Falling Skies may be coming to an end, but fear not, there is more Falling Skies for you to watch and play. Little Orbit teamed up with TNT and Dreamworks to create a video game that spanned the time between seasons 3 and 4. We had a chance to chat with the CEO of Little Orbit and discuss what goes into making a game like this and working with an established fan base and show.
Don’t forget to pickup your copy Sept 30th on PS3, Xbox 360 and Steam for PC.
When working with networks on games based on established shows, how do you decide the style of the game and the storyline to use? How much input did the show runners have on the story?
MS: We work with many different licensors, and while they are all different, we’ve found that they love to collaborate with us if given the opportunity.
In the case of Falling Skies, we spent quite a bit of time brainstorming with various groups at TNT and Dreamworks Television, and they were fantastic to work with. Ultimately we chose to base the game in between Season 3 and 4 as an interesting transition is happening where the core characters all leave Charleston and go back on the road. It felt very much like going back to the roots of the show and some of what we saw in season 1. We also realized that the game might be the first introduction of Falling Skies to some fans, so that worked well. And while our villain is new, he’s tied to the events of Season 3 in a very intimate way.
For the style of game, we looked at a lot of different genres. However we had to stay true to the show. Falling Skies is a world with overwhelming odds, where 90% of humans have been killed, and the remaining survivors struggle just to manage their food and shelter. We felt the Tactical Shooter genre mixed with a little resource management was a great fit.
Knowing the show has a loyal and large fan base, what considerations do you as a developer make when determining the characters that are playable and their personality within the game?
MS: We tried hard to get everyone into the game, and even more importantly we spent time looking for other ways for fans to interact with their favorite characters. As a result, we decided to send one show character with the player’s squad on each of the story missions.
Can you expand on the style of gaming (first person, open world) that this game has? is it a stuck story line you follow step by step or is it open to where everyone’s experience is different?
MS: The game is a Tactical Shooter. It’s primarily played from a top down isometric view allowing the player to move around their entire squad of up to 6 members and direct their actions turn by turn. Occasionally we get down into the action over the squad member’s shoulder for a closer look when they execute specific moves. The map for the mission is mostly obscured when you first enter, and as you explore more is revealed.
The story is linear, but the game generates endless side quests that can be played at any time which allows the player to rescue and recruit new squad members, level up, collect resources, and upgrade aspects of their base.
Will the game have multiplayer and what characters are playable?
MS: The game is only single player.
We have Tom, Pope, Ben, Anthony, and Maggie from the show. These characters aren’t playable, but they either accompany you or play a major role in the story missions.
Can you explain the process that goes into building a video game from concept to finished product?
MS: Building games is always a lot of fun but also extremely challenging. On the fun side, we get to sit down and create something new in the very distinct world of Falling Skies. There is so much to play with that the early months are spent simply narrowing down ideas and trying to fit together all the pieces of the game so that everything in the game compliments each other.
Once we have the design, then we break everything up into milestones so that we can map out all the art, programming, sound, script, voice over, and production that is necessary to complete the game. This is where the challenges start. Often we have to work within quite a few constraints. These can be everything from hardware limitations, time constraints, or even aspects of the genre that need to work well. The milestones are designed to allow everyone to put their pieces together as early in the process, so we can see how the game is progressing and make adjustments.
Unfortunately games don’t simply have to work. They have to be fun, and fun is a tricky thing to define. Some people have fun through overcoming difficult puzzles or successfully reaching their goals. Some people love unexpected twists or they enjoy seeing the story unfold. And some people have fun through the feeling of mastery and feeling skilled. It’s our job to not only complete the game, but also iterate during each milestone so that we’re adjusting the design to either make the game more fun or remove things that are preventing the game from being fun.
As we reach milestones, the game gradually comes together, and we start testing. It takes an army of Quality Assurance testers to play the game for thousands of hours to find all the bugs or problems. Often times they will also provide early feedback on how well some of the core features are working. Along the way a script is written, submitted, altered, resubmitted, and then tweaked until everyone feels it has the same tone and quality of the show. That script is translated into a number of different languages and then recorded for the cut scenes.
The earliest version of the game is called the 1st Playable. It’s a small sample of the working gameplay to see how things are coming together. From there we create the Vertical Slice. That’s where we take one complete mission, and we polish it up to give a complete “slice” of the game in order to test each of the design decisions and production timelines. This is where we’ll start to make changes and adjust the design to tune things.
There are many art and programming milestones that need to be reached for various things like character models, specific mission environments, and each game play feature, but ultimately we’ll reach Alpha. That’s when the game is now feature complete. We need to be able to illustrate candidate gameplay for everything in the game design. At this point it may be lacking content like some character models or some missions, but this milestone allows us to review everything and make sure we’re on track.
We finish up development with the Beta and Gold Master Candidate submissions. The Beta version is feature and content complete. The game is basically done at this point, but we’re still making minor adjustments and fixing bugs. The GMC version is our Gold Master Candidate. A “gold master” is the version of the game that all of the finished products will be replicated from. For consoles like Xbox360 and PS3 we have to submit the Gold Master Candidate for a final round of testing to make sure it is safe to manufacture.
After that we replicate the discs, assemble them with the manual, cover sheet and case, and then ship everything to retail.
We noticed in the trailer that it appears to have some of the actors actual voices. Did the cast do voice overs for the game and if so can you explain how that process works?
MS: All of the characters in-game were voiced by the actors from the show. After the script is approved, we hire a director and schedule studio time with each actor to come in and record their lines. They are given context for each scene, and then they perform several “takes”, or versions of the line using different levels of emotion. Often we will wait to translate the script till all of the main voice over has been recorded, because the actors sometimes come up with changes to their lines that make them more authentic to their character