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Nimble Strong - An Excerpt from Buttonless: Incredible iPhone And iPad Games


December 13, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

Ghahramani returned from his vacation to his home in New York City and decided to put off finding a full-time job to focus on his game idea. His first order of business was to learn more about the bartending industry, which he says he knew very little about. "Of all my friends, I was one of the least frequent drinkers," admits Ghahramani. "So it was a bit odd to make a game about cocktail culture."

Ghahramani described the four-step research method that he used to quickly familiarize himself with bartending:

  1. He signed up for a $300 bartending course.
  2. He bought multiple books on the topic from Amazon.com. These included both technical books from mixologists like Gary Regan, and autobiographical/historical books "to get a feel for the culture."
  3. He signed up for a couple of advanced-education classes taught by local spirits enthusiasts/mixologists.
  4. He "obsessively" went to all the top bars in New York City.

In his very first bartending class, Ghahramani realized that making drinks was inherently suited to video game gameplay, thanks to the sense of timing that bartenders have to rely on to pour each drink.

"A typical shot takes three seconds to pour with a standard free pour," explains Ghahramani. "But bartenders have no progress bars or anything like that; they need to build a sense of what three seconds is intuitively.

"As a game this was interesting because we can have 'perfect' pours that are exactly three seconds, 'good' pours that are a little less or above, and 'worse' pours that are much less or well above. I realized that the combined mechanism of timing and remembering recipes would make for a glorious gameplay dynamic." This was important, because it provided a way for the game to be fun, not just educational. "I was super excited," Ghahramani says.

Ghahramani was further interested to learn that many drinks are closely related, and can often be divided into separate families. "Swapping one ingredient for another would often quickly make another drink altogether," he says. This, Ghahramani says, would serve as the basis for the game's educational progression. Players could start by learning one drink, and then easily pick up on others in the same family by swapping out just a few ingredients.

Since the bartending game was to incorporate storytelling in a major way, Ghahramani began reading up on playwriting. He completed his first draft and showed it to Don Gatterdam, whom he describes as a friend and mentor.

Gatterdam didn't hold back his criticism. "The mixology content is inauthentic, the dialogue sucks, and nothing in the story reminds me of a real bar," he told Ghahramani. Humbled, Ghahramani scrapped his first draft.

Around this time, Ghahramani was introduced by a friend to Jefferey Lindenmuth, a well-established journalist who has written about spirits for outlets like Wine & Spirits Magazine and Men's Health.

Lindenmuth agreed to help out with the project, even going so far as to put Ghahramani's second draft through a significant round of edits. "In the end the script balanced my quirky JRPG/manga/video game sensibilities with his deep knowledge of cocktail culture," says Ghahramani.

Ghahramani had made it this far, but he still didn't have a developer to program the game for him. He posted ads, attended meet-ups, and asked friends for connections, but had no luck finding someone with the programming prowess to take his idea and turn it into something real.

Some weeks after Ghahramani had stopped posting ads, he got a call from Joshua DeBonis, a professor of game design at the Parsons school in NYC. DeBonis was also fascinated with educational games. "We clicked instantly," Ghahramani recalls. Development on the game commenced, and Ghahramani dipped into his personal savings to fund it. He managed to raise a little extra money from friends, but as the game neared completion, he was broke and in debt.


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