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GDC10: Our chat with Echo Bazaar's Alexis Kennedy


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We caught up with Echo Bazaars's Alexis Kennedy to ask him about the wildly successful Facebook style game. It's hard to describe, easy to pick up and addictive to play. Picture an underground city populated by murderers, spies and all types of shady characters, add in a unique story and Twitter functionality and you wind up with this little gem.

"It's more of a single player experience than I'd like." said Alexis, who is the Chief Narrative Officer for the game. "We are always looking at ways to make it more social, we want to give more direct ways to interact with other people. I want to get as much variety in there as possible. But it's finding the right balance of making somebody's experience unique to them without going crazy trying to cater at every possible stage." But how to combat a player feeling as though his or her experience is devalued by seeing the same thing come up in their friend's streams? "The way to deal with that, really, is just to write more content."

Content is never limitless, so how does a browser based game keep their players satisfied? Kennedy was quick to off-quote one of his favorite developers, Jordan Mechner. "You should allow the players to experience about 95 percent of your world, but you should allow them to feel as though they have only seen about 50 percent of your world. People will always feel like the world is bigger than it is."

"So i thought @$#! it, I'll make a social grind game. It's like the grit and the oyster becoming a pearl, because you keep on adding layers."

We were curious as to how the developers came up with the lore for the game, being that it is a very eclectic mix of horror, fantasy, humor and fairy tales. Originally the game was planned to be a Twitter game. In fact, Echo Bazaar came from Echo (Twitter) and Bazaar (for the predicted market.) "There were going to be power ups and flavor things, and all that stuff got much more interesting than the core game-play. So i thought @$#! it, I'll make a social grind game. It's like the grit and the oyster becoming a pearl, because you keep on adding layers."

The game is filled with interesting design choices, but choices that make sense. For example, players give each other mushrooms instead of flowers, and make mushroom drinks, because what grows underground better than mushrooms? And the observatory is ran by blind people, being that they are the only ones that would make sense running an observatory that is underground. The developers try to make absolute sense of something before they add it to the game, avoiding items that do not fit or that have no meaning.

It is a testament of the power of story when Echo Bazaar won Best Browser Game from the Escapist, beating out flash based and other types of games. How do they engage players in a world that is more conflict than combat? "I think we find it hard to sell players on what the initial value proposition of the game is. Generally what we try to do is things like giving out interesting business cards, you know, and hope they catch people's attention. Once we have grabbed someone's attention, once you started telling people a story, they want to hear the end of the story. The brilliant thing about the text rather than the animation, is that it gives you a lot of freedom to decide what people can do."

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