In the two weeks before the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, I had a flash of inspiration to make a stupid and very quick-fire game about it. You can play the finished game here. This post covers the process…
On Monday 18th April I found myself having a conversation with a friend about the upcoming Royal Wedding (which I had planned to ignore as much as possible), and I surprised myself by getting a buit ranty about the Royal Family. I’ve never been a royalist, and I find it bemusing that a nation in the grip of recession and a situation in which the very poorest in our society are being told they have to pay for the mistakes of the rich bankers that got us into this mess in the first place, were now being expected to turn out and wave flags and throw street parties to celebrate the marriage of two people few of us will ever meet, and who belong to a world of unimaginable wealth of which most of us can only dream.
This got me thinking what a great subject it would be for a stupid satirical game of some kind. I’ve always loved the more anarchic side of the web, particularly the satirical Flash games and animations that used to spring up on a weekly basis in places like the b3ta newsletter but which seem to have fallen out of favour a little since the rise of things like YouTube. Plus it’s been flipping ages since I’d done a personal project purely for a laugh.
I also found myself with an unexpected gap in my diary for the first time in ages after a project I had been booked to work on had fallen through. I had originally planned to use this time to continue work I had already started on a new portfolio and blog site for Antifuzz, but found that once the seed had been planted in my mind I couldn’t stop obsessing about doing something for the wedding.
My initial idea came almost straight away – a balcony full of plump royals throwing bits of wedding cake down to a starving and unemployed crowd below. The royals on the balcony would be joined by a gloating David Cameron, and were all going to be bloated and abusive, whilst the members of the public in the crowd below were to be thin, starving and jobless wretches all braying for whatever scraps they could get.
Hmm… maybe not…
It was my wife (always the voice of calm and reason) who made me realise over dinner on Monday evening that my idea was too mean, and perhaps misjudging the popular feeling which was actually really looking forward to having something to celebrate for once after all the rubbish things in the news lately. Hell, at least Kate is actually good looking. And she’s from a family with self-made wealth and working-class roots, not one with castles and duck-islands coming out of every inheritance. And William… well at least he seems like a jolly nice chap and he’s not his dad.
I nearly decided it was a bad idea all round that I should just forget, but then I thought, hey… it can still be funny… I just need to tone down some of the bile from the idea and make its intentions a bit more ambiguous. I started thinking back to Spitting Image and how it was always hugely rude about its subjects without ever being actually nasty.
So let’s ease off on the political angle… and focus more on the royals themselves. And let’s change the starving crowd below to just a hugely excited bunch of revellers. Good. I’m pretty good at posh voices so I’ll do a stupid voiceover for Will as he’s throwing the cake, and let’s have the whole thing introduced by the Queen.
How much time have I got?
So it’s Monday. The wedding is next Friday, and the weekend in-between is Easter, which is a four-day weekend when we have plans to visit family. So that’s four days I’m not really going to be able to do anything on it, leaving only six working days before the wedding. I still have some bits of client work to do during the daytimes as well, plus if it’s going to get any views before the wedding, it really needs to be live on the morning of the Thursday, leaving five days. Add in my normal schedule of daily stuff that comes with having two small children and it’s going to be tight.
So my gameplay is going to have to be REALLY simple. We’re not going to be making anything with world-beating gameplay here. It just needs to be something you’re going to pickup and play once or twice, and have a laugh at. The game I’m thinking of for reference is the old classic Tapper where you have four rows of advancing people who you basically have to just chuck stuff at to make them go away. But because William is going to be on a balcony above the crowd, he needs to actually throw each piece of cake at an angle, so the player is going to have to set the angle and power of each throw. Done that in games tons of times before. Easy-peasy.
Build-wise I’m just going to have to go with super-quick. I briefly think about using Flixel or FlashPunk, but creating the spritesheets is going to be too time-consuming, so it’s going to have to be proper old-skool movieclips. No need to fuss around with any fancy frameworks or physics engines. No need for it to work on mobiles.
I could illustrate it all, but I’m not that fast an illustrator. I decide to go with the kind of rough cut-up photos approach that I’ve used several times before on personal projects like Attack of the Sprouts and Cubicle Freakout which will give a suitably anarchic look to things and be fairly quick to do.
Let’s get started
I make a start on Monday evening, and after a couple of hours I have a very simple prototype of the basic gameplay working with just coloured boxes. I have my four lanes of approaching plebs, my Will on the balcony, and a few bits of cake flying around.
