Paris GDC: Harmonix discusses lessons learnt from production of iPod game phase

‘Great game design is making bad decisions in pursuit of good ones’

Speaking at the Paris Game Developers Conference today, Chris Foster of developer Harmonix – the studio behind the original Guitar Hero and its recent rival Rock Band – presented a session outlining the production of iPod game Phase and delivered a key message for good game design.

Phase, which Foster was designer and programmer on, was one of the first original new IP titles to be sold via iTunes. The game uses the music tracks stored on players’ iPod hard drivers to generate levels and was released last year – to good sales, said Foster.

Key to the game’s success, he said, was constant iterating and accepting the constraints of the Apple handheld.

"Embrace your platform’s limitations and audience. Don’t try to cram in ideas that are not suitable," he said, pointing out that much of the success of Phase’s gameplay came no from its clever use of using players’ music, but from designing something that took advantage of ""the pleasantly tactile" thumbwheel on the iPod.

He added: "Design is making bad decisions in pursuit of good ones. It’s about making a bad decision and sticking with it until you get to the right one. It can be emotionally draining, but that’s what leads you to the things that are good, unique and right."

He also singled iPod gamers as ultra-casual games players.

"The audience for iPod is different to that of the PSP and DS. The iPod user is not necessarily a gamer. Complexity is not welcome on the iPod.

"The user of an iPod would not necessarily invest in fun," he added, pointing out that iPod users are more likely to spend money on music tracks than games.

He added: "iPod users are listeners first and players second. No one will play on an iPod for an hour – maybe 10 minutes or just three for a single song while they wait for the Metro."

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