Identity Crisis

Steven and I are very open and honest people, and we both firmly believe that companies should reflect the values of their founders. As such, we’re going to be sharing some of the “messier” details about game development that you don’t usually get from larger game companies. In these features, you’ll get a little bit of insight into our decision-making and problem-solving processes, and hopefully learn a bit more about what drives Lightning Rod Games.
Fact: 20% of game design is arts and crafts.

Fact: 20% of game design is arts and crafts.

One of the first major complications we had to overcome as a company involved the design of our first project. Even though we’re really happy with what the design of “Henchmen!” looks like now, it took us a few iterations to arrive at something that we felt would not only be a fun game but also satisfy the core values of our company.

While similar in theme, scope and controls as “Henchmen!”, the game we initially pitched to Execution Labs was fundamentally more of a single-player experience with a secondary co-operative mode. Although the co-op mode would have likely been an enjoyable part of the game and was something we were pretty excited about, when we presented our game idea to the mentors at Execution Labs, one of the major points of feedback we received was that the feature just felt ancillary to the single player experience. They argued that if our goal was to create games that bring people together, then we needed to go “all in” on the idea and not pull any punches. We agreed wholeheartedly; it was time to go back to the drawing board.

We spent a few days bashing our heads against the wall trying to find a design that not only centred around local co-op play on the iPad but also remained small enough for us to complete as a first project. After one particularly passionate brainstorm, we realized that our core gameplay would actually extend really well to head-to-head local multiplayer instead. Although it was disappointing to drop the co-operative mode, we ultimately ended up with a stronger design that seemed fun, was easy to get excited about and, most importantly, remained true to our core company vision.

We know full well that many game ideas seem fun in theory but fail to live up to expectations in practice, so we decided to create a simple paper prototype to put our idea to the test. Although it’s hard to capture some of the components of our game design (like the real-time path drawing) on a sheet of Bristol board, it did act as a good representation for the basic gameplay and provided us with some initial tuning values for things like unit cost, speed and health.

Our next step is to take the really basic design we’ve developed on paper and turn it into a playable prototype on an iPad. After considering a few different technology solutions (Steven is going to outline this decision process in a future post), we decided that using Adobe Air would be the best way for us to build something that we could iterate on quickly.

On the creative side of game development, there are few things more stressful than coming up with the initial design for a game (the business side is a completely different story!). At a point when literally anything is possible, oftentimes it is difficult to nail down a core concept that is not only fun and interesting, but that also fits inside the project’s timeline and budget and gets all the members of the team excited to work on it. We’re really happy to have put that first creative hurdle behind us, so we can now shift our focus onto iterating on our design and creating fun and engaging gameplay!




  • On February 26, 2013