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4. The License-Based Stigma
JM: Anyone who's ever worked on a title based off of any sort of non-game related IP knows that there's almost always a hurdle to overcome before any contracts are signed or any game design thoughts are even written down on paper. Deadliest Warrior was no exception.
The premise of the IP makes perfect sense for a game, yet there were countless gamers and reviewers that immediately blew this game off as garbage without picking up a controller to give it an honest go.
I heard it numerous times at E3: gamers would come up to the Deadliest Warrior booth, play the game and then tell me: "I have to admit, I was a skeptic, but this is actually really fun to play." We literally had people coming back to the booth to play the game again and again for three days straight.
Regardless of the game's content and fun factor, the stigma of being based off of a TV show is still present.
There are a ton of people who have picked up on the game's subtle complexities and depth by really playing the game and seeing what it has to offer, but on the flip side of that, there are just as many who either refuse to play it, who briefly skim through the game with their opinion already set in stone, or who try to pigeonhole Deadliest Warrior into the Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat mold while becoming upset when they discover that there aren't any complex 20 button combos to master or warriors that fly through the air and shoot lasers from their eyes. Perhaps some of this stigma will fade over time.
PV: We knew this would be an uphill challenge especially from the review side. We tried to be prudent and do as many previews of the game with press as possible during GDC and E3. We wanted the game to speak for itself on its own merits. Getting the game into the hands of as many members of press as possible leading up to the launch was our strategy to overcome the automatic negative stigma attached to games based off movies/TV shows.
This strategy partially worked, as we were able to get a lot of positive press coverage -- most in the vein of "I really thought this game was going to suck, but was really surprised by how much fun it was." But there are only so many people you can see and arrange meetings with, so we still got a lot of negative reviews that disregarded the game because it was based off of a TV show or did not match up to the feature set of retail titles.
It stings when your downloadable title is compared to a retail title and blasted for not having as robust a feature set. It really is a no-win situation trying to deal with this. You just have to take your lumps and hope that the players see the value in the game by playing it, as opposed to reading a review of it and internalizing those opinions.
The game has done really well, so I think the players have spoken, and in the end what is most important is delivering a great game to the fans. In the end, I stand by the title and know that Deadliest Warrior is a game for players and fans of the show, not critics.
PV: I can't tell you how many times I've been producing games and got wrapped up in the gameplay and later realize that I didn't allocate enough resources to sound design. I feel that editorial and sound design is the most neglected part of game production, because we get too focused on features and graphics and making the game look awesome. However, when you put it all together, sound and copy make such an impact on the final experience.
I fully understand this principle and am very aware of the recurring problem, yet I find myself in the same situation over and over again. It is really hard to make a decision to not spend time developing a game feature and instead allocating that resource to better sound. A game feature is tangible and immediately gives you results, whereas getting the right sound FX or audio cue for an action is more subtle a payoff. It is a design pitfall that I often preach whenever I give talks on game design, and I feel that by now I should have learned to practice what I preach.
JM: We originally had no plans to use any VO in the game except for grunts, cries, and other sounds of battle. When we were at the motion capture shoot, we put a headset on the actors in order to capture a few of these, with the intention of recording any pickup grunts in-house.
What ended up happening was that the actors ad-libbed some really great lines, especially TJ Storm (who played the pirate), so there was no way that we couldn't include them in the game.
Unfortunately, since we never planned on grabbing VO from the get-go, the audio quality wasn't the greatest. Our audio designer did what he could to improve the audio quality, given the circumstances, but in hindsight we would have given the actors lines and recorded them in a controlled environment to improve the quality.
PV: This game was a great experience for us from start to finish. We feel that we learned a lot of valuable lessons that we can apply to our next project. Having a great level of trust in Pipeworks has allowed us to start a lot of preproduction tasks for future games and given us a valuable head start. We are planning a DLC pack for Deadliest Warrior with new characters and game modes.
Another commodity we have earned is a great fan base that is engaged and we are actively talking to. Having an open level of communication with our fans is great, as it allows us to bounce ideas off them, and refine our designs in the preproduction phase. The most important asset to have is time, and forging better relationships can help you save a lot of it!
Developer: Pipeworks Software
Publisher: Spike Games
Release Date: July 14th on XBLA, Oct. 5th on PlayStation Network
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Number of Developers: In-House: 60
Length of Development: 10 months
Lines of Code: 784,304
Development Tools: Microsoft Visual Studio 2008, SN Systems ProDG, Photoshop, Notable Tech, 3DS MAX, SN Tuner, GPAD, PIX, Fmod