Behind the Curtain: Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’

Conor of Big Fish Games talks to two of our designers, Clariz and Meloy, about our first free-to-play hidden object game. It’s a spin-off from the Antique Road Trip franchise! The interview is originally published here.

Behind the Curtain: Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’
By Conor Murphy, September 26th, 2013

A couple weeks back I sat down with two developers from Boomzap Entertainment to talk about their newest game Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’! After reading about the amazing effort that went into making Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’ below, make sure to give it a try today!

Please introduce yourself & your development team…

Boomzap Entertainment is a virtual studio composed of developers from all around the world. We all work from our own homes, at our own desks, and in our own pyjamas. The members of the Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’ team are based in Borneo, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Ukraine. To tell you more about the game, here are Clariz, the team’s lead designer and Melody, our resident goddess-slash-empress.

Clariz: Hi! I’m 25 years old and I’m responsible for the design and scripting in Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’. I also talk to our programmers, artists, and producers about… stuff.

Meloy: Hi, I’m Meloy and I’m afraid of Clariz. I’m the one who writes the quests and characters for Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’. I also help the team with the metagame aspects of the game. And this is my dog Pipay. Pipay says hi!

How did you come up with the Antique Road Trip game series?

The Antique Road Trip series was something that our creative director, Christopher Natsuume came up with because he wanted to evoke the feeling of collecting Americana. Chris is from Texas, and spent most of his childhood there and at the lakes in Michigan. Antique Road Trip is his love-letter to the heartland USA that he grew up in.

Originally, the title of the game was Antique Road Trip: Main Street because we wanted to simulate a town-building game where you manage a variety of shops on a main street, but it evolved into something bigger, with locations all across America, so we ended up with Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’.

What makes this game different from the previous Antique Road Trip games?

Meloy: I like to think that this game evokes the feeling of being a real antique collector! We have tons of antique and vintage-inspired collectibles that you can trade and auction with other, real live players like yourself.

Clariz: You will also get to restore old buildings and spruce up your own town!

Should we have played the Antique Road Trip series before playing this?

Meloy: No! Although Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’ brings a nostalgic feeling to fans of the original Antique Road Trip series, this game can be played without prior knowledge of the background story at all. After all, this game is about YOU: it’s YOUR story, YOUR antique shop, and YOUR antique collection!

I’m a fan of HOPA games and I’ll be trying out Free-to-Play for the first time! What do I need to know?

Clariz: Free-to-Play format is different from what HOPA fans are used to. Premium HOPA games have a linear storyline, a preset progression of events, and a definite ending. But with Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’, you create your own experience of the game. It’s a continuous service, so we can make changes in the game as our own players see fit.

Meloy: HOPA fans might find the transition confusing at first, because unlike HOPAs, F2Ps do not have a set of predetermined goals that you have to complete in order to progress. F2P games are non-linear, meaning you are free to explore and enjoy the game however you wish.

If you don’t know where to go and what to do in Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’, let the quests guide you! Treat quests as suggestions as to how you may experience the game, and something that points out features that you might have not encountered before. Most F2Ps present quests as icons on the left of the screen, so always keep an eye out for them!

Remember that there is no wrong way to play an F2P HOG, so explore the game and discover what makes YOU enjoy it!

Do we need to spend money to enjoy the game?

Clariz: Nope! You can enjoy Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’ and progress through the game without spending a single cent. As you level up, the game rewards you with all the gold bars, coins, and other cool items that you need.

If you’d like to progress faster or take shortcuts in the game, you can purchase extras or additional materials. But you’ll never be forced to buy anything you don’t want to. We designed this to be a hassle-free, relaxing experience, so try it out and have fun! 🙂

What made you want to be a game developer?

Clariz: I used to be a programmer for a bank, doing backend stuff. But I wanted to do something creative, something people would appreciate and give feedback about; a kind of job where I could interact directly with my end-users. I was lucky to find a job in game development working on a project that provides that fulfillment, plus I get to work with very talented programmers, artists, sounds designer and writer/designers.

Meloy: And I used to write airline software! Banks and airlines are important to society, but working on the backend means we don’t really get to see our end-users appreciate the work we did. I wanted to be a part of something that would make people happy, and I wanted to help create something that I could actually relate to!

How do you get inspiration for a game?

Meloy: Sometimes I dream about them, but usually it’s from playing other games.

Clariz: Our main inspiration comes from wanting to make a game that we are proud of and happy to play. The Free-to-Play format is somewhat controversial because some developers take advantage of their players, but we wanted instead to create a meaningful experience for our audience. And to do that, we added game mechanics and loops that are fun and won’t rip off our customers. So we kept playing the top-grossing free-to-play games and tried to find elements that worked for them and tried to apply it to our own.

How long does it take for you to design a game from start to finish?

Clariz: Our mindset now is, there is no “finished product” stage for Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’. Because it’s a live product, we treat it as a continuous service for our players. We started the gestation period in May 2012 and since then, the game has gone through multiple waves of revamping and redesign.

Meloy: This is our studio’s first game in the Free-to-Play format, and we had a quite a lot of adventures and misadventures in developing it. And we hope there will be more journeys like it ahead of us.

What are the biggest technical challenges when you develop a game?

Clariz: The overall technical challenge has always been making sure that a gameplay mechanic is first translated into something working and concrete, and then after that, into a polished state. I have to say the biggest challenges were probably the online and social aspects of the game. This technology has been evolving for years – such as auctioning, messaging, and social networking – and so we were kinda ambitious in trying to put all these elements into one game, in a production span of just 1.5 years.

