So it's January 2006, I've just finished a two month contract for Maxis, I've left my old job at Lionhead and I need to start my new game. This next game will be the big proof-of-concept for me working for myself, at home, alone as a 'bedroom-coder'. In a radical move, I decide to base my company in the living room instead, although decide that 'first of the living room coders' isn't as good a tag-line as I need.

I *do* already have a game idea, in fact I've started coding it, and its called (drum roll....) cubicle tycoon. It's life a sim-game version of 'the office' crossed with 'dilbert' and 'office space'. I decide it's a bad idea, and resent spending £20 on the domain name. back to the drawing board...

After a few days with a copy of paint shop pro and several bottles of wine, I come up with this:

To the layman, it would seem I've just stuck lots of Tom Baker thumbnails on top of Johnny depp, used a weird font to slap down a few bits of text, and stuck in some graphics from the fantastic award winning game 'Democracy', which is currently paying my bills. To the modern student of video game design, it's quite clearly the first version of 'kudos'!

In a sudden burst of excitement I send this screenshot to an artist I worked with, saying nothing more than "what do you think?" his response surprises me "I think its a fantastic idea, but the font sucks!". Artists are like that. I am excited too, maybe I'm not mad, maybe this could be a game.

Back then, I decided to call the game 'milo' partly after my 2nd cat, named in turn after Milo Minderbinder. You will control milo's life, and more specifically milo's brain. At this point, the game is slightly a reflection of how miserable and depressed I was after watching Donnie Darko whilst drunk. If you actually enjoy this film, rather than it making you want to slash your wrists, your clearly in way better mental shape than me. The game has a slightly bizarre and dark feel to it in my mental design doc at this stage, you may notice the readouts for 'depression' and 'aggression'. This is not a happy game. I idly wonder about coding the AI for making your character become psychotic, or suicidal. I consider milo having his own blog. I wonder how close I can get him to passing a turing test. I decide that's enough wine for tonight.

After a little more work I have this:

Johnny Depp and Tom Baker are still doing stand-in work for me, but the central thumbnail is now my mate Tom. At this point I've decided to map out your social network of thumbnails from the center of the screen. The GUI will be like a vast sprawling model of society and all its six-degrees-of-kevin-bacon wonder. At the center will be YOU. The GUI will zoom and fade and swirl and throb and it will be l33t. I also added some shockingly bad windowed UI and some tedious crap I know I will need for the date and cash.

A bit later brings me here:

Mel Gibson has somehow replaced Johnny Depp (these are all stand ins, I never intended to cast either hollywood star in the game), and I've shamelessly plundered some 'sims' characters for my thumbnails. At this stage I had no idea what 'poser' was, or how I'd get my art done. I've decided on a less messy blueish grid theme, and I've started adding some stuff about your career now. At this point, I have a proper working chunk of code, with random name generation and allsorts. W00t. It's really going to be a game. I've even got excited and added a window with nothing in it at all, just for show! Aside from the visuals, I've started modeling peoples personalities in tedious detail, every characteristic from introvert/extrovert to generosity to cautiousness, to empathy. It's all here! in glorious C++ mega-complex-o-vision. I ended up greatly simplifying the personality stuff to make it more manageable and 'fun'.

Aha, I've splashed out some cash on buying Poser, so I have my own 3d-rendered people. I'm repeatedly told I've made this woman's lips too 'pouty'. my "these are standard poser lips" argument wears a little thin. Don't get me started on the collection of soft-porn default poses for women that come in the box. I've switched slightly away from 'sims-clone blue', to a new 'sickly orange', and I've decided to start keeping track of Kudos as a score. I decide that calling the game 'Milo' is rubbish. It limits me to playing male-only avatars, and 'Kudos' is a better name. I spend a worried evening carefully reading the microsoft patent application for using kudos in a game, before deciding I'll be ok. In another new 'feature', rubbishy particle effects flutter between icons in a lame and annoying attempt to convey emotion. At this point, I'm into the idea of bright, albeit horribly clashing, colors. The legendary default job as a waiter at 'Happy Snacks makes it's first appearance.

In another alcohol-inspired moment of recklessness, two things have happened. I've grey-scaled the whole game in paint shop pro, deciding that black-and-white is DEFINITELY the way to go, and I've stuck my character to one side rather than in the middle. I've also taken the daring step of using a full body avatar, thus increasing my art costs by a zillion percent (little did I know). I worry slightly about less artistically minded gamers thinking they have faulty video card drivers if I dare to make a game in B&W. Would it be commercial suicide? Should I compensate by adding guns and cheerleaders to the game?

I am very pleased with the shift in design here, the screen now looks more composed and balanced rather than just thrown together in a mess. In general terms, this is pretty much the final design. And yet I tweak further...

Another sudden bolt of inspiration and I've added 'widescreen-movie' style black bars to the top and bottom of the screen. This is what comes from reading 'the escapist'. Lots changed after this screenshot. The next turn button has a crap particle effect on it that I stole from 'the movies' but was a bit lame and got replaced by a mini-window. All those 6 buttons have a horrid rounded button effect as well. yuck. The message icons are all envelopes and appear at the top, whereas the avatar description is at the bottom. The shopping dialog has very little in it, and no shop tabs, and the backgrounds are entirely B&W and fixed for every avatar. Also, the main windowed GUI is still defiantly greyscale.

Aha! its version 1.0! which actually went on sale. It's amazing what a dash of colour can do in the background. Each avatar now has its own custom backdrop, a huge multi-megabyte bitmap that costs a fortune in filesize. The widescreen bars are a fixed black for the whole game, but it's pretty much there now. A brief preview to some sims players makes me realise that the default poser woman is also horribly thin and kate-moss-like. I had to stretch her sideways by 6% to look normal, and now she looks less like an underfed catwalk model. Tragically, her hair still looks like it has built in halogen lighting.

Aha, here's the tweaks I did post-release. I replaced the clunky bitmap backdrops with yummy jpg files, and composed them at runtime to reduce file size. The backdrop now reflects the current weather, and adds a lot more visual variety. The previously black bars (which color tinted slightly to reflect the weather previously) now have a dirty rusty texture for when your house is filthy, and some nifty animated flies skitter across the screen in l33t fashion. Some improvements to dirt textures also got thrown in here, The only other change I made was a minor revamp of the GUI when you earn over £20,000 a year. I'll leave that for people to discover.

So from a visual design point of view, that's the story of Kudos. GUI design is a black art at the best of times, even in an established genre. When you have a fairly original game design and not many obvious examples to refer to, its an absolute bitch. Hope you enjoyed looking at my early design efforts.


Now buy the game!

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