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Batting Practice Part I: Many Ways to Swing a Bat
You're designing a game. Where do you start? If you said “gameplay” you've just warmed my designy-heart, but you still get a hearty, “not so fast, buckaroo”. Even if your game is pure gameplay, and abstracted to Timbuktu and back like Tetris, Trism or Bejewelled, you still need to have a guiding principle. You want to have something that you're looking to capture, a feel, a rush a challenge. If you don't work that out early on, you tend to get a weird Frankengame where the freaky-big arm punches the opposite leg as it walks.
When you set out to make a game you should come up with a single sentence description for it, the good old “elevator pitch”. This isn't just so you have a conversation starter next time you are zipping between floors, but it helps to focus the project and the team.
From an internal, development, point of view this sentence can be your best friend. It lets you tackle every big design question with this retort: “that sounds cool, but does it fit what we're trying to do?” If anyone gives you a blank look you point them back to the shining heart of your title, the grain of dirt the pearl will form around … that one, central idea sentence.
We batted around plenty of these for cricket, and in the end we refined it down to wanting to capture the highlight moments of your all-time favourite cricket match and deliver it in a high-gloss TV-presentation style.
That had knock-on effects throughout the entire game. It meant it was going to be 3D. We'd frame the action, not the characters; we'd have the camera take a moment to lock onto the path of ball zipping off bat as our virtual camera-operator zeroed in to track its flight.
It told us a lot about how you'd play the game. We didn't want a lot of buttons on screen, and the ones we did have we wanted to look like TV graphics. You'd see that in everything from using the score panel to get to the scorecard, to the way we set up the bowling game. It also informed pretty much every decision about the core of the launch game: the batting.
We looked at what was out there and nothing grabbed us. We didn't want to cover the screen in buttons; that didn't feel like Cricket or fit our TV-style presentation. Nor did we want to hide the buttons and give you a Street Fighter-style command list of combos, either. Rote learning. Pass. We definitely didn't want a series of indicators zipping up, down and then left, right, searching for their ideal lock-in spot. We liked that in Links Golf on the Commodore-64, but we were aiming for something a little less late-80s for our willow control.
Spinfast Cricket was the first cricket game on the iPhone. We were in new territory and that meant there weren't any maps. This was a new game platform, with a new market, with a new set of touch controls. People were still figuring out how games, especially games with a 3D-action, should work on these things.
So, we had a good idea what we wanted to capture, we knew that we didn't want to follow the pack and that we'd have to look a little outside of the box for inspiration. Part II: It Came Down to Fisticuffs will let you see how Spinfast Cricket took shape.