IGDA Meeting: Willy Wonka Post Mortem

Tuesday was the IGDA Chicago chapter meeting at Dave & Buster’s. High Voltage Software‘s Matt Corso discussed what it was like to develop Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Wonka was plagued with licensor demands. Normally a licensed title might have the developer, the publisher, and a single licensor, but this game needed approval from about five different sources, including Tim Burton! The game had a tight schedule and needed to be released to coincide with the movie. The movie itself was also completed on a short schedule, so the project team did not have much to go on except the original book for a long time.

Over 15 design documents later, one was finally accepted by everyone and they set to work. They created their own art assets, only to find that the concept art from the movie set looked completley different. A number of times they had to scrap any work they had done and start over. They were required to use the sets from the movie, which meant that it would be difficult to create a game around them. But restrictions promote creativity and they managed to make a game that was fun for the actor who plays Charlie. He found it incredibly fun to have free reign of the sets when in reality he was not allowed to go in certain areas.

One thing I found weird was the convincing the team needed that combat wasn’t necessary. The licensors demanded that there would be no combat and that Charlie Bucket could not get hurt or killed. “How do we add combat to this game?” “We need combat!” These comments were common in the group. Matt said that while he likes games that involve heavy combat, he also likes games like Animal Crossing which are fun despite a lack of combat. From the way Matt described it, they made a puzzle game with Oompa-Loompas that could be used as tools, such as in Pikmin or Lemmings, although he never named those games. He made it sound like the lack of combat was frustrating the development team.

In the end, the game was made, missing its target date by only three days. Licensor demands, the lack of assets from the movie, and the constant reworking of the game were identified as the causes of much discouragement.

I personally think that the development could have been less hectic if they wouldn’t have tried to build their own art assets and levels before the concept art and movie assets were available. Also, licensor demands for change were fairly drastic, and I think that if both sides discussed the cost of such changes that it would have been more clear. Non-developers can’t be expected to understand that a request to change an entire level or gameplay mechanic results is in delays and work. It didn’t sound like Matt or the team made those concerns clear to the licensors.

Of course, I was not involved personally. I have no idea how much wasn’t said. I don’t know the day to day events that happen to a group that works night and day for seven days a week for months at a time. Perhaps any perceived dissent would have rubbed people the wrong way. Maybe the licensors were expecting to have their way without question. I don’t know, but I think that communicating concerns would have gone a long way to eliminating the Us vs. Them mentality.

In any case, it was good to hear a post mortem of a game. Reading the post mortem just isn’t the same. I hope there are more IGDA meetings like this one.

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