Monday, April 19, 2010

A Quick Guide: How To Recognize An Arcen Title

Overall, early reactions to Tidalis have been extremely positive, for which our entire team is really gratified. However, there have been a few predictable reactions along the lines of "how do you go from making a hardcore strategy game to an [insert slur on casual or puzzle games, or games with cheerful graphics or music]?" While not unexpected, this is a bit frustrating for me -- did people really expect that we'd just make strategy games forever?

Granted, we are still adding free DLC to AI War, and have more expansions planned for that in the future, so it's not like we're leaving the strategy market; AI War is as important to us as ever. But that doesn't mean that AI War is all we want to do, or that hardcore strategy is the only sort of game we are interested in. Personally, I'm a huge fan of action/adventure games (Zelda, etc), platformers (Mario, but also more than that), FPS games (all the great ones -- and even some third person ones, like Red Faction: Guerrilla), sandbox games in general (Assassin's Creed II, etc), puzzle games (Tetris Attack, especially), and also of course strategy games (I have favorites in the tactical, tower defense, RTS, and TBS sub-genres, as you can probably tell from AI War).

I also really enjoy sidescrolling action games (like Bionic Commando Rearmed), some racing games (Burnout Paradise, Midnight Club II, all the Mario Kart games), RPGs (the less-talky American RPGs, and the less-campy JRPGs). I have even been known to enjoy sports games on occasion, though that's not really my main thing at all. Same with Fighting games. And survival horror games in general, though Silent Hill 2 specifically is one of my favorite games ever. There are all sorts of outliers for me, too, like my love of playing drums on Rock Band or my enjoyment of Boom Blox and its sequel. Speaking historically, I grew up on classic arcade-style games on the Atari 2600, and later a wide swath of games on the NES, SNES, and Genesis. And then N64, and somewhat PSX.

In other words, like a lot of people, I am a Gamer with a capital "G." I enjoy variety. I like to think as much as I like to have my reflexes tested. Sometimes I'll play a game just for the sheer joy of the way the controls feel, and how immersive/fun the environment is -- Far Cry 2 was a great game for me for that reason, despite the complaints some others had. But unless the mechanic is just incredibly fun, these days I get bored pretty quick if there isn't some brainpower required to get better at the game and really succeed. I also really feel like there is a lack of classically-inspired 2D games that really shine -- they are out there, but they are too few by comparison to their 3D counterparts. All of this contributes to how I go about making games.

In general, you'll know an Arcen title because:

1. It's probably in one of the genres noted above, or even more likely it blends several of them together.

2. It's definitely going to have some hardcore depth to it, though in general our titles are going to be more accessible on the surface than AI War (closer on the scale to Tidalis).

3. It's definitely going to have co-op, because playing with my family is important to me.

4. It's either going to make you really think about things, or it's going to have a really awesome skill-based mechanic that is just plain fun to play at a visceral level (all our games so far are in the first category, but I won't rule the second category out).

5. All our games are likely to be 2D unless I ever break down and do something like an FPS game or a kart racer or something. I really would like to do an FPS game someday, but given the number of current quality FPS games constantly coming out, and the ridiculous production values on all of them, I doubt I could compete.

6. In general, you can trust that our games will never be more casual than Tidalis, or more hardcore than AI War. That's basically the scale on which we're operating. There is a huge stigma about "casual games," and honestly I share that stigma in many cases. There are a lot of empty calories out there, so to speak, and a ton of games that are barely games. I don't have any interest in that sort of thing; Tidalis is able to fit into our lineup because it very much delivers on every line item on this list.

7. We don't do blood and gore.

8. There will always be a plethora of original ideas, and a unique feel, to each of our games. We don't do clones or also-rans.

Given the above:

When you look at the list above, hopefully you can see the pattern on which we are operating. Tidalis was our next move after AI War partly because we really wanted to do a puzzle game and had a great concept in hand, but also partly because it was important to me that we go ahead and set the boundaries within which Arcen will be working. We were already starting to be typecast as a "strategy developer," and that really bugs me. Our next game after Tidalis is a 2D action-adventure game (with strong environmental puzzle elements) with some aspects of survival horror (no gore, nothing even really that T rated, but with lots of suspense and zombies), called Alden Ridge.

Then after that action-adventure game will come the next expansion to AI War. Hopefully by the time that game comes out, people won't think of Arcen in terms of any specific genre. Hopefully they'll think of us simply as making great 2D games that they enjoy, and which have all the various characteristics from the list above. When our tower defense / JRPG hybrid, A Valley Without Wind, hits sometime next year, the goal is that won't be any sort of surprise at all.

I can't imagine the thought of being stuck in only one genre for the rest of my career, but we're also not "abandoning" any particular genre after having made a single title there. I expect we'll do more puzzle games sometime down the road. I suspect we'll make a tactical strategy game (probably turn-based, but we'll see), and I suspect we might make a larger TBS strategy game at some point, too. And I know Alden Ridge won't be our last adventure game. And we'll be doing more than one platformer, too.

A lot of companies might not be able to pull off this type of diversity of genres. But, that's part of the flexibility of our being indie. And speaking from personal experience, I have worked on either hobbyist or professional projects in the past on games in the following genres: action/adventure, platformer, strategy, text-based adventure, sidescrolling action, JRPG, AD&D-style RPG, dungeon crawler, action puzzle, and FPS. It isn't exactly a stretch for me to say I want to work in any of those genres, because I've been working in most of them on and off, largely as a hobbyist, for the last sixteen years.

So don't sweat it. Good things are coming from Arcen, and if you're not into puzzle games (or strategy games, for that matter), you might still want to watch out for our future titles. We have no intention of getting stuck into any sort of routine. Tidalis is not a game purely for the casual crowd (though casual players are welcome), and all of our future games are not going to be like Tidalis any more than they will be like AI War. I'm looking forward to sharing many of the ideas I've been storing up over the years with you!


Tayrtahn said...

Awesome - although I suspected that this was likely to be the case, it's nice to hear it "officially" stated. I'll keep an eye on Tidalis, but other games that are at least visually similar haven't really appealed to me. However...
"Our next game after Tidalis is a 2D action-adventure game (with strong environmental puzzle elements) with some aspects of survival horror"

Christopher M. Park said...

Thanks for your support! :)