BRIGHTON--Presenting a session titled "How to Make Children Cry" at the 2008 Develop Conference & Expo, Traveller's Tales development director Jonathan Smith highlighted some of the ways developers make games that aren't child-friendly and explained how the Traveller's Tales team used children to help develop the Lego series. One of the driving factors for the team's decision to develop Lego games, according to Smith, was the unique feeling that is experienced when playing with Legos, coupled with a "passionate belief that play is intrinsically good," not just for children, but also for parents and society in general.
Children, the key audience for Lego games, were integral to the development process from the start of the Lego Star Wars project. Focus groups were used to make sure the game was the right fit for children of all ages--even disgruntled teens, who were shown in a video during the seminar.
Traveller's Tales found that children are "relentlessly and totally focused on finding the next thing," rather than discovering every last item on each level before advancing. Talking about the Lego Star Wars development team, Smith revealed that "originally, the secret levels [in Lego Star Wars] were for us," as the team had to play through the game continuously. Smith also found that children didn't like tutorials, which he likened to teachers who bully and moan, and he said that he doesn't play games with tutorials in them anymore. "You can teach people a lot of things without tutorials," he explained.
Talking to GameSpot UK after the session, Smith said the team is always considering options for future Lego games and didn't rule out the possibility of regular Lego games not based on existing IP nor on ideas from other games. He did qualify this by making it clear that such games would always be targeted with children in mind and not just at a mature market. Despite that, Smith conceded that the nature of Lego makes usually potentially violent content "amusing" and therefore more acceptable in a game aimed at minors than it might otherwise be.
Smith also emphasised the importance of emotional characters, such as those from the Star Wars universe. "We were lucky enough to be gifted by these characters, and thank goodness we did."
GameSpot UK will be bringing you coverage from the Develop Conference & Expo in Brighton over the coming days.