American painter James Whistler believed that artists aren’t paid for their labour, but rather for their vision.
When creative possibilities are endless, a creator’s perspective, sense of aesthetics and artistic direction become that much more important, because they allow them to not only choose what to include in a piece of art, but also what to exclude.
So too is the case with videos games, a field and practice where the endless scope of artistic choice meets the seemingly inexhaustible potential of technology.
Outfit7’s Global Head of R&D and VP of Design and Animation Helder Lopes spoke to the Cyprus Mail about that very facet of game design, detailing his and the company’s approach to game development, the massive success of games like My Talking Tom Friends and My Talking Angela 2, as well as how future ideas get fleshed out.
“In our case, it’s more focused on the user. Some companies are more about pushing the technology or wanting to use some specific technology in the game. In our case, it’s more about the idea of the game. How does it feel for the user? Then comes the technology aspect,” Lopes explained.
One of the examples provided included the potential use of one particular feature in a game that was in development. The team realised that neither the inclusion nor the removal of the feature affected the game in a major way, meaning that it did not add to the user experience, so it was scrapped, which ultimately improved the game.
Of course, the game development process is far from linear and things can change swiftly, with ideas being abandoned, revisited, reviewed, changed and reused depending on the needs and direction of the company.
“The ideas I showcased today might start being developed a year from now, but some things that are true today will not be true then, because this is a really fast-paced market,” Lopes said, explaining that the team has to make the right choice when picking a game that will go to production.
Beyond the technical and business aspects, however, the process remains rooted in creativity. “Sometimes it can be very creative,” Lopes said, adding that ideas, assets and features can be moved around or combined with one another to build something entirely different and new, especially when they are revisited in the future, when ideas have been fleshed out and more information has become available
“Having that big picture available, with all the ideas in one place, some more developed than others, is really useful, because we can see how we can use certain things,” Lopes explained.
One of the games discussed was Talking Tom Gold Run 2, which utilises the concept of time travel, allowing the character to be placed in different settings and environments, unlocking numerous possibilities for the development team.
“We actually have an unwritten rule, which is that you need the game to be based in the real world, the idea of time travel, which we had early on, developed from there,” Lopes said.
The concept of time travel allows the team to do much more in terms of mechanics and gameplay, in turn making the game more immersive.
“We can put the user in prehistoric times, with dinosaurs coming in and stepping into the game, becoming obstacles for the user. We can have a pirate world, with cannons shooting at you, things you can’t do in another time or place in the world. It allows us to make the gameplay cool for the user, which they can experience as they progress through the game and unlock new worlds. But we made it natural, it doesn’t feel forced, it’s all connected and put-together,” Lopes explained.
Although Lopes relocated to Cyprus, where Outfit7’s headquarters are, in the beginning of 2021, he had previously been visiting the island for the last six years or so, attending the company’s quarterly meetings. His career has already taken him to a number of countries, having worked in the United Kingdom and Slovenia after leaving Portugal, his home country.
“I started becoming involved with games in Portugal but then stopped when I moved to the UK where I worked in film,” he said, adding that his move to Slovenia reintroduced him to the video game industry.
Some of the challenges facing any professional when they join an already successful organisation include the perpetuation of that success, while also fostering and developing new successful ideas, all while staying true to the core values of the brand. This is the same in the video game industry, where successful games are expected to have sequels that honour the original while modernising and expanding the scope of the first game.
“It’s challenging, as you mentioned, because you want to keep the core strengths of the game, but you also want to keep moving forward and evolve as much as possible, so you have to balance both acts,” Lopes said.
“You know, making a sequel for one of the biggest games the company has ever released, it might look easy and obvious to some people, but it’s really not,” he added, referencing the incredibly successful My Talking Angela series.
Lopes is acutely aware that no matter how beloved the original game might be, a successful sequel is far from guaranteed.
“It’s like the music industry, where you have a little band and they have a big hit single in the summer, getting good reviews, but then the second album might be a struggle,” he said, underlining the fact that “having success is hard, but having the sequel to that success is even harder”.
Suffice to say that Lopes and the team at Outfit7 succeeded in their mission, with My Talking Angela 2 achieving a massive 100 million downloads just two months after its release and surging to approximately 200 million downloads as of the time of writing.
Moreover, Angela’s outfits have been changed over 11.5 billion times by users, while the mini-games within the game have been played more than 675 million times.
Outfit7 is not resting on its laurels, however, despite the success that they have enjoyed so far. “We are aiming to become a multi-brand company,” Lopes said, while noting that their existing catalogue of properties remains the company’s backbone.
“We have been thinking about new IP since I joined, but now we are actually moving forward with plans and putting it into practice, investing in it, putting people to work on it, making it happen.”