GDC Online 12: Industrial Toys on creating an epic universe for its debut mobile game
That was the starting point from sci-fi writer John Scalzi in his GDC Online talk entitled 'Cramming an Epic Gaming Universe into a Portable Phone'.
Together with Alex Seropian, of mobile developer Industrial Toys (previously Bungie and Wideload), he was discussing the place of storytelling and character in games.
Scalzi is working with Industrial Toys on its first game, a sci-fi title, that will be 'triple-A quality'.
His opening example was taken from how some players interacted with The Sims; his point being to demonstrate that you can't rely on players to do what you want them to do or think what you want them to think, which has significant implications in terms of how you do storytelling in games.
This is particularly challenging for mobile developers, as games sessions are shorter and more frequent, what Seropian called 'short engagement cycles'.
"You can't have a five minute awesome cut scene if people are only playing for 60 seconds," he argued.
Similarly, Seropian said less than half of mobile gamers don't play the sound on, while the explosion of free-to-play games means that users are very promiscuous, so you have to ensure you're keeping them engaged at all times, likely on a visual basis.
Take it deep
He hopes that (amongst other things) focusing on deep story - despite these challenges - will help Industrial Toys as it prepares to release its first 'core' game - due 2013.
In keeping with this, Seropian said that he considered every game to be a role-playing game, in terms of how the character progresses through the game.
This is typically reflected the 'hero's journey' where a common joe figure overcomes various challenges to become the story's hero.
"When I'm coming up with characters, I try to give them 90 percent of what people expect but add 10 percent of something that's different; a fresh twist," Scalzi said.
Another trick is what Scalzi labelled 'personality in 15 seconds'.
This is a technique whereby players immediately get the context of the situation and some aspects of the characters.
Game plots aren't just based on characters though. In many cases, the game world is its own character
In that context, Industrial Toys' as-yet-unannounced game will be a deep coherent universe.
"We are going full hardcore Dungeons & Dragons," said Scalzi, explaining the approach the team are taking.
Seropian pointed out that with mobile games, you can branch out a deep universe into other areas such as books, other apps and merchandising.
"We're doing more than just a game."
Industrial Toys is also looking to take advantage of the possible interaction between creators and players.
It will be looking to harness this as it takes what Seropian called 'The new episodic' process, whether that be in terms of updates, sequels and other releases.
"The conversation has to be part of the product," Seropian said.
In this context, Industrial Toys will be building such communication channels directly into the game.