Never released game design and prototype #1 : Museum Director

Last week-end, I ditched a prototype of a game because it was not as fun as I thought. It gave me the idea to blog about some of the game design documents and prototypes I made that were never released. It can really be interesting, because:

  • If everyone agrees that the design sucks: I’ll definitely stop thinking about it and I’ll be glad that I moved on to other projects.
  • If some players or game designers have ideas to save the prototype and make it into a game: I’ll be happy hear it and may eventually work on this project again… and why not release it.
  • If the description of my project gives ideas to game designers and they get inspired to create an original game from it: I’ll be very happy that my failed game designs helped/inspired fellow developers.

Of course, in this series of posts, I will not talk about all the cancelled projects. I will just choose the most interesting ideas/prototypes in random order.

Process when Designing/Prototyping

Everytime I have a valid idea that I really want to implement, I create a new folder in my “gamedev” directory, using a number. I started last weekend “Project 16“, therefore, it’s easy to know how many ideas I gave up (or paused) from the released games. Here is the list of my released projets:

  • First released game “Shapy” (PC) is “Project 3
  • Second game “Around the World” (PC/Mac) is “Project 4
  • Third game “Spring Up!” (PC/Mac) is “Project 6
  • Fourth game (flash game hidden on sister site) “Futoshiki” is “Project 7
  • Fifth game “Spring Up Harmony” (X360/PC) is “Project 12

So I cancelled at least 10 projects. In fact there is more because I sometimes use a quickly ditched project as the starting point for another.

Project 8 : Design

The first one I chose to talk about is “Project 8“, codenamed “Museum Director“. This is probably the cancelled project that I spent the most time working on.

The idea came from Patrick Curry’s Game Idea #35 (you can see my comment back in 2008!) [I removed the link because Google flagged the site. The url was www.patrickcurry.com/thoughts/?p=51]. It is basically a “Sim Museum”. In addition to Patrick’s idea, the game design was mostly inspired from Theme Park (I loved this game when I was a kid!). Museum Director was planned for PC and Mac (using the same game engine than Around the World and Spring Up!).

I usually don’t write “real” game design documents (GDD) as I am the only person using it. Instead, I tend to take some notes in a Google Docs or a .txt file. However, looking back in my Design folder of Museum Director, I found a 10 pages design document (I did not remember I wrote all that). This confirms that I spent a lot of time on this “unfinished project”. Unfortunately, the game design document is in French so the raw version won’t be very useful to my readers. Some sections on the document should also be in a technical design document (TDD) instead. Here is a quick “best of” in English of the game design ideas. I kept the original randomness of my GDD, as I usually just write interesting ideas in the order they’re coming in my mind. You can see how I transformed and mixed Patrick’s idea with Theme Park:

  • In the museum, there are three sections of “art works”
    • Art (paintings, sculptures…)
    • Natural history (dynosaurs, fossils, rocks…)
    • Science (experiments, atoms, chemistry…)
  • Here are the items and global museum parameters available
    • Tickets price (or free)
    • Stock management (maps, bar, food, souvenirs, t-shirts…): buy price can vary
    • Assurance of art items
    • Rules (can use camera inside museum? free entry?)
    • Advertising (local/national newspapers, TV, flyers, radio, ad on a specific art item or for the whole museum…)
    • Air conditionner
  • Goal of the game: to have a high “museum grade”, based on:
    • Global reputation
    • Cultural evaluation
    • Art maintenance
    • Quality of art items
    • Quantity of visitors
    • Organisation of the items inside the museum (don’t mix everything randomly)
    • Security (of visitors and art)
    • Cleanliness
  • Visitors have different characteristics (walking speed, likeliness of each art type…)
  • There are some VIPs (politics, rich people) (idea taken from Theme Hospital)
  • Visitors have various needs: (hungry/thirsty/toilet, leaving the museum (when inside for a long time or unhappy…), buying things (when very happy), need more money (can withdraw cash inside the museum), want to see a specific item, wandering around randomly…
  • How to earn money for the museum:
    • Entrance fees
    • Sales of food/drinks/souvenirs
    • Allocation
    • Donations
    • Selling or renting art items to other museums
  • Art can be stolen inside the museum. Player can buy CCTV and hire security agents
  • Employees (paid (high quality) orvolunteer (low quality))
    • Archeologists/scientists (through a research program) to discover new items
    • Ticket clerks
    • Security agents
    • Art specialists (to take care of items)
  • There is a world map with famous cities where you buy your location for the museum with a limited size (number of tiles).

The document also contains the list of every item available in the game as well as stats available to the player but it’s not really interesting here. I can really see Theme Park’s inspiration when I read the document a few years later.

Prototype

It took me some time to find a working version of the game :), but I eventually could run it and take some screenshots. The art assets are coming from other games (the visitors are from virtual villagers for instance), Google Image, or I made it myself (you can see the ugly shops made with paint.NET ;)) :

museum_director_1 museum_director_2

You might be able to see from the screenshots that many features were implemented such as:

  • Isometric tiled engine with camera translation
  • Interactive Minimap
  • Choosing, moving, rotating and dropping items with a working GUI
  • Path finding of the visitors
  • Visitors waiting in lane (ala Theme Park)
  • AI of visitors walking in the museum, looking at art, buying stuff, using toilets and leaving the museum.
  • Saving/Loading of the game

It still very sandbox-like.

Why I never released it

Here are the reasons why I stopped working on this project and the mistakes I made:

  • Despise the original museum “theme”, there is a lack of originality in the gameplay, I was too much copying Theme Park.
  • This game would require a lot of money in art assets.
  • I realized that this kind of game is very difficult to tune properly. The technical part was quite easy to do but it’s hard to have an interesting gameplay.
  • I stopped the project way too late. I looked into my source control software history (perforce) to see that I worked on the game for more than 3 months.

In comparison, I spent less than a month on “Project 15″, stopped last week. And Project 15 was already playable but the game itself is also much less complex. Anyway, I’m getting better at moving on early when something is not working, that’s good :)

Conclusion

Obviously, even if it can be difficult, it’s good to stop working on a game when you realize it’s not that good. Just backup the game, and keep it somewhere just in case a killer idea can revive it. I now try to concentrate exclusively on gameplay from the beginning of the development and avoid any technical features if it’s not required. That way, I can find out quickly if it’s fun or not.

Feel free to tell me what you think about Museum Director and to share your “failed game designs” in the comments.

Follow me on twitter and facebook to know when I post other unreleased designs. ;)

Update: see also : Never released game design and prototype #2 : DJ Machine