Here at Big Fish we are incredibly excited about the reception Lifeline has received, both by the Apple Watch community (We’re number 1!) and the whole iOS community (we were the number 1 paid app for a couple days last week! And we’re still in the top 5!). Folks have stepped in across the globe to help Taylor escape from her (or his) moon-shaped prison.
Timeline was created by Three Minute Games, a Big Fish games studio based in Oakland. The studio specializes in quick production schedules and brainstorming new, crazy, awesome ideas. I don’t know about you, but I’m super excited to see what’s coming next from Three Minute Games (including – but not limited to – Lifeline 2!).
I was able to sit down (well, via email…) with Mars Jokela, Lead Game Designer with Three Minute Games (with a few interjections from Colin Liotta – General Manager of Three Minute Games) to get the inside scoop on Lifeline and Three Minute games.
While you’re at it, check out this great interview we did with Colin when he stopped by Big Fish in Seattle a couple weeks ago:
In the video interview, Colin told us a bit about the philosophy of the 3 Minute Games team. What’s it like working on such an innovative team?
It’s pretty much a game designer’s dream come true! We get to work on whatever games we think have the strongest chance of success, which means we can prototype new game ideas all the time. I believe that the possibility space of what games can be is enormously larger than what it is now, and I want to be one of the explorers finding new fun.
How many game ideas are on your to-do list right now?
Dozens and dozens! And one of the greatest things about working on this team is that we aren’t limiting ourselves to any particular game genre or style. Our next game could literally be anything – we just have to be able to make it ourselves.
Are there any that you are REALLY excited about (Tell us ALL your secrets! Or just some hints)?
Here are a few freebie themes, so you can imagine the gameplay however you like. I’m personally pretty partial to puzzle games, but these could work in a variety of genres:
• Space Marine Biologist.
• Cathy the Cat Herder.
• Zombie Hamster Cage Simulator.
Now maybe somebody will run with those and we can work on some of our other ideas!
Why did you think making Smart Watch games would be a great idea?
As a game designer I particularly enjoy working with new hardware with novel characteristics, and seeing what new kinds of games can emerge from those design parameters. Sometimes “restrictions” like very brief interactions and a small screen tied to your wrist can really encourage creative problem solving and become inspiring instead. The Apple Watch has a completely new set of interaction guidelines and technical capabilities, so it’s really interesting to come up with games that fit the Watch paradigm, and that really are new fun.
How did the idea for a Pick Your Path Adventure game come about?
Colin: With iOS 8, Apple made it possible to attach actions to notifications. I’m always looking for ways to use new technology features to make interesting new games, and thought it would be really cool if you could play a game entirely from the lock screen of your phone. That in turn led to the idea of a game that consisted entirely of a conversation, and the pick your path style of story was a natural fit. We did some initial experimentation with the idea and it looked really promising, and then when the Apple Watch was announced it became clear that the game would also work great on your wrist, so we started developing the idea in earnest.
Mars: I joined the team after Colin had already started the project, but I understand that it had to do with Apple’s addition of interactive lock-screen notifications, and thinking about what kinds of games you could play without even entering the app itself.
How long was Lifeline in development?
An early version was playable as far back as last October, but we hit full production stride around March this year. I’d say it was about six weeks of development overall.
The intriguing writing is such a huge part of this game. How did Dave Justus [Fables: get involved with the 3 Minute Games team?
I have some friends in the traditional Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing industry who led me to Dave through a friend of his, who knew his writing style would be a great fit for the way this story is told completely through dialogue.
What was it like working with him on this project?
Absolutely fantastic! I won’t lie, I was a little unsure about approaching him at first, because we’d be working purely through email and he didn’t have direct experience with interactive fiction or Twine (the platform we used to write the game). But he really hit the ground running and came up to speed quickly. Once he started writing in earnest, I couldn’t have been happier with what he was sending us. Overall there was very little back-and-forth – he just wrote a great story and we put it in the game.
Do you think you’ll bring in guest creators like this in the future?
Oh yes, we would absolutely love to – we envision this becoming a platform for many stories to be told. Know anybody good?
Were there any crazy plotlines that you discussed and then discounted for Lifeline? (And if so, do tell!)
There was discussion about whether to make the story just about surviving against the elements in a hostile environment, or whether to introduce adversaries to challenge Taylor. Ridley Scott’s Alien and Aliens were referenced a lot at the time! We talked about how “hard,” or plausibly realistic, the science fiction should be, and how that would affect the plot as well. Andy Weir’s The Martian figured into this quite a bit (we’re all HUGE fans of the book and it shows). I don’t know how many crazy ideas Dave may have tossed around that didn’t come our way, but what you read now is very largely of his own making!
Typically graphics and art are a huge part of games. Did you ever discuss adding art to Lifeline?
Early on, there were some plans for more interface elements to build up the app like that. But as the story developed it became apparent that it wasn’t necessary for the first version of the game, and adding those would make the app take longer to develop. We realized that all it needed was a strong story and a sympathetic character to resonate with players, and the real-time aspect would be our hook. So we cut out everything but that, and made the game an experiment. Now that we know that this kind of story can work well in this format, we are talking about expanding the platform with a variety of elements and types of interaction in future titles.
-Was it a scary decision to almost exclusively use text?
It sure was, but that’s what our studio mission is all about – trying new things, taking risks, and learning from what works!
Taylor has such a distinct voice. Were you all involved in creating the character? Can you tell me a bit about that process?
What we handed Dave was basically just the premise of an astronaut stranded on an inhospitable world with no one to talk to but the player. From that he built up Taylor’s sarcastic voice, made him/her a student (which really informed Taylor’s sense of helplessness), and ran with it. His characterization is really on-point.
Can you tell us, in your mind, is Taylor a male or female (In mine, she’s totally a woman)?
We intentionally did not gender Taylor because A) we don’t believe in gender stereotypes and we don’t want to reinforce them in our work and B) we believe that giving the player a silent, implicit choice over how they view Taylor really helps build immersion and adds to the player’s ownership over the experience of the game. It’s been really fascinating to watch different people talk about Taylor using “he” or “she” in discussing the game, sometimes even flipping back and forth over the course of a conversation!
Personally, being male myself and having a male friend named Taylor, at first I saw Taylor as male, too. Now I flip back and forth constantly as I play the game. It’s really interesting to be aware of myself doing that, and sort of watch myself thinking about thinking about it, as I play.
Last question: If you were stranded on a moon, what are the five things you would take with you?
Brilliant. Thanks Mars.