So here we are.
Wonton 51 is in the can. Apple has approved it, the game launches on the app store in two weeks (at the time of writing) and I just realised I hadn’t opened Dropbox at least once a day for a while. Part of me feels strangely empty now that I’m jamming with pixels or tweaking weapon values every evening and weekend. The other part of me is goddamn-shit-my-pants terrified of launch day.
When Philip and I decided to make a game we just started making it, we’d had a false start once before but this time it worked out and we’ve shipped a game. We didn’t focus test the concept, study market trends, look at what was popular or try to be something else. We kicked around a game concept and started jamming. Over the years I’ve worked on a lot of scripted experiences. I’ve spent countless hours placing enemy spawn points so that they trigger just as a wall explodes and Wonton 51 came about from a desire to try something simple and systemic. I didn’t want to script levels, I wanted the player to triumph through randomised adversity and push themselves to achieve greatness and a higher score.
We tried a few different mechanics and eventually settled on our multi-touch control method. We wanted the game to be a test of twitch skill and the player to be managing two different core mechanics; shooting and moving. This led us to a divisive control method which has split our testers, some really like the multi-touch, some find it difficult to use.
It is hard to put this into words correctly but while we didn’t set out to create a control method that divided players, I am really happy we have a game with flavour and texture. I’m sure many people will disagree with that but I actually don’t want everyone in the world to love our game. Sometimes the more people that like something, the more insipid it is.
Clint Hocking might be the best designer working in videogames today, he is certainly the one that has had the biggest impact on me. A while ago he tweeted about how you should be making something ferociously beautiful or beautifully ferocious. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and ferocity is either intoxicating or repellent.
If you grew up playing games before every shooter had the same control method you’ll remember a time of idiosyncrasies. Games had weird controls and strange mechanics and this is why they became such powerful experiences. Players had to explore the controls, explore the mechanics and find out what they can and can’t do. Deadly Premonition is a huge inspiration to me as it is a game of flavour, interesting mechanics and obtuse secrets and I want to make games like that.
This may sound like an excuse to some people. A lot of people take one look at a game like Deadly Premonition and say that it is broken or “shitty”. Today someone told me that a new shooter is outright “broken” because jump is on Y and there are no headshots but to me that isn’t broken. Those are deliberate design choices and that fascinates me and excites me and I bought it immediately. I’m working through some emotional turmoil with Dark Souls at the moment and while I want to hoof the pad out the window, I think it may possibly be one of the best games ever made. I don’t know that for sure yet but for this game to be making me feel the way I do, something incredibly special is happening. I am exploring it, finding things out about it, pushing it this way and that, utterly enraptured by its esoteric madness.
We didn’t make Wonton 51 in order to buy yachts. If we wanted to make money we’d bust out Photoshop and whip you up a cute, slightly irritated animal and code some physics. We had an idea for a game and made it. It isn’t often that you get to have a vision, execute on it without someone telling you to change it and then put it out for the world to love or despise. I don’t want people to think the game is ok, I want bipolar reactions; you either love it or hate it motherfucker. This is why you should make hobby projects; to put something out there that you made and find out more about yourself and your collaborator by doing so. Don’t make indie games to make lots of money and to be loved by everyone, make bold experiments that people either loathe or adore.
I don’t want to say that Wonton 51 is the bold experiment but now that the game is out we seem to have a good split of people who love the game and people that really dislike the controls and that is great. We made the game making the design decisions we wanted to make and to see people love the game is a real high. Seeing people dislike the game is upsetting but it is validation that we tried something different and made something that provokes a reaction. This is the first game in a 9 year career that I’m really proud of and wouldn’t change anything about it.