Assuming for a moment that you have a decent game design, one of the most difficult decisions facing a game is the setting and theme. It is a topic so important that many gamers often mistake the theme of the game with the actual design of the game. You'll hear "I have a great game design. Imagine chickens with chainsaws."
This speaks to the heart of the importance of a game's theme. When you think of your ultimate game, you'll almost always gravitate towards a description of the game's theme. A visceral vision of the game will pop into your head, a fantasy involving concrete characters often complete with movie like action. If I wanted to sell you on a game, all I have to do is describe your fantasy game and you'll be slavering for my title in a heartbeat.
A good theme is what causes the player to pick up the game in the first place. It is a hooks that ties into their existing fantasies. If you create a theme for a game that does not resonate with the fantasies of your target audience, they'll never try your title and regardless of the quality of your game design, your title will sit on the shelf.
I remember a wonderful little title called Moon Base Commander. It had delightful game mechanics saddled with a boring as dirt theme. Generic groups battling on a generic lunar landscape. Do you fantasize about being a Moon Base Commander? I don't. There were no doubt other reasons for the title's commercial failure, but the theme was a complete killer.
Searching for a theme
Often, a game designer will find themselves in a situation where they have an interesting game mechanic but they then have to come up with a good theme. The original Nintendogs training mechanic was used in a parrot training prototype. It was interesting, but didn't have a theme that would connect with a large population of gamers. Now, tie that parrot training game with a new skin that has you training puppies instead and voila, you have a commercially viable title.
SpaceCrack intentionally started out with a somewhat generic space theme. Sometimes as you are prototyping, interesting game mechanics will pop up and it can be useful to adjust the story to fit the reality of your game. I wanted to bake the game mechanics a bit more before I assigned them a theme.
So now I'm at the point where I need a theme. And I'm stumped. Since I'm an artist, I started doodling, just to see what would happen. After a while, the monkeys started to speak to me.
My thought process for the current Space Crack theme is rather simple. I wish there was more depth behind it, but there isn't.
- Monkeys are a popular pop culture icon
- If I make monkeys a major theme of my game, everyone who likes monkeys would be tempted to try the title. "It's got monkeys. Sweet! I'll give it a shot."
- I personally enjoy monkeys. When your are slaving away on game art at 2AM in the morning, it is good to work on something that you love.
Hope you enjoy the graphics. :-) (When I draw all day long, there tend to not be as many essays.)