Tuesday I have client work to do in the day, but in the evening I get the collision detection working and start googling for pictures of the Royal family to use. I dig out my trusty googley-eyeball graphic that I’ve had for years, and plaster a few over some pics of Will and Kate. It already looks funny. Okay… this might just work.
Wednesday I have a client meeting in Bristol during the day, but in the evening I get to work on the graphics for the main screen of the game which is to feature the famous balcony at the front of Buckingham Palace, viewed from above and to the side. I’m dithering around over getting the correct angle of the palace, when it occurs to me to see if there are any 3d models of the palace online. A quick google and I’ve found one. I’m not going to use this model in the final game, but it allows me to work out the correct view that I need. Once I’ve got that sorted, I cut up various other photos I’ve found of the front of the palace and reconstruct it over the model. I also get a little Will, Kate and Queen all standing on the balcony. It’s looking a bit crowded already. I had wanted to have all the Royals on the balcony but the angle I’ve chosen isn’t really going to allow them to fit. Oh well, no time to re-do it, just going to have to lose everyone else apart from Will and Kate. I’ve googled to see if anyone knows what uniform Wills is going to be wearing on the day; no-one seems to know but apparently it might be red so I go with that. [I later change it to blue after reading something in the news, but it turns out on the day he wears red... grrr].
Crowd-sourcing the crowd
Thursday I start thinking about how I’m going to do the crowd of plebs eagerly running up to get their cake. Obviously I’m going to need a big selection of different people. What I really need is a whole load of photos of people’s heads with a moronic grin, then I can just do a single vector-animated run-loop and bung the heads on top. I decide to give crowd-sourcing a go, and put out the word about what I’m doing on Twitter and a couple of forums I lurk around on and the response is fantastic. Within an hour or two my inbox is filling up with hilarious photos that people have taken of their own faces with all kinds of gurning expressions. I spend most of the day cutting them all out and working on the run loop. I do one for the males, and one for the females, with a selection of different coloured clothes for each. I end up with 27 heads, this gives me a massive combination of variations on clothes and heads.
It’s obviously got to be called “Let Them Eat Cake” so I search around for a good domain name for it. I settle on letthemeatcakegame.co.uk and buy it.
It’s looking pretty cool but there’s still tons to do. Apart from the pleb run-loop, my graphics are all still Photoshop mockups and my game is still just grey boxes. It’s the weekend and I have to stop.
The Queens’s speech
After a brilliant and very sunny Easter, it’s Monday evening and time to get back to it. I think the sound and voiceovers I have planned are going to be one of the main sources of humour in the game, but I can’t record them at home as I would wake the kids up, and recording them during the day in my shared office in Bath won’t be possible, so I head into the office tonight to record while no-one is around. I have a vague idea of having a long, rambling intro by the Queen who will introduce the game and then go off into a long pointless monologue giving us a rare insight into her crazy head, but I haven’t really planned it out or written anything down. Nevertheless I hit record and start rambling. I do three takes, the first of which is crap, but by the second and third, I’m really getting into being Queen and it might actually be quite funny. Not sure how much of it I’ll use but there we go.
Wills is harder to do as it requires higher volume. I’m conscious of the fact that there are residents in the flat above the office who might be wondering why the hell there’s a posh person shouting about cake in the office below on an Easter Monday evening. Nevertheless I do much as I think is reasonable and move back onto my photoshopping.
My coloured-boxes version of the game is troubling me at the moment. Because Will is up on a balcony above the crowd, there is no visual way of telling whether or not you’re in the right “lane” to hit an approaching pleb down below, and for this reason it’s currently unplayable. It’s not like Tapper where you’re always standing in front of the lane you want to fire down. Hmm… what to do? I hit upon the idea of colour-coding each lane, which I will match to the coloured drapes on the front of the balcony. Then I’ll position the “power-up” arrow in front of Will so that it sits over the relevant coloured drape. That should make things clearer.
I also amuse myself by doing a squat version of one of the famous Royal guards with his bear-skin hat pulled so low you can’t see any of his face at all. And for some reason I stick a whole of googley-eyes over the hat itself. This guy will look cool on the intro screen.
Tuesday I work on it all day, getting the photoshop files flattened and into the game. Once it’s all in, it sort-of plays okay but it’s just too hard. In the end I decide to remove the mechanic where the player has to set the angle of each throw, and to just fire each one straight outwards and let the player set the power by holding down the fire button. That works much better, and means it’s easier to take out several plebs in the same lane with one piece of cake.
At the end of the day I head home, get the kids to bed and spend the evening editing my voiceovers. The Queen’s speech is sounding pretty funny and I decide to keep loads of the rambling. I won’t force players to listen to it all, but it’ll be there if they do want to.
