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Road to the IGF:  Heaven2Ocean 's Water Drop Aims For The Sea

Road to the IGF: Heaven2Ocean's Water Drop Aims For The Sea

November 29, 2007 | By Leigh Alexander

November 29, 2007 | By Leigh Alexander
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Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, we talk to zerO.One's Scott Bryan about his IGF 2008 entry Heaven2Ocean, which employs the physical properties of water, in all its states, to navigate a little droplet on his way home to the ocean.

The game hinges on reaction time and logic puzzle as it challenges players to tilt the world and use environmental elements to move the water drop on its way, at times requiring a shift in state for the drop into gas or ice. Bryan notes that Heaven2Earth was developed by a five-member team, and in speaking to Gamasutra, he highlighted that he addressed all our questions from a team perspective.

What kind of background do you have in the game industry or in making games?

There are five members of the team who developed the game, one game engine programmer, one tools programmer and three graphic artists (with two of those also being sound designers). All of us are currently completing University at the moment -- two of us are studying Games Development at IT Carlow in Ireland while myself and the other two artists are in our final year of a Multimedia degree at Dublin City University.

As such, we don't have a huge amount of experience working in the games industry. In fact, the only experience we have is as participants of Dare to Be Digital 2007 (www.daretobedigital.com) where we were the Republic of Ireland's representatives. If you aren't familiar with the event, Dare is an internationally renowned video game design event for emerging games artists and programmers.

This year, 12 teams from the UK, Ireland, China and India, were hosted over ten weeks at EA in Guilford, Queens University, Belfast and Abertay University in Dundee. The top three teams were nominated for a BAFTA. All of the games were showcased to over 2,500 people at ProtoPlay as part of the Edinburgh Interactive Festival in August, where Heaven2Ocean was voted as one of the top three games on display.

What motivated you to make Heaven2Ocean?

We were motivated by the fantastic opportunity to compete in Dare. Dare opens a lot of doors to its participants and gives them an fantastic understanding of the video game development process. Having developed the concept for our game, we were subjected to a rigorous selection process. When we were selected as the team to represent the Republic of Ireland, we were extremely motivated to develop the best possible game we could whilst learning as much about the process [as we could] along the way.

Where did you draw inspiration from in its design and implementation?

When initially crafting our game idea, we thought in terms of what the game should achieve and used these principles to guide us towards what became the core idea for Heaven 2 Ocean. Our principles for Heaven 2 Ocean were:

The game should feature a simple and easy to learn control system. The player should be able to pick up and play the game with a minimum of fuss.

The content and genre of the game should not discriminate and appeal to a wide variety of players from all ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds.

The game should be kind to older hardware and should run on typical high-street PCs with integrated graphics chipsets. Such systems are by far the most predominant type of hardware in most users homes and offices, and we didn't want to exclude such an audience from playing our game.

We wanted a very interactive game that the player always felt in control of, for every single step of the game. Physics-based games tend to be very highly interactive and hence the decision to follow this direction.

Most of all, the game idea had to be fun! We wanted something that would be fun to pick up and play through properly, but fun also if you just wanted to experiment and mess around with it for a while.

So after exploring many possible game ideas and having many brainstorming sessions, we eventually found one idea in particular which seemed fit all those criteria quite well- and that is how Heaven 2 Ocean came to be.

In terms of influences, there were quite a few. We were most inspired however by the refreshing approach Nintendo has taken with the Wii. The simplified and innovative control mechanism, the wide appeal of the games on offer and just the entire ethos of the system inspired much of our core principles for Heaven 2 Ocean

Also, the recent rise of physics-based gaming was another key inspiration. We felt that the whole area of physics-based game play was an exciting new avenue that offered much potential for new game play ideas. We also believe firmly that greater interactivity through physics can increase the player's enjoyment of the game, and make it more fun.

What sort of development tools have you been using in the production of Heaven 2 Ocean?

Heaven 2 Ocean was developed using a custom built game engine and level editor. The art was created using Adobe Illustrator, Maxon Cinema 4D and 3DS Max. Sound effects were all recorded live onto MiniDisc while the music was composed in Reason.

What do you think the most interesting element of the game is?

The changing states bundled with our control system. Players must navigate a body of water through various levels. In order to solve puzzles along the way however, they must interchange between liquid, steam and ice. The player can only change states by finding appropriate sources that will allow them to do this, such as a blow torch on the construction site level that will heat the water, turning it to steam so it can rise. Players are surprised by the different styles of gameplay there are to explore when they are in different states.

How long has zerO.One been developing Heaven 2 Ocean, and what has the process been like?

We developed the game over ten weeks this summer. I think it's safe to say on behalf of the team, it was the most difficult and challenging experience of our professional lives. With such a short timespan to complete the game, in order to achieve what we wanted, we had to work by and large, seven days a week, 12 hours a day.

If you had to rewind to the start of the project, is there anything that you'd do differently?

No. We are extremely happy and proud of what we have achieved. We set out with a very limited time scale to complete the game and we accomplished all of our goals in that space of time. Having said that, though, we were living in Belfast, a city most of us had never been to, let alone lived in before. So if I had to pick one regret, it would be that we didn't see enough of our home city.

What are your thoughts on the state of independent game development, and are any other independent games out now that you admire?

We believe the independent games development scene is in a very healthy state at this point in time, and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

With the rising costs and risks involved in developing AAA titles for current generation consoles, we think that the so called "casual games" market is fast becoming a more viable route for the future. Casual games are much quicker to and less costly to develop, and if they are successful, will usually return much more on the initial investment than a traditional AAA title; they are considerably less risky in that regard. One has only to look at Nintendo's new approach with the Wii and the DS, and the success of services like X-Box live to see how this new approach to development is already bearing fruit.

Also, with the recent advent of digital distribution platforms independent developers now have a realistic platform with which to distribute and promote their products- typically an insurmountable hurdle before.

That is not to say, however, that the casual games market is perfect - far from it. There is still a large problem with conversion; that is, getting people to actually pay for the full game after the initial shareware/demo version of the game has been sampled. We believe, however, that this problem in part can be combated by better payment and distribution means.

A points system, like on Xbox Live, where real money is converted into points or some other unit would help fight this problem to some extent. Credit card transactions tend to be expensive, time consuming to perform, and generally off-putting to many potential customers. A points system like on Xbox Live would help a lot in this regard.

The second problem with the casual games market is saturation. Typically after one successful game is released (e.g Bejeweled by Popcap) there tends to be a rush of copycat clones and look-alikes that make it very hard for any subsequent games of that type to stand and out and be distinguished. The solution to this problem is really in the hands of the developer, however; good solid new ideas or unique selling points and features can help lift your game from the crowd.

Overall, however. we think that there is a big future for independent game developers and for the casual games market as a whole. Developers just need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and avoid them if they are to be successful!

You have 30 seconds left to live and you must tell the game business something very important. What is it?

Log on to www.heaven2ocean.com and play our fun-filled water-based puzzle platformer, joining 1,000 others who have downloaded the game in the last two months. While developed for the PC platform, its simple controls, notwithstanding the addictive gameplay, make Heaven2Ocean ideal for portable platforms such as mobile phones or Nintendo Wii. You simply tilt left or right to maneuver a body of water through levels filled with hazards and obstacles.


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