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Lumines Electronic Symphony: The Untold Story
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Lumines Electronic Symphony: The Untold Story

July 30, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Production Challenges: "The Game Director, Who Will Remain Unnamed"

The problem for us was that for a lot of reasons it took us a while to actually get going on would eventually become Electronic Symphony. Part of it was that we kept hoping, internally, that Child of Eden would wrap up development, and that we would then move people over from that to Lumines.

Unfortunately, Child of Eden experienced some challenges during development that required the team to continue working on that project, so it was a few months before we finally decided to bring in not only an external programming team (the excellent Rocket Studios, based in Sapporo -- filled with ex-Hudson veterans, including the original designer of Bomberman), but an external game director as well.

The game director, who will remain unnamed, was not a good fit for the project. I'm not naming him because he's a good guy, but he just wasn't the right man for the project. Whatever you think about Electronic Symphony, had we kept him on board the project, 1) we would never have finished it on time, and 2) I don't think the results would have been satisfactory.

We brought him on the project because he had a lot of game development experience, and his aesthetic sense initially aligned with our internal goals. But it soon became apparent, despite months of trying to synchronize our ideas, that he wanted to make something that looked like an avant-garde Bauhaus (the art movement, not the band) spin on the Lumines formula.

Without consulting the project manager or me, he would make arbitrary decisions like removing some classic elements of the HUD, or other time-proven contributions to the Lumines formula. He would fight over things that weren't important, and then disappear from discussions about things that mattered.

Without going overboard on what he wasn't "getting" about Lumines, I can just say we had to make the difficult decision to shift gears and bring on a different director, which was at the time a very controversial decision, internally, to make, but it ended up being the right move.

Not only did we get the game done on time with our new director, Ubisoft veteran Ding Dong, on board, we created a much more efficient way of working, streamlining the process so we could finish skins faster and with greater, immediate results. If we had to change a color or a texture, we could do it quickly and see the results immediately.

This was another screen from a prototype build of the game that showed a new visual style we were entertaining. The vector blocks at the top of the screen were where we were going to display the upcoming block, and the flower petals were the particle effects generated by clearing blocks. We were also looking at ways to help guide the player in dropping blocks without relying on the explicit grid of past Lumines games.

One example of how the new style differed from the previous director's style was that the old skins were being designed almost completely in code, requiring us to channel every request through the programming team, which was difficult because they were off-site. Any little adjustment (for example, changing flower petals from purple to red) had a big effect on the programming team's workflow, and our artists were sitting around waiting for the results in the meanwhile.

Our new director had the tech team create a template, with a foreground (blocks), a midground (particle effects, like the "COMBO!" counters that appear), and a background (animated movies or 3D effects) where various effects like shaders, opacity, lighting, and other visual details could be tweaked by the artists, instantly.

This made the art flow happen a lot quicker, since not only could we see what was being made, but if we had any feedback -- and we had lots of feedback -- we could see the adjustments as soon as the artists had implemented them, instead of putting in the order to the programmers, and having to wait two or three days to see the results.

The screens that look similar to this were 3D CG animated mock-ups we created to showcase the new visual style we were aiming for once we changed direction. With the rear touchscreen of the Vita, we thought it might also affect not only camera angle but the blocks themselves. Imagine touching the rear screen and seeing the blocks you touched from behind pop up like "pin art". Touching the blocks would also have a musical effect, like running a mallet across a xylophone. That's one of the effects we were considering, but ultimately we couldn't decide on a meaningful way to tie it to the game mechanics, so we dropped the idea for the time being.

The next challenge was the musical elements. With Q Entertainment's experience in a past life on games like Rez, and then eventually on games like Lumines, Meteos Wars, and Every Extend Extra, and finally on Child of Eden, we assigned one of our best synaesthesi' artists --Yoshitaka Asaji -- to handle the correlations between player inputs (pressing buttons) and game feedback (sound effects, musical interaction).

With the help of the sound team, Asaji-san was able to help elevate the level of audiovisual interaction between player and game. I think anyone who has played Lumines Electronic Symphony with a good pair of headphones on will understand where that effort went. Every sound effect in the game was designed to complement the song, so that the player would feel more invested in the game, consciously or subconsciously.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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