Disco Is Dead! is a game created during my school’s sprint week from June 20th to June 24th. The theme of the sprint was to create an arcade game for the school’s arcade cabinets. There was also a little additional competition, where my team won best game!
A Little Bit of Backstory…
When we found out we were going to make an arcade game we were very excited. However, our group focuses more on story-based games, and I’m mainly a narrative designer. Arcade games are meant to be played in quick short sessions, so developing a full-length story was off the table. Even through this was not a chance to showcase our skills in narrative, we decided to venture forth and see what we can come up with!
How we wanted to brainstorm was extremely important. We all took around 10 minutes to brainstorm individually, then afterwards present our ideas to the whole group in a round table session.
We notice all the similarities we all wanted to achieve:
- Quick and action packed rounds.
- Easy controls; the less the better.
- Explosions are satisfying!
- Make it humorous.
- Make it juicy!
These ended up becoming our goals.
Great! We got goals. Now what?
Time to Design the Mechanics!
We continued to listen and discuss aesthetics and mechanics. One team member mentioned wanting to have a funny mechanic where you bitch-slap enemies away. There was another idea floating around where the players will be manly looking men, but they scream and react like a little girl. Putting those two together, we got manly man slapping enemies away in a girly fashion. My idea was to create a disco, to match the era of the time arcade machines were popular, a sense of nostalgia. Throw that in and add zombies, and we got a game about manly men slapping zombies away at a 1970s disco. Personally, I wanted these two “hunks” look like men who love to boogie all night long. They should look buff, but they’ll have high pitched screams when hit! Our amazing artist rendered exactly how I envisioned it:
Damn look at that fro.
Other design aspects we kept in mind:
- We wanted to keep it at two players, and let them work together as a team rather than against each other. Teamwork is more empowering!
- The rounds will be timed, this will add more tension to the gameplay.
- Combos for more slapping!
- Slapping will be controlled by the joysticks. The joysticks are the perfect controls for slapping, as one can feel like they are slapping it as they slap within the game! Simple: Slap the joystick to the right to slap a zombie coming from the right. The machine had an additional nine buttons, but our group did not want to use them. Keeping the game’s controls simple makes it easier to jump into!
- We wanted the players to see these manly hunks they control. So having their fronts turned away the player would cause the focal point to be the zombies coming in. Yes, this would be more immersive with the zombies coming towards the player themselves, but we wanted the opposite: the focal point is the reaction of the hunks as they slap the zombies away. That’s our hook; our magic sauce.
Originally, we wanted it so that there will be eight zombies coming towards the player in eight different directions. Here is an early mockup I designed on the first day with the artist’s re-visioning implemented later:
After the first round of playtesting, we found that there was a problem occurring with the diagonal slaps. The up, down, left and right slaps were register fine, but diagonal slaps need to be hit exactly at an exact angle to count. Because of this, our programmers made the smart move to eliminate those directions and keep only up, down, left and right slaps.
My Contributions and Roles
Of course my narrative senses kicked in. Even in an arcade game, the way the environment is blocked out can tell a story. The story I designed was this:
As two manly men boogie the night away, they don’t realize they’re the last ones in the dancing club. What gives? Suddenly, a grotesque zombie pops up and startles them. Then more undead start to rise; everyone in the club has turned into zombies! As the hunks head towards the exit, they find out they are locked inside and unable to get out! Now, trapped in front of the doors and hoping someone will open it, they must try to survive the undead by slapping them away!
Even though we initially thought we could not implement story for an arcade game, I found a way to do so!
Not only did I design the narrative, I also performed numerous duties:
- Create organize and update the game design document.
- Design the levels and blocking out the screen.
- Keep our scrum board up to date.
- Digitally painted and designed the background.
- Re-colour frames of zombies to create different colour variations, thus more zombies.
- Create accessory assets that fall off zombies when hit and blood explosions to make feedback juicy.
- Create titles, promotional image, and a trailer video to grab people’s attention.
Finding Our Real Magical Hook
At the very end, the programmer implemented a bonus mini round that takes place after every few rounds. The mini round was the hook we never initially thought of at first! This special rounds allows the two players to slap each other constantly in under a short amount of time; whoever slaps the most, wins. It was mostly inspired by the pomegranate in Fruit Ninja. When testing, this put a huge smile on the player’s faces. It was highly amusing and entertaining to watch even for bystanders!
Another Chance at Storytelling!
When the game was mostly complete, it was time for me create a video to grab a potential player’s attention. And you guessed it, I wanted to focus on visualizing the story. This was my chance. I took all the assets, requested the artist to create a simple 2-frame head bob animation for each hunk and started working in Premiere. Before starting, I quickly drew out storyboards on the whiteboard to understand what shots are needed. I made the story with little animation; just easily and quickly moving assets around, similar to the The Powerpuff Girls intro. Unfortunately, I forgot to place and refer the media files into my Premiere folder before leaving school at around midnight. So, when I went to finish it at home, I had to re-do the entire thing until 3 am. Ouch.
But the next day – the day of showcasing – made it all worth it.
Time to Show Our Baby
Seeing my other classmate’s games, they were all absolutely amazing and I was extremely proud of everyone! This was definitely our best sprint week yet, and sadly our last. We had some technical difficulties the entire time as our game would not let the player’s slap the zombies, which was out main mechanic! It was devastating to watch, but after our programmers figured out the problem, it finally worked. It was an instant hit. Everyone was laughing and getting really into it. It was really great seeing everyone go up the the arcade machine to play our game! Everyone loved the unexpected bonus level, especially!
Here’s the trailer I made that will be played on the arcade machines:
Oh man, I’m tearing up. What a fun and wild ride! :’)