Brainstorming at Nihilistic
The brainstorming process at Nihilistic begins when Huebner chooses five or six games that seem to be the most promising from the bounty submitted by his employees and calls a company meeting. Here, Huebner conducts the brainstorming sessions, acting as "moderator."
"It's a matter of getting all the right people in the room, all the interested parties, and letting them riff off of each other's ideas. As the moderator you get it all gelled. It's like funneled brainstorming, and when it goes well, everyone feels invested, like they had some part in developing or pushing it further."
Huebner says once this process begins, "The scope of brainstorming goes down fast. We describe the ideas to our group in a face-to-face meeting and ask people to make constructive criticism, to point out flaws and make suggestions for improvement. Then we either go to a more thought-out document, or we drop the idea altogether. We winnow it down to three or four IP concepts that go further into development and get additional refinement.
"From that point, we schedule a meeting to talk about each individual pitch. Maybe one's a zombie, one's a role play, one's a sci-fi, and we invite everyone in the company if they're interested to come to the meeting, usually a lunch meeting, and people throw out ideas for the game. We take notes and give them to the original author of the pitch and ask them to take it to the next phase, put in more detail, make a stronger pitch of four to six pages.
"We try to distill the game down to the key features that differentiate it from other games, with a succinct one- to two-line summary, very high level-like cheesy movie so-and-so meets so-and-so. Then we decide what platform, what about ratings, and the five to ten main selling points. We want to get that information in right up front, for example, Zombies meets Sim City-something high level and quick to grasp, and to the point that it is tone setting-and then we describe what the player is doing, tell what the mechanics are, like fighting, shooting, exploring, hiding, what the player's actions are. Those are really the key things we're after."
Brainstorming does not just happen at the beginning of the project-it occurs all the way through. Greg Land , lead designer at Telltale Games on CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder and CSI: Hard Evidence, was handed the responsibility of staying true to a major license, which just happens to be the top-rated fictional show on television, bringing in about 25 million viewers a week, according to the Nielsen ratings, and in which 100% of the people who buy the game are fans of the show. But, hey, no pressure. What this boils down to is that authenticity is of the utmost importance to the developers and the publisher, Ubisoft . This often required brainstorming sessions throughout development with people outside of the company.
"During story development, once we had a set of stories with characters that we really liked, we ran the ideas by the CSI writers in L.A. to do a little bit of brainstorming with them. Since they were writers from the show, they had some great insight, and they helped us get a couple of cases on track, to really solidify motives and come up with some extra cool reasons people might behave in interesting ways.
"Part of my job is gathering a lot of feedback, so first I take a pass at getting as many people to look at the design as I humanly can, and I listen to what they have to say and address it to the best of my ability. Fortunately I had some really good people around me who had some excellent input, and it helped the story.
"Once we had story ideas-the plot, who's the killer, how they did it, why they did it-I would assign each story to a particular writer for three to four weeks and have them develop a two-page detailed treatment and then a full-length screenplay that lays down all the details of the case, including evidence, when you can get warrants, that type of thing."