When we first spoke about creating a twitter based game, we never, and I say never, thought it would get us this far in the development of what finally became an augmented reality, 3-D twitter based game. What was first a very small project, rapidly grew bigger and bigger, and bigger, and....became so much time consuming for us we had to put away some more sleep hours.
Building a game
The goal was to create a game which could be entirely playable using twitterdotcom with a mishmash of social networking, augmented reality, rich application and HTML5 (well,not on this one).
Fact is, we really think that once in a while, every agency needs a creative playground, a kind of sandbox where we can all work together, as a team.
“ No doubt this model will be picked up and used by a brand rather successfully with an integrated campaign, I can think of several opportunities already! ”Nigel Hammersley, from his blog
As for the subject, and because our current graphic identity is clearly influenced by the spartan universe, and all these not so manly half-naked guys who once ran in fields of gold (what a poet!), we thought about a 3-D spartan mountain, where you must tweet to fight other players and the one with the most points would finally get to the top.
Being influenced by great “do-it-yourself” precursors as Michel Gondry or Henry Selick, the idea of a papercrafted moutain as a game board came very early in the discussion and using realtime flash 3-D seemed to be the right solution in order to visualize players who would get accross the different levels.
Most of the challenge laid in the game and levelling design. During the first general approach of the levelling/points system we realised that «game designer» is a very very very VERY difficult job because you constantly have to think for/as players, to cover every single reaction and expectation a player could have when he or she is in front of the game.
“one thing leading to another WE were wondering how everything started and why our meeting room was now looking like a new “do it yourself” filming studio”The Epic team
Then, close behind this first issue, you have the usual technical limitations such as the twitter rate limit (you can only send and receive a fixed number of direct messages using the twitter API except if you manage to get their permission), you also have the much appreciated tracking issues, the famous «howthehellwillwebuildabigpapercraftedmountain?», and well, as for the rest... piece of cake?
What do you do when you need to create a one meter large mountain and you don’t really know how to do it?
You think a bit, improvise a lot and you call some talented friends...That’s exactly what we did when we began to spend evenings and nights cutting paper, gluing things, rocking tubes and rolling trees with the help of the belgian graphic design collective «vous êtes des pixels», who also miss the kindergarten’s workshops.
Once finished, we had to shoot it on 360 degrees and although we first thought about HD videos on a DSLR, we finally chose to get it as simple as possible by making a stop-motion movie (you know...you take one photo, then you move the object then another photo and so on...like the little scary skeleton in that Burton’s movie).
Then you have the usual post production process with a little color correction over here, a little mask over there, and we would certainly have had a cup of coffee if we liked it (but we don’t... eww).
The nerdy part
We have a mountain, we have some ideas but we still miss the technical stuff to let the magic happen.
In english that means we used a tracking program to detect all the moving points in the video and got 3-D coordinates which could now be used in flash with the papervision library to place all the little spartan guys. In other words, if you rotate the mountain, the players will move at the same time and with the exact same movement.
The «excellence for animation» award is certainly given to our flash developer who scripted every single animation of our proud little fighters! It was a huge job and the result is quite satisfying for us! Finally you have the texturing part, skyboxing, interface designing, and...well the usual.
Apart from that,under the hood, there is Ruby on the server side and Camping as a simple web framework to serve flash with a MongoDB database to keep everything tight (I told you it was the nerdy part).
Levelling, Beta test and stuff
When time had come to define the point system, there were a lot of endless discussions about the possibility of overpowered attack, meaningless blocks and ineffective strikes. Once we thought we figured it out, it was time for some beta testing with real players, and believe me our system wasn’t quite as good as we planned it to be: once a player managed to get to the top, it was nearly impossible to get him to fall back from his/her nest.
And how despressing could be a game when there’s no challenge? Nearly as much as a rainy sunday in Bruges (true story).
Learn and correct
Nobody’s perfect and we certainly are not! So we were back with a few hours of discussions to finally conclude we needed a system where the attacker’s level and attacked player’s level matters and influences the number of points earned and lost.
That’s also the moment we realized people were really lazy and weren’t using twitter as much as they had to because there was this impossibly low number of blocks by turn.
"If only you could stop making that much noise when it's past midnight, we would most certainly stop complaining about it!"The neighbours
The best solution was a brand new interface to allow players to play directly using the game board and the twitter API which finally got us some more headaches with latency and responsiveness. Anyway, we finally got it right and eventually managed to get a stable, playable, challenging first version of the game.
And what about the reception given by the public?
Well, as for now we noticed players from 102 different countries, we had people sharing strategies to get to the top, people who would nearly never sleep to stay on top, others who would only play on their blackberries, some nice posts on websites and blogs about this first turn-by-turn twitter based game, and last but not least : a «site of the day» from the FWA.
It was a really great experience for us and we hope we will have time to get it to the next level because we certainly have a lot of ideas to improve it and there’s still so much coffee we still certainly won’t drink!