April 30, 2014 9:00 PM | Staff
"Where to go with this?"
That question, posed on social media, is what launched Mike Mika's largely unintentional, headlong crash course in crowdsourced game development. He also learned a thing or two about the supposed wisdom of the crowd.
Mika, creative director at Oakland, CA-based Other Ocean, started toying with a little side project back in January of this year. It was just for fun -- he wanted to start a new, little codebase and see what happened from there.
"Where to go with this?" he wondered on Twitter. "I've started a new project, it draws a red box."
People started replying. Before he knew it, he had an NBA Jam-meets-Smash Bros. eight-player local co-op sports game. It's slated to initially release on Xbox One this summer, under the ID@Xbox self-publishing program, with other platforms to follow.
It's called #IDARB. You know, because "it draws a red box."
"I just kept collecting these suggestions, and just throwing in whatever I could pretty easily throw in, no matter what the idea was," Mika tells me. "It just started to turn into something."
#IDARB wasn't initially intended to be a commercial release. In fact, it wasn't even supposed to be any good. Mika says he was originally going to use #IDARB as part of a pitch for a GDC talk about why crowdsourced game design sucks. "I was so sure it was going to be this steaming pile of shit," he laughs. "I was just waiting for it to be horrible, and it just kept getting better from peoples' ideas. So, I stand ultimately corrected!"
Despite expectations that were incredibly low, the game progressed along in such a way that ID@Xbox's Chris Charla told him he should bring the game to Xbox One. #IDARB ended up at Microsoft's display area at GDC in March, where the weirdly-named game got positive buzz. I was able to play it at GDC, and it's shaping up to be frenetic, ridiculous fun, even after just three months of development.
"I was just waiting for it to be horrible, and it just kept getting better from peoples' ideas."
True to a software engineer, Mika is methodical about how he collects and categorizes peoples' ideas, which are relayed to him in person, via email, and in responses to tweets, Facebook updates and Vine videos. He sorts and rates suggestions on three variables: Ease of implementation (Mika wants development to move forward quickly); The impact an idea will have (whether it will break everything or not); and whether or not an idea is an innovation (i.e., an idea he's never thought of before, but might be cool).
"Whatever bubbles up to the top is what I try to tackle," says Mika. "Usually what comes up is something I can implement pretty quickly; something that I'm kind of scared of, because I haven't seen anything like it; and something I think can enhance the game. I want to keep a pace, because people want to see changes happening pretty rapidly. I have to keep it in an Excel sheet, otherwise I'd go insane."
Speed is a factor that Mika brings up repeatedly. Rapid implementation of ideas is facilitated by the way he's programming the game. "I'm coding it like I used to code a Game Boy," Mika laughs. "[The codebase is] a whole list of objects that are aware of each other, and all of them use just a very limited amount of memory," he says.
"Every object literally has I think 16 integers and 16 floats, and that's it," Mika explains. Aside from a tiny memory footprint (essential for developing Game Boy games), such efficient programming allows for simpler implementation of extra features like replays, the crowd-suggested "On Fire" mode, and the ticker that scrolls across the bottom, populated by "#IDARB" tweets.
One particularly unique feature of #IDARB is the ability to design a character in a browser using the pixel editor, translate that into a QR code, capture that QR image (typically on a smartphone), and scan it in using the Kinect's camera. Other Ocean came up with the idea and added it a week prior to the game's showing at GDC. Mika has even looked into the Twitch API, which could possibly be implemented so viewers watching online #IDARB broadcasts can participate by influencing the rules or parameters of the game in real time.
"I'm coding it like I used to code a Game Boy."
With #IDARB, anything seems to be on the table. Mika's studio typically specializes in game development contract work, but #IDARB is uniquely Other Ocean's weird thing that, surprisingly for Mika, is coming together remarkably better than the "steaming pile of shit" he first expected. The crowd's not always right, but sometimes they have pretty good ideas, as long as you have someone to implement them effectively. This is game development as performance.
While #IDARB is targeted for (ideally) a summer release, Mika says important details like the release date -- and even pricing -- really isn't totally up to Other Ocean. "We're going to keep talking to everybody, and see what the public opinion is. It's been guiding us pretty well so far," he says.
#IDARB on Giant Bomb in March
[Kris Graft wrote this article originally for sister site Gamasutra]