Last we left off, the script was under way and we were in the early phases of working on programming and art on our House, M.D. game. But before I get more into that I want to briefly touch on the middle part of that development process: The design phase. This is perhaps the most important part of the game—making process as it sets the foundation and scope of the entire game.
So here’s the low down on working with licensed materials: it is completely different from designing an original title and a whole new monster in and of itself. Normally when designing a game with original characters you can hone and craft the story around the gameplay to work how you need it. If you want to have the player jump across a river from rock to rock to get to the cave where they have to search for the new, better weapon to use, you can construct the story to lead that way.
With a licensed game you already have developed characters, an established story format and settings defined for you. This means you must craft the gameplay to fit in that pre-existing world rather than the other way around. This often proves to be far more difficult than you might think. That said, the pros of working with a licensed entity offer great benefits that you can’t get from an original title such as more established characters and settings, instant recognition of the title, and a built-in fan base (and with a built-in fan base of 82 million world-wide, who can complain?).
The real challenge with House was to create fun gameplay but still have it be coherent within the story being presented. I did not want the game to be a series of disjointed mini-games where we say “OK, now complete this Sudoku puzzle and that will give you a clue as to why the patient is dying…” Instead I wanted to have the player feel like they were part of House’s team so we could tell them “OK, the patient may be dying of illness X. Now go perform a Lumbar Puncture, do a complete blood count and search their house for toxins.“ This meant throwing most known mini-game conventions out of the window and designing gameplay based on what needed to be done in each specific case.
For this we utilized the assistance of several design sources; Alchemic Productions (designers on Clive Barker’s Jericho) helped with some overarching ideas of the mini-games involved providing some coherence to all the gameplay. We then employed the assistance of Phil Campbell (designer of Nancy Drew Dossier: Lights, Camera, Curses), who helped us refine some of the gameplay and make the interface work better for the unique interactivity of the Nintendo DS. After putting all this input combined with the experience of Craig Brannon, our Executive Producer, and Genaro Avila, my Assistant Producer, we had a great variety of gameplay at hand that really fit seamlessly into the world of House.