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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 3 of 4 Next

What Went Wrong

1. Not using the same model jet used in the movie

Top Gun is an iconic '80s movie and features an iconic jet. All the trainees in the original movie fly this particular model aircraft. When we developed the game, we decided to not use the same jet from the movie, but instead, a more modern model that is currently in service. Big mistake.

Yes, the game takes place quite a few years after the events in the movie. Yes, the particular model jet used in the movie is now completely retired from the US Navy. But those facts shouldn't have mattered.

I think the final decision to use the new aircraft was a result of that 3D model looking the best in-game. And when we learned it's not even used by the Navy (haha whoops) we classed it as a prototype and just acknowledged that in the dialog.

But people didn't care; they wanted the jet from the movie. And in retrospect I totally agree. We eschewed reality in every other aspect of this game in favor of awesomeness, but when it came to the jet we tried to rationalize not having the same jet as the movie. It's retired, it's old, the new one looks cooler, etc etc etc, but what we should have done was just continued the trend of fan service we had going.

The kicker is, we have the old jet in-game. Iceman and Maverick fly it in the missions they appear in. But it was in there as a throwback and not the main aircraft.

The bottom line is, we didn't give players what they wanted, and not featuring the same jet as the movie was the most frequent complaint we got about the game after its release.

2. Ending on a cliffhanger

We also sinned big time when it comes to the ending of the game. In fact, in my opinion, we committed two separate sins. The first was ending the game on a cliffhanger. I think the story escalated tension and spun a few different arcs very well, but instead of reaching resolution, they all end at the end of their second act.

Originally, our story spanned 16 levels, and when we had to condense the game to 10 (due to time constraints) instead of condensing the story, we decided to leave it open for a possible sequel. Not sure I would have gone along with that again in retrospect, as the result is the end of the game has no story payoff. It still ends with a climactic battle with an enormous boss, so there is a gameplay/difficulty payoff, but the story remained unresolved.

Speaking of no payoff, the other sin we committed was having a quick ending sequence. After the final mission, the game simply cuts to a "To be continued" screen, then kicks back to title. This one still kills me, because I hate when games do this to me (I remember playing through over a hundred levels in Rampage for the NES as a kid only to get the word "Congratulations". Total BS!)

We just did not have enough time to complete that portion. I had a whole credits sequence visualized too, set to Cheap Trick's "Mighty Wings". If only we had a little more time (not to mention the rights to the song).

3. Not making it perfectly clear we were not a dogfighting game

Not featuring the jet from the movie might have been the most frequent complaint, but the most vocal complaint was from people who hated the fact that the game isn't a full roaming 3D dogfighting game but is, in fact, on rails.

At no point was the game ever intended to be free-roaming 3D. I've played a few games that do that, and frankly, I find games like After Burner and Space Harrier much more engaging and exciting, and that's the path I took when designing Top Gun. Dogfighting in games tends to be much slower, strategic, and frankly boring. I much preferred the sense of speed, tension and chaos you get with a game like After Burner.

And yes, not all players will agree with me there, and that's fine. Play what turns you on. The problem arose when those players saw Top Gun and assumed it was a free-roaming game, only to buy it and find themselves disappointed that it wasn't.

And they were right to be disappointed -- when your most visible tools for marketing yourself on the App Store are your title, icon, and first screenshot, it was tough to convey that to people. A few in-depth reviews on blogs like TouchArcade that explained to people that yes, the game is on rails, and no, that's not a bad thing, helped mitigate the confusion somewhat, but obviously you can't reach everyone.

The best solution in retrospect for this is tricky -- perhaps releasing more footage, or even a lite version. A trailer or even one level for free could have shown people that the game is not free-roaming, and if you really didn't want it if it wasn't, well, we could have saved you a few bucks. And with more footage or a free version, these people could have seen that it is still very fun anyway, and at least could have bought it when it was an informed decision.

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