Hero Generations is a game that stood out to us. It’s unique, fun, and actually has something to say, a rarity amongst games on Facebook. So we decided to reach out to Scott Brodie, the one-man team behind Heart Shaped Games, to learn more about the social game studio and its first release.
What is Heart Shaped Games? When were you founded? Is it a one-man operation or are you working with other developers?
Heart Shaped Games is a company I founded around October of last year to make indie games. I’m based out of the many coffee shops in Bothell, Washington. I’m the sole designer and programmer on a game called Hero Generations, which I’m building for the Facebook platform. I’ve obviously started out small, but my goal for Heart Shaped Games is to partner with like-minded folks that are passionate about the type of games I want to make.
Where does the name come from?
I wanted to choose a name that communicated that the company makes 1) games that are personal, and 2) games that take care to offer something meaningful and memorable for players. When I think about my favorite games and game companies, the one connecting element between them seems to be that the developers put a lot of themselves into their work, knowingly or unknowingly. So Heart Shaped Games is a way of letting potential players know that, in contrast to games being developed by some of the large companies, a lot of love goes into the games we make.
You previously worked with Microsoft on Xbox Live Arcade games. Why the switch to social? What’s so appealing about the medium?
I loved working on XBLA titles, because I was able to help small indie developers innovate and get a chance to self-publish on a modern platform like the Xbox 360. I got excited about games on social networks because I felt like it offered the same sort of opportunity that XBLA did–I can build this small game using interesting new technology, and not have to jump through a lot of hoops to get it in front of a large audience.
But what’s appealing to me as a game designer is that social networks make it easier for me to make games about relationships between people. To paraphrase game designer Chris Crawford, most computer games, for whatever reason, are single-player affairs or games about interacting with things. Collecting stuff, killing zombies. Though I love my traditional games, I think the constraints of existing game consoles and tech make it difficult to integrate people into the game loop. But social networks seem to be really built from the ground up to be about relationships, and I like that they have opened doors to a lot of game designs I would otherwise not be able to pursue.
How does your experience with more traditional games affect the type of work you do at Heart Shaped?
Well I think beyond just exposing me to all aspects of development that maybe other indies wouldn’t have insight into, particularly the publishing side of things, I think making Xbox LIVE-enabled games has eased my transition into the social games space. I always tried to look for novel ways to use LIVE multiplayer and features to enhance games, and seeing what worked and what didn’t first-hand was really helpful. And for better or worse, I think I’ve developed a fun-first approach that is perhaps a little different then how a lot of the social game companies operate.
What were some of the inspirations behind your first release, Hero Generations?
The inspiration for Hero Generations comes from a lot of places. It started with a daydream about a hero that lived out a full lifespan and morphed over a very short time period. At one point I I was actually considering making the game a side-scroller, but around this same time, I was playing a lot of Civilization Revolution. I loved how that game made a traditionally hardcore game like Civ more accessible, but hated that each game still took upwards of four to five hours. It was just time I didn’t have to spend gaming. I wanted to make a game that would let me have that same deep strategy experience in a much shorter time span, so I turned the game into a turn-based strategy game.
Also, I was also looking for a game that would let me test out some of the ideas I presented in an article I wrote called “Truth in Game Design“, and felt the generational concept had some interesting lessons worth exploring in more depth.
Games that tackle heavier subject matter like life and death are rare on Facebook. Why did you decide to make this such an important part of the game?
Regardless of the platform, I like to make games that challenge people’s perception of what games are capable of (and I suppose, what I’m capable of as a designer). A lot of the games I have made to date have had the visual appearance of classic, old-school Nintendo games. I do this intentionally because I find it’s a powerful moment for most players to realize that essentially the same graphics and game mechanics that brought them a lot of delight as children are also capable of communicating something deeper and meaningful. I think it shouldn’t be so rare that games approach heavier subject matter, and this juxtaposition has been effective so far at bringing in casual players who might otherwise shy away from dealing with something a bit deeper.
What has the reaction been like so far from players? What kind of feedback have you been getting?
I’ve been really pleased with the response so far! I think everyone that is familiar with games on Facebook have been taken back by how different the game is compared to the existing games on the service. I’m really floored that so many players have appreciated the unique aspects of the game. I wouldn’t have made the game if I didn’t think players would enjoy it, but it’s always a really great feeling when you throw down a challenge in front of someone, and they accept it.
I’m now focused on bug fixing and improving the things that are already working to get Hero Generations ready for a wider release.
The game is still relatively early. How do you see it evolving in the future?
Getting the game out there has been great, but I have a lot of updates and expansions planned moving forward. Most visibly players will start to see new traits, buildings, items, and quests trickling in. As I talked about earlier, I’ve described the game to a lot of people as being the five minute version of Civ, and like Civ, I want the game to feature a long tree of possible strategies that lead to that infinitely replayable feeling.
I’d also like to expand the social features in the game. I have a lot of ideas, with weekly leaderboard tournaments, shareable “family trees”, and friend mating being at the top of the list.
Any final words for your fans?
I’ll play along and pretend I have fans More than anything, I want to hear from you! Let me know where you’d like to see the game go. The great thing about releasing this early beta is that the community can have a big say in how the game evolves.