Totoro plush on a messy desk

Planning development of the world’s worst video game

Why the world’s worst video game? I’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m a believer in the collection of project management systems called “Agile” (or referred to by its nickname, “Scrum”) which in my experience can save dev teams a lot of time and headaches.

In my role as an Advisor to small Indie teams and to large international publishers, I often suggest that they consider using these concepts.

The problem I encounter, however, is that if you’ve never used Agile the process of trying it for a project looks daunting. Even though it’s based on project management methods that we’ve used for years in the games business, the additional rules that make Agile work so well can also scare people away from trying it.

Sometimes teams that do try Agile get pushback from one or two people who resist any kind of change. Instead of staying committed to trying something new, managers water down the process until it works just like what they’ve always done, with a few new words sprinkled into the producers’ vocabulary to make it sound modern.

In my attempts to convince teams to try the idea, I describe how on our first Agile project our team estimated that we’d saved 15% on our schedule, with less wasted time, less crunch and less turmoil than we’d have had “doing things the same old way.” The team voted overwhelmingly to keep using the system.

I tell people how another game with an impossible art schedule ended up with an achievable art schedule just by using the prioritizing and time-boxing ideas inside Agile. Same quality, less heartache, less wasted time.

I tell people about how easy the system is to learn. Although one producer on the team (who tracks the work as it’s completed) will do things very differently, for most team members the changes are fairly small. Many people find that it makes work more fun by making processes clear instead of confusing.

Yet, all too often, the perceived complexity scares people away.

So I started thinking: what could I do to help encourage small client teams “over the hump” so they’d try using Agile, even if it’s just on a small project?

I struggled to find an answer, because if someone who knows the system walks you through it from the start of a game’s development it’s really easy to do. Agile doesn’t have a complexity problem. It has a PR problem.

And Now for Something Completely Different

It just so happened that as I was pondering all this I got a call from my friends at Hansoft, who make software tools for all sorts of developers, including game studios. They were introducing a new online tool called Favro, which manages everything from to-do lists to project development for teams of any size.

Favro uses what I think of as a “yellow stickie” model, where you can write on cards and arrange them in groups that behave in predictable and very useful ways. Unlike most programs that help a team get organized, it has a very simple and intuitive interface, as well as an easy learning curve.

I’ve known the team at Hansoft for many years and have worked with them on multiple projects. At this year’s GDC in San Francisco I co-presented a sponsored session talking about game production methods with Hansoft’s CEO, Patric Palm, where he included a short introduction to Favro.

All this started me thinking, could I use Favro as a non-intimidating way to get a team to start using Agile methods to manage the development of a small game? Could the simplicity and intuitive nature of the tool help them get past their fears of complexity?

Could I even build a Favro template that would give them a big head start on using the system, improving their productivity and restoring more of their sanity?

The more I played with Favro, the more interested I got in seeing what I could do with it.

The World’s Worst Video Game

My goal on this project was to build a template for a sample game as a teaching tool, not to design a real title that would actually ship. There was no point in creating a unique, original game.

But I always try to make everything I do different and original, and I never like to do the obvious or the routine.

I wondered, what it would be like to design the world’s worst video game and use it for the sample content on my Favro template? Could I combine three overcrowded genres into one perfectly awful game concept?

Why, yes! Yes I could!

Behold my great new game design for Scrolls of Retmoba 3, a retro side-scrolling match-3 MOBA game! It’s Super Metroid merged with League of Legends and with Candy Crush Saga in the most spectacular mash-up copycat game ever conceived!

No, this isn’t a clever twist on these established genres, like Ronimo Games’ Awesomenauts series, which are original, fun games. Our new Scrolls of Retmoba 3 is a shameless exploitation game that uses blocky retro graphics in random resolutions for absolutely no good reason at all.

This side-scroller has five vertical floors, three of which serve as lanes for MOBA style play against AI opponents and their creeps, plus top and bottom floors to serve as the traditional “jungle” lanes. As you and your minions defeat the towers and complete a boss fight at the end of each section, you must solve a match-3 puzzle, the pieces of which block the way forward on the scrolling playfield.

Just to make sure you don’t have any fun playing Scrolls of Retmoba 3, we pause the action randomly on every screen and ask if you want to buy anything from the in-game store, then force you to wait while a 30-second clock ticks down before you can play again.

With this brilliant (and completely unoriginal) concept firmly in mind, I now turned to Favro to organize my project. After all, if this new tool could organize The World’s Worst Video Game, imagine how useful it could be for games that are actually fun to play!