Peter Liepa on Boulderdash’s Rockford

It’s starting to become clear that over analysis could be a bad thing and that the design of a game is a lot more loose than I thought. As suspected early on into the process, this is largely a hangover from working in an industry where we have process and methodologies for everything. That’s not to say the games industry does not, especially in the larger studios, but it’s becoming obvious that the design and development phase is a more loose playground for creativity and too much formality might result in “analysis paralysis”. In fact, Lee’s already written a great comment on my need to be able to formally evaluate ideas post earlier on this week and I’ll address that next.

This morning Peter Liepa replied to my questions about Rockford’s character design, I was particularly interested in how he came to inject personality into him and if that was a deliberate design choice, based around a particular game mechanic. Peter’s reply, in line with Lee’s earlier comments, points out that the process is more creative and experimental than I first realised. Thinking about it, it has to be really. Damn those years shackled to the Capability Maturity Model (CMM
Peter, I’m curious about how you came to give Rockford the foot tapping and blinking characteristic when he’s idle. Did you have a strong sense of giving him personality from the start or was it more serendipitous stemming from something pragmatic like giving the player a visual cue to get a move on (as Boulderdash is a timer based mechanic?)
“The answer is somewhere in between, I think.  I don’t think I thought of Rockford in terms of personality. In fact, he was just a static symbol during early development, and he never had a name until after the publishers gave him one.”
Well that’s that blown out of the water. After all these years, I find out that it’s the damn publisher that gave my beloved bunch of bits his name. Damn their marketing prowess!

“On the other hand, I worked hard applying my limited animation ability to creating a believable character and movement given the small number of pixels available.  I probably had a number of poses in my animation editor, along with variations of the character.”

This is more like it! Alchemy!

“I’m guessing that I have been comparing, say, eye size and position between variations when I realized that I could make the character blink. Once I realized that having Rockford blink while idle gave him extra life and presence, I probably experimented with tapping.
But that’s a guess.  I don’t think I set out to give him independence, but once circumstances suggested it, I went with it.  And I don’t think that I was exactly prompting the player to get a move on – it was more that the game was quite quiet if Rockford wasn’t moving, and I was pleased with the extra depth it gave the character.”

So pretty much all of my assumptions were wrong. Brilliant. Actually it is brilliant, it should stop me early on into this process assuming too much. Perhaps it’s more simple, that only the overall project needs a formal plan with deliverables to test and release and what happens in between is a mix of creativity, experimentation, experience and previous influences. A manager’s nightmare I’m sure!

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