No movie is without sin.

Step 1 of Game Development: Brainstorming

Sometimes, as a game developer, you have that one special idea you’ve been incubating for years, just waiting for the right time to hatch it and other times you get a flash of inspiration and immediately just have a hunch it’d make a great game. As we saw the successful release of The Ables, we realized that this could be a really cool game. Looking back, we didn’t have any concrete ideas for anything going into it, but we knew that we wanted it to be awesome. The book perfectly laid the foundation for the game design, but we knew that we wanted to expand on the Ables universe quite a bit. This is where the first step of game development comes in: brainstorming.

Brainstorming is arguably the most important part of game development because an idea for a game that sounds great on paper can actually be a total failure in practice. I experienced this before while developing a game using the Wii Balance Board. The initial idea for the game sounded clever, but when actually implemented it quickly became a nightmare. The idea for the game was simple: players tilt the world in order to keep a group of characters from falling to their deaths through little levels full of hazards, but no matter what the team did, it either looked or played horrible. The characters would move in one large clump, negating any reason why they should be treated as a group of individual characters rather than just one big character. The developers tweaked the playability of the concept for a week or two, but no matter what they did, it just didn’t look or feel right. After spending too much time on it and finally making it look half decent, they realized it just wasn’t fun. If your grey-box prototype is fun to play, you can be the finished game will be too. Whereas if a game isn’t fun as a prototype, no amount of fancy visuals can save it.

Early sketches of some basic backgrounds in the game. 

Because we had the book to jump off of for inspiration, brainstorming was mostly focused on how we could expand The Ables universe. One thing we focused on was how Jeremy takes the already cool concept of super-powers and tweaks it, making the super powers super-powered. For example, Henry uses his Mentalism to not only read minds, but to implant thoughts and pictures into Phillip’s mind, allowing him to see. This theme of growing and increasing in power is already a tried and true staple of a lot of classic games (like Metroid and Megaman), it fit this game pitch perfectly.

Early gameplay mockup.

It’s always a challenge translating abstract ideas into workable concepts. A big challenge we faced was how to implement the “gigantism” ability. It’s easy enough to just scale up the actual character assets, but planning how that will affect collision for platforms and things on the screen caused a bit of trouble. After much discussion, we eventually decided to keep the gigantism ability as a special case power that only shows up in certain areas of the game. We didn’t want to cut it from the design entirely since it plays such a memorable part in the novel. Given the 2.5D nature of our environment assets, making fully destructible assets wouldn’t work correctly. We definitely think we’ve struck a good balance. The book gave our game dev team a great place to jump off and through a lot of brainstorming sessions, many discussions, and some grey-box prototypes, we were able to see that The Ables could smoothly transform into a pretty cool game with an expanded universe.

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