Little Miss Design Process

“Game where you must hold onto your mother’s hand. Let go for more than X seconds and it’s game over.”

So, how exactly does one go from turning an obscure tweet into a playable Kinect game in 48 hours? Hit the jump for a development process breakdown .

It started with a tweet..or, a list of ’em, which I printed out and mulled over the night before the jam began. A number of ideas appealed to me, mostly ones which I know I could easily pull off in a weekend – this was my first jam, and I was unsure about how this kinda thing works, so my focus was on the  cute and creepy ones, mostly. I didn’t want to turn up without knowing which ideas I wanted to focus on, as indecision tends to be the thing which kills a team project, especially if the other members of the team are inexperienced.

This one stood out to me immediately. Ever get lost as a kid? I think we all have at least one memory of when our guardians were perhaps not as observant as they could have been, and in the spirit of Molyjam, I wanted to tap into this. What if a game could kick you back to that moment and make you feel like a kid again? What if it then played about with your perception of the event?

Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that this idea absolutely needed to be put across via Kinect, because at its absolute core, you’re unlikely to get a better incentive to let go of your mothers hand than your own actual physical arm getting tired. Simultaneously, I reckoned that you could hold onto a controller – this would be your ‘teddy bear’, and the game would be this awkward fumble between one hand being told to do some basic button mashing and the other having to be raised high in the air. Also, there would be monsters which got you when you let go.

There was also a point where you could do some basic side-scrolling platforming on the controller, on a time limit, with your hand raised once you got away from the obstacle, but this seemed way too complicated for a 48 hour jam.

So, I pretty much had my heart set on this concept when I rocked up to Molyjam, and it felt like a bit of a gamble, because really, what the heck would the chances be that I’d find someone who knows how to program Kinect? It was an insane stroke of luck that I found the team that I did, with Wolfgang (@Funstormgames) rolling in as our Kinect and general purpose ‘ keep it simple THEN make it awesome’ saviour, and Shaz (@HoneyTribeStu)  taking charge of the audio – which wasn’t even something I thought this game would have, but REALLY helped to make the game feel right in the end.

Just before the end of the first day, we pitched the idea to Peter Molyneux ( the real one) who had rocked up to the London event. He dug that we were using one of the things which is a bit of a drawback of Kinect ( that it does get tiring to hold your arms up ) as a mechanic, and encouraged us to focus purely on the arm. This kinda made me re-think my approach to the project a little, and actually helped it go from something which was more of an awkwardness simulator to something which could actually have some basic game mechanics applied to it without ever breaking the purity of the Kinect interface ( though not before having a conversation in the pub afterwards which went so abstract that my face started to hurt )

So this is what it looked like at the end of night 1. The 4 emotional states came from the music side of things –  at this point I still had no idea what the heck the art would be like, as I had been focusing all of my energy on helping to nail the design, and man is it ever hard to think about emotions when you’re trying to think about  mechanics, even if the mechanics are there to serve the emotions.

The basic question to answer here was, what incentives do we give the player to actually put their arm down? After all, as fun as a pure test of stamina may be ( and as much as we wanted to avoid making this too ‘gamey’) ….just holding your arm up isn’t really a *game*, and even if you add another player in some kind of mad stamina race, it doesn’t really give a player any kind of feeling of agency, and without agency there’s not really much of a story to tell.

“Did you keep your arm up for a full minute? oh wow ok so did I. ” Would be a bad story.
“Did you collect all of the presents? I was so close to that last one! Did you make it to the end of the level? I didn’t put my arm down once for the entire journey, it really freaking hurt!” is more like it.

In the end, we didn’t really have time to implement the ‘zone’ idea, which could have added an extra layer of risk, though I like to think of that kind of thing as a ‘Chapter 2’ kinda situation :p.

I actually don’t have much to say about the creation of the art itself, there was very little in terms of actual iterative development there, I just kinda drew what felt right ( based on my earlier sketch) and used that as is. Molly herself went through a couple of variations in the concept stage, but not really to any significant degree, I didn’t do my usual sheet of alternatives, just pushed the single character to where I was happy. As I said earlier, I didn’t really want to push the boat out with a mad art style for this jam, as I wasn’t sure of how it would play out.

I spent most of the art time cutting up the concept art into assets and animating what was left. I will admit that my process there could have done with being a  heck of a lot faster, especially as I was rustier at walk cycles than I thought I would be, but I guess these are the mistakes you make at your first jam. I also lost an hour to me having to take obscure routes round London because they decided it was an excellent idea to shut the entire Victoria line that weekend, but that’s the tube for you.

Development was pretty smooth in general ( We even lucked out early on with a patch for the Kinect stuff we were using!), until the last couple of hours when we tried to get the game running on my Laptop. Heres two things to note- COMODO sucks and doesn’t like Flash/Air, and Kinect doesn’t like my laptop possibly because my processor is too weedy. To say we were shitting bricks that we might not be able to show the game in the end is an understatement, in the end we had our fingers crossed that we could use someone’s laptop at the final presentation itself. That laptop ended up being a mac with a windows partition. One..which didn’t have the version of .net we needed, nor reportedly, connection to wifi.

Luck won out in the end, we got it running. Elation! Unfortunately, No-one had one of those mac things to connect to a projector, so we did have to kinda encourage people to stare at a tiny laptop screen to see the game ( this is where the superb audio design actually helped us out!) . We got some pretty good reactions to people just about almost dying, and the people who could actually see the screen dug the art style, so I’m pretty proud of the lil thing. At the end of it we team high fived so hard that my arm hurt for a good 20 minutes afterwards, like a boss.

This really was a team effort, and it wouldn’t have worked if we hadn’t worked together so well, so big shoutout props once more to Wolfgang and Shaz :).

Finally, our WIP videos-

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