Legendary game designer Bruce Shelley takes to the blog over at BonusXP, the topic at hand is talking about how video game ideas start out in their early stages. The Ensemble philosophy of play testing comes into throw here, even right at the start of a brand new game idea.
The method that we have seen work most successfully, beginning many years ago with board and paper games, is to build a prototype, start pushing around the pieces, and then rely on our instincts as gamers to feel what parts are working, not working, what new idea to try, etc. We call this design by playing. Read more
BonusXP’s upcoming strategy game “Servo” has been in the news over at Gamespot with Kevin VanOrd talking to BonusXP’s Bruce Shelley and Dave Pottinger at last months GDC. The interesting interview gives us some insights on what BonusXP are heading towards with the game. Some interesting tidbits include the play time, with Servo matches taking around 10 minutes a game compared to a longer more drawn out RTS matches such as found in say, Age of Empires. We have seen a smaller game time target with Ensemble’s Halo Wars which typically had matches around 20 minutes. It’s interesting to see that BonusXP are looking at quite a short average game-time with Servo. Dave Pottinger commented: Read more
Legendary game designer Bruce Shelley has taken to the BonusXP blog to summarise some of the most important attributes a game designer should have when working particularly at smaller video game studios. Bruce has long been encouraging of a studio wide playtest, where everyone in the studio regularly takes part in playtesting the game throughout the whole development process. This can be called a design by playing approach. Read more
Its been quite a big year for BonusXP, although you might not think it when noting that the studio hasn’t released any new titles this year. However since Cavemania’s release in 2013, the studio has seen some great accomplishments. BonusXP founder, Dave Pottinger has taken to the studios website to write a blog reflecting on the year, a happy end to 2104.
Today BonusXP, the studio formed out of some Ensemble Studios members headed up by Dave Pottinger, John Evanson and Jason Sallenbach have today announced that they have formed a publishing partnership with Stardock for their next game. In todays press release we learn that BonusXP are working on a PC Game, this follows the studios previous two mobile games, Monster Crew and Cavemania. Remember ES can also advise that their next game will be an RTS, perhaps going back to their core roots from the Ensemble days. Read more
Bruce Shelley talks about the evolution of social gaming. Plus more AOE-O animations and Robot swag!
Recently the legendary Bruce Shelley has been in talks with Gamasutra along with Brian Reynolds another industry veteran about their roles at Zynga in the social gaming space. Brian Reynolds before joining Zynga worked at Big Huge Games which collaborated with Ensemble Studios on the Age of Empires 3 Asian Dynasties expansion. Bruce and Brian had also worked closely with each other in the past on Sid Meier’s civilisation games. Now they are both re-united again at Zynga where is has become clear that the company is hiring industry veterans to push their gaming business forward.
When talking to Gamasutra Bruce detailed how he was recommended to join after the company was looking for designers from the “Sid Meier School of Design” era. Read more
Just when you thought enough ex-Ensemblers have joined Zynga, a press release from the D.I.C.E Summit has revealed that Bruce Shelley is now acting as consultant for Zynga having recently finished a consulting role at UbiSoft studio, Blue Byte where he worked advising the team on the Settlers 7 game. It is currently not known what type of internal studio Bruce is working with at Zynga, however my guesses would be that he is working with Brian Reynolds on the FrontierVille game. Bruce had previously worked with Brian Reynolds at Microprose. Read more
Gamasutra reports that legendary game designer of Ensemble Studios, Bruce Shelley will be taking part in a 50 minute lecture at the Game Developers Conference in Europe (the GDC). The lecture is targeted at developers with any expierence and the summary as per the GDC website is as follows:
Both veteran designers and students of game design sometimes struggle with the challenge of, ‘I have a great idea but I haven’t figured it all out and I don’t really know how to express it on paper.’ In this Game Design session, Bruce Shelley shares five guidelines for the challenge of producing a complete first draft game design proposal, a road map to help designers focus their thoughts and get momentum on the process of ‘getting it down.’ He covers both the game design decisions you need to have made before you’re ready to pitch an idea, and how to make that perilous journey from intuitive idea to the written word.
It is great to see Bruce actively taking part in the games industry. Bruce recently served as design advisor on Ubisoft’s Settlers 7. If you haven’t checked out Settlers 7 it might be worth having a dabble at the game demo. With Bruce Shelley involved you can be sure the first 15 minutes of the game will be very fun and engaging, one of Bruce’s design values is to have the first 15 minutes as fun as possible
The GDC takes place August 16-18th and I expect we shall hear details about what Bruce has to say on or soon after the event.
