Armed and Dangerous Designer Diary #1

Planet Moon serves up a double barreled helping of diaries providing insight into its completely insane (in a good way) Xbox and PC shooter.

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The Creation of Armed and Dangerous
or "You're doing what?"

Nick Bruty
Planet Moon Studios

So it was two years ago that Bob [Stevenson, cofounder], Tim [Williams, creative director], and I were sitting around a table staring at a blank piece of paper that seemed to be getting larger by the minute. We had just abruptly separated from Interplay as our publisher and hadn't had enough time to put together a new game design. In stepped LucasArts, who was looking for something that we had to offer, and a basic deal was struck very quickly. So the pressure was on to show LucasArts just how smart they really were for hooking up with us.

Before we went off the deep end of design, we decided we wanted to set parameters (for a change). I think we confused potential buyers for Giants by having so much variety in there that no one could classify the game experience. People couldn't describe Giants to their friends, because there was just too much in there. You know you're in trouble when the marketing department asks you how to sell your game! That and many more episodes during Giants convinced us that for our next game, a simple, clear message was needed.

The team decided from the beginning of the project that a simple, clear message was needed to provide focus.
The team decided from the beginning of the project that a simple, clear message was needed to provide focus.

We immediately decided on the four characters who star in the game today. Other details we decided on that day have not survived. For instance, we had to decide what kind of game this would be. We had four thieves. Thieves like to steal. So, the game would be called "The Heist"--originally, Armed and Dangerous was going to be an action/stealth game focusing on a team of thieves. But then a large number of stealth-type games appeared, and we were getting a bit bored by the concept. While deciding which direction to take, we were playing and being influenced by Medal of Honor, which was our kind of straightforward, fun action. (I'm currently enjoying their excellent Call of Duty, by the way; I must have a drink with those guys sometime.) So Armed and Dangerous then became an action/action game, and we decided to take things completely over the top. Way over the top. The over the toppest.

Knowing the kind of game it would be, we began to focus on what it would look like--the art style. We decided on kind of a post-WWI setting. We wanted a very natural feel to the levels and started looking at images of Tibet as a style: setting the game high up in the mountains with windswept villages. As we started to expand the world, that style became just one of the levels. We knew we wanted war-torn peasants to feature heavily in the game, and we completed the early sketches of the peasants that appear throughout Armed and Dangerous today.

While we were settling on the game's art style, Tim was finalizing the story for the cutscenes. In the end, we have over 60 minutes of cutscenes, and they are the funniest we've ever produced. A lot of work went into writing the dialogue in those early days--not just for the cutscenes, but for the game as well. We love having characters say absurd things. For an action game, I think we may have broken a record for the amount of in-game voice-overs; we almost couldn't fit the whole game on the disc. Every character always has something to say, but you don't have to stop and listen. Just keep blasting away as characters are flying over your head spewing insults or cries to their mothers.

The cutscenes in the game are ripe with Planet Moon's now trademark humor.
The cutscenes in the game are ripe with Planet Moon's now trademark humor.

So, after only a month or so, we had the characters, the core game idea, the story for the cutscenes, and the art style, and we were ready to show LucasArts why this was going to be a good game. Sadly, we're not very good at presenting our own ideas, partly because our ideas tend to sound quite mad in the sobering environment of a publisher's conference room. We design games in pubs and restaurants, and, truth be told, we wish we could do all our business meetings there as well.

Thankfully, we had just hired our first-ever internal producer, Aaron Loeb, who in a very Planet Moon way had never produced a game before but had bags of confidence and a big, booming voice. Aaron did a great presentation for us, and we were cleared for 18 months of very intense production. It's at this point that it would have been great to take a 12-month sabbatical.

The first thing you realize going into production is that you have designed way too much. It's best to do as much editing as soon as possible. At one point in our game, you could fly zeppelins and ride around in the colossus (one of the giant robots you fight in the game). They were cool play elements, but to finish them properly would have stretched us too thin and affected the amount of time we had to spend on the core gameplay. All the more for Armed and Dangerous 2.

With Armed and Dangerous, we feel we have found the formula to a Planet Moon game, getting the balance between the humor, cutscenes, and action--the things we do best. While we had this down, we are hopelessly bad at naming our own games. Not having a name for your game six months from launch can be quite demoralizing. Literally six months. Just before E3 of this year, with the game already a year-plus in development, we still didn't have a name for the game.

Armed and Dangerous didn't have an official name until very recently.
Armed and Dangerous didn't have an official name until very recently.

For the longest time, Armed and Dangerous went under the in-joke heading "The Sons of Einstein," which then became the "Guns of Einstein," which probably wouldn't have gone down too well with the Einstein estate, what with him being such a pacifist and all. Bob then came up with "Guns of Nazareth," which would probably have gotten us arrested. Thankfully, saner heads prevailed, and LucasArts came up with "Armed and Dangerous," which fits to a T.

And that's a little glimpse of how we began to create the game that now is Armed and Dangerous. It's coming to the Xbox and PC this December (shipping on the 2nd), and I really hope you like it!

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