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Michael Bayne is the Project Leader for Three Rings Design’s new game, Bang! Howdy, currently in its beta stage. After entering the casual games market nearly a decade ago as the founder of PlaySite.com, Bayne worked with Hasboro to build Games.com, and went on to form Three Rings with co-founder Daniel James. He also led the engineering on Three Rings’ last hit, Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates.
Gamasutra: Where did the idea for Bang! Howdy come from? What inspired you to combine real-time strategy and the Wild West?
Michael Bayne: I was taking a sabbatical after our three and a half year push to get Puzzle Pirates out the door and was thinking about new gameplay ideas. One day, on a hike in the forest, I had the idea to make a strategy game where the units were different kinds of bugs. It seemed to me that people had an intuitive idea of bugs' capabilities and they'd make a natural mapping between their idea of a bug and the unit it represented.
For example, an ant could be a basic soldier unit, a wasp a powerful air unit, a spider a ground unit and so on. Further, I wanted to work in their natural special abilities. An ant could carry leaves and use them to build bridges over small gaps. A caterpillar could eat through grass creating blades to be carried by the ants. Spiders could spin webs to lay traps for other insects. A stink bug could... well you get the idea.
At the same time I was thinking about a way to get around the problems I saw with both real-time strategy and turn-based strategy mechanics. I felt that RTS’s had become overly complex and too fast-paced and had lost the approachability of turn-based strategy games where things were discrete and easier to understand. On the other hand, turn-based strategy games tend to suffer from the problem of being no fun when it's not your turn.
With both these ideas in mind, I started working on a prototype that involved these insect units and the discrete cool-down timer-based mechanic that we're using. The game mechanic was working great but I was getting bogged down in the details of turning the insect world into a balanced set of strategy units. So I decided to give the bugs a rest for a bit so that I could explore the game mechanic and rewrote the prototype using a standard set of war game strategy units: soldier, tank, helicopter, artillery, which I called "Bang!" because of all the shooting. The first prototype was called "Bugs!" I guess I had a thing for punchy names with exclamation marks at the time.
We played the prototype at the office a fair bit and it was a heck of a lot of fun. There were a lot of things we wanted to experiment with in our next game after Puzzle Pirates, and trying them in the context of a casual strategy game that would hopefully not take too long to bring to market seemed like a good idea, so we decided to move ahead and turn the prototype into a real game.
None of us were particularly interested in propagating the same
tired strategy game themes: war and men-in-tights fantasy. So we
brainstormed for a while on what sort of theme would provide a
rich source of inspiration. After thankfully rejecting ideas involving
Atlanteans versus mermaids and Santa's Elves versus the Easter
Bunny, one of our artists, Jon, suggested combining cowboys and
steam-punk robots in a sort of
fantastical Wild West. This immediately made me think "Bang! Howdy Pardner," a line from a hilarious Peter Sellers movie called “The Party”. We later shortened the name to "Bang! Howdy" after deciding to go with the theme.
GS: Would you say the premise for Puzzle Pirates was thought up in a similar way--i.e. mechanics first, theme second?
MB: Not entirely. Daniel first had the idea of combining casual puzzle games with a massively-multiplayer virtual world and the pirate theme followed soon after. But everything else was designed with those two ideas already firmly in mind.