TOP SECRET - First Details

Just sent an email out to the people signed up for Top Secret.

You can still sign up here: CLICK HERE.

This is David Perry. Just want to say thanks for signing up for the 'Top Secret' project.

The response has been pretty stunning so far. This project has been appearing on about 10,000 new websites & blogs each day!!!

The sign-up rate has also been shocking. Remember that most video game teams are 30-50 people. We have around 20,000+ members on this team now, so you've made history before we even get started (By miles)! We've committed to closing the sign-up list at 100,000 members, and it seems a lot of the leading industry press wants to follow our progress.

When you get access to the forums, all the details of how it works will be clearly explained as we move through each stage of development, step by step.

These forums will contain moderators helping keep each section and category (art/design/audio etc.) managed, and so if any of you are professional developers, or have worked on MODS and have some experience with development, we would love you to offer to help... please go to:
CLICK HERE.

My goal is REALLY straightforward, to reveal the talent that I KNOW is out there!

We'll be making a very relevant massively multiplayer title. (Meaning hundreds of thousands of players, but to keep things under control, they'll be playing in 6 person groups, with up to around 3,000 players per server.) The game will be free and yes, we will let you have builds along the way to experiment with.

So...

Imagine we're a new start-up team, the "Top Secret Team". Acclaim (the publisher) has made us an offer to make a game that's easy-to-get-into, it must be appealing to a large audience, it must be fun (of course), it will make revenue by in-game advertising, and by selling items. Oh, and the game must break new ground by introducing new ideas.

Making a business model from selling items is actually quite an interesting design challenge (as you will see later.) This is how games in Asia are made, but you must understand that people only buy them after they like the game. If the game isn't great, you won't sell anything. (So this is a tougher business than just selling Console Discs or Cartridges. At $60 less
than today's games, I believe this model will be very popular in the future.)

I was also quoted when talking about PC games at GDC, "I won't be making any more single-player games". It's a bold statement (based on my past), but the future is indeed online, and multiplayer, so we will do our best to prepare you for that future.

How long will it take? I'm guessing if we get in the groove, we should be playing a finished title by Dec-Feb, less than 12 months.

Remember, I have a fully-funded development team waiting for instructions.

They are excited to hear what ideas we have.

I've been asked "What makes a Director?" My simple answer is they have a vision for where a project is heading. It's also someone who can talk to people in any discipline (audio, programming, art, animation, design), who can make suggestions to improve things, meaning suggestions that actually work. A great Director is someone who can inspire others, promote teamwork and Lead. There are many talented people involved in video game development all over the world. The ones who are leaders have people who will happily pitch in to their projects and GET RESULTS. The main ingredients of a great leader are vision, clear two-way communication and persistence (meaning they can jump all sorts of hurdles and keep on going).

I've been getting asked about the winner of this competition. People are excited to know, how will it be for the winner?

1. They get to Direct an MMO. To be clear, we won't just leave them out in the cold trying to work out how to do this alone; I'll be there to help. Just imagine making your first Hollywood Movie and having the cell phone number of a Hollywood Director, happy to help you out. (Making sure your movie sees the light of day.) That's a pretty valuable asset, and you'll
get it for free.

2. The winner won't have to move to California (where Acclaim is). They'll work from their home office, just like I do. They'll travel to meet their developers when needed, and Acclaim will pay for that cost. Most of the work will be done on the forums, on the phone, and of course playing their prototypes and providing feedback. This means they don't HAVE to be available full time, as an example I'm directing multiple MMO games right now. That said, Game Development teams will become more and more 'virtual' in the coming years, so most professional studios (going forward) will rely on out-sourcing and the internet. You will learn why.

3. The winner will be paid royalties on the game they direct. Royalties on free games are calculated based on the revenue the game makes from advertising and item sales less the transaction costs and taxes. No funny accounting... the director is paid without deducting any advances or mysterious costs. The royalty amount will be decided based on the project
scope.

4. Yes, getting a fully funded MMO team is the biggest prize in video game history. (Expect to be in the Wikipedia!)

For the people that don't win?

1. They'll have seen a game development from the inside and gained a lot of experience being a part of that.
2. Assuming this idea works, we will likely repeat the process.
3. They might have managed to get assets into the game, if they do they will get verifiable credits for that.
4. They're likely to make a lot of new friends in this process. (Some will probably form spin-off indie teams.)
5. I think the people that expose their talent in our forums, will be spotted by headhunters, and other professional developers and publishers. Frankly, I expect they will use this as a talent mine. (So be on your best behavior!)
6. I'm expecting the winner to have discovered talent they like in the forums also, so he/she will likely ask them to work on their new project.
7. Acclaim will likely be recruiting out of the forums too.
8. I'm expecting to hire some people myself for my own personal team.

