developer Twisted Pixel explains how its XBLA follow-up, Splosion Man
, benefited from an early rough prototype that focused on fun, not graphics.
The early development phases of the successful summer Xbox Live Arcade game Splosion Man
were focused on fun, not visual presentation, a decision that its developer Twisted Pixel said helped make the game stand out amongst other titles.
"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," wrote Twisted Pixel co-founders Josh Bear and Frank Wilson in a Gamasutra feature postmortem
"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."
The postmortem reads, "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."
It's the kind of approach that the end user can appreciate, but it's not always the most practical when trying to forge a business partnership based on bouncing squares and triangles. "[Honing fun before graphics] 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," the co-founders stated.
The postmortem continues, "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."
Twisted Pixel completed Splosion Man
in a narrow six month time frame, but the studio says it was able to make sure the "fun" got the most attention during that short period, when every minute counts. "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."
Not everything went perfectly with the development of Splosion Man
, however. For Bear and Wilson's report on what went right and what went wrong during development of the game, read the full Gamasutra feature