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Postmortem: I-play's 24: Agent Down: Part 2

GamesOnDeck is proud to present our first postmortem, I-play's Jonathan Kromrey describing the development of 24: Agent Down, based on the hit Fox television series 24. In this second part, Kromrey discusses "What Went Wrong".

Title [This article can serve as a companion piece to Jonathan Kromrey's “A Day in the Life” development diary of the original 24: The Mobile Game that appeared on Gamasutra in February 2006. This is Part Two, discussing What Went Wrong.The first part of this article, discussing What Went Right, can be found here.]

What Went Wrong

1) Behind the Single Stage Curtain

By focusing down the story, characters, and mini-games into a single location at CTU we were able to keep the player's attention on the "next" action without having to break his or her immersion and suspension of disbelief; however, having everything happen in one place also limited the "action" oriented possibilities of the mini-games. For instance, initially we had thought a helicopter chase sequence would be cool, similar to the fantastic car-chase sequences from the first game. But flying a helicopter within the CTU compound didn't make sense, and helicopters in general didn't fit with the story arc or as a repeated mini-game (if you've seen one helicopter chase you might have seen them all). Similarly, a drive-by shooting sequence sounded cool, but it posed problems if the player replayed it multiple times as the story progressed. In the end it simply came down to a choice of working within the spotlight we defined and choosing / optimizing the story, mechanics, and graphics to give us the best variety and fun factor when played over and over.


2) New Features Added at the Very end of Production

With exactly seven days from Gold Master we were informed of a need to support I-play's new lobby system. After picking ourselves up from the floor and telling the surrounding crowd and the ambulance drivers that we were all okay (really), Bruno Mateus, the Sr. programmer, looked at the code to see if / how / when it might be possible to implement. Fortunately the I-play lounge was created by our Technology group to support the functionality exactly the same as other carriers' game room environment - which we already had working well, and within a few days the new system was implemented and working. Whew!


3) Unforeseen Drawbacks to Original Design

A sordid side of mobile development is that there are different requirements and standards by mobile carriers (worldwide) in addition to different device key layouts which also vary depending on the manufacturer. So, to maximize the number of devices that can play our game, the application must be able to re-assign its control and soft-keys in order to meet submission requirements. To test all of these variables I-play has a hefty certification matrix, pre-certification process, and production-to-conversion-handover processes which all games must adhere to and pass. Puzzle games are easiest to get through as the gameplay is usually linear and the design rather straightforward. As with the first 24 game, however, we found that original titles like 24: AD created new Menu and game flow issues which broke the mold that hadn't been seen before in other, more simple mobile games.

In particular, it was late in our development cycle when QA pointed out that there were soft-key label cert issues with the main game Adventure interface - namely the "Back" key was located between the Talk and End keys on the phone, but not labeled, and functioned throughout the game to pause the application (but only at certain times and menus during gameplay). We faced the decision of either documenting it (which could potentially cause more issues as it was not "standard"), or simply disable it consistently throughout the game. We disabled it throughout so as to be consistent (which in a lack of specific rules, makes it easier to get past certification).


4) Too Much Goodness

Even though it doesn't sound like a problem we had designed 24: AD to have so many levels and variety that once Tony Ventrice, our Designer, started to play balance the game we found that it could potentially take up to eight hours to complete. For other handheld platforms like the PSP, DS, etc. this would not be a problem - but for the target mobile phone player who experiences the game in 5-to-10-minute bursts, this could mean a really long and drawn-out experience. So, in the effort to compress the player experience we made the following changes: reduced the overall number of separate mission goals (one was the ability to tag enemies to track / follow their progress), reduced the number of levels in the game from 24 down to 20, mixed-and-matched goals to provide more variety and ensure that the player wasn't facing the same lock puzzle on each door, and re-tooled event triggers for trap encounters to give the game more of a smooth flow.


5) What's in a Name?

Strangely enough it wasn't until the last two weeks of production that we realized that we hadn't received official approval from Fox on the final game name. From the beginning we had been referring to the game as "24: II" - but as Fox kindly pointed out, the use of "2" or the Roman Numeral "II" could confuse players who might think that the game was in season 2 of the show.

So, to make a long story short, many many names were generated, reviewed, hacked down (needed to be 16 characters or less -including spaces so the same name could be used on all carriers world-wide), revised, submitted to sales, found not to capture the theme of the story, re-reviewed, edited, re-submitted, agreed upon, then passed on for licensor review, rejected for various (large) legal reasons, and so on until we reached the final title 24: Agent Down. (whew!)


Conclusion

After all is said and done 24: Agent Down has been proven to be a worthy sequel to its award-winning predecessor and the game stands on its own as a new extension to the I-play game series. It's not often that a project goes so smoothly and it is only through the combined effort and passion of development, QA, localization, conversion, sales, marketing, (and Fox who provided the terrific license to work with) which made it all possible. It's like watching a great movie or game where the hero rides off into the sunset at the end - leaving you wanting to watch it / play it all over again... but maybe next time with a helicopter chase!

[Jonathan Kromrey, or "Krom" as he's known by friends and colleagues, is a producer at I-play (www.iplay.com), a leading publisher of mobile games like 24, The Fast and the Furious, Jewel Quest, and Skipping Stone, chosen as "Game of the Year" at the 2005 Mobile Choice Awards. Jonathan has produced, directed, written and developed games for all platforms over eleven years for companies such as Strategic Simulations Inc., The Learning Company, Mattel Interactive, Namco, Eidos, and I-play.]

Game Data

24: Agent Down

Release Date: December 2006
Publisher: I-play
Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Platforms: GSM, J2ME, BREW (US and EU)
Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Number of Developers: Producer 1, Programmers 3, Art Lead 1
Development Time: 5.5 months

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