It sounds like the most pathetic thing in the world, but this game could easily be canned by my own Mum.
I'm currently on no income, and have to mooch off my parents in order to have a place to work on this game. Tommy's the same way. Luckily for Tommy, he has supportive parents. It's not quite the same case for me. My Dad seems pretty much fine with what I do, being a big nerd himself and having some appreciation of what goes into a development like this. My mother finds technology fairly repellant. As such, she has no natural interest for computers, games, or technology in general. In 2004 she finally caved and bought a microwave. I can count the number of times she's used it on two hands (though this might actually be a blessing. Microwaves. Feh.). She used to use computers for work in the 80's, but when the mouse was introduced, she pretty much refused to use computers. I don't blame her - cheaper ball-based mice were jumpy affairs at the best of times. I've thrown a few at co-workers when they've given me the critical mass of frustration. That's why I didn't allow myself a cordless one until 7 months ago - many a potential lawsuit was avoided thanks to a 1.5 meter cable snapping taught.
Bottom line, as a bonafide luddite, my Mum doesn't actually like my career choice at all. She sees games as probably the lowest form of art possible, and she'd use the world "art" grudgingly and with little finger quotes, too. Let me put it this way: even though she thinks that comics are for "street urchins and commoners", she'd still find it preferable if I drew cartoons rather than make games. Imagine Mrs. Bucket and Mary Whitehouse rolled into one, and you see my dilemma.
When I get home from Tommy's, I've got around a month at my parent's house before I'm kicked out. I'm dreading it. I'm not sure how I can possibly focus on the game while earning money, tracking down places to stay etc. It's as good as canning the game, and yet she insists "it's for your own good". She's worried that I don't have a social life, (and I am too!) but if we don't nail this first game, I'm worried that the company will be killed in utero.
Being kicked out is despite the fact that of all the video-games I've ever seen her come in contact with, this is the only one she's been able and willing to try. Now, perhaps she's being polite, but she was absolutely able to play the game (and had no chance with K, incedentally). We've kept it that simple.
I know lots of people who felt alienated by games' percieved high levels of violence, over-complication and sameyness. They're non gamers, through and through, preferring a nice book instead. I've asked them to try our game, even though they've told me that they hate games due to their crass image, or how punishing they can be to newcomers. When they pick up the controller, they seem instantly surprised at playing such a welcoming game. They're confused at the idea that they might like a game. How could they like a video game when games are for spoddy 4-eyed friendless geeks? Will they have to buy new clothes now? Do they have to ditch 75% of their accumulated friendships? What can nerds eat anyway? Will they have to stop having sex for years on end?? It's all so confusing!
It's actually helped development just knowing that there are so many people in my life who haven't been interested in experiencing the joys of interactivity. I see why. From their perspective, there's no entrance point to the cacoon we've weaved ourselves, and watching most gamers as they adopt their zen-autism in order to interact with a complex game hardly makes it look like an enjoyable activity. These are the opinions of people too scared, judgemental, or in fear of being judged to try games for themselves. It's far easier to dismiss them as algae snacks for cultural bottom-dwellers.
When some games try to entice these potential patrons in, (like early Wii games) it's unfortunate, but they don't seem to even scratch the cacoon's surface with their shallow gimmicks. Thus, players are left wondering "What's the big deal with games? They're shallow novelties!". Such games are getting people to pick up a controller, sure, but sadly they're not really showing these newcomers how enthralling the depths of interactivity can be. To have someone understand the appeal of great games, you have to do both in the same stroke (I think Guitar Hero succeeds here). The cliche "Easy to Learn, Hard to Master" seems to be pervasive in interviews and pitch documents. Sadly, it's rarely as true as people would like to believe.
I have to conclude that there's no point enticing people in without showing them the spectrum of joy found in interactivity - from simple surface verbs to deep causal chains of events. It's still easier to require current gamers to jump through less-than-elegant hoops in order to find depth-through-complication within re-hashed works, minnovation occasionally sprinkled ontop. That seems like a shame to me.
So, in a weird kind of way, I've been making this game for my mother. Sadly, she doesn't recognize how ironic it is that she might be canning it.
We're in a self imposed crunch right now. The game's coming along pretty well. The other day, I was setting up a single player mode (somewhere between Geometry Wars and Tetris) when we decided to try co-op (up to 4 players) on a whim. Tommy jumped in, and started controlling the avatar with me.
Now, as everyone knows, co-op makes any game better purely through the shared experience you're giving people. It can be like a bridge for both of you into a different plane where your minds meet in tackling the same problems. Something about this game really capitolized on co-op, though. I think it was because we were both in control of so many common entities at once, and could very quickly tell what the other person was doing, and help out. On the flip side, we were never disruptive to each other: we could both work in parallel or perpendicularly, and still not accidentally hurt each other's immediate plans. We could suggest and enact strategies so quickly that it felt like we were reading each other's minds. The game was an efficient mind-bridge, and we were working as one. I've felt that before in other games, but never so densely and immediately as this.
At that moment, I lost a whole lot of stress about whether or not the gameplay was going to be good enough. Any doubt about how practical the concept is has been lifted. I'm convinced that we're almost there.
To that end, we're trying to get a demo/recording of our game ready for MS to see. It'll still be without polish, but I think the concept should be strong enough for them to endourse. A green light might save me from being kicked out, too.