What are the age limits? Currently NONE.

What country must I come from? ANY. But you need to speak English well.

So the biggest question I've had is "When does it start and what kind of game will we make?"

To give you all some homework… The Genre I've chosen is RACING... simply because it's a genre I've not tried before, so I won't be all closed minded in reading ideas. On the other hand, I love racing games, and I think the vast majority of people that have signed up have played at least one and have opinions on the subject.

So rule #1 in the development structure we're setting up is that we don't really want to hear opinions, we want to hear solutions. Saying "That's too hard" is kinda meaningless. We want to hear in detail how you would fix the problem. If you prove that with some facts (or by experimentation with a game), even better.

So your homework is to play some racing games. But free your mind at the same time... We could be in cars (of course), or we could be in some new kind of vehicle; we could race on animals, we could be running with some kind of aid, we could be bringing something that helps, etc. Keep your mind open... Try to come up with something that, from seeing a single
screenshot, you would really want to play it.

Secondly think about what else you do in that game?

Racing (see who gets the fastest time) is done to death. How can we make the racing more fun?

What is the theme of the world we're playing in? Fire/Snow/Ice… All done to death. So get creative there too.

I have a pretty stunning offer from one of the biggest music labels in the world. They are offering a HUGE hit library for this game. So with hit music from every genre, is there any way music could be involved in the gameplay?

I also have three golden rules I would like you to follow.

1. SKILL
2. STRATEGY
3. RISK

When you are thinking of the gameplay I want ALL three of those to be present at all times.

Three other key goals.

1. Being able to (at a glance) judge where you are in relation to the competitors, and in relation to winning, every instant.
2. Making the gamer blame themselves 100% of the time when they fail, not the game or the design.
3. Think of multiplayer game modes. (Teams etc.)

I'm telling you all this now so you've got a little bit of time to think.

One other question I've been getting a lot: When can we start? The answer is now, right now. Start thinking, start planning.

I'm going to do some final edits to the forums, then I'm going to post them live very very soon.

Then we're officially developing the game.

Really looking forward to working with you, and can't wait to see what you come up with!

David Perry
Director
Project: TOP SECRET


Comments

Interesting. However, I am disappointed that you've chosen the Racing genre. Clearly computers find it easy to render cars well and it will mean that your objective of a game by Xmas is technically achievable, but I am afraid it will be a rather dull one unless you learn a lesson from videogame history and present something which is a 'collision of ideas'.

If you were to look at something that 'almost' worked: Driver 3; you would see that you could have a game that was a collision between a driving game (e.g. the racing aspect would be emergent, coming from car chases, stealing a list of cars and driving them onto a boat at the docks, etc.) and an FPS (note: I would prefer a first-person p.o.v. which retained experiential continuity as you went to get into your car (e.g. you would see the road from within the car, as you do in PGR3's Dashboard mode). I think it is also worth noting that you should have the choice to fire from your hip whilst moving, or stop and direct a free-floating gunsight whilst being able to lean out around corners (like Goldeneye on the N64 - it mystifies me that it has not been more copied... is the control system subject to patent?)

Anyway. Story... Most games don't add a complex psychological dimension, because dialogue is either dull and non-interactive (i.e. cut-scenes in MGS), or based around haphazard AI parsers. However, you are writing an MMO played by REAL people, so it seems obvious to me to encourage them to role-play, to 'act', as they take on 'characters' that have been sketched in for them.

There is a precedent that people have fun doing this, it is called MACHINIMA - the subversion of a game-engine for drama; but what if the game-engine was engineered to be more like a film set-meets-improvisational theatre (replete with props.)?

OK. So, the plot would change between the six or so 'actors' in each instance of the game - and they would probably know each other in real life, treating it like amateur dramatics, scheduling the next chapter they played (it would be persistent, somehow), rather than engage with random nerks.

However, the game-engine would attempt to reinforce a theme, contriving the gameplay events so that it was easier to follow a plot flowing towards a dramatic character defining denoument than to go against the grain and just piss about. This is more than just having missions in GTA, the game would do what some of Molyneux's games have done - assess the player's psychology by presenting them with 'tests' and then adapt the gameplay to their adopted style, whilst looking for long-term opportunities to subvert their ambitions and cause them to reflect on their chosen path and avatar's identity - the subversion would need to be foreshadowed and this IS technically possible by means of 'seeding' (it just is no one has tried it in a game before).

All this angst, subterfuge, betrayal and tragedy (i.e. it should no longer matter that gamers necessarily WIN, the journey is the reward... besides, the next time these six friends play they will take either another path to another outcome, or different roles), needs to be based on a sound foundation.

Rather than come up with something original here (yet more writing), I think it is fair to cut a corner and steal the basic plot of Infernal Affairs (which was remade as The Departed - not as well). Here we have a movie (or 3) in which we get to have our cake and eat it. GTA gets dull, because you are on the wrong side of the law all the time. Driver 3 has greater potential (even if it is more technically flawed) as you play as an undercover cop, yet Infernal Affairs uses an almost mirror-image PvP MMO setup:

A police graduate is sent into deep cover to infiltrate the Triads, whilst a Triad gang member is sent to the police academy, etc.

Other players would take the role of Triads and Police, possibly jumping into the body of a NPC when their character was killed. The story would end if either LEAD character died or was shown to be a Triad, etc. It should not be a continually respawning 7th circle of Hell fragfest like Quake, but it can punctuate its drama (yes, the players 'talking' to each other, trying to decieve each other, using 'telephones' to order NPCs into action, some of whom may be being played by real people) with a nice shoot-out

Just rent the movie and ask yourself if you want to spend a year of your life on another generic racing game, or on a complex emotional drama set in a city whose complexity (yes, interiors) and SimCity-style dynamics (check the original aerial p.o.v. GTA) becomes possible to contemplate doing when you are working with component-oriented collaboratively shared-source.

Consider this a free idea, after all it is not like I'm going to be able to do it myself (besides, I have a much better game that I'm working on which does not fit with MMO or Racing to keep me busy)

Nick Harris

P.S. It just occurred to me that your desire to fund the game via in-game item purchase and advertising can work harmoniously if you make your avatars mortal... Most games that aspire to a level of video-realism abandon the notion of the avatar getting fatigued or hungry (merely injured - and then miraculously regenerating on application of a absurdly encountered medipak). Even Oblivion doesn't seem to require your character to eat, or drink. Given that all these products usually have branding, you ought to be able to negotiate for Pepsi vending machines to appear rather than Coke - or even pay for the most frequented areas... so, you will find a Dr Pepper machine in a remote bar... The petrol for your car is free as far as you are concerned - you do want to retain some sense of escapism when playing a game - yet the game will 'nudge' you to having a drink, or some food at a regular interval, which you can initially ignore (although, it would be to the detriment of your avatar's performance - a bit like a RPG, yet more short-term). It is a bit complex to explain as there would need to be two forms of money: pretend credit cards, and actual cash (which would be like Everquest/WoW gold in which you would pay the MMO server real money in order to put cash into your avatar's wallet). You need to have two forms as your avatar may need to rent/buy a new car in the game and as this is of significant expense in the real world you would have to either stay real and not have any players (as they had no way to get around the city, or do Racing...), or make a car artificially cheap ($4) which would put it around the cost of a few sodas! So the solution here is to have a car cost a realistic sounding price, but have that be virtual money (i.e. obtained via the in-game credit card, rather than the player's real-life credit card). Other items, such as clothing, hats, sunglasses, weapons, ammo, may have to be paid for by the player. Although I would give them a weapon to start with. I suppose, it is really a case of pay-more to get more, whilst being very careful not to exclude players who just want to assess the game as being worth their time. So, no initial hurdles then. I suppose the money aspect is akin to Poker, which can be literally played for peanuts, or for increasing sums even between friends as it becomes a more serious weekly semi-social activity (which they can justify the outlay on as their 'night out'). Players paying to own better weapons would not unbalance the game necessarily as it is likely that unskilled players would merely pay to give themselves a chance against better players. I also think it would be useful to explore the notion of a weapons bestowing luck: not so much auto-aim, but a degree of deflect when the bearer of said weapon was shot at from beyond a dead -cert range. This could be made acceptable to the skilled by the device of a wavering cross-hair and holding breath, etc. Some clothes could be, in a sense, 'magic'... if you performed a set of one-hit kills and no misses, the next shot you took whilst you wore your lucky hat would counteract any 'deflect', the next time you were shot at by NPCs (regardless of number of assailants) as you wore a lucky coat would leave you entirely unscathed - see: Takeshi Kitano's film "Sonatine", for a scene that should be silly and unrealistic, but just exudes cinematic cool.

Posted by: Nick at April 13, 2007 2:45 PM

I've been working on ideas for this project for about a week now and just wanted to come back and say thanks! The idea of giving people the opportunity to get in on the game development without years of background is great and I think what you are doing here will innovate the development process of the entire game industry. The prize of a development team is amazing and I'll be giving this project my best.

Thank you!

Posted by: kiamori at March 24, 2007 2:13 PM

I find this a great opportunity and I already have a few ideas I'm working on. I can't wait to start.

Posted by: Guintu at March 21, 2007 11:59 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


Remember me?


David Perry's Game Industry Map Game Design Book