I also work on the ramping up of the difficulty, so it starts with just one slow-moving pleb, and they get more numerous and faster-moving as the game progresses.
It’s Wednesday – this is going to have to be my last day on it if I’m to stand any chance of anyone actually playing it before the day of the wedding. I crack on with getting the sounds in, and designing the intro page. The obvious choice is to base the look of it on the Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bollocks” and “God Save the Queen” covers and it quickly looks great. To animate William’s mouth during the game and the Queen’s during the intro I use a cunning bit of code which uses Flash’s Sound API to get the peak level of the sound on each frame and position the mouth accordingly. In olden days I’d have had to have tweened this by hand on the timeline and it would have taken ages, but now it’s done with a couple of lines of code. Bosh! It looks great.
I’m still without any music for it, and I’ve been hoping I can find some kind kind musician to record me a super-trashy version of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, or that I’d have time to do one myself, but neither of those is going to happen. I do a quick search on istockphoto’s music section, and lo and behold there’s a perfect over-the-top recording of it with full-on electric guitar whammy-bar goodness. It’s going to cost me 30 quid. What the hell… let’s have it.
I stick a whole load of my squat soldiers lining the palace courtyard, and enlist a few more at the end of each lane who are holding out their bayonets upon which the plebs will get messily impaled if you get them get too far, ending the game. I resist the temptation to add in loads of splattering blood effects.
I get the scoring working and use a shared object to keep track of the user’s high score on their machine. Would be good to give bonus points for getting more than pleb with a single piece of cake, but it’s down the priority list.
I’m still not happy with the way the game plays. It’s still not obvious when you’re in the wrong lane to hit an approaching pleb, but I hit upon the idea of having a shadow for each bit of cake. This gives an instant visual clue to the fact that you’re standing too high or too low as you can clearly see the shadow sailing above or below the pleb you are trying to hit. It might just be enough. I grab a mate who works in the same office as me to have a quick playtest and he seems to get it pretty quickly so that’ll do for me.
Shit it’s already five o’ clock and there’s still loads to do. Resigning myself to the fact that it’s gonna be a late one, I get a take out from the chinese next to the office and phone my wife to say not to wait up.
I record another quick voiceover of the Queen for the game over screen once everyone else in the building has gone home, then I wind up struggling for about an hour trying to fix a bug that causes the weird things to happen on the second play-through of the game. Normally I’d have worked it out straight away but I’m tired now and it’s ages before I realise it’s a simple schoolboy error of not having cleared up my key listeners at the end of the game. Duh!
Wheeling out Charlie
By about 1 in the morning I’m finally getting onto the instructions screen. I try and keep it as simple as possible but I still hate the fact that I have to have instructions at all. It looks rubbish. How can I make it more interesting? In desperation I flick through the images I’ve downloaded for something to tart it up a bit and come across a great one of Prince Charles looking totally clueless. It’s perfect. In a flash of inspiration I reach for the microphone and record a quick impression of his famous “Errrr…” as if he’s trying to work out how to play the game. Stick a couple of googley eyes on, use my mouth animation trick again and suddenly the instructions page is brilliant.
By three in the morning I’ve cleared everything on my high and medium-priority list and am literally falling asleep anyway. It’s time to draw a line under it. I put it live and go home to bed.
I wake at six when the kids get up. Bleary-eyed but happy. A quick play of it though over breakfast and I realise that for some reason I’ve missed a bug where you loose focus of the stage when clicking on the start button, meaning you have to click again to regain control for the game. Also, there’s a bug if more than one pleb dies at the same time. Bugger. Back into work, and fix those.
Then comes the fun bit of spending Thursday trying to send it around as much as possible. I post it on the b3ta messageboard, tweet it, and mail it to all my clients and friends. It’s the first personal project I’ve done since the age of Twitter, and it’s really fun watching it spread around as the day goes on.
The response is fantastic. People seem to find it funny, and the Queen’s long rambly intro is a particular hit with many people.
By the end of the weekend it’s had over 20,000 visitors and over a thousand “likes” on Facebook.
More importantly I had a lot of fun bashing out something for the pure hell of it, and I’ve remembered a lot about why I love Flash and the web so much. I sometimes feel the web is becoming too curated and dry these days, and as a developer / it’s so easy to get caught up in learning the next big platform or framework and forget to just have some fun with a bit of technology that you already know well.
And the wedding itself?
I slept through it.
I hear it was nice though.
If you haven’t already, you can play the finished game here.