Originally, Vicious Cycle's PSP-exclusive action title Dead Head Fred was intended to be a GameCube title for a younger audience. Yes, that’s definitely quite a one-eighty. But when the concept first took shape, the idea was to make a game with a light Rayman-esque feel to it -- colorful and fun. The player would have guided a character called Geo around the world of Prime in search of four different heads, each of which had unique powers.
While gathering these heads, he would also be stopping his world’s nemesis from destroying his home. The four heads were basic geometric objects (a cube, a sphere, a pyramid and a cylinder). The cube made Geo heavy and slow, and acted as a weight in certain puzzles. The sphere rolled like a marble and traveled fast. The pyramid moved like a tornado on its point and allowed Geo to maneuver along high wires.
Finally, the cylinder had a spring/rubber-like quality, and allowed Geo to bounce to higher areas on the map. Although teaching geometric concepts was never the intention of the game, most publishers who read the concept got that impression.
They said, “this is too edutainment”. (There's a word you probably haven’t heard in a while.) The upside was that they all really liked the mechanic behind the concept. So we went back to the drawing board to make the game appealing to an older audience.
We started by changing the tone of the story to something a bit darker and off-the-wall. We maintained the mechanic of head-gathering and -switching, but set the game in twisted version a '40s film noir detective film. Despite the rather dark story and characters and the premise of ripping off heads, the original pre-production visuals that came back from our contract artists were still playful and cartoony. We didn’t feel this was too much of a problem -- we aren’t the targeted demographic.
The initial test groups thought that the look still skewed too young. Also, apparently the youth today want guns, guns, guns. One of the most common questions asked at those focus groups were, “Where are the guns?” “When do I get to pick up a weapon?” Ah... game development in the post-GTA world...
So, after further testing, we came back to the drawing board yet again (literally this time) and created an art style with the cool cats at Massive Black. (Those guys rock, by the way.) The new look was much darker—like “40s gumshoe meets Dirty Harry meets The Matrix.” Apparently, what the players these days want is a badass character that looks pissed off and unique. Fred turned out to be just that. A brain in a jar filled with liquid where his noggin’ used to be. A detective with a sarcastic edge and vengeance on his mind.
Anyway, that’s how it all came together. We got a publisher for the title, we took our robust technology and got it running on the PSP as fast as lightning, and we dove head first into creating our first original intellectual property from the ground up. Little did we know what challenges were awaiting us, what stumbling blocks we would encounter, and the sheer amount of work we’d have to endure. As with any project, there were good times and bad times. Let’s start with the good.