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Postmortem: Freeverse's Top Gun For iPhone
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Postmortem: Freeverse's Top Gun For iPhone

December 15, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

3. Keeping the cheese and the unintentional humor from the movie

While it is still an awesome action movie, let's face it: Top Gun is cheesy as all get-out. Right out of the gate, the entire team was in agreement that we should both acknowledge and embrace the cheesiness. Paramount evidently agreed with us, too, when they gave us dialog to use that oozed with '80s machismo and corny come-on lines.

And in every gaming blog post, every review, every sneak peek, someone would invariably ask "But does it have a beach volleyball mini-game?" And I am incredibly proud to answer to each and every one of them:

"Yes. Yes it does."

It's tucked away as an easter egg, but if you enter "Volleyball" as your call sign, you will get to watch Maverick and Iceman settle their long-standing tensions once and for all. Goose's gravestone makes a cameo appearance.

It's such a tiny extra touch that 99 percent of the players will never see, but it got us on the gaming blogs again (a few dedicated a whole post to listing our hidden easter eggs and codes) and really, it just took a few people flipping out upon realizing that "yes, there is volleyball" to make the effort more than worth it.

4. Nailing the gameplay mechanic first

This might seem painfully obvious, but it was a major goal for Freeverse and Paramount to nail down fun gameplay before going gung-ho on content for Top Gun which why it is as fun as it is. As you read above, I had the Top Gun prototype going in about a week, and this allowed me tons of time to tweak every aspect of the controls and dogfighting to be as fun as possible.

I was able to try out several different functions for moving the jet relative to the accelerometer, and got to test a lot of values for missile speed, reload speed, lock-on speed, enemy firing rate, and tons more variables that all needed to click to get the game kicking ass.

The benefit to this is twofold. First, with regard to gameplay, having a wicked fun mechanic locked down early on allows you to use it as a foundation when designing levels, enemies and obstacles. I've worked on games where the mechanic hasn't been locked down, and isn't fun, and had these things built upon that flimsy foundation.

The problem arises when you try to then go back and change the mechanic after the fact. You run the risk of making a lot of the levels and obstacles worthless (for example, maybe it's more fun if you jump twice as high and move twice as fast, but this makes all those pits you put in a level all way too small to present any challenge whatsoever.)

You also run the risk of not being able to change that mechanic at all, because of the time it would take to re-design the rest of the game around it, and you have to ship with sub-par gameplay. Thankfully, the mechanics of Top Gun clicked early on and we could feel good about making levels and enemies that complemented them.

Which brings me to the second benefit: When you are working on a game for four months (and sometimes as long as eight to 12) it does a lot for the morale of the team when the game kicks ass right out of the gate. When people say they want to develop games, what they really mean is, they want to develop AWESOME games. Being a part of an awesome game motivates and inspires the other people on your team, and they in turn produce better work.

A fun gameplay mechanic can be the difference between "eh, it pays the bills" and "I'm staying until 10 PM some nights because the game is going to be so freaking TIGHT." This applies especially to QA and testers: when the game is fun and people actually WANT to play it and beat it, testers will experiment with more ways to best your game, and find bugs and loopholes you never knew existed.

5. Having an awesome brand and an uncrowded market

This might seem shallow, but if you're going to make a game based on a brand, the brand should kick ass. And basic marketing says that if you want to be visible, you need to pick a market that doesn't already have tons of products all fighting for the top spot.

When we began initial design work for Top Gun and Days of Thunder, I was very familiar with Top Gun, but hadn't even yet seen Days of Thunder. I had to go watch it as a crash-course.

And people who haven't seen either movie are more likely to know what Top Gun is about -- it's a wicked strong brand. The Top Gun anthem is known far and wide. There are plenty of Top Gun games out there already, and many parts of the movie are iconic (Danger Zone, the "need for speed" line, among others).

Top Gun also had an advantage over Days of Thunder in the market because of the history of car racing games. While we were working on Days of Thunder, there would be a new racing game announced once a week without fail. With Top Gun we didn't have to worry about positioning at all, simply because there were no games like it on the App Store at the time.

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