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
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
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
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!