After my Spearhead Games co-founders and I wrapped up Assassin’s Creed III and Dead Space 3, respectively, we wanted to get out of the AAA world and back to the basics of why we love video games: playing together with friends, finding new ways to interact and challenging your brain. With these ideas in mind, we founded our own indie studio , and started making Tiny Brains, a co-op puzzle game – which we can now reveal is headed to PlayStation 4!
Tiny Brains is set in a lab where four super-powered animals have to work together to solve puzzles and escape from a mad scientist’s experiment. We choose this theme because, now that we are indie devs and have more flexibility, experimentation is what we’re all about in our creative process.
We have a “no design doc” policy at Spearhead. Being able to do this has been one of the best things about going indie, and the philosophy helps us make significant creative developments in a short amount of time. With no design docs, we can think about how to make the best experience at all times – rather than working to create a game based on a doc written months or years ago, usually by someone else!
When a designer has a cool idea for a puzzle or level, they just make it, and we all play it together. From there we decide whether the prototype should be incorporated, tweaked, or chucked. As we went back and forth playing early prototypes with each other, our game emerged almost by itself: four cute and quirky characters with unique powers of creation, teleportation, force, and protection, which can be combined in a number of different ways.
Because of this design flexibility, we’ve discovered that there are actually more than 16 different ways players can combine their powers to solve the first level alone!
We took this experimental philosophy with us on the road to PAX East where Tiny Brains made its first public debut. In our PAX Experiment, we studied attendees as they played, and asked them to fill out surveys about their experience. Since our design flexibility lets us make updates quickly and we’re committed to trying different things until we have the best game possible, we’ve already incorporated feedback and ideas from the surveys into our latest build, which will be at E3 this year. All PAX players rated Tiny Brains ‘fun’ or ‘extremely fun,’ so we feel like we’ve been on the right track!
From the beginning, we set out to make a game that turns strangers into friends, and our PAX experiment confirmed our hypothesis. In Tiny Brains, players can’t get by without talking to each other. They really need to collaborate as every character’s power is required to solve puzzles.
That said – we’ve enjoyed seeing how many ways our playtesters have successfully completed the challenges. Each group has had a different approach: since there’s no one “right” answer to a given challenge, the right way becomes how the playtesters agree to move forward, based on what they think as individuals and how they want to work with each other. At launch, Tiny Brains will have over a dozen challenge maps to complete, with more to explore and unlock.
As a new indie studio, we couldn’t be more excited to be a part of video games’ next-generation with our PS4 release and show the world the results of our grand experiment. Stay tuned for more information, and if you’re going to E3 we’d love you to check us out in the south hall, booth 2359 and see what we have in store this summer!
Do you like co-op games? Do you remember the very first game you ever played together with a friend? Mine was Ice Climbers – tell me yours in the comments!