From dreams come dreams
Lucidity is a game set in a dream world — which makes it fitting that it all started with DreamWeek: late last December, everyone in the company put their pencils down, gathered into small ragtag teams, and made a bunch of games. All kinds of interesting, wacky, and totally inspiring games made with whatever they could get onscreen in 5 short days. After it was over, we were lucky enough to get to “borrow” one of the original DreamWeek team members, Chip Sbrogna, to work on the Lucidity design team.
Chip has been a designer in the games industry since 1998. Before Lucidity, he worked on God of War II, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (among others). He also recently won third place at the Guitar Hero Arcade World Championship. Since we’re all pretty busy and the only time I see Chip anymore is at the karaoke bar down the street where it’s too loud to have a real conversation, we exchanged a few emails about Dream Week, and Lucidity.
Shara: Lucidity was born out of DreamWeek, and it was your team’s game. As a seasoned game developer, what was the Dream Week experience like for you?
Chip: I loved it. Having a full week to work with a talented group of people on whatever we wanted was an incredible experience. It felt like the garage days of game design — no politics, no egos, no red tape — just a small group of people with a passion for making games. It was one of the most productive weeks I’ve ever seen in the industry, and certainly the most fun I’ve ever had.
(More after the jump)
Shara: It must have been strange seeing “your baby” get handed off to a new team to take from prototype to full game. What was the biggest challenge about this? What was the coolest thing about it?
Chip: The final game is different than the DreamWeek prototype, but even that version was different than I’d originally envisioned. Whenever an idea gets handed to a group of people, it’s going to evolve, and you need to let it go. A core concept can sound great, but nailing down the mechanics and gameplay was a group effort. The success of the game itself was defined by that team. The biggest challenge for me was when the DreamWeek prototype was then handed to the dev team.
As a member of both teams, I knew what we’d tried before, and what was successful and what wasn’t. The new team wanted to try a lot of things that I considered ground we’d already covered. I had to bite my tongue a few times and let them go down those roads.
Although it was hard for me at first, a lot of good came from this too. Where the DreamWeek team only had a week to experiment and had to make decisions quickly, the game team was able to spend more time making some of those concepts work. Which then to come full circle, was also the coolest thing about it.
Shara: Often when we design a feature or a mechanic, the player ends up using it in ways we’d never thought about. What was the most surprising element that game out of the Lucidity design for you?
Chip: Honestly, I was more surprised by the designers than the players. The Dreamweek prototype was a very twitch-focused game, requiring fast thinking and quick reflexes with a steep learning curve. It wasn’t a very casual game. When game team took over, I started to see designers build levels that required the player to think in ways I’d never anticipated. We started to see slower, almost meditative experiences, levels based on navigation challenges rather than keeping the player from falling, etc.
Then I was surprised again by the levels created through the BLOP program, which invited people from all over the company to design a Lucidity level. Some really creative stuff appeared that the Labs team hadn’t anticipated, even from people who’ve never done development before. And now those levels are in the game!
Shara: If LucasArts does a Dream Week again this year, how would you approach it differently?
Chip: DreamWeek was amazing, but we certainly learned a lot from it. If we do it again, I’ll be sure to catch up on sleep the week before. Heh. But seriously, I think a theme would have helped all the teams get started a little quicker. DreamWeek was presented as “do whatever you want” which was great on one hand, but on the other you then meet your team and everyone wants to do something different. We spent an entire day just figuring out what we wanted to do. TV cooking contests, for instance, all start every episode with a theme, and immediately the chef’s are off and running. Something like “make a 2D platform game – GO!” would have helped get the ball rolling a lot sooner.
Shara: When you played the final game for the first time, what were your thoughts?
Chip: I’m most impressed by how far this game has come in such a short time. It’s a very different game than I imagined it would be at the beginning of DreamWeek, but it’s become so much more. We had a great demo of a core mechanic and some gameplay surrounding it, but seeing it now with the amazing art, story and all the little details that were added to make the environment feel complete still blows me away. I never would have imagined I’d get lost in a fantasy while playing this game, and I love it.
Shara: Thanks, Chip. See you at karaoke. Margaritas are on me.