Tinseltown Dreams: The 50′s was the first project I was assigned to design at Namco and the catalyst for my career in video games.
When I joined Namco in 2008, PC Downloadable games were hot – this was right before facebook games had started to take off and before much thought had been given into microtransactions. Therefore, the game was to be sold as a single purchase and not designed to be freemium like the games I work on now.
The game’s theming and core mechanic had been greenlit by the time I started at Namco. The game would be a Match 3 game with a movie theme set in the 50′s. The producer, Danny Pisano and I were tasked to explore the Match 3 genre and to figure out the details. We decided we needed something more than just the Match 3 mechanic to make it viable in the casual games market. The top Match 3 games typically had a strong customizable element – the leader at the time was Fishdom. Fishdom featured a similar Match 3 mechanic with the added customization of a fish tank. Players complete Match 3 boards to earn currency to purchase items for their fish tank. Having the fish tank gave much more motivation to play the Match 3. We decided to take a similar approach with our movie themed game - customizable movie sets would be our fish tank.
One of the major challenges of Tinseltown Dreams were the art constraints – we had a limited amount of artists but wanted a ton of character art. The Lead Artist, Shaun Tsai figured out a way to reduce art time by finding folks around the office to pose for the character assets. We created our own photo studio and even had a bunch of costumes – it was a ton of fun! With the lighting already set and a posed model for each character – the artists could quickly render the assets with minimal iteration time. I modeled for the western showgirl! In fact, you can pick “me” to be your avatar on the casual gaming portal, Gamezebo.com!
My favorite part of the project was designing the Match 3 board layouts. It required lots of iteration to get the board designs challenging enough to be fun, but not TOO challenging and alienating the slower users. We ended up running a beta test to get real user feedback on each level including level complete time, scoring, a rating of 1-10 and an open field for feedback. My first pass was too challenging – so I reduced the complexities of each of them just a bit to reach the final tuning. I also wanted to work in elements from the current stage’s movie theme wherever I could. My favorite design was the octopus level from the horror theme!
Another fun part was designing the ultra-awesome bomb power ups. Each movie genre had a different themed special effect which removed a massive amount of pieces. For example, the sci fi theme had a UFO that hovered over and sucked up the pieces:
The comedy theme had a bicycling cow with tomatoes splatting on the board:
And the romance theme had convertible cruising into the sunset over the board:
And the worst part about the project… Namco interviewing me on video about the game! It’s honestly the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done! So go watch it and giggle!