A much cherished occurrence here at Fatshark is our designated “brainstorming day” when we divide all the employees into groups, each tasked for the day with coming up with a game pitch for a self owned IP. At the end of the day, the pitches are presented to the rest of the company. In the glorious chaos of creativity, strong willed minds butting heads and colourful ideas, there’s bound to be some good stuff emerging.
Both of our own IP’s, Lead and Gold – Gangs of the Wild West and now Hamilton’s Great Adventure, came to being after such a day. A project born from a brainstorming day begins as a mere draft, kept by the management until the window of opportunity opens up to develop and publish the title.
However, the road to a finished product is long and crooked. One of the advantages of having a small close knitted team is there is a lot of room for creativity. No matter what role you have in our company, your ideas will be listened to and taken into consideration. The initial idea for Hamilton was hatched by one of our programmers. He based the core mechanic of walking over falling tiles on the classic C64 title Sensitive. Considering we were taking the project to the PS3 and a new generation of gamers, we realized we had to expand upon all aspects of the game, including graphics, gameplay and scope.
I will now show you some footage of our early builds and leave some comments while at it.
The first clip demonstrates clearly how unforgiving the core mechanic was at this time. As the player, you were supposed to plan your path ahead while at the same time always moving forward to avoid ending up on a falling tile. Unpolished controls didn’t help the matter. Clearly, unless we wanted anyone else but the most masochistic puzzlemaniacs out there to play our game, we had to make some changes.
By the time of the second clip, our first attempt at including some type of story in game is evident. Our game writer Magnus Liljedahl will tell you all about that in a blog of his own. At this stage, out main character wasn’t Hamilton the adventurer yet, as you can see. Instead,the player guided the kooky little Professor Hamilton around the tiles. Yes, the core mechanic of collapsing tiles is still there, but somewhere along the line we decided to skip the time pressure element, giving the game a totally different feel.
This build was the first one we sent to Sony for feedback. Soon afterwards we took some important design decisions regarding the scoring and progression system of the game. Instead of a simple succeed/fail outcome, we implemented a system of different levels of completion. The keys, treasures and gadgets were also introduced. New types of functions for the tiles were also added to the to do list. We wanted tricky traps and trampolines, fireballs and boxing glove missiles, angry lemmings and flying blowfish. And in time we got ’em.
However, Hamilton was still alone on his quest. Sasha wasn’t added until a later iteration.
The last of the development clips is a sample of our environment showcase. The project was now being built using the Bitsquid engine, which power and potential was something we were keen to take advantage of. Check out the Bitsquid demo at www.stonegiant.se and you’ll see what I mean.
The story had now evolved into spanning 4 continents, covering the mandatory adventure locations of jungle, desert, snowy mountains and a fantastical last boss environment (typically a lava filled volcano; we chose a lost continent Atlantis type thing.) The distinctly different locations, besides looking pretty and perilous, meant we could play around a great deal with the graphical presentation of the game tiles.
Sasha the bird has now been introduced as well – meaning we’d finally begun implementing the co-op gameplay we were adamant to feature. The basic idea is that the two playable characters have completely different capabilities when it comes to moving around and interacting with the level. Hamilton walks on tiles, jumps on trampolines and generally tries to avoid falling down. Sahsa flies through the air, assisting Hamilton by scouting and activating out of reach switches.
An important feature that was implemented quite late in the development to emphasize the co-op gameplay, were the gadgets, unique items empowering Hamilton with special powers when activated. The gadgets are fuelled by mystic dust which only Sasha can collect.
Switching seamlessly between the playable characters turned out to be quite a difficult task but I feel we managed to.
It was no easy task coming up with controls for switching seamlessly between the playable characters but I feel we came up with a great mechanic that works well in both single and co-op play.
To keep a long story short(ish) – In my opinion, our finished game turned out to be a charming and challenging combination of precious puzzling, amazing adventure and quirky but cozy storytelling. I invite you to please download the trial version of Hamilton’s Great Adventure from PlayStation Store from 24 August to see for yourself if we can live up to our words!