock all the parts, but each copy of the game would only unlock 4 of the 5 parts, you could only get the one you were missing by playing a link-up game against a friend.
Physics, real 3D, mini games, an arena construction kit. This is one of the best GameBoy Advance games you have never played. Do not confuse it with any of the other Robot Wars games.
Adventureland, Pirate Adventure and Ghost Town (2001-2002)
As part of a push into making games for cellphones our department secured a license to convert several of the old Scott Adams games to WAP (mobile internet).
Our main challenge was to make these games user friendly, on what were still pretty clunky devices, with relatively low resolution black and white screens. We absolutely didn’t want to force the player to input text like a text message, so we used context sensitive lists of verbs and nouns. At all times there were just enough to not completely give away all the puzzles in the game. In fact Mr Adams had made his games so hard in the first place that this modification really made them accessible for the first time, without ridiculous amounts of trial, error and dying.
I even got to do a very small amount of graphics work – it was good to convert all that pixel noodling of my youth into something productive.
Pinky and the Brain – The Master Plan (Warthog, 2002)
What are we going to do tonight Brain? The same thing we do every night, try to design a game. I’m sorry, how could I resist though? This was a fairly straight forward platform game which we made about twice as big as the publisher expected. They weren’t complaining but we would have like to have known that earlier, so we could have condensed everything down for a tighter experience.
Of particular pride for me was the fact that my script for the story and cut scenes (conveyed through stills and subtitles) only had a few minor changes requested of it by Warner Brothers. I’m not sure if it was the mind of Pinky or Brain that I occupied most successfully.
MotoGP (Warthog, 2001)
Motorbike racing on WAP and SMS, how does that work? Slowly, that’s how. This was originally a design for an F1 game, which me and a programmer came up with because we hoped it would get us VIP tickets to a Grand Prix. It nearly happened, but then the stars stopped being right and we ended up making a MotoGP game, which really didn’t work for the system we devised.
Virus and Love Bug (Warthog, 2001)
SMS games have to be about as restrictive as you can get. Virus was all about forming chains of people, the idea being that the first player in the chain is infected by a neural virus. The only way for them to free themselves from the infection is to pass it on, something they only have a limited amount of time to do. I pretty much got the idea from fusing The Ring and Snow Crash. The longer the chain, the higher the score for everyone in it, so there was a collaborative element to the whole game.
Love Bug was a less sinister themed take on this mechanic.
E.T. – Return to the Green Planet (Warthog, Canned)
We designed this game, we made this game, we put out heart and souls into this game, but it didn’t get shipped. E.T. was a big adventure game, very much in the mould of Grim Fandango, although there weren’t as many laughs. It was a huge disappointment that it never hit the shelves after so much work went into it. We never got to find out what the general public thought of it and, most importantly for me, we didn’t get to see if our puzzles made any sense to anyone outside of the development team!
Buster Saves The Day (Warthog, 2001)
This was a strange project, a kind of re-skinning of someone else’s design. The desire was to create something a little like Bubble Bobble, but with thrown balls stunning the enemies before dispatching them. This turned out to be a surprisingly tough thing to get right, and I don’t feel we did. But I got to make a lot of levels, all either two screens high or two screens wide, which isn’t much real estate on a GameBoy Color.
Tom and Jerry in House Trap (Warthog, 2000)
My first ever project as a designer. When I came on board nearly everything was designed and all I had to do at first was implement it by constructing the 15 levels using the in-house editor. Apart from that, and balancing, the lion’s share of my time was spent creating and implementing sound effects. I was pretty pleased with the results and it was my first taste of just how random the jobs of a game designer can be.