What’s in a game? Well, it starts with an idea. Maybe you’re walking down a sidewalk with your buddy, talking about how much you like tower defence. Maybe you start to muse about an original take on the genre. Maybe you come up with a hilariously relatable idea for an office setting with enemy coworkers you have to fend off… What starts as firing neurons in the game developer’s mind eventually turns into what we download on our mobile devices at the tap of a finger.
Of course we, as app consumers, have a general understanding of what goes into mobile game development: a lot of design, a lot of code and a lot of time. But have you ever wondered just how much a game can evolve from its starting point?
Arctic Empire started development of Office Attacks! two years ago after two members of our team had the stroke of inspiration described above. The seeds of this initial concept would sprout numerous ideas. Some would lead to new buds and branches, while others would stunt growth until we pruned those dead leaves. But enough with the tree metaphor. Looking back on the “roots” (last one) of Office Attacks!, it has become plain to see that games can take on a life of their own. You need to allow them space to grow. And once you do, the evolution that takes place is nothing short of fascinating.
What we now refer to as Office Attacks! V1 consisted of a basic tower defence concept where the user defends his or her desk from waves of coworkers. It featured a lovely bird’s eye view and a basic workshop where users could upgrade their towers.
Every game starts somewhere and what you see below was the first draft of many revisions to come. In my experience, there are two real sources of change when it comes to game development: 1) a need to rectify an apparent issue or flaw and 2) an idea for improvement. Office Attacks! V2 was born from the latter.
Assets were revised for a more polished look with more character. An isometric view was adopted in favour of the bird’s eye and the characters and towers were reworked.
V1 of the Office Attacks started with a bird’s eye view
V2 of Office Attacks switched to an isometric perspective
Settling upon a more polished design allowed for more attention to be paid to the functionality of the game. Certain possibilities started to be entertained. This was a slippery slope into the dangerous world of feature creep, but one idea would give way to one of the most defining qualities of Office Attacks! as we know it today: after scrutinizing the lackluster tower upgrade function, we came up with the idea of combining pieces of office equipment to create a multitude of different towers.
While this development was brilliant and ensured a distinction from other mobile tower defence games, the scope of this undertaking was not fully understood. A year after the original launch date, we are still working with V3 of Office Attacks!, which was born from this idea that now offers users over one million different possible tower combinations.
What’s in a game? An idea, a design, a system, and… ? A storyline. At its core, Office Attacks! is about an employee starting a new job in an office where he soon discovers his coworkers to be the most annoying, stress-bearing stereotypes. His solution? Building towers to defend his desk and keep them at bay.
On a particularly stressful day at the Empire, we made a connection between the game and our own office. Assigning numerous tasks to our real-life Steve (who works remotely from New York) resulted in a stress-induced protest; and Steve Stevenson, the face of the game, was born. Other characters in the game are also based on people who have worked on Office Attacks!, including our very own CEO.
Arctic Empire’s real-life Steve, and the character he inspired
All of the characters in Office Attacks! are based on extreme stereotypes of people you would find in your typical office setting. With the development of character concepts came a slew of new issues, namely regarding the stereotypes we were shamelessly showcasing. Office Attacks! always has and always will be a game comprised of parody, sarcasm, humour and stereotypes. But stereotypes can be a dangerous thing to play with – especially considering hot button issues like female gender roles in video games.
Too often we have felt the tension between running with stereotypes (that are such an integral part of the game) and being careful not to offend our audience. We choose to have faith that our audience will recognize our stereotypical characters for what they are: insanely oversimplified representations.
Norma Dean is one of the co-workers you’ll encounter in Office Attacks.
Another struggle we have collectively experienced is the tension between catering to our future audience and maintaining our original vision to some extent. For example, feedback from our first play test suggested that we offer up another way to engage the user. There was too much “waiting around.” Just like Plants vs. Zombies offers the user little suns of energy to tap, our play testers wanted something else to feel engaged.
Another point brought up by our play testers was the issue of drag-and-drop versus what we call “tap tap.” Currently, Office Attacks! favors a tapping mechanism to place your tower. However, a striking number of play testers attempted to drag and drop. It appears this was the most intuitive means of placing towers, but there is also the tutorial to consider. To what degree should we consider intuition if the tutorial clearly outlines a different mechanic? It is an ongoing balancing act. Then when you take time constraints into consideration, trying to please everyone becomes more and more difficult.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the expression “being too close to the project.” I was always skeptical of this phenomenon, but now I can say with utmost certainty that you absolutely lose the objective view once you start working on a project like this. Your perception, just like the game, undergoes an evolution of sorts. It starts with you perceiving the concept through the eyes of your future audience. You see the selling points, the things that distinguish it from everything else. This view changes with every shift of the game. You become a part of it. Fresh eyes are so important and play testing is the only way of ensuring you don’t overlook issues that may be blatantly obvious to the average user. Though once this feedback is gathered, it is sometimes hard to relent and let go of the view you’ve held for months. It’s your baby. It’s hard to let go, but sometimes it just has to be done.
Sometimes, even when you’re aware that feature creep has sunken its teeth into your project, you just can’t turn your back on certain features. There are a couple of features we will be including in the worldwide launch of Office Attacks! that will not make public V1 for the soft launch in Canada. The first of these features is the ability to trade pieces over Facebook. This will add a social element to the game and will increase the likelihood of exposure over social media. The second feature is mini games, previously known as “powers”. Originally, these powers were achieved through mini games that satirized existing big games on the market. Sometimes, when your intended release date gets pushed further and further back, you are forced to forego some of the fancier features.
Maybe one of the most entertaining things to look back on is the array of storylines that have each enjoyed a place in OA lore. Consider the following possibilities that were considered at one point or another: 1) The malicious intents and manipulative abilities of Steve’s evil twin brother; 2) A cooperative relationship with the Steve-created Siri, who then turns on him in true Terminator fashion; 3) Ninja monkey assassins. Yep. Having disposed of all of these possibilities, we are now back to basics with the only storyline that really matters. One man. Ten coworkers. One million ways to deal with them.
Jennifer June is a Social Media Strategist for Arctic*Empire, the game development studio behind the upcoming tower defense game Office Attacks. She is based in Ottawa, Canada, along with the rest of the Arctic*Empire team.