Role: Lead Narrative Designer and Systems Designer
Team: 10 Members
Duration: 8 months
We Love Nuclear Armageddon (WLNA) is a strategy game about interplanetary nuclear war that satirizes culture of 1950’s America. Playable in both local multiplayer and single-player matches on your mobile device, players take turns constructing buildings, launching missiles, and deploying shields in a bid to destroy each other. It reduces the strategy game down to its basics, emphasizing positioning over resource management across dense, quick matches. It’s a bite-sized, stylized, tactical game, blending the looming threat of nuclear war with the cheerful anxieties of 1950’s America to provide players with an arcade-style experience unique within the competitive strategy market.
When our small team of four started working on WLNA, we had only a vague idea of where we wanted to go with it. It’s for this reason that I did a lot of systems design work in the beginning of production for our game. We knew that shields and nukes would be the two main mechanics that the entire game would revolve around, and so all design choices were made with that in mind. Originally, our buildings included the five present in the game currently along with a shield seed launcher. This building was used to launch a missile much like the nuke silo, but instead of causing damage, it could be detonated mid-flight to create a stationary shield. This was removed because it gave players options that were entirely defensive and slowed the game down tremendously.
Since the point of pre-production was really to show proof of concept, there wasn’t much work done by way of story. That being said, we still worked on a base narrative to give the game some context. We had a strong hyper-cold war theme with two factions: The Earth Rejuvenation Cult and the Colony of the Red Planet. There was no background to these factions aside from name and color, but this was to change drastically when our team shifted gears out of pre-production.
In the beginning, our team took WLNA to QA often, and feedback was mostly positive, even from the start. According to testers, there was something viscerally satisfying about nuking other players. One major concern was that the UI was clunky and that the actual act of launching the nukes wasn’t fulfilling. It was also during testing during pre-production that we learned just how much shield seeds slowed the game down. Using this information, we were able to iterate on and improve WLNA.
Once our team grew to ten people, my role in game design shifted to that of a leadership position. I collaborated with our systems designer and lead programmer to figure out faction-specific upgrades for resource buildings. I also collaborated with our level designer to help balance and build the single-player levels. As someone in a lead position, I was often faced with making decisions about the development of our game such as difficulty, level progression, and narrative direction.
Once we went into production, I went full throttle on narrative design. My goal was to create a compelling narrative portrayed in-game only through dialogue. To do this, I first had to come up with a timeline to use as quick reference for myself to ensure that I didn’t create any plot holes. Following that was the task of creating a unique cast of characters. Finally, I wrote the dialogue that is present in-game. Each mission has an intro and outro with a snippet of conversation that teaches the player a bit about the universe and inhabitants of WLNA.
We had new areas of focus during the production period, one of which was player feedback. Our UI was functional but clunky in the beginning, and we spent a lot of time refining it to get to a state that we as a team were happy with. My role in this was to draft up mock UIs that we would discuss at team meetings. Bits and pieces of different members’ mock UIs were then used to create the basis for what we have today.
I also made the galaxy map for WLNA, an asset that would be used to give the player visual feedback as they progressed through the single player campaign. The first iteration was vastly overscoped, an issue that was addressed in later versions.
Much like pre-production, we took WLNA to the QA labs often. This time, however, with a dedicated producer running sessions and creating feedback forms, said sessions were much more productive. Each week we would analyze our feedback, figure out what we could use from the feedback to make WLNA better, and iterate. It turned out to be a very efficient system, and we were able to rapidly make changes as needed. I also spent more time in the testing labs proctoring QA sessions and working with our testers to get more detailed feedback.
Producer: Dillon Handy