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1. Shared Vision and Respect for the Concept
I felt really lucky that from the day I unveiled the prototype demo in Amsterdam until the day the game launched, PlayFirst clearly respected my vision for Dream Chronicles.
We both agreed that we were going to create a new kind of game for the casual game market. We were going to take a proven traditional video game genre, but design it to be accessible and friendly to everyone.
It would be a new adventure style casual game -- one that used simple and intuitive mouse control, included a compelling and powerful "hook" from the first moment of game play, and one that included a smooth level ramp of difficulty with no offensive content or theme.
2. Strong Initial Prototype -- "vertical slice" to showcase idea
I received feedback from PlayFirst that our prototype went a long way in showcasing our ability to make a product like Dream Chronicles a reality. Beyond the obvious advantage that the prototype showed the strong visual direction that we desired for the project, the two-scene prototype also allowed the stakeholders to visualize what the finished product could be. Our prototype presented a "vertical slice" of the product, with very polished art and gameplay but for only a small number of scenes.
When I put it together I envisioned my future publisher saying something like, "Wow, so it will be just like this, but with more scenes?" And in the end, I am glad that we decided to it this way as I also knew that this type of game was not easily understood by some in the casual games industry.
While the art direction was clearly highlighted in the prototype, we also focused on showcasing other elements of the game. From our earliest set of goals, we had wanted to make certain that there was a "hook" from the first moment of gameplay. We inserted the text "I had a dream..." in white text on a black screen to immediately bring users into our story world.
We also took care in the first scene to build a "tutorial level," where the basic mechanics of using the mouse to find objects in the scene, then collecting objects in the inventory that can then be used to change the state of the scene were learned. When a player left that first scene our goal was to have taught them the majority of the "rules" for Dream Chronicles.
3. Collaboration and Clear Roles/Responsibilities
Prior to Dream Chronicles, I had simply created games and presented them directly to the major distributors in the space -- Real Arcade, Yahoo, Oberon, etc. In 2005, the word "publisher" was just starting to make its way into the language of the casual games industry.
I checked out a few publishers and heard that PlayFirst called itself a "full service publisher." I was skeptical because at the time, casual games were being distributed, not really "published." But as I got to know the company PlayFirst reminded me of my experiences in the 1990's making games for established publishers Eidos, Universal and others, with my previous development company.
What I found PlayFirst meant in being a "full service publisher" was really a partner who aimed to collaborate and contribute in their specific areas of expertise. Kat Games is a very talented development studio, but we are only four people.
PlayFirst was our design and development partner, plus they provided support in areas that we weren't experts at such as marketing, testing, distribution and support -- all responsibilities that are challenging but also time consuming when publishing a game alone. For me, this was the welcome part of this project -- it freed my team to focus on what we enjoyed most -- developing a great game.
It was a true partnership where the two teams understood what each could bring to the table.