Making A Game At ICON 2017

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November 1, 2016
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Making A Game At ICON 2017

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Over the long weekend this June, Hydra Media attended ICON 2017 where we acted as support for Kusasa Information Systems who were promoting their mobile sales CRM solution, Saleboat. Within an hour we were bored and came up with a plan to entertain ourselves with the help of the Kusasa staff. We decided to make a game. We started to brainstorm the sort of game we could make before the end of the weekend and decided on a nostalgia trip with an Arkanoid clone.

Setting Sale In A Crowd Of Cosplayers

Our stand was shared with Student Brands, a client of Hydra Media and frequent collaborator in the student marketing space. Despite the convention being aimed at gaming and comic book enthusiasts interest for Saleboat was relatively high.

It may seem like an odd place for a sales CRM solution, but the team are avid gamers and geeks, so when the opportunity to attend the event presented itself we just couldn't pass it up. Alongside the latest games, tech toys and comics were an army of cosplayers. The effort and attention to detail in some of the costumes cannot be overstated, some pieces taking months of planning, execution and detailing. Congrats to all the winners of the contest held at the end of the weekend.

Perhaps it's simply because we're nerds who were talking with nerds, but the reponse from visitors was exceptional and we'd like to thank everyone who stopped by!

Taking Inspiration For The Golden Era of Gaming

For the uninitiated Arkanoid is a game developed by Taito, the Japanese publisher, way back in 1986. Arkanoid itself is an expansion on the original concept first introduced by Atari in the game Breakout, released 10 years earlier. Arkanoid falls into the category of 'brick buster' games where you control a paddle and prevent a ball from leaving the screen. Your goal is to use the ball to destroy the blocks at the top of the screen. Blocks may also drop powerups which have various effects on your paddle and the ball. Both Breakout and Arkanoid are considered classics and were bestselling games at the time of their respective releases. Unlike modern games, classic games introduced new concepts slowly without written or verbal instructions. This method of game progress is no longer very popular as accessibility and demand now cater more toward instant gratification rather than successfully overcoming a challenge with the tools provided and applied logic.

That's all fine and well, the base mechanics are well established, but what we wanted was something with it's own flavour and style. We began taking inspiration from actions movies of the 70s and 80s, borrowing visual aspects such as full spectrum gradients on already colourful backgrounds. This era in film frequently featured long hair, surfers, beaches and graded filters that clearly defined the times. A complex and largely illegible font was the next logical step to really sell the kitsch style.

With the visual style nailed down we began exploring ideas for a suitably implausible premise. Another common trait of classic games is a story which bears little to no relevance on the actual gameplay. The story for our game grew organically from our trippy visual style: beaches, photo filters, pixelated graphics and psychedelic colours. This was going to be an action game and the villain had to be a shark! Obviously it had to be called Sharkanoid.

Would You Like To Name Our Shark?

We quickly realised that this may be a great opportunity to attract visitors to the stand. What's more interesting than being part of the game making process at a convention about games?

We gave visitors the chance to name the villain of our piece, a stock vector shark we found, with the promise that their names would appear in the credits of the game if they made a suggestion. This led to some wonderfully awkward conversations with complete strangers about what we were up to. With a trusty laptop plugged into a large display we worked tirelessly on the game assets and marketing material, giving passersby a direct view of the process we follow with each project. The already warm reception we had previously received became even warmer as we embraced the spirit of the convention: making a total spectacle of ourselves by making intentionally bad game artwork in full view of everyone at the event!

It may have been the most stressful thing I've ever done, but it was well worth it for the wonderful responses we got. We challenged the crowd to come up with awful puns and a suitably terrible name for our shark and they really came through. To read more about the winner click this link.

What initially started as a little joke to keep us entertained for the three days we attended the event fast turned into a passion project as more and more people stopped by to help out. Our initial plan was simply to build the game for the weekend and release it as is, however at some point we began discussing new features and taking feedback from convention attendees who playtested some of the levels. It was clear that people were excited to be part of the process and we couldn't simply fire and forget this project.

Based on this feedback and our changing feelings over the weekend we've decided to continue to support Sharkanoid, our first indie game. We plan to add new levels, additional themes and, if we can find the time, a story mode that extensively features our shark villain. If you'd like to support the game please visit Sharkanoid.com where you can play v0.1 and leave your comments and suggestions.

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