An MMO for Families and Kids of all ages: Toontown Online
Added on 19 June 2014
in MMOs & Virtual Worlds
Combining art, fun, story, and community to create a long lasting experience.
Toontown was the first massively multiplayer online game for kids and families, and one of the most successful ones, which lasted more than 10 years.
Toontown, for which I was first Art Director and then Creative Director, is the perfect example of a game that uses a mix of art, fun, story and community-building to create a great experience for both kids and parents.
The art was humorous and drew you in, the fun game mechanics simple and addictive and kept you entertained, the story -the battle between play and work- was something that we can all relate to and started unfolding from the first moment and kept you coming back for a while, and finally the feeling of community that made big emphasis in making the players feel part of one big community that needed to work together to defend Toontown. A sense of being part of a larger community is what kept players coming back to Toontown for years.
A Strong Theme Helps Everything.
Something that was essential in helping combine art-fun-story-community in a coherent way was having a strong Theme. This is something we can all relate to.
In Toontown, the central theme is the conflict between fun and dull work: Toontown a fun-loving joke-cracking place was being taken over by business robots called “The Cogs,” who wanted to turn it into a dull office park and industrial complex.
To stop them, Toons needed to play classic cartoon gags on the invaders.
We all like playing and having fun, but we all find ourselves in situations that kill the fun and every sense of play. This theme is relevant to both kids and adults and was one of the reasons Toontown resonated so strongly with the whole family.
The art made the game resonate and feel fun from the start.
Play at its essence is about fun. You can have goals, but fun trumps any other goal. This was reflected in all the environments: fun gags instead of weapons, buildings and props with personalities, hats and accessories, silly metaphors to represent business archetypes.
Complementing the art and fun with story.
We always found that adding story based on the main theme, gave a lot of ammunition to do better art and make things much more fun.
Creating games that happened in the place where the Cogs lived was another opportunity for humor, story, and social commentary that made the Theme resonate more strongly.
The picture below represents the place where Legal Eagles, one of the higher level cogs, lived. Legal Eagles tried to take all the fun out of the world by suing everybody and adding meaningless paperwork and documentation.
The environment represents an eagle canyon where everything is built out of file cabinets, paperwork and office supplies. Below you can also see concepts for two other enemies: the Loan Shark and Money Bags.
While having an adversary to a game can be fun, it becomes more interesting when that adversary is also a representation of things that affect us in real life.
Community: Toons of the World Unite!
Players in Toontown kept coming back to the world for years, and what made them do that was the sense of community the game fostered. Players had to cooperate to defeat the Cogs and save the world, and they created ties to other players in the process. Those ties to other players and the sense of community were a strong force that kept bringing players back.
Designing a New Website
As a Creative Director for Toontown Online, one of the important projects was to overhaul the website to make it more fun and engaging and better reflect the spirit of the game.
Here’s the design for the community page:
Prototyping New Concepts
While I was working as a Creative Director for Toontown, we created 3 prototypes in Unity 3D to show the new vision, and managed to produce them in record amount of time with a very small team and minimum tech staff support.
One of the prototypes we created to show the new vision for Toontown was a Cartoon Adventure, this was a story and minigame that got triggered when you approached a building in the shape of a rocket ship. I drew storyboards for the story and we created prototypes in Unity for the minigames.
Here’s an example of the different artwork we produced to flesh out the idea:
Updated 3D Models
To add more personality and acting capabilities to our characters, we also overhauled our main characters’ 3D models. Even as a creative director, I always stayed involved hands-on with the final pass on character models:
More Concept Design Examples
Trough out the years I developed many concepts for characters, environments, and UI for Toontown.
Here are some environment concepts for the original Toontown Online, the first massively multiplayer online game for kids produced by the VR Studio and Disney Internet Group. I was first art director and then creative director for this project.
Creative Direction by Felipe Lara
Art and Game Design by Toontown