Heading into the development of the Dead Rising 3 SmartGlass app, we were not experts on second-screen development and perhaps that is why the Dead Rising 3 SmartGlass app ended up being what it is.
We weren't burdened with realities that others developing for a second-screen had already encountered. We knew little to nothing about what other developers were planning for the next generation of SmartGlass Companion apps, or what would be expected, but we wanted to do something unique that matched the personality and spirit of our studio. We didn't throw away common sense and we decided to support Dead Rising 3 with many of the expected SmartGlass experiences, a map and access to game and background information.
But that definitely wasn't enough for us. We may not have been experts at second-screen development, but we are good at making games, games with an excess of personality, and fun to be had around every corner. We wanted to make the SmartGlass app for Dead Rising 3 more than just an extension of the game's UI on a second-screen --we wanted it to have a life and personality of its own.
One of the initial development pillars of the Dead Rising 3 SmartGlass Companion app was that ‘Your cell phone is a cell phone’. We wanted the player using our app to look at their own smart device and feel that they had just plucked it off a rotting corpse in Dead Rising 3, just as Nick (Dead Rising 3’s hero) has. We wanted players to enable SmartGlass and access apps as though they were using the device Nick had just picked up in the game. But of course it wouldn't be a phone unless players could have the experience of having the phone, or tablet, call them up! That meant we needed a living, breathing character that could phone or text the player at any time to offer advice, new missions or tempting prizes.
The concept of a dedicated character interacting with the player through phone calls and texts helped guide the early development of the Companion app towards embracing the second-screen as a holistic part of the experience rather than an external device that only exposed information on the game. SmartGlass was given a voice and a personality for DR3. Sure the SmartGlass App could be used to help navigate the world and the storyline but the unique character who phones you comes with his own background and that he is injecting his own motivation and interests into the experience. This character comes with missions that you can only access by receiving calls or texts on your smart device.
As we developed a unique storyline that can only be accessed from a second-screen, and a character that could literally phone you at any moment, we also needed to create new rules for how and when these interactions could take place. With some procedural rules in place, it began to feel like your phone in the real world was actually the phone the character carried with him in the game world. Simultaneously, we developed apps that fit the concept of a contemporary smart phone, like a map, a news feed with unique news stories, a hint app and mission tracker, and even a settings app to customize the player’s ring tones and background wall paper.
So now we had a character, a unique storyline along with unique quests and we were creating the expected apps that would help you navigate the world. The NPC who calls the player (and Nick) even unlocks special locations in the DR3 world as the relationship between him and the player deepens. But what good is personality and character if this device doesn't let me expand on the primary experience of the game – to kill zombies in fun and exciting ways? And the team was always itching to find new and fun ways to kill, mutilate, or humiliate. With the common sense suggestion: why don't we let the player blow up shit?, our course was set.
We looked towards features that were already possible in the game – specifically to debug features that we as developers had access to but that no common sense developer would give to the player. We started to delve into what a player, in the Dead Rising universe, would want to do if they had access to outside help. We didn’t limit our imaginations. Heck, we had an excuse to go even crazier than usual and we were not going to waste it.
From a series of team brainstorms we ended up crafting a handful of military apps that can call down devastating air strikes, a hail of bullets, or flares that will cause a city block worth of zombies to go stumbling off in the direction the player chooses. We also came up with convenience apps such as store finders, and items finders because they fit the theme, and they were just a heck of a lot of fun to have on hand. Everyone grooved on the idea of being able to 'call' up your nearest safe house and have a survivor you had previously rescued run to your aid.
Now the apps were feeling realistic and meaningful to the player experience and the device itself felt like it had a life of its own, but there was more the concept could support. Not only does our NPC ask you to help him out occasionally but he also provided a special reward found nowhere else in the game, access codes. The player can earn this currency by completing specific missions only available from the Companion device, the second-screen. The codes provide a way to unlock the military apps and expand their use. They are also useable as keys to open special lockboxes found around the world. The lockboxes are of course themed to the government agency responsible for this wonderful smart device Nick had found, with its military apps and specialized maps. We hid collectible USB sticks around the world to promote both exploration and to hint at the SmartGlass experience for those who had not yet turned it on. The USBs provided additional pages for the hint app or new ringtones and wallpapers. All of it fit together to make a complete experience.
I'll start off with this list the next time I work on developing for a second-screen;
- Make the second-screen experience not only functional, but fun
- Create a unique experience for players who use the second-screen
- Emphasize the game’s character and theme on the second-screen
- Provide in-game functionality that can only be accessed from the second-screen
- Create a second-screen experience not only in the player’s living room, but in the game itself (if it suits your game’s context)