Even though Splosion Man uses a simple one button mechanic to play the entire game, we needed to prove to ourselves that it was something that would be fun to do over and over for several hours. Very early into the pre-production of the title, we started making a very rough prototype of the "splode" gameplay to see how it would feel, and if it would be fun.
This was a huge reason Splosion Man turned out to be a success in our eyes. Before the game looked good at all, we had a very rough-looking Splosion Man model sploding around very basic geometry. Using this method we could tell right away that this was going to be fun. If we left the game looking the way it did, it would still be fun. It might not end up being the prettiest game out there, but there was no denying that you could enjoy yourself.
This may seem like an obvious thing, but when you are trying to impress publishers or others that your design document will turn into an awesome game like you promised, it can be very easy to try and make early demos look as good as you can.
We took the opposite approach and kept the game in a "grey box" state as long as we could, so we could make sure everything was fun, and then we could go in and dress it up with graphics, sounds and visual effects at a later date.
This same method was applied to almost every feature in the final game. We treated cinemas the same way, doing very early passes and throwing them in just so we could see if the smoothing of the camera was working properly, and if the timing was right.
For a game that was made as quickly as Splosion Man, it worked out great to worry about the gameplay and the fun factor first, and then worry about how it looked as a distant second.
4. Moving To Austin
Twisted Pixel's original location was in the small town of Madison, Indiana. We had always planned to move the company to a larger city "when the time was right" but it was unclear as to when exactly that would be. After development of The Maw, it was becoming quite apparent that the right time was quickly approaching.
Although Madison provided us with the low cost of living and low startup costs that we needed at the time, it was difficult to find talented and experienced people to join our team that were willing to move to a small town, especially knowing that we would be moving the company somewhere else at some point.
We also found ourselves fielding a lot of questions and concerns from the current employees regarding when and where we'd be going. We closely examined our financials to make sure it was feasible to make the move and it very much seemed like the time was right after completing The Maw so that there was minimal disruption to our next project.
We had several meetings with the early members of Twisted Pixel to discuss where the company would be moving. It was very important to us to keep all of our team members, so we wanted to be sure that everyone was happy with where the company would be located.
We came up with a list of several locations that made good business sense based on a combination of factors like an existing game development community, talent pool, tax incentives, high quality of life, affordable housing, etc.
After a lot of discussion, the group narrowed it down to two locations: Austin, TX and the Raleigh, NC area. We then sent out a few people to talk to each city's Chamber of Commerce as well as film the area and get a general feel for it. After that, it was quite clear that Austin was the right city for us.
We've been in Austin for nearly a year now and I'd say that all of us are quite happy that we decided to move here. The variety of food alone in the area has made it worth it.
5. Summer of Arcade
The biggest challenge in creating Splosion Man was attempting to get the game ready for Microsoft's Summer of Arcade marketing promotion. We took a calculated risk in assuming that they would run it again, after the first one proved so successful.
During an early scheduling meeting at the beginning of the project, we made the decision to try to finish the game quickly so that we could (hopefully) be considered for the second annual Summer of Arcade. We figured that if Microsoft ended up having it again, and we were finished, then it was awesome timing and maybe we could be a part of it. If they decided not to do it, maybe we could spend a little more time on the game.
The reason for trying to push ourselves into the Summer of Arcade program is that the marketing support is great, and our game would be alongside some of the best titles that Xbox Live Arcade has to offer. There was no guarantee that we would be included in the program, but we decided to go for it anyway.
This proved to be a very wise decision on our part. By using early prototyping we were able to show Microsoft that the game would be a lot of fun, and we eventually earned one of the coveted slots of the Summer of Arcade, along with great games like Shadow Complex and Trials HD.
Without the Summer of Arcade, not as many people would know about Splosion Man. The extra attention the game received was something that would have been very hard for a small company like ours to get recognition for on our own.
So without the aggressive schedule we had, we might have been able to include a few more levels or a few more puzzles in the game, but in the end, getting the game finished in time for the Summer of Arcade program turned out to be not only much better for us, but better for players now that Splosion Man has more recognition than it might have gotten. And, there would be a lot of sad children around the world who might not understand the awesomeness of sploding evil scientists into various meat products.