Around February 2006 I posted an article about a script I wrote to automatically cut out images in Photoshop. The following article is about the reason I wrote that script.
In my circle of friends there is this couple, David and Elly, that are among the biggest game fans I know. To give you an idea, together they live in a 3 bedroom house. One room, the master bedroom is just that, their bedroom. Of the other two bedrooms, one is Elly's game room, the other is David's game room. Each of them have personal bookshelves of collections of games, nearly every system that has ever come out, a large TV to play their games on and their own PCs. On top of that they have 3 arcade cabinets and a projection TV with more game systems connected to it in their living room.
So, sometime late in 2005 David announced he had asked Elly to marry him and she said yes. The wedding was to be in April 2006. Our group has had a little bit of a history of, um...., interesting birthday presents and so we got this idea that it would be really cool to surprise David and Elly with their very own video game on their wedding day. Something that could be presented at their wedding reception.
A group of about 11 of us met one day in December to discuss ideas for games. Should we make a small adventure game? Should it be multi−player so they could both play at the same time? Maybe it should just be a side scrolling shooter or a simple platform game. Ultimately we decided on making a bunch of simple mini games in the spirit of Wario Ware.
We brainstormed a bunch of simple game ideas including many raunchy ones that we thought maybe we'd have to save for a special party without the relatives although in the end we made just one version with relatively safe themes.
We talked about which platform to make the game on. PSP was discussed but a PSP game can't be shown to a crowd easily. My first thought was that it should be a PC game because that's the easiest system to develop for. The problem though with PCs is they are all different so making a game that runs on my home PC doesn't mean that same game is going to run well on whatever PC we manage to be able to bring to the reception.
Ultimately I made a simple cross platform library for PC and XBox. This allowed me to create and test the game on the PC but it meant at the actual reception all we would need was an XBox and since they are all the same we wouldn't have to worry about performance or driver issues.
Hot Stack was the first person to deliver graphics to me. He gave me a set of graphics for the game "Atkins Only". Each of the pieces of food and the background as well as heads of David and Elly. I set out to get it to work and it turned out to be quite a chore to figure out the positioning of all the graphics. That is what prompted me to write the script I mentioned above.
Once that was working things started to go pretty fast. McWild started giving me graphics very quickly and it generally took about 4 hours on my part to put together each of the 13 games.
While I was working on that McWild was busy creating an opening and closing video. He chose the theme of Donkey Kong seeing Elly as the Princess and David as Mario and therefore wanting to stop the wedding. That prompted me to make the title screen and progress screen to be Donkey Kong based. David and Elly would alternate playing mini games. Each time they completed one their character would move up the Donkey Kong level removing a peg until all the pegs were removed and Donkey Kong would fall on his head letting them get married.
About 70% into creation we found out we would not be able to show the game at the reception. We paniced having put so much work in already. Of course we couldn't tell David and Elly what we were creating but we had tried to arrange getting a projection TV setup at the reception and found out it was basically impossible. Fortunately in Japanese culture it is common to have an after party or nijikai (second party) after the reception which is generally for friends v.s. the reception which is for family.
We talked to Elly's Uncle who was arranging the reception and visited the place. It was prefect with a large room and a large projection TV on one wall as well as connectors we could use to setup the XBox.
Even better, McWild, who is an amazing photographer and video editor was asked directly by David and Elly to make something for the after party. This gave him permission to go take a bunch of pictures and footage of them without them knowing that we were going to use it for the game.
On the day of the wedding, David and Elly assumed we were going to show a video and since the game started with a video they had no idea it would end on the title screen of their very own custom game. McWild also had 2 wireless controllers which made it perfect for them to be able to stand in front of the big screen and play. According to sources, Elly didn't cry at her wedding but she did cry when she saw the game. Apparently she was overwhelmed that we had put so much effort into it.
Here then is a short version of some of the game being played at the after party.
To be honest we were a little worried. Games are not everyone's thing and we wondering if some of the other friends or family would be bored but to our amazement and delight, everyone was super into it. They cheered on Elly and David as they played and generally couldn't stop talking about it even after it was over. 大成功！
This is a kind of like the opposite of Root Beer Tapper. Food comes out the doors on the right and slides down the counters to the left. David or Elly must eat all the Atkins food and avoid the non Atkins food. Both David and Elly were on the Atkins diet for a while.
Balance: (David only)
In real life David has 3 Xboxes (Elly has 2) so we though a game with him in Akihabara balancing 3 Xboxes was kind of funny. Basically the game nudges the boxes a little so you have to get past them on the opposite side of the way they are leaning to get them to lean the other way. It's not that intuitive and required quite a bit of balancing.
Bring It In / Make it Fit: (David only)
As I mentioned, David and Elly have 3 generic arcade cabinets in their living room. The original idea for this game was that the door would stay still and David, pulling in an arcade cabinet, would scale up from the back and he'd have to make it into the door with almost the same controls as the Balance game. I tried that first and it was incredibly boring.
The next try was instead to have David and the machine be a fixed size and have him have to bring the machine in through receding doors. This gave it a much more dynamic feel and made it much better.
Distract Elly: (David Only)
As I mentioned, Elly's a gamer and if fact she is arguably more of a gamer than David so we came up with a simple game where it's David's job to distract Elly from playing a game and get her to notice him.
The actual mechanics of the game are simple. David just has to press the A or B buttons as fast as he can and get the meter up to the goal before his time runs out. In the meantime we see him on the screen jumping around in front of Elly in a Hard Gay suit trying to distract her.
