I thought I’d share with you a couple of mockups I once did as part of my job. Having been given probably the World’s least inspiring briefs, and me probably at my most jaded in my entire career, this is all that remains of those that I produced:
First up, “Super Bacterial Invaderoids” takes the incredible premise of “move about for a bit, you lose if you touch something”, and dresses it up… not much, if I’m honest, but I did give it a catchy name.
I think you can probably tell that I’d been watching preview videos of Spore at around this time.
Result: Graphically approved, not sure about the name though.
Another fabulous premise to go off, “click on the good things, you lose if you click on the bad things”.The original brief was balloons and bombs for some reason and wasn’t particularly thrilling. The first mockup was completely to spec. except I called it “Hyper Popping Poppopop”, and it sucked. So balloons became pufferfish and the bombs became mines.
And I think you’ll agree that “Hyper-Poking Pokeyprod” is probably the best name for a game ever.
Result: Utterly rejected.
I should note that the problem with these games wasn’t that the basic gameplay was awful, because the ideas themselves, while simple, could make for a daft little diversion when packaged together as a set – sort of the WarioWare principle. And it was this angle that (in my own way) I was sort of trying to tap into. Who cares if the names are stupid, that’s part of the charm isn’t it? Why make a game with balloons when you can make the same game and put exploding pufferfish in it?
And this became the source of the frustration. All these elements which were, to my mind, the only things which elevated the mini-games from utter drivel to something you might actually play were routinely denied for insane reasons. It all became increasingly annoying, and I became increasingly snarky.
Having got a big snotty “no” to my suggestions, I responded with this (and all the following quotes are taken verbatim from the e-mails):
Me: It doesn’t have to be fish, I have only done puffer fish because it’s more fun than balloons and conceptually an inflated fish and mines is directly transposable for balloons and bombs. If you can think of something fun that would be better then I can mock that up instead.
[about the maze game] but even so I fail to see why it has to be a literal maze and can’t be something else that is point A to point B-ey that’s a bit more fun. Again, it doesn’t have to be a worm, I just did a worm because I thought it was quite fun and silly. So again, if you have any ideas I’m quite open to mock them up.
…Baseball needn’t be baseball – we could have a pirate on a rowing boat thwacking cannonballs back at pirate ships with his oar. Functionally identical but a bit quirky and different.
Apparently not. It all culminated with exchanges such as these:
Me: “But surely, surely(!?!?!?) wherever possible we should avoid just doing the obvious thing.”
Person: “Normally yes but for this product we actively want to do the obvious thing.”
Me: “I am merely trying to make the games more fun and funky than just having bland inanimate objects and corridor mazes”
Person: “That’s all good and noble but I’m not sure we have the time to try out different approaches. Balloons say party fun, Bombs say danger. So just go with that theme and output the appropriate images please.”
Me: “Unless I’ve horribly misunderstood the concept, in the maze game you’re not literally blindfolded, are you? ”
Person: “Yes. People will most likely be blindfolded so do maze parts please.”
Me: “I am quite “amazed” (ahahahaha!) that we’re seriously talking about making a game that requires you to tie a sock around your eyes”
Person: “It’s what the publisher is looking for. This one isn’t really up for negotiation.”
Person: “For the second we’ll stick with balloons please as its bright and colorful and the sounds are all done for it already. Also the bombs need to look more like the balloons.”
There we go, folks. Sound effects driving game visuals. We’ve already got a “pop” noise we like and we can’t envisage how anything else could make that same noise as it pops, so you’ll just have to make it a balloon because that’s what the filename says the sound is.
Of course, I can’t entirely rule out the possibility that I’m wrong and what the masses are clamouring for is actually more balloon-based portable games. And perhaps what the publishers really did want was something bland. But in that case, I would have expected a sort of sympathetic, “yeah, sucks doesn’t it?” response. I’ll never know now, but what was amusing was the implication that any of that stuff was ever up for negotiation.
It rather begs the question, “what’s the point in asking for mockups in the first place?”. May as well just tell me what assets you want and what they should look like, and we can screengrab the mockup after the game’s finished.