Just Call It 'Research'...
So, you've been given the job of making the latest and greatest theme-park game. The objective: create an authentic theme-park experience in a box. Where do you start?
Well, a good place might be to go to a few real theme parks, and see how "the competition" does it! We've made quite a few games set in theme parks over the last few years now, and although it really helps that we're nuts about roller coasters and theme parks in general, there's nothing quite like a regular refresher course.
When we first got our development team together, one of the first things we did was to go on a trip to Blackpool, one of the UK's top theme parks. As well as making for a great "getting to know you" experience for those who were new to the team, we of course made sure that everyone rode all the rides, from the gentlest to the most extreme, just so they experienced the excitement that we are delivering to the player.
Theme parks are also great places to study the way the themeing/set decoration is used, the clever relationships between one area and another, and the path layout. These are all directly relevant to developing a game like Thrillville, as we need to create a similar type of illusion for our players as, say, Disney does with their parks for their guests.
The stars of the theme-park show for us are the roller coasters. There are many different types of coasters in the world, ranging from the classic wooden coaster (looks beautiful and scares you to death as you shake rattle and roll along it) to super-modern coasters that "fly" you around or hurtle you vertically towards the ground. The great thing about Thrillville is that "you name it, we've got it!" - thanks to our "research," we've got pretty much any type of ride for you to place down, build and ride to your heart's content. Frontier as a company is actually a member of the European Coaster Club, and we're avid readers of their First Drop magazine, which lets us keep abreast of what rides are coming out in what parks.
We also have a secret weapon - we're lucky enough to be friends with a guy called John Wardley, who is a real-life roller-coaster designer and can count such coaster greats as Air, Oblivion, and Nemesis to his name. John is a fascinating guy to talk to, and we've learned so much from him about parks and roller coasters in particular. He used to be involved in making props for magicians and then stage design for major London theatre productions. He draws heavily on that experience to create spectacular illusions, and he constantly concerns himself with the emotions that people riding his rides will be experiencing from start to finish.
Another aspect to all this is of course the fact that Thrillville has a massive variety and depth of gameplay as a videogame. We really wanted to make sure that every aspect of a theme park was covered in this game in an interactive way, and our "research" has concluded that any self-respecting park boasts an awesome arcade and sweet games on the midway. Because of this, a large selection of minigames was essential.
Without exception, everyone working on the game is a keen videogamer, and has been since childhood. I'd hate to calculate the number of years - make that decades - of game-playing experience that the team has in total. This vast experience and love of games has informed our development of Thrillville, so you'll find every gameplay nuance you'd expect to find in such classic genres as Thrillville's driving games and first-person shooters. Meanwhile, our dance game has been crafted with genuine respect for the genre, and of course Thrillville's arcade games pay homage to some excellent classics that have gone before - with our own unique twists, of course. There are also real surprises like Saucer Sumo and Trampolines - the list goes on.
Last but not least, watching soccer matches even served as a bit of research. Thrillville has a great game within it known as Saucer Soccer. Being based in England, we have an in-built appreciation for "the beautiful game," and a huge amount of dedicated research that has gone into Saucer Soccer via our regular Tuesday-evening five-a-side games, come rain or shine. Actually, sometimes it's a little too much - we're considering banning one of our programmers from playing, as he ends up with some injury or other every week. We need to keep him intact for coding!
So yeah -researching for Thrillville has been a tough job... After finishing the game, I needed a vacation. Where do you think I went? Disneyland Paris. Purely research, you understand...
By Jonny Watts, Senior Producer at Frontier Developments
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