Some highlights: if he gets the meter 80% of the way to the top Elly will lookup from her game playing and the alert guard sound from MGS plays. If David fails to get the meter up in time then Elly's says "つまらない。。。" which means booooring...
One interesting thing is the game basically works by each time the button is pressed a certain amount is added to the meter were as each frame of the game a certain amount is subtracted. Both of those values are constant meaning it's no harder to play at the beginning than the end but the rise in tension of the music as well as the time running out make it seem like it's really getting harder each moment it continues.
No Kusoge: (Both)
Kusoge is best translated as "Shitty Game". The basic idea was that 3 games appear. Two games are Kosuge, one game is a gem. The player has just a moment to grab the good game or else some other game otaku gets his paws on it and it's gone.
Unfortunately this was a hard game to understand. If you give the player too much time it's way too easy. At the same time if you give them too little time it's not enough for them to figure out which game is good. On top of that, without knowing how to play the game before they start it is nearly impossible to figure out as you only have about 1.5 seconds to choose.
Pick the Straight Guy: (Both)
This was a joke game. The faces of several members of our group were shown composited over a gay bar scene from South Park and David or Elly, who's ever turn it was had to try to pick the straight guy. Of course it turns out in the end none of them are straight and "P−O−W−N−D" is printed over the screen. As an added bonus the music for this game is the theme song from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
Pour the Sour: (Both)
This one also just barely worked. The idea was that you need to fill the glass by moving it under the drink dispenser and filling it neither too full nor too empty. It basically only worked because the first time either David or Elly played they didn't know what to do. The second time they generally got it right
You had to press to the right to put the glass under the tap nearly immediately in order to have enough time to fill it but pull it out about 1/2 a second before the time ran out in order not to over fill it.
Protect the Sausage: (David Only)
We have BBQ parties often and in this game David uses a spatula to fend off people trying to grab the sausages. It gets faster and faster as the timer runs down and if there are no sausages left by the end he loses.
The biggest problem with this game was with with spatula's irregular shape as well as the irregular shapes of the friends' images it is hard to tell what a hit is. We compensated by making the hit areas large and it seemed to be playable.
Put the Ring On: (Both together)
This is the last game, after they have defeated Donkey Kong. All they have to do is line up the two hands, they each control one, so that when the timer runs out the hands will automatically go together and the ring will be on.
This was also the last game made and so it was a little too easy. All they had to do was either press both controllers all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom. A possibly slightly better solution would have been to offset the ranges of both sides so they would have had to try just a little harder. It's the only game they didn't fail once to see the failure display.
Spank Cormac's Age: (David Only)
While looking for images to use in the game McWild found two pictures of David spanking Cormacaroni. He thought we had to put those in so this was a simple game where every press of the button spanks once and the age count goes up.
What makes the game difficult is of course one, if you don't know the correct age but more than that in order to actually get it to his age by the time the timer runs out, 35 at the time, you have to press pretty dang fast but you also have to be careful not to go over.
Squash The Roach: (Elly Only)
We often gather at a certain bar in Japan and Elly used to participate. That is, until one day when she saw a roach in the bar. She's never came back because she hates roaches so much and that was 3 years ago so we decided we had to make a roach squishing game.
You use the controller to move a crosshair then press the button to make a foot come down. What makes this game particularly hard is it takes moment for the foot to come down during which time the roach will have moved.
T-Bag: (Elly Only)
Elly is an expert Halo player and in Halo one of the things you do when you kill someone is stand over them and press the duck button to T−Bag them.
This game plays the same as the Distract Elly game above. You just have to press the buttons as fast as you can to get the meter up while in the background you see one Halo player t−bagging the other faster and faster while he yells out some smack talk.
Whac-A-Taru: (Elly Only)
Elly is or was addicted to Final Fantasy XI so we made this simple game where you press the D−Pad in the direction you want to whack. Miss one and it's game over.
In the end I think I only spent about 80 hours total making this over the course of about 3 months. I believe McWild also spent about 80 hours making graphics and the video.
Some things that helped make this easier
We made a base file that had layers to show the "title safe area" (the area that is guaranteed not to be cut off by they edges of the TV. It also had the timer bar so the person making the graphics could see that things were not going to be covered up by it.
Of course we borrowed lots of music, graphics and sound effects. We're not sure what the law is there. The game was basically only shown at a wedding except for the excerpts above on Youtube. We hope the respective copyright owners will not be upset with us.
That also means we can't make it available for others to play but that's okay since most of the games feature inside jokes that only people in our group would get.
A big issue was that we needed each game to be hard enough that they failed once and easy enough that they made it through on the second try. The reason is each and every game had a special win and lose sequence usually with some kind of joke or embarrassing picture involved so we wanted them to see the fail screens as well as the win screens but we didn't want them to fail a bunch of times as it would get boring quickly for those watching.
In one case, the Squash the Roach game, I even went so far as to make the game too hard to start and then much easier the second time through just to try to force the issue. I actually found the game kind of fun on its initial harder setting but even then I could only win it about 1 out of 4 times and we knew Elly, with no chance to practice would end up taking longer.
In the end it was a great experience. I setup an FTP site so we everyone could upload their assets and download the latest version of the game. The PC version made it possible to work fast. I used a controller adaptor to let me use console controllers on the PC. That way it was easy to test and debug the all the 2 player stuff as well as the loading screens and other issues that needed to be ironed out. Modern systems have made it incredibly easy to throw together something like this without having to worry about optimizing code or memory issues like we had to in the past.