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As always, nothing is picture perfect and we sure made a couple of mistakes when developing Chili Con Carnage. Here’s my take on the biggest ones.
We were too confident that players would “get” the game and our desire to make players perfect their score and combo-strings. Reading reviews and comments it’s quite obvious that the majority of players don’t have that mentality and would much rather prefer a “play once” game experience. Maybe it was something in our presentation of the levels or we didn’t make it obvious or desirable enough to increase your scores but the end result was that many players felt the game was too short.
It’s also quite obvious that the additional game modes we included did not count towards extra play time and as such the time spent on those could have been spent on increasing the “story” mode of the game.
As part of an attempt to prolong the game experience we added the challenge missions quite late in the process. As such they did not turn out as great as we would have hoped. The challenge missions were part teaching the players how to get better scores hopefully enticing them to go back to previously played levels to maximize their scores and part breaking up the normal levels with small mini-game like experiences.
It was a difficult balance between requiring players to complete the challenges and letting the players decide whether they want to play them or not. In the end we decided to let challenge missions be optional, which I still think was the right choice, but it didn’t change the fact that they still felt tacked on.
In order to reduce scope, save resources and manage to bring the game to market in a year we may have cut too many corners relying too much on the fact that the “distilled” game experience would be enough to satisfy the player.
It was decided from the get go that we weren’t going to invent a completely new graphical style. We had these great over the top characters we felt we could bring back, a great texture library we could lift from Total Overdose and a lot of props we could recycle. We chose to focus our artist time on creating new end-bosses, new levels that fit the handheld platform and control scheme and worry less about creating new unique art content.
The reasoning behind this was that there probably weren’t going to be too many players that would own both Total Overdose and Chili Con Carnage and therefore there wouldn’t be too many that would feel “cheated” about recycled graphics. Obviously we hadn’t accounted for the reviewers that had all played both games and as such had a difficult time distinguishing the two titles as they more or less looked the same. We should probably have spent more resources on creating a new main character and supporting cast.
To reduce risk in developing a multiplayer game mode, which we hadn’t done here at Deadline Games before Chili, we decided to go for a non-synchronized ad-hoc game mode that would be easier to implement (no infra-structure mode enabling players to play over the internet). The result was the fiesta game mode where people would play on their own arenas sending enemies and “bad events” between each other to try and achieve a set score first. It was a great and fun game mode but it was a concept very different from other multiplayer game modes that players are used to and therefore it was probably misunderstood.
Ultimately I think we could have spent the time better extending the single player experience instead of introducing a multiplayer mode where people had to have their own copy of the game each and be close enough together to player via the WiFi ad-hoc mode of the PSP.
We felt that we had found the ultimate control configuration for the game. In fact we have two configurations that the player can choose between, but eventually I don’t think that was good enough.
The PSP ergonomics are so “difficult” that every player has his or her preference as to how the button layout should be and I think the game experience may have been better for a lot of gamers if we would have allowed them to customize the controls to their liking. It is something that would maybe have taken a total of two man-weeks to implement (what with the tutorial text and everything) and probably would have made the game better for some players.
What you don’t know is that Chili Con Carnage started life under the game premise Total Overdose: Exaggerated. We were to take the original locations and present them as three different versions of the original Total Overdose story. Each version would be an even wilder exaggeration of our main character’s retelling of the events to his colleagues, friends and babes he was trying to pick up. Level design, game flow, story script, cut-scenes etc. were all developed with this in mind.
Quite late in the development process Eidos came back with some requirements from sales and marketing that meant that we had to change the whole game premise. Not something you need just five months before Alpha.
From a sales point of view the changes made sense and as such the changes needed were actually good but needless to say that we had to hustle to write a new story, record the new script, completely change our cut-scenes and alter the game flow to accommodate this. Ultimately I think it took away some of the time we could have used for even more polish or an even longer single player experience.
At the end of the day, once the last piece of code has been entered, the last pixel drawn, the last vertex of a model tweaked and the game is on the shelf I have to conclude that developing Chili Con Carnage has been one of the best development experiences in my professional career. There were many ups, few downs and just a lot of fun and great challenges making this game. Looking at the reviews it looks like the majority out there feels that a lot of the fun we had carried over to the end result.