For this week’s Series Spotlight, the owner of Blue Tea Games, Steven Zhao was kind enough to sit down and talk about the development process behind the Dark Parables series of games. In addition to the great interview below, make sure to set aside some time this weekend to play the free trial of the newest Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters Collector’s Edition!
Please introduce your development team to our readers…
I’m Steve, owner and creative director at Blue Tea Games.
What made you want to be a game developer?
I created games since 11, but started working professionally as a game developer during university to help pay for tuition.
How do you get inspiration for a game?
Dark Parables was inspired by the amazing comic book series, Fables. Also at that time, the epitome of adventure hidden object game experience was Return to Ravenhearst. I wanted to merge the strong stories similar to Fables with the gameplay experience of RTR, while adding innovative features that makes our brand stand out. This is what became of Dark Parables.
How long does it take for you to storyboard a game from start to finish?
A couple weeks.
What are the biggest technical challenges when you develop a game?
None that stands out. We have a talented architect programmer that can handle our design requests.
What is your favorite game at the moment, and why?
Mass Effect 3. In many games players control how the game is played, while progressing a linear passive story. Mass Effect allow players to make critical decisions, and thus allow a more engaging active story. This is one feature we will test in an upcoming title not in the Dark Parables brand.
Any advice for new developers?
For hidden object games, make one you are genuinely interested in. It’s a long haul from start to finish. And have lots of money saved up – good art is expensive.
What does your development team do that’s different?
We have very high quality standard, notably the art. Both design and graphics go through vigorous feedback and approval stages. We also allocate long preproduction schedule per title, which helps significantly with design, artistic direction, and story.
As a developer, after shipping a game, do you enjoy playing it just as much as you enjoyed making it? Or when it’s shipped do you take a sigh of relief and forget about it, knowing you don’t need to worry about it anymore?
Both. We enjoy playing Dark Parables and are relieved that after seven or eight months of production, we can finally share the game with the world.
Have you ever had to sacrifice a feature you really didn’t want to give up to keep a game in budget or meet a deadline?
Rarely. We’ve had to make a few significant cuts, namely puzzles and cutscene polish,specifically with Dark Parables – Rise of Snow Queen, to meet deadlines. It’s not something we want to do, and with good planning, we made sure our next Dark Parables was created as intended.
How many ideas have you had to abandon or drastically change because someone beat you to the punch?
No one really beat us to the punch because what we make stands out (from the crowd).
If you could remove one cliché from the Video Game industry, what would it be?
Save the little girl or boy. We are victim to it too. Some games assume little kids enjoy wandering off into dark woods and hiding in abandoned mansions.
What do you find is the best approach for starting a new project? Do you think about the story (or characters or style etc.) you want to get across or do you worry about mechanics and gameplay first?
We focus on story first because we have smoothed out and evolved our gameplay over the years to meet what we think players would enjoy. I feel adventure hidden object game is just another strong medium to tell a story, just like reading a book or watching a movie.
What do developers think about the people who get mad about a particular aspect of a game, whether it be story, customization, gameplay, etc. Do they take it personally or ignore it?
I would be thankful as it provided us with useful feedback. Normally I ignore isolated cases because we can’t please everyone. But if enough people complain about the same thing, we will make sure we don’t make the same mistake again.
Do developers ever realize that the game they’re making needs a major overhaul? If so, is there a process to improving a game in the latter stages of development?
I think some do. I don’t have a formal process – but it did happen, and it was a very messy process. The important thing is to show and rally the team on why we have to do a major overhaul, and clear steps on how these changes will be implemented.