Inside the world of Bitesize4 30 Mar 12
About 6 months ago the Bitesize games we built for the BBC went live. We’re often asked what exactly goes into building a suite of games like those, so we thought we’d put together a bit of a blog post to creak open the door on our creative process… a bit like when Willy Wonka let people into the chocolate factory.
The games were almost entirely illustrated by our lead illustrator Steven Woods, so massive pat on the back to him! The rest of the core team comprised of Adam, myself (Jon) and Chris, with Sara Mair providing the education input, along with the help of excellent producers in the form of Andy Larkin at the BBC and Rachel Duckhouse at BBC Scotland! Here we go then…
Thinking caps on!
Arguably the most crucial part of the job is coming up with the concepts. The awesome thing about working with Max & Molly (the 2 lead characters in the games) was that they inhabit this little world where things are exaggerated and whacky. So our first task was to come up with as many exciting environments as we could – desert islands, witches lair, scuba diving, forest trails etc… – stick them on the board, and we then worked through each game’s required learning outcomes and brainstormed ways that we could mould one of those outcomes around one of the environments.
Some unfortunately didn’t make the cut, but are in our back-pocket if we ever get asked to make more, including fairgrounds, rock concerts, castles, the outback, mission control, Mayan temples… the list goes on!
Let’s get drawing!
After nailing the rough concepts, the next step was to start doing sketches, for both the clients benefit, but also for our own. You can’t beat a good sketch!
Panels, panels and more panels…
Once everyone’s happy with the sketches, it’s important to fill those out into complete storyboards. This avoids any confusion about how the games work, but also help us figure out exactly what additional illustrated assets we’ll need further down the line. For this job we decided to fully illustrate the storyboards to bypass the need for a further visualisation stage before building the games. We did some quick maths and figured out that across all the games we did a huge 972 storyboard panels! Stevo surpassed his personal-best ‘maximum number of vector points in one illustrator document’ on this project!
Give it some character
After the storyboards were done, we then knew exactly what characters would be needed. Each game has either Max or Molly as a lead character, often supported by Pablo. So the challenge was to really push the limits of how far we could take the characters to make them feel unique to each environment. So by the end of the job we ended up with a pretty impressive array of outfits for them all!
It was also at this stage that our illustrators had to start thinking about all the different poses, walk-cycles, celebrations and expressions that each character would need – often bespoke to each environment. Here’s a few poses we did for Max for the Rock n’ Roll game.
And here’s a bunch of poses we did for Molly for the Deep Sea Phonics game.
And here’s the many faces of my favourite character in the games… Pablo!
Think of the environment!
Across all the games we came up with dozens of different environments – with lots of the games having very different environments for each of their three difficulty levels. Here’s an expanded view of one of the scrolling Enviro-spotter levels:
And here’s just a quick snapshot of a handful of the other environments we can up:
And where would all our characters be without some interesting objects to interact with? We reckon that across this job we’ve illustrated pretty much any animal you can think of, and endless amount of objects… from pirate treasure chests, to witches cauldrons and jars of popcorn.
Whilst all this illustration work was going on, our educational expert was busy writing scripts incorporating all the cool learning content, and it was at this stage that we went into the recording studio with the super-talented Beth Chalmers, who actually voiced all the characters in the games, both male and female. Here’s a few of our favourite lines she came up with…
Put it all together
It was at this point, once we had all the illustration assets and voice-over recordings done that we then started making the games themselves! All done in Flash, there’s a stack of lovely animation we put in, sometimes for things which only appear on screen for a few seconds, and because of his animation prowess, Adam even created his own genre off the back of the project… Adam-ation!
Cutting room floor
As is always the case with big projects like these, there were lots of things which got drawn up which unfortunately never made it to screen so we thought we’d finish by showing some of them off to you here, so at least the effort gone in wasn’t completely in vain!
I hope this has shed a bit of light on our process and shown just how much we loved working with our chums Max, Molly and Pablo – and the lovely folks at the BBC of course (big shout out to Andy and Rachel – legends)!
Finally… you can play the games over on the Bitesize site!