The first four months of Push-It
Push-It as a game began significantly different than what we have now. When we began, we knew we wanted to create a cooperative multiplayer experience, and that was about all we had. We had not yet determined what the gameplay, objective, or visual style would be, but knew we wanted to forge something that would bring players together to achieve a shared goal. With this in mind, our first idea for gameplay was shared control of a ship.
Many people have heard of the games Artemis and Guns of Icarus Online, both of these games places a set number of players, 6 and 3 respectively, on teams to jointly crew a ship. Each player relies on the others to complete their objectives and perform their duties. If one player fails, the entire crew may fail. While these games provide players a strong sense of cooperation and urgency, Artemis fails to place players directly in the action, instead viewing it through 2D displays while Icarus players spend just as much time running around the ship in 1st person as actually performing actions on or with it. We wanted liked the cooperative aspects of both, and created our first iteration based on a melding of these two ideas. Our players would take direct control of stations on a ship, providing 1st person views from gunnery batteries as well as the helm to work together to control, navigate and protect the ship.
As we progressed with the idea of players jointly controlling a ship, we asked ourselves “Is every role fun and engaging to play? Would people be happy to be locked into a single role or should be allow variation in what each player can do?” What we came back with was a resounding “No” to the first and “Allow variation” to the second. With that in mind, we began developing ideas to allow players to do more than one thing and not be locked in a single role, thus we came up with the idea of drones. Drones would be a secondary mechanic for the gunners to use. Rather than having a dedicated mechanic making repairs to the ship, each gunner could choose to exchange their offensive potential for defensive. When controlling their drone, the gunner would be able to repair gunnery batteries on the hull of the ship, raise shield walls and perform other supportive actions to assist the ship and their team in non-offensive capacity.
With drones, we solved the “Being a gunner can get boring” issue, but had not touched the role of the helmsman. How could we make being in charge of navigation and moving the ship more fun and engaging for that player? After long discussion of the issues that faced being a helmsman, as well as taking a deeper look into the drone gameplay, we determined that we needed to make a dramatic change. With it determined that playing as a dedicated helmsman would likely get boring for a majority of players, we decided to remove the role. With that, we now had gunnery batteries on the hull and defensive drones for support. How would the ship move? The drones would be able to push it with a beam of some sort.
With this change, Push-It as it is now truly began. Multiple players working together to defend and push their broken hull of a ship through a maze of enemies to return “home.” Looking at where it was now, we questioned the need for the offensive batteries at all, and so we removed them. Players now all took control of their own drone, pushing their ship to safety while fighting off and avoiding enemies and dangers. Why complicate the gameplay with combat, though? Why not just make all the danger the players, and their ship, face come from the environment? Many games add combat mechanics “just because” without necessarily having a sound reason for them, thus we decided to remove them. They weren’t needed, we decided, and testers agreed when we brought a combat-less build to QA with the only goal being to use your “push beam” to get an object from the start of the level, through various environmental puzzles and dangers, to the end of the level. We didn’t impose a time limit or any other requirements, just “get there.” They loved it.
With the new change, however, we realized we just had an incredibly simple game, one that wasn’t particularly innovative. It was fun to play, yes, because of the player interactions and the cooperation requirements, but not innovative. We also had the issue of being limited to 4 players on a single machine, using Xbox 360 controllers. Around the same time, I was working on a side project using mobile phones with gps to make a “hunger games” style hide and seek game. When I mentioned it to my group, we had a groundbreaking idea to “combine” the two. We would have players use their smart phones as controllers. It took only a few days to set up a system in which players could download an app to their android device and easily connect to the game through wifi giving them a virtual controller on the screen of their device. The versatility of smart phones has also provided us with the ability to make a range of control schemes, from a “twin-stick” scheme to a gyroscope based “tilt-to-move” scheme, with many more possibilities for additional schemes.
Push-It had now moved beyond something you might play in your living room with your family and friends to a game that could be played on nearly any screen anywhere, with little setup. It could be deployed in movie theaters before a screening or in a park or even on Time Square, the possibilities for deployment were endless because players could seamlessly drop in and out of the game without affecting the ability to complete the levels.
The process of reaching the point where we are now with Push-It has been extremely educational about the true process of game development. We started with just a simple idea of making a cooperative experience, we progressed through so many different iterations and ideas before we reached this point. In addition, although I only focused on the iterations that directly led to Push-It where it is today, we also had alternative ideas that we developed alongside the cooperative experience that also provided ideas for thing to do and not do in Push-It.