Dusty’s final interview part is now online at IncGamers. Having previously touched on MMO’s and the past at Ensemble Studios attention now turns to the future with Windstorm Studios. First up, how and why did Dusty choose to start up Windstorm? We know that Dusty was very passionate about the Halo MMO at Ensemble and must of been very saddened by the projects closure. It turns out that Dusty mooted the idea about setting up his own studio back in 2007 after Ensemble’s MMO project (codenamed “Titan”) was cancelled:
Titan, for me, was really the dream job. When they killed Titan, I started looking at what Ensemble was probably going to be working on next. I’d already been saving up some money on my own, thinking about starting up a studio, and I decided then that now was the time. It’s never easy to jump ship and go off and do things on your own – you never know how it’s going to do. It’s especially hard if you’re married and you have children and you’re looking at the difference between a secure job, with benefits and with a paycheck, versus a completely and totally unsecure job creating a company that’s building the most expensive kind of game you can build, in an industry hit by the hardest recession that it’s ever experienced! So, yeah, it wasn’t a great time from an economic standpoint, but from a personal standpoint it was the right time for me. I’d just decided that with the severance money from Microsoft combined with my own savings, I had enough money to be able to float myself for a couple of years. I knew the games that I wanted to build, so I decided now was the time to go forward with that.
Once the studio was set up Dusty and his studio immediately began work on some MMO prototypes before creating some excellent concept art and presentations to show for prospective game publishers. Unfortunately as discussed before there was some difficulty getting publisher commitment despite getting unanimous positive feedback about the game and the ideas. The problem is with the MMO genre is that the game development is very costly both at the beginning and in the games maintenance – servers, payments etc. Even though Dusty has come from working at a prestigious studio, Ensemble, publishers had difficulty in gauging what kind of company Windstorm was:
For the first eight months of the company’s lifetime, we were working on our prototype. We finished that around September and the prototype has been largely received with great enthusiasm. From about September through January I shopped the prototype to a number of different publishers, both international and within the States, and all of them have without exception, said “We love the idea, love the project, but we’re just not ready to go forward yet – and part of the problem is that we’re just not sure there’s enough of a real company here.” And I get that; I can sort of relate to that.
Its a tricky situation – approaching publishers with a brand new idea with a brand new unheard of company is always going to be a tough sell coupled with the high development costs and risk associated with the MMO genre things weren’t looking so good. However, not to worry as the MMO idea isn’t blown out of the water yet – Dusty is not one to give up so easily and has a plan for the studio going forward.
So the plan of attack right now is to go forward with a smaller single-player game, and get that out there for people to start playing. This will serve as a sort of introduction to the world that we want to build. So from that standpoint, we’re still doing really well. We haven’t got our project funded by an MMO developer yet, we’re not going forward with the MMO, but we are going forward with the smaller project. I have every anticipation of having enough funds to finish the small project. We’ll get it out there, and then we’ll see how it goes from there. If the project is really well received, and people like the world and they like the game, then that will hopefully provide enough credence for the company that a publisher will come and go “Hey, this company has some legs, we feel like it’s a real legitimate endeavour. We love this idea and people are really responding well to this idea, so let’s go forward with that.” And if it doesn’t? Well, then we gave it a hell of a go.
The single player game will be an RPG based on the same environment of the MMO project – a very exciting and unique world, futuristic, colourful with lots of flying cars. Its also great to hear Dusty is maintaining some of Ensemble’s fantastic development values as first introduced by Bruce Shelley:
There are two design tenets that came out of my time at Ensemble, and these are actually originally Bruce Shelley’s design tenets, back when he was working on Railroad Tycoon. The first is: build a world in which people want to play. This means bright colours and bright palettes, and a very appealing place. This will be absolutely true for any game that Windstorm Studios produces. If you look at the very first copies of Age of Empires 1, you’ll see that it uses a lot of bright colours and a lot of bright palettes.
The other is: make the first 15 minutes fun. If there are any design principles that are guiding the direction of Windstorm Studios games, it’s those two. Hopefully the first 15 minutes will be a good time, and it’ll be a place that you’ll want to play in.
With values and traditions like these being carried forward I am certain people will be very interested to hear about this very unique game. As Dusty’s studio is hard at work on bringing us this exciting game be sure to keep an eye out on the studios website and follow the studio on Twitter. As development continues I am sure that later this year we will begin to see more concept art and then screenshots and maybe a video trailer.
The estimate right now is to try and have something out there around November. That’s the plan of attack right now. Before that point we’ll make an initial announcement about the game itself, and then we’ll start trying to build some press, and some excitement, and some word of mouth, and talk about what the actual game is and the world that’s in the game and the characters, and stuff like that. I can tell you it’s not going to be a casual game – it’s very much going to be a character-oriented world-type game.
Exciting stuff. Good luck Dusty and the team at Windstorm Studios!
You can read the full part 2 of Dusty’s interview here at IncGamers: