AIR Post Mortem – Winter Walk – Part 3 of 3

Project Post Mortem – Winter Walk

This is part 3 of our AIR Post Mortem – you can read part 2 here where we talk about our previous project Zombies Hate Pumpkins DX which has a slightly less jubilant tone.

The design for Winter Walk came about after Dave and me had been chatting about doing an interactive Christmas card for all our friends, people we’d met at conventions/shows and people who’d ‘liked’ Monster and Monster on Facebook. Then after a slightly drunken conversation at the German market in Birmingham (Gluwein with a rum shot – my kind of game design meeting) we came up with the idea of the Victorian gentleman trying not to lose his top hat in a blizzard.

We realised making a simple, yet complete game would be about the same amount of work as an interactive Christmas card and that with the power of AIR we could probably release on iPhone, Android and the web more-or-less simultaneously.

So that’s what we did.

Project set up

Flash CS5.5 was still used for asset creation, animation etc. but all the coding and compiling/builds were done in FlashDevelop from the first moment.

We did the sounds ourselves in the usual way (i.e. Dave’s mouth) but this time music was supplied by Gavin Harrison – I don’t know how he does his stuff but it is badass.

What Went Right

Everything basically! From our first slightly drunken design meeting to actually being on the App Store and ready to download took 9 Earth days. And we didn’t particularly kill ourselves to get it done either, it was more-or-less normal working days from start to finish (the last day was an all-nighter but that’s ok once in a while).

We kept the ambition reigned-in for once. We kept the game to bare minimum complexity and content. We added a bit of subtlety and polish (I say ‘we’ but it was mostly Dave adding additional touches to the animations while he was waiting for me to finish coding).

Dave and me have worked together for years before we started Monster and Monster so I know how he likes to work and he knows how to structure his assets and animations in a code friendly way. Basically he didn’t have to redo any of his work and I did barely any extra prep to get the animations in-game. Because we weren’t using bloody sprite sheets for everything we could fly through the art creation and integration.

Winter Walk - Main MovieClip Timeline

It might look crazy but the key-framed animations worked a treat

I love that this project really gave Dave a chance to flex his ‘animation muscles’. In the past he’s had to limit the amount of animation he does for commercial projects because it’s so time consuming and animation is the first thing that would drop off the estimate when trying to bring the cost down for a client. The comic timing on the face-planting kids still cracks me up even after the 10,000th time. [ Probably worth noting that apart from the backgrounds, pop-ups and snow everything was animated within a movieclip which weighed in at around 1700 frames for all of the animation segments - Dave ]

I’m really pleased with the snow effect. I reused a particle engine I wrote a while back. It will probably also work really well for leaves if we want to do Autumn Walk later this year…

We’re really glad that players got the quirky humour, especially as Winter Walk has a lot of our personality in it. We feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to do something for our own amusement rather than worrying about what’s marketable – an opportunity we thought wouldn’t arise until we’d had more commercial success. So thanks everyone!

The Gentleman’s erudite musings were an important part of the design from quite early on. They were received even better than we could’ve hoped and it just goes to show that even the slightest hint of character or narrative can go a long way – a lesson worth learning!

The Gent’s musing system is a little more complex than it might seem on the surface. For example there are a number of different thought trains he can follow, these are randomised at the start of the app (they are in fact shuffled so you are guaranteed to see each one once before they start repeating). Also, most of the musings are in multiple parts, these obviously aren’t randomised or they wouldn’t make sense. Also we have a system that plays a random ‘recovery thought’ after he gets his hat back e.g. ‘Now where was I?’ – this then triggers the interrupted musing from the start of his train of thought again – this seemed like the best way to get the player back into the Gent’s train of thought in the most seamless way.

Gavin Harrison’s music is brilliant! The right mix of retro chip tune (which fitted the visual style) and the right musical feel, just the right accompaniment for trudging through the snow to!

All-in-all a brilliant experience that reminded me (and I hope Dave) of why we started on this crazy game-making adventure in the first place.

What Went Wrong

I think in retrospect mixing Gluwein, Cranberry and Cinnamon cider and gin & tonic during our first design meeting wasn’t that great an idea…

What we’d do Differently

In reality future projects will be much more complicated than Winter Walk. Although lessons about simplicity and technical approaches are useful I think there’s a wonderful world of new mistakes to make in our next project that our experience here won’t prepare us for – but that’s the exciting bit about game development isn’t it?