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[Below, Gamasutra presents
a second excerpt from Iain Simons' recent book, Inside Game Design, courtesy
of publishers Laurence King. Filled with interviews and graphics that
illustrate exactly how top minds approach the design question, the book
offers a look at everything from little-known indies to massive success
stories, as with the interview we reproduce a portion of below:
LittleBigPlanet developers Media Molecule.]
Media Molecule's Rag Doll Kung Fu feels like a working model of everything an "alternative" game should be. It's built around a core, high-concept gameplay idea, which wouldn't be entertained by a mainstream publisher. Its art style is esoteric but beautiful, paying careful reference to the world it draws on with a lovingly produced in-game Super-8 kung fu movie. It even features explicit drug use as a gameplay mechanic.
But it's important not to overlook that the whole enterprise is rendered with a care and precision that is rarely seen. It's not an exaggeration to say that you can palpably feel the love that went into the title when playing it. The small team that created Rag Doll obviously cares deeply about the experience the player has, and has made no compromise in making sure that it delivers its singular vision. It is intoxicating to be swept up in the joy the team felt in making it whilst playing it.
Perhaps more than any release in the last few years, Rag Doll Kung Fu really exposes the humanity in game design. The creators are there in the game, dressed up in kung fu gear, fighting each other in Guildford Park, especially for you. You get the rare feeling that you're playing something as it was intended to be.
I spoke with Mark Healey (Creative
and Technical Art Director); Alex Evans (Technical Director); Kareem
Ettouney (Art Director) and Cathy Campos (PR). The interview takes place
in the company's demo room, just as soon as the tea has been made. All
three Media Molecule leads participate enthusiastically despite nursing
hangovers from the previous night's Christmas party. As we start, Mark
and Alex lead, and Kareem is intently drawing in his notebook.
Mark Healey: Whenever we talk
about anything around the studio, Kareem is always there sketching away.
Kareem Ettouney: It really
helps. This industry is full of very intelligent, imaginative people,
and unless you capture these ideas down really fast you end up having
a really clever conversation, but that's all you have.
You were still at Lionhead [during the Rag Doll Kung Fu period], right? You have full-time day jobs?
MH: We were doing Rag Doll in the evenings and weekends after our day jobs. This was when Dave joined us on coding.
AE: Within Lionhead we were working on a project that was announced at the same GDC where Rag Doll was. We came back to this scenario where Lionhead were crunching on Black and White 2 and Fable, and we were getting on with Rag Doll at the same time. It was the worst possible combination of things, but it really cemented the relationship between all of us, which grew into Media Molecule.
Two programmers and two artists -- that dynamic and that communication really worked. It was a bit like living in a tent with your girlfriend. If you can survive that, you can survive anything, even moving in together. I worked on a lot of big projects, but you don't get the same team dynamic that you do on small things like this.
When most people describe crunch periods, they tend to be long, dark nights of the soul. This doesn't sound like that.
AE: Because it was literally four of us, it just had to work.
KE: Every one of us working
on it had an angle that we were sharing because we were so close. Quite
often in big projects these differing skills are all tucked away in
different groups and they don't get cross-disciplinary input from each
other. I think that's where the great work happens -- from the collaboration.
AE: I think there are a few studios trying to do that. There's one studio working on a large next-gen title that organizes its teams up into very small groups, and each one is very cross-discipline. So you'd have a concept artist and an animator and a programmer (or whatever is appropriate for that group) -- it preserves that intimacy.
KE: Any concept when it's first thought up just can't cover all of the possibilities, so that back and forth, that swapping of ideas, is a really important part of the process. The different skills need to be able to inspire and spark off each other.
Mark has an art idea, I might see some way in which I can add to that,
it goes back to Mark, Alex sees it's going to have an impact on the
frame rate and makes a suggestion, somebody makes that work, the level
designer sees that and thinks he can use this new art to make a new
bit of fun. You need that fast swapping of ideas.