Spooks was a great project to work on. On top of being a stellar artist, writer, and designer, Erin was an amazing project director. She gave me very clear directions, and I did my best to program the game to match her vision.
But I’m a creative person, or at least I like to consider myself so. While my logical, programmy side was being stroked by Erin’s project, my creative side was still spinning, fusing to be left behind. All throughout the six or seven weeks that I worked on Spooks (Erin had put in months of work before I even touched the project) I was considering what to do next.
I do all my best creative work while in the shower. The shower is my temple when it comes to game designing. When I’m sitting in the shower (yes, we have a chair in our shower) ideas for stories and games are constantly being born, tossed against the tile wall, and usually sliding down to the floor and into the drain. Near the end of Spooks’ development, I finally tossed an idea onto the wall that stuck.
I had been thinking about the Nintendo DS — my dear, sweet, glorious, Nintendo DS — and considering what kind of game I would make if I were a professional developer. I thought about the different things that one could do with two screens. Making a game that existed simultaneously in two different worlds seemed natural. I thought about the different game opportunities that that would open up.
Then I thought, “Hey, why not make a proof-of-concept in AGS with a split screen?”
And so, Linus Bruckman was born.
My original concept had a wacky professor demonstrating his new invention: a trans-dimensional portal, allowing him to send items from his world in one screen to another world on the other screen. First, the world was going to be an alternate universe version of himself, but eventually morphed in my head to be something wackier: an alien fast-food restaurant.
Then, I was having a conversation with Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games who was living and working in Korea at the time. He mentioned his intention to make a game involving some Korean mythology which made me think about my situation. I’m living in Japan, a culture with one of the most interesting historical and mythological backgrounds in the world. I should take advantage of that in whatever way I can.
Suddenly, my game design started moving in a completely new direction. I was keeping the two separate worlds, but instead of having them connected in any way, such as through a trans-dimensional vortex, they would be completely unrelated except through gameplay. No, not just unrelated, but completely discordant!
The wacky professor that I had originally conceived slipped down the drain, and a world of Japanese mythology went up on the shower wall. (Yes, we’re still in my temple.) The alien burger joint was still up there. Our two worlds had been decided. But the rest of the game was still rolling around in my head.
The two different games had to be different in every way. That was an early goal of mine. They needed to feel completely different. I needed unique themes to act as sort of a style-guide for the creation of art, music, and dialogue. I recognized that the alien portion of the game was coming from a place in my brain populated by Saturday morning cartoons. That concept became the defining theme of the alien’s game — it was to feel like a Saturday morning cartoon. Bright art, upbeat music, strange characters, and irreverent humor. To create a nice counter to this, the Japanese mythology portion of the game took on the theme of 1960’s samurai film. It would have a look and sound reminiscent of that type of movie.
The final design concept of the game was finished and prominently, yet figuratively, displayed on my temple (shower) wall. If someone could read my mental design document they would have read about two worlds, completely unconnected except by gameplay, as different as possible in mood, art, sound, and writing. One, a sad film evocative of a Kurosawa classic except rooted in Japanese mythology, the other an upbeat Saturday morning cartoon about an alien working at an interstellar burger joint. The player would play the two games simultaneously. Completing one game or the other would be difficult, but the real challenge would lie in completing both at the same time.
This concept solidified shortly after I had finished work on Spooks. Finally, it was time to take production out of the shower and onto the computer… which we’ll do in part two of the post mortem. Stay tuned.