FRC Blog

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to FIRST STRONGHOLD

Jan 25, 2016 Written by Frank Merrick

Some folks have expressed an interest in details about how FIRST STRONGHOLD came about. I wanted to explain a little bit about that, and also explain the part our friends, FRC Team 1189, The Gearheads, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, USA, played in it.

We started work in earnest on the game in May 2015 with a trip to Walt Disney Imagineering. There, we came up many, many concepts, including a ‘Tower Defender’ type game. Within a few weeks after that meeting, we had generated 24 or so formal, documented concepts for further consideration. Three of those were variations on ‘Tower Defender’ type games. On a two hour conference call on June 23rd, we narrowed those 24 concepts to four, one of which was a Tower Defender concept. Finally, at a two-day game design on-site the weekend of June 26th, we settled on the Tower Defender game concept as our final direction, though at that time we did have three different ‘stories’ associated with that basic game layout. One of those stories incorporated the medieval theme, and that theme seemed to have the most initial support behind it. Eventually, at a later date, that theme was selected.

The Gearheads had won the 2015 FedEx Innovation Challenge, with one of the top prizes being a trip to FIRST HQ to pitch a game to the game design committee. This was the first time anything like this had been done, so they weren’t quite sure what to expect, but they were excited nonetheless. They were scheduled to pitch to us on July 10th. Even though we already had a firm direction, we had expected that we might be able to use elements of their pitch in the 2016 game, or consider it as a candidate for the game itself in 2017.

The Gearheads’ pitch team, Nick S., Audrey K., Aidan R., Anna K., Aidan C. Oh, hey, check out that plane in the background! What’s the chance of that!

However, a few days after we had settled on a ‘Tower Defender’ game concept, The Gearheads had posted a little preview of their upcoming pitch to us on social media. Turns out, they were planning to pitch us ….. a ‘Tower Defender’ game, with a medieval theme, named Medieval Mayhem! They had even created a logo!

Take a look at that boulder!

This led to a great deal of discussion at FIRST HQ, as you can imagine. I ended up calling one of the mentors for 1189 and explaining that the posting of their pitch information complicated our potential use of their game or any elements in their game, as the information would be ‘out there’ and other teams could unduly speculate about it. (I understand I sounded a bit ‘urgent’ on the phone!). This was true, of course, whether or not they were planning to pitch a game similar to the one we already had in mind. They took the information down immediately. For sure, we never revealed to the team, in any way, that their pitch was very close to what we had already developed. During their pitch, we were careful to not let on that we had been thinking the same thing. And before the 2016 teaser came out, I even sent them a note saying they should make no assumptions based on what they saw in that video.

Their pitch was truly wonderful*, and I’ll tell you the way in which it influenced the thinking for FIRST STRONGHOLD, and has continued to influence my personal thinking. I thought one of the most interesting aspects of their pitch was the way in which they incorporated video game tropes in live-action play, turning the competition into almost a ‘Live Action Video Game’, at least to some extent. If you look closely at FIRST STRONGHOLD, you will find here and there a few video game tropes, which I believe enhance the experience of the game.

I can’t say that we used anything specific from their pitch in FIRST STRONGHOLD, but I can say their video game-like approach definitely influenced my thinking when it came to making decisions with the rest of the GDC related to detailed elements. And I think it’s these little details that add up to the true feel of a game.

BTW, FedEx has released details of their 2016 FedEx Innovation Challenge, which you can find here. This time, instead of a pitch to the GDC, the top prize is $5,000 in cash and a unique Innovation Ambassador VIP Experience trip to the FIRST Championship. That’s pretty sweet! **

Hope everyone is having a great build season!


*One of the things that blew me away: in addition to having a detailed, well-thought out game to present, one section of their presentation was dedicated to game safety! This is a team that ‘gets it’, from every angle.

** Hey, I wouldn’t mind an Innovation Ambassador VIP Experience trip to the FIRST Championship myself!

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