Concept Art and Game Design
Fresh from the mind of Chris Sorrell we can now reveal the latest in our direction for the game, the High Concept, what Chris has planned and some early concept art!
It's long, but bear with us because there's some awesome stuff in there, that inspires some great imagery, asks some questions and gives not too much away about whatever Chris has planned next. Enjoy!
A high level design update from Chris:
Hello! …And thank you so much for all the support you've shown Pond so far!
We started this campaign with a clear end goal: to make a brand new Pond game. Our quality goals were clear: to make a 2014 James Pond that is as good for 'now', as the original games were for 'then' ...better hopefully! And of course we had some fairly clear goals for style and content: it should still be a 2d platformer, it should feature the best mechanics from the old games, it should continue Pond's mission with all of the quirky, off the wall and frequently random humour of the old games. ...What we didn't have any clear idea about: the actual high level concept that might unite all of those other objectives and start to bring some substance to the whole initiative!
Over the last week I've been starting to think about exactly that… Trying to mentally dust off old ideas that missed their window of opportunity when I left Pond behind in 1995, or ideas I've had since then that are only possible in a world as accommodating as Pond's. I've also been thinking about new story and design elements that might reflect what Pond has been up to since we last saw him defeat Dr Maybe and his giant robotic cow at the end of Pond 3, and not least that reflect the kind of world he might find himself in now, twenty years past his glory days.
Each of the original games had as a loose initial inspiration a classic Commodore 64 game that made an impression on me in my childhood. For Pond 1 it was 'Gribbly's Day Out' - the flying mechanic turned into swimming. For Pond 2 it was 'Thing on a Spring': the toy factory and overall bouncy feel. For Pond3… well actually that wasn't inspired by such modest sources - for that one I had the loftier goal of wanting to take the best qualities of contemporary Sonic and Mario games and somehow outdoing them both (despite our far more modest team size)! ...Well that was kinda foolish, so this time I think a return to the classics is due: 'Bounty Bob Strikes Back'. I'll explain how that relates a little later...
By now you're probably thinking: 'TELL US ABOUT THE DAMN CONCEPT ALREADY!' Ok - no need to shout - I'll do just that...
After the dramatic events of James Pond 2: Codename Robocod, Santa moved his toy production to a brand new, high security facility. His original factory stood abandoned, gradually falling into darkness and decay. Twenty years later the stories began. ...Stories of strange sounds coming from the derelict facility at night. ...Stories of missing toys. ...Stories of missing penguins. ...Stories that pretty soon reached the ever alert ears of crack underwater intelligence agency FI5H...
Special Agent James Pond is one week away from retirement. His legendary missions have taken him to the moon and back, have seen him mature from fresh faced guppy into grizzled super-agent. Now he is called upon for one last job: to return to the Arctic, back to the site of his most high profile case. His mission: learn the secrets of the shadowy factory and recover the missing penguins. This is -
James Pond: Terror Fin
Equipped with a full arsenal of tactical toys: the latest revision robo-suit, rail-boots, and bubble gun, Pond will explore the crumbling toy facility. He will find himself trapped in the domain of the Lost Toys. One by one he will face these crazed, broken play things and the bloodthirsty creatures pulling their strings. He will uncover a dastardly plot like nothing he has seen before, and at the heart of it all a familiar yet altogether changed foe from his own past.
...So there's only a few paragraphs here, but I think (at least I hope - really you guys are the judges!) that this sets us on a very interesting path. Firstly I really like the idea of returning to the world of Robocod. I'm sure virtually all of us would agree that this was the most fun world (and game) of the original three and I think that's because if you're making a crazy, whimsical platform game, there really is no better place to be than a toy factory! ...It has more character, colour, and licence for warped creative abstraction than just about anywhere else I can think of! Add to that the fact that we get to make more than a few nostalgic nods to past Pond and really, where could be better? (By the way, I'm all for there being a strong vein of nostalgia running through this new concept but personally I don't want to see that dominate proceedings - we need to make a game that can stand on its own merits too).
Next, I like the notion that we might get to see what that old Robocod playground looks like after twenty years of decay. Some might see this an an incredibly on the nose metaphor for how I see the state of the James Pond brand after all these years, but no! ...You're wrong I say! ...Anyhow, I think this would be a cool place to re-visit when we're giving ourselves the licence to show old stuff in a new, warped form, show places we never saw before, and using the whole environment to frame story events that can truly take our feisty fishy friend into the new Millennium (pun intended!).
What about Pond? Well here I like the idea of playing up all of those cliches you always get in the cop/action films: a grizzled hero, his last week before retirement, etc. …It just seems like a funny way to think about how Pond might now be, and a fun way to allow us to do a little pastiching of things like Metal Gear Solid, Die Hard, maybe even Se7en! One of my favourite things about Pond 2 was how the title 'Robocod' managed to mash together a light-hearted cartoon fish game with an uber-violent R-rated movie cyborg - we need to find more juxtapositional clinches to throw Pond into! Would he look good with an eye patch? I'd like to to find out. I'd also like to think more about how events in the game might literally re-invigorate Pond as a character while giving us some fun new mechanics to play with. ...Watch this space!
What did I mean earlier with my reference to 'Bounty Bob Strikes Back'? Well firstly if you don't know that retro classic, go find an emulator and play it - it's awesome! (And it's predecessor Miner 2049er equally so …in fact that one really holds a special place in my heart as the first - and for six months the ONLY - game I had to play on my first computer, an Atari 400 back in 1983!). Its relevance to a Pond game? Well those games were great platformers that in addition to their neat core runny/jumpy mechanics, also featured a whole load of great little environment based gadgets: cannons, conveyor belts, crushers, teleporters, lifts, etc. …What could be better suited to a game set in a factory than stuff like this? Even teleporters - I mean this used to be Santa's factory after all, and I'm sure none of us are buying the whole travelling-round-the-world-in-a-sleigh, coming-down-the-chimney baloney as a viable gift delivery method, right? …Oh and beyond Bounty Bob, if any of this sounds like it could be channeling a little a bit of Castlevania too, well why not?!
Then there are the penguins. Of course I hated having to sully my nice, lovingly crafted game with evil product placement back in 1991, but apparently a fair few of you came to regard those pesky penguins as an integral part of Robocod's charm. Who am I to argue? …But that still doesn't mean I have to like them, right? So I was thinking it might be fun - assuming we're allowed to use them - to have the penguins adopt a more antagonistic role this time around. Dr Maybe's nefarious new scheme has him having developed a serum that will turn anything - even pure, fun loving penguins - into blood-thirsty vampiric monsters. I can picture their little beady eyes glinting with malevolence as they follow orders, locked in his alpha-vamp thrall. (Side note: I truly feel guilty about how many of you may have grown up believing that the arctic is home to flocks of frolicking penguins. I'm sorry to tell you: it really isn't. For the sake of future generations, this time there really needs to be a strong disclaimer: 'Warning: this game may not be an accurate reflection of the real world, go read some books' ...that kind of thing?).
Finally there's Dr Maybe. So yes, I'm suggesting that he's now a *vampire*. Ok, yes, I know vampires have been done to death… I'm sorry… But I think this really just fits so well (and I guess I still want to channel a few ideas that we never got to finish with 'The Curse of Count Piracula'!). ...I can just picture him with his lab coat worn away into tattered vamp wings, his white collar popped to the max as he bares his fangs at Pond with a hateful hiss! Of course he's holed up in a crazy science-lab-come-crypt deep in the heart of this dark, foreboding castle (the factory). As always he has a plan for world domination. …His evil new serum will 'turn' anyone who drinks it, causing them to sprout fangs, and bringing them totally under his command. Now he once again has access to all of Santa's secret devices and of course he's planning an extra special Christmas gift for boys and girls all over the world! …Only Pond can stop him from releasing an army of ankle biting maniacs! If we can squeeze in a '30 Days of Night' reference or two along the way then so much the better!
So that's basically the high concept - I really hope you guys approve. I also have some ideas for graphic style and presentation. I'd like to see a game that's fundamentally 2d, but created within a 3d world where we can do some neat visual stuff and perhaps - from time to time - turn your level expectations on their head. Not quite ready to talk about that in too much detail - it's the kind of stuff that needs a bit of prototyping work before making promises… How retro styled is all of this? Well that's something we can discuss... Personally I'd rather not go 'full retro' (i.e. the low-res pixelly look). I'd rather remain true to my original philosophy: just to try and make slick, polished use of the target platform ...but of course the right look will be one that's evocative of and consistent with its roots too. Suggestions welcome!
No doubt there's a ton of stuff still to figure out: the exact player abilities (definitely an enhanced robo suit in the mix), power-ups, gadgets (of course a bath-tub), environment themes, bosses, etc… But in my experience - and especially in a world as creatively liberating as Pond's - those things almost design themselves if the core concept of the game is strong enough. I *think* this one is, and I really do think this could be the basis of the best Pond yet!