[In an in-depth, honest Nintendo DS game postmortem, the creators of The Incredible Hulk game discuss making a 'fully destructible environment' title for handhelds, from GameMaker prototyping to 'Rage' button removal.]
Fizz Factor tried something new with the Sega-published The Incredible Hulk for the Nintendo DS. Taking our cue from the latest Hulk film, upon which our game was based, we aimed to distill the big green guy down to his essence -- smashing everything.
No stealth, no wimpy Bruce Banner. 24/7 breaking stuff, period. Fully destructible environments -- on a console title this may be an old hat, but on the DS, it's an impressive novelty.
As far as we knew at the time, fully destructible environments had not been tackled before on the DS. Due to cart space and hardware limitations, it's always a big challenge for the platform. However, with some clever programming solutions and rearrangement of budgeted art resources, we conquered the problem, which thrilled us.
To our publisher and the public, however, the innovation did not resonate as we expected. While fully destructible environments are technically impressive and a first for the platform, in hindsight we probably would have been better served to take a more conventional approach that required less engineering and focused more on rich, not-all-that-destructible environments.
Such an approach would have triggered other design and production decisions that would have affected the game's outcome.
While the game turned out well and is a minor milestone for the platform, developing the game with fully destructible environments created hardships that could have been avoided.
1. Prototyped out all levels with GameMaker before building them on platform.
Our lead designer was an avid user of GameMaker, a PC-based game engine embraced by developers and hobbyists alike. As the engineers were adapting our engine to support fully destructible environments, our designers prototyped out each Hulk level in GameMaker.
Using simple sprites we created or nabbed from other games, we laid out each level, enemy AI and the player package, resulting in a great testing ground for gameplay.
To emulate the DS controller experience, we used a PlayStation 2 controller for its D-pad and four input buttons. (Hulk had limited touchpad gameplay. For other titles employing more touchpad, we've used a Wacom tablet and the PS2 D-pad to emulate the DS input with GameMaker prototypes.)
Using these methods, prototyping levels was quick -- a level came online in GameMaker in two to three days -- and had tangible payoffs in pre-production and early production.
For one, the prototype enabled the designers to suss out their design with tools they controlled. From level layout to scripting, the designers created each level, its enemies, and Hulk's behavior with this rapid prototype tool.
Having one designer sorting out problems, puzzles, and behavior before engaging the other disciplines saved time up front and got the team excited since they could see what the full game would feel like within a couple of weeks.
Once the designers were happy with a level and our DS engine was ready, the designers largely recreated their GameMaker levels on the platform. Had we a way to export those levels to DS rather than rebuild them, we would have saved even more time.
Another benefit of the prototype was it helped us communicate our game vision to the client. Because we were revving on the technology behind the fully destructible environments, we did not have a strong playable to show our publisher early on. Instead, we had them play the prototype.
This worked well for the first several cycles, since, as with our team, it quickly conveyed the gameplay and excited our client.