One of the most difficult challenges in creating a game or any product for that matter is figuring out what the consumer wants. Inexperienced developers will often just ask consumers what their preferences are or worse yet, list a bunch of features and ask whether they want them in the game.
It’s like walking a kid in a candy shop, pointing at every candy bin and asking, “Do you like this?” More than likely, you’ll end up with a lot of “likes”.
Kano modeling offers a more sophisticated approach to assessing consumer preferences but one that’s simple to use. By asking a series of questions about features, you can determine which features the consumer must have, would like to have, would be willing to pay more for and those she is indifferent to.
Over several product cycles, we struggled with a certain feature. It took significant production time to maintain. Some of us felt that it was an essential feature, others felt it was a wasted and cumbersome distraction. When we polled our users about how much the users ‘liked’ it, the response was tepid.
Believing that the feature was not that important, we were set to scrap it. Luckily we polled our users using Kano modeling and discovered that it was a ‘Must Have’ feature thereby avoiding a disaster if we had removed it.
Many years ago, Ayu Othman introduced our office to the wonderful art of foot bagging or Hacky Sack. The general goal was to keep the bag in the air without using your hands but very quickly, the group began to modify this simple rule of play.
The goal of a round was changed to either have everyone make contact and keep the bag aloft for as long as possible (i.e, a Whozit as in Who is it going to go out on?) or to propel the bag between someone’s legs (i.e., a Wicket). It is interesting to note that these two goals are in conflict. The Whozit is more of a communal goal with everyone pitching in to try and ensure that the foot bag stays in the air, but a wicket usually stops the game.
Additional rules began to surface such as clarifying what constituted a wicket (e.g., if the foot bag was flicked between a person’s leg while the footbag was stalled on the ground, it was a flicket) or RLR, the Right Leg Rule which defined who would be responsible for kicking the foot bag if its trajectory was between two players. When we first starting using wikis we created a hacky sack wiki in part to maintain these rules but also as a way to get people familiar with the tool.
Recently we’ve adopted a ritual whereby the person who received the last wicket displays a clump of feathers on their cubicle as a mark of ‘shame’.
I proposed a rule to give those players who wicket someone who already had the feathers some additional mark of shame. My inner designer felt the current rule was too heavy-handed with weaker players and that the stronger players needed some governance. But we have not yet adopted this rule as the process is much more organic and ad hoc.
I just hope I don’t get wicketed as a result of my proposal…
Our publisher back in 2001 was interested in continuing Message in a Haunted Mansion‘s success by porting it to Game Boy Advance. We contracted the development to a 3rd party and I managed the project.
It was my first time working with a 3rd party developer except for animation, music and testing.
I really wanted to redesign the game, especially to fix issues we learned after the game’s release but more importantly to design for the platform. But we decided instead to do a straight port.
Nintendo was interested in the project and we got to go over to their offices a couple of times. They had whiteboards that would print what was written on them!
While the product was very different than any other in the market and we got a good review from Nintendo Power, it never really took off.
Ultimately, I think it’s very difficult for a 3rd party developer to succeed in the console space. Console purchases can be trendy and if support is dropped by retailers, the audience or the platform maker then you’re stuck with inventory that’s difficult to move.
Flush with the success of Message in a Haunted Mansion we were able to hire an actual writer, Erin Brown, for Nancy’s 4th interactive mystery, Treasure in the Royal Tower. Erin was great to have on the design team and she prefaced each idea with “Maybe, maybe, maybe….”
Erin hated slider puzzles and had a great idea for how to deal with them: “Maybe, maybe – maybe we could like put a giant anvil hanging over a slider puzzle and you could just break the chain to smash it?”
Erin also had an odd fascination with food reflected in the strange menu of Wickford Castle.
The idea of a castle made up of parts from historic castles was Inspired by a visit to the Winchester House that the then Art Director, Laura Henion, and I visited when we attended the Game Developer’s Conference in San Jose.
It was great fun collaborating with Erin on Treasure. It was especially fun creating the ‘puzzlemeister’ character of Ezra Wickford, inventor of chocolate milk and regretful disciplinarian. And who couldn’t love the creator of the wildly popular Koko Kringle chocolate bars?
I think that the direction for Nancy’s uncovering Ezra’s secret room is one of the best in the series: the soft, wistful musical theme, the lighting of the candle to illuminate his joys and sorrows and the gradual melting of the wax to reveal his key. It was poetry to my eyes and ears!
Despite the difficult theme of Ezra and his regrets, we still kept it light especially with the zany character of Professor Hotchkiss played perfectly by Keri Healey. I remember struggling to script her eye blinks as she talked to Nancy behind the door. We were limited to 5 minutes of lip synching per character and had to use this device to stay within budget.
We joked about having the characters in the next game wear paper bags.
Message in a Haunted Mansion is still one of my most favorite Nancy Drew games. What could be more fun than to create a creepy old mansion, a lost treasure and dress it all up with ghosts and scares? This was the first title we released into retail and it was a big success. We got great reviews in many media outlets including Newsweek and The New York Times.
The art team enjoyed researching Victorian design and they did an excellent job haunting the house. I enjoyed researching 19th century California and the odd personalities that made San Francisco the eclectic town it is today. Lizzie Applegate was a fun character to develop and our first truly historical character. And definitely the first real puzzlemeister!
It was difficult finding voice talent; we ended up hiring the husband of our Chief Technology Officer to play the role of Louis. But Scott Carty who played Charlie and later Ned Nickerson, became a very well known voice in Seattle, I hear him all the time on KING-FM.
One of my favorite memories was creating the recipes for drinks found in the saloon. I tried to make the silliest concoctions. We got a fan letter where someone actually tried to make Ginger Whisper. That would make an interesting book – the recipes of Nancy Drew games.
Here’s a photo taken during the holidays of production. From left to right: Sonia Doughty, Wayne Sikes and yours truly. I have no idea what we were doing, but the hats were from some Christmas ‘crackers’.