Meet the Video Games Trying to Turn Game Development on Its Head
Making a video game is hard. Making a good one is harder. Will asking for help from a disorganized mob of strangers make it any easier?
That’s the question at the core of two nascent games, Choice Chamber and Project Cyber, both of which are using the game streaming site Twitch as a sort of development aid. In Choice Chamber, Twitch viewers will be able to vote on things like what weapons a player should receive or what enemies they should encounter; Project Cyber, meanwhile, is game development masquerading as a reality show, with creators Spearhead Games promising to make their work as transparent as possible.
“They either see a view of the studio, or a window from one of the developers’ computers, and they can chat with us anytime,” Spearhead co-founder Malik Boukhira said of Project Cyber’s Twitch channel. The channel also lets viewers request a free download code for the competitive sports game, even though it’s largely unfinished and unpolished.
“A challenging thing is making sure people know what this is about,” Boukhira said. “It’s, ‘Oh, this game is broken?’ Well, yeah, it’s been in development for five weeks.”
Project Cyber will eventually let players watching Twitch streams of games affect the live gameplay by commenting, something the game has in common with Choice Chamber. That game, currently seeking funds on Kickstarter, throws players through a series of monster-filled rooms — a familiar format called a dungeon-crawler — but pretty much everything about those rooms is at the mercy of game viewers.
The game’s developer, Michael Molinari, said he started the game before Twitch Plays Pokémon came onto the scene, but that the surprising success of that game-streaming experiment prompted him to try to turn Choice Chamber into a full game.
“It was just an experiment at first, but I thought, this is the perfect time to do a Kickstarter,” Molinari said.
Molinari concedes that the first few types of polls he tried on the game were “boring” but that streaming the in-development game and soliciting feedback from viewers has been invaluable. A future version of the game, he said, may let players call out coordinates on the screen to help the main player fight a giant boss monster.
Both Project Cyber and Choice Chamber are conceding an unusual amount of control for games. Although the industry often invites comparisons to the movie business, there’s a big difference: Hollywood loves to talk up its next projects, but developers generally hold their cards close to the chest. For even some experienced and successful game creators, each new game is like a startup launching out of stealth.
What they still need to prove, though, is that that loss of control produces results. It certainly worked for Twitch Plays Pokémon, which has anarchically defeated two games in the series and is well into its third, but those games were fully developed products; the loss of control happened only at the gameplay end. And if the end results of this new style of game development are actually fun, Twitch seems poised to swoop in.
“Twitch themselves are on the same page as me,” Molinari said. “They know this is the beginning, and everyone wants there to be a good exploration of what could happen.”