Let’s get to know a little about the Platronic team. How many members are working on The Secret Castle, and have you had any game industry experience prior to this project?
We have four people working on the project: one programmer, two artists, and myself. I worked in mobile games in the pre-iPhone era for about four years, mainly on licensed sports titles (NBA, MLB, etc.). The other members have worked in some capacity in the industry as well, whether as contractors or directly for a studio.
I personally had never worked in the genre before The Secret Castle and I don’t think anyone else on the team had either. A couple years ago I saw my wife playing a Hidden Object game while we were on vacation and I was impressed by the quality of the production. I really wasn’t looking specifically to work in the Hidden Object genre, either. I just had a friend point out how easy it was to build and publish to the iPhone and started thinking about what would be cool. My goal was to make something innovative, like really innovative, but also something that would be accessible and something that a small group could execute without feeling like we were cutting corners.
How has The Secret Castle shaped up in terms of story and gameplay structure? From the media and concept art released so far, I had the impression that Jonas spends his nights exploring the dream castle and his days getting help from Ava in figuring out what his dreams are all about – is that description hot or cold? And is there a strict boundary between gameplay segments and story segments, or does that line get blurred in any way?
Ava actually gets involved and joins Jonas on some of his trips to the castle, but otherwise that’s a pretty close description! The story is kinda funny, because originally I was just hung up on the concept of making a strong throughline for the narrative so that when you went to the next level there was a reason behind it, and when you found a certain object, there was a reason for that, too. That ended up being a much taller order than I thought and it was about five drafts before everything started to really make sense.
On top of that, the artists and programmer built these fantastic storytelling systems that were part of the design so I didn’t want any of that to feel wasted. Finally, as far as the way the narrative unfolds, the cutscenes contain character development while game segments contain most of the action and most of the plot revelations.
How did your team go about translating the cool “virtual reality” effect described by Johnny Lee years back to iOS? In hindsight, do you feel iOS is an even better platform to implement this on than the Wii, or does iOS present any limitations that made it hard to achieve this effect as well as you wanted?
I think iOS is better for a couple of big reasons. The main reason is that the viewport is fixed in size and can be aligned with the player’s eyes easily. If your TV is mounted above your fireplace or on a little coffee table, the effect can’t really be replicated properly. The other thing is, I just don’t want to wear a trucker hat with a sensor to play a game! Seriously, though, the Kinect seems like a good possibility if the TV issue can be fixed somehow.
Ultimately it was our incredible programmer who built the thing and constructed an editor that I could work in. I went to him with a basic idea of what I wanted, showing him a couple of demos. It took a few tries to ultimately figure out what was going on because it’s not what it looks like, and by the time I found some semblance of sample work we had a solid working version of the prototype.
During the environment design process, were there tons of instances where you went back to the art team and said, “On second thought, I need such-and-such an asset because it would fit perfectly here”? Or did you ask for certain assets up front and pretty much stick to those for the rest of the project?
We’re doing that right now! I tried as hard as I could to get as much right the first time, but we have done revisions on every level as we have added multiple layers of polish to every aspect of the game (animations, object count, interactivity). Moreover, I would give these rough – and I mean rough – sketches to the artist to create elaborate designs from, and she would deliver this amazing, incredible stuff. Again, I lucked out big time on the art team, because both artists have been ready to add extra stuff to their deliverables and revisions even though everyone on the team has day jobs. Not only would I get all this art delivered by everyone on a weekly basis, it would look amazing and with incredibly little direction on my part.