Game development veteran Tinka Town from Norwegian developer Ravn Studio shares her experiences and best tips for working with external IP’s.
Last week, Thomas Lund from Danish developer Full Control, and Robin Flodin from Swedish Fatshark gave some of their best advice for developers considering producing games based on already existing IP’s that they don’t own themselves. But today we can bring you even more tips and recommendations about working on established IP’s, with a special emphasis on games for kids.
Whereas Full Control and Fatshark addresses a market of grownups, Norwegian game developer Ravn Studio has a long tradition of creating games for younger players, and a lot of them based on existing games. Lately they have released both Captain Sabertooth, based in the universe created by Norwegian author Terje Formoe, and Ella Bella Bingo Bicycle Thief based on a popular animated series. And they have agreed to share their experiences and tips and tricks with Nordic Game Bits’ readers.
When setting up a new game production based on an external IP, there is a couple of things on the top of Ravn Studio’s shopping list. First thing to do is to work out a high level concept for, not only how the game plays, but also what kind of experience it should be for the player. Part of this includes a description of how characters, environments, and stories from the IP is going to be used, Creative Director Tinka Town tells Nordic Game Bits.
For us, as developers, it’s extremely important that we get the IP all the way under our skin from the beginning.
This means that they will also try to get as much information on the IP, Town explains. “It’s important to us to get access to as much reference material as possible from throughout the universe. Everything from style guides and character bibles, to film- and tv-episodes, books, music-CD’s and the like, so we’ll have as much reference material as possible.”
During the development process, Ravn will meet with the IP holder and discuss whenever major items needs to be approved, such as locations or 3D models of the characters. But according to Ravn, it’s up to both parties to decide, which elements needs to be checked between the IP holder and the developer. “During the development, we have a frequent communication with the IP holder regarding approval of the parts of the universe that are especially important for the IP holder,” Town explains. But the other way around, Ravn will also contact the IP holder if they need specific input on something, or before committing to things that will be either difficult or expensive to alter at a later point.
Tinka Town emphasizes that it’s also very important to explain to an IP holder that after a certain point in the production, changes will become very expensive if not outright impossible to implement. Stuff like changes in the level geometry or the look of the characters once they have been animated.
But working with IP holders without any specific game knowledge can also be an advantage, according to Town. “We often see IP holders who doesn’t know how games work any better than the traditional media, so they rely on us as game developers, to do the things that are right for the game.”
That actually gives you quite a large degree of freedom to play around and restructure the elements in the universe with the intention of creating a great game playing experience. And that’s an important prerequisite, if you are to leverage your craft as a game developer to use the unique strengths of the game medium.
“Games are about doing, so this will always be our focus. This means that we have to accommodate what players and existing fans would like to do in the universe in question,” Town says.”Of course, you should be able to engage in fencing or enter sea battles in a pirate game.”
Tinka Town also explains that working on an established IP also means that they have to take some additional considerations around the marketing of the games. “We will always try to do a heavy cross-promotion with the other products or media platforms,” she explains. “We emphasize that the game should compliment the other products – not compete with them -, and that it should be an expanded experience of the universe.”
To round of our talk, like we did in the previous article, we asked Tinka Town for her best tips for developers, contemplating going into a project based on an external IP. Here’s what she said.
- Be true to the universe and it’s unique aspects. It should be the reason why you chose to work with this project.
- Adapt the story and/or the concept to the platform. It’s you who knows how games work, and can create the best experience on this specific platform.
- Get the IP holders into the areas that are especially defining for the universe. E.g. dialogue, visual style, or music. And make sure you get the rights to use voices, music and graphical material, so you’re sure that you’ll be able to use it to maintain the connection to the identity of the universe.