Meloy: Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’ is our first Free-to-Play game so our programmers had to adjust and develop new technology that had never been done in any of our previous games. Thanks to our our puzzle brainteaser game Braincurve, we already had the basic framework for social gameplay, as well as a system for micro-purchases as seen in our fairy tale app Zaptales, but this project required several new multiplayer features for our coders to implement.

What is your favorite game at the moment and why?

Clariz: I have many favorite games, but my favorite at the moment on the PC is an oldie but goodie called Spore. I like it a lot because of the breadth and width of the game, as well as the various customization and crowd-sourced content features that it has. On the iOS platform, I like Puzzle Craft, Clash of Clans, and Pacific Rim.

Meloy: Oh my gosh I love Spore too! The graphics are cute and colorful, and I like that it allows me to experiment. For those who are interested, Spore is a game by legendary designer Will Wright where you start out as a single-celled organism and eventually evolve into intelligent humanoids and create civilizations! But right now my favorite games are Final Fantasy XIV and League of Legends. Playing these games with my friends helps me unwind because I enjoy their teamplay aspect. It’s like playing a team sport without leaving my computer chair!

Any advice for new developers?

Meloy: As a new developer myself, my advice is to not be afraid to share your ideas with your team. Don’t be afraid to sound silly – game development is still an evolving process, and even your seasoned colleagues may learn something new. And don’t be discouraged if your idea doesn’t work out; even experienced developers make mistakes most of the time!

Clariz: What Meloy said. Be open to ideas and don’t have preconceptions about things. Make it a habit to ask for meaningful feedback from others. If I’m looking for feedback about user-friendliness, I ask my mom to play it. If we want feedback about gameplay, we ask our producers and game designers in the company. And trust the wisdom of the crowd!

What does your development team do that’s different?

Clariz: I’m not sure how different this is from other studios, but in Boomzap we have a practice of creating a daily build and giving instant feedback. Also, we’re lucky to have a lot of kickass developers. Perhaps this comes from being a virtual company– we’re not limited by location so we’re able to work with talented people from anywhere in the world.

Additionally, we have great support from our producers at Big Fish Games, who have guided us with meaningful feedback from their own experience and numbers. The game is in a polished state thanks to our collaborative work with our producer Sean Harrold, and the rest of the members of the producers’ group, BFG QA team, and engineering team. (Sorry, there’s too many names to mention, but these people really rock).

After shipping a game, do you enjoy playing it just as much as you enjoyed making it?

Meloy: I actually enjoy playing Antique Road Trip: American Dreamin’ more than I did making it! My favorite part of the development process is the testing, but then I end up wasting time because I enjoyed the HO scenes a little too much.

Clariz: Our heart has always been to produce a game that is fun to play. It wasn’t easy though, because sometimes you’re too close to the project, and the developers themselves become un-fun because of discontentment. But we finally got to the stage where we realized “we struck something amazing!” and now I enjoy playing it so much. Meloy and Sands (another designer-artist) are in charge of writing the text, so I often get funny surprises along the way.

I’ll never forget about the production of this game because I learned so much. And I’d really like to give kudos to our producers at BFG — their direction is really invaluable in making the game enjoyable.

Have you ever had to sacrifice a feature you really didn’t want to give up to keep a game in budget or meet a deadline?

Clariz: Yes, unfortunately, sacrificing game features is inevitable. But we plan to roll out these new features in future seasonal updates. We are guilty of being behind schedule though, but that’s how it is in videogame production! XD

Meloy: We’ll just keep adding more features to make the game better!

How many ideas have you had to abandon or drastically change because someone beat you to the punch?

Clariz: Cannot count! But we do not abandon them because good ideas are built up from old ideas.

Meloy: We don’t really care if our ideas have already been used somewhere else, instead we try to improve on those ideas and keep them in the game!

If you could remove one cliché from the Video Game industry, what would it be?

Clariz: It’s wishful thinking because this problem cannot easily be solved – what I’m referring to is the objectification of females in games. And not just in games, but in the video game industry itself – the glass ceiling for women in game development companies is a real issue that just hurts the industry. We don’t have this in Boomzap, but it exists in other countries and companies.

What do you find is the best approach for starting a new project? Do you think about the story, mechanics or gameplay first?

Clariz: It’s a very Catch-22 situation. This is the first Free-to-Play format we’ve developed that is a hybrid of various genres. We sort of started with both developing the mechanics and the story at the same time — which in the end turned out to be ok, I think.

What do devs think about the people who get mad about a particular aspect of a game?

Meloy: For a new developer like myself, criticism can shake my self-confidence. But you get used to it, and learn to be a better developer because of it.

Clariz: We take feedback professionally. Of course on a personal level, there is that “but my team and I worked hard on this!” kind of resentment, but you need to accept that as a costly learning. If we receive negative feedback on a particular element, then there’s a reason for it. Gaming is an emotional experience, and as a developer, we need to get to the bottom of the issue and address that in the gameplay.

Do developers ever realize that the game they’re making needs a major overhaul? If so, is there a process to improving a game in the latter stages of development?

Meloy: Yes! There are many times when we realize that we have to change something major in our game, and to do that we sit down and make a list of everything we need to do in order to make it happen. We find that if we divide all those changes in smaller, manageable chunks, then it doesn’t look so intimidating or exhausting.

Clariz: Yes, but it’s especially hard to be conscious of it. So you need feedback from others and tell you if something doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel right.