The Making of 24
We talk to the team bringing Jack Bauer to our mobile phones…
Pocket Gamer loves games. Pocket Gamer also loves TV. So we were understandably excited when we were told we'd have access to the producer of 24, the forthcoming mobile phone game based on the TV series starring Keifer Sutherland.
We were somewhat saddened, it's true, when our requests for a helicoper and SWAT team in order to kidnap him were turned down. But we're professionals who are prepared to work with what we're given. So, with no further ado, welcome Jonathan Kromrey, a producer at I-play and a key figure behind the transition of one of TV's biggest shows into a mobile phone game.PG: 24 is coming to mobile phones at the start of the new season. Tell us all about it!
Jonathan: In collaboration with Fox, we've tried capture the time-driven tension of the series and deliver a breakthrough in mobile game play. The game will stay true to the flavour and spirit of the enormously successful show, which critics have hailed as the most intense, engaging and surprising program ever to grace a TV screen. Just as mobile phone communication figures prominently in every episode of 24, players of the game will receive instructions, messages, and intriguing content delivered directly to their mobile devices. The clock starts racing the moment players begin to play, echoing 24's signature real-time motif in which every second counts and calamity could be less than 24 hours away.PG: How is the time-driven element of the show being implemented into the game?
Jonathan: Tension is so inherent to the 24 show. We spent a lot of time crafting it so it was always at the forefront of the player's mind. Not only is each mini-game timed, but the 24-clock timer is always present. For some networks, we also support posting the time taken to complete the game, so you can brag to your friends and challenge them to beat your best time.PG: How do you build tension on such a tiny screen?
Jonathan: Each element of the game has its own tension built in, whether it's defusing a bomb, avoiding detection from enemies or driving a car to a destination as fast as you can while avoiding collisions. Some missions are direct and simple, where others involve linked missions that must be solved with the same agent. Toward the end of the game, the player will have to solve several linked missions in a row in order to solve the mystery and avert a nuclear war.PG: How much have you drawn on the various series of 24 that have been televised?
Jonathan: We have drawn very heavily on all of the televised episodes – our story and characters are all up to date with the show. For example, we feature Kim Bauer as one of the agents that can be played. It was great to have access to and feedback from the show producers through Fox Mobile Entertainment.PG: How difficult was the game to develop, as 24 has no real specifics in the series apart from the characters?
Jonathan: The 24 television show is a literal gold mine for cool spy technology such as satellite surveillance, infra-red monitoring, and so much more. We didn't want to do just another 'run-and-gun' game and the show inspired us to create the original concept that the player's actual mobile phone could to be 'upgraded' into a 'spy phone' and grant the player access to the adventurous 24 world and work with agents like Jack Bauer. The development team was able to craft I-play's concept into a compelling story, and the team created cool spy games that challenge the player and bring the 24 world to life.PG: Can you tell us a bit more about the gameplay and any special features that the game will have?
Jonathan: The core concept of the game is that the player is a real CTU agent and uses his/her phone to interact with and direct CTU agents for each situation that comes up. Some missions are direct and simple, where others involve linked missions (for example, after you decrypt a message you discover there's a bomb that has to be defused, then the agent – if still alive – may be discovered, and so on).PG: In what way was the 24 production team and Kiefer Sutherland involved in developing the game?
Jonathan: The 20th Century Fox Mobile group was awesome to work with and they managed the approval process with the 24 television show prodcuers. Every part of the game, from the characters we used, to the story, and art – even the gameplay – was reviewed by Fox and the 24 television team. We were even able to visit the television show set.PG: How did the development team complete the task of watching all 24 episodes – was it like one week watching together, with pizza, sleeping people, and so on?
Jonathan: Before the project began the development team were huge fans of the show, so we were able to quickly craft a compelling story line based on the latest information and with our most favorite characters. Additionaly the team at Fox were very supportive and lent us Season 4 episodes on video tape before the DVD was created.PG: Can we expect to see a second 'episode' of 24 on our mobile phones?
Jonathan: Production on the second 24 title is just beginning and we're all very excited to present a new thrilling storyline and add new mechanics. The second game is scheduled to be released in Fall 2006.PG: Can you tell us anything at all about the story that this game will follow?
Jonathan: An encrypted message sent to the North Korean consulate is intercepted by CTU agent Chloe O'Brian that implicates the North Koreans in a possible attack on the U.S.A. The North Korean government refutes their involvement in any such operation, and adds that any action taken against their people or their consulate regarding these outlandish accusations will be seen as an act of war.PG: Who do you control in-game? Jack Bauer?
Jonathan: Your game persona is you, as a CTU Agent, but during the game the player controls the agents he assigns to each mission. The characters you can control in the game are Chloe, Kim, Curtis, and, of course Jack.PG: In what ways will the story be presented in the game? Via text messages?
Jonathan: Yes, emails from agents and reports from the field. These can happen at the beginning or end of a mission, or even in the middle of one.PG: 24 will have an interactive story, and thus multiple choices for the player to take advantage of. Does this mean there will be multiple outcomes? Multiple game endings?
Jonathan: The initial interactive story elements were very ambitious and we've had to reduce them down during the final stages of production. Now the emphasis is on which agent the player selects for a particular mission, and how their appropriate skills determine the difficulty or 'threat level' of the mission. This becomes critical at the later stages of the game, when one mission automatically leads to another and there is no time to switch to a different agent.PG: One of the coolest things about 24 is the unique perspectives they use to raise tension during key sequences. How are these visuals translating to the mobile game? What can we expect this game to look like?
Jonathan: The art direction for 24 was a major part of the game. The designers were able to create a cool spy look for each part so it matches the show and the atmosphere. From infra-red surveillance satellite feeds to the phone tracing game, each part has its own unique flavor and presentation.PG: Looks are important but can't compare to the importance of good gameplay. Can you tell us about the learning curve in 24?
Jonathan: The best games are easy to play, difficult to master, and have deep re-playability. The developers and I-play worked in conjunction to craft each of the missions with a core 'one-button push' mechanic whenever possible, and then provide as many of them as possible to the player. Missions can range from a simple code 'Decryption' to chasing after a suspect in a car and having to ram him enough times to disable his vehicle and capture him; infiltrate a terrorist hideout and then when the smoke clears discover a ticking bomb that you have to defuse ASAP; disable a laser security system then trace a phone signal to discover the terrorist, then interrogate him. All these and more are in the game.24 will be available from I-Play in March 2006. Our thanks go to Jonathan for his insights. We're going to do a runner now before he follows up on his threat of "If I told you, I'd have to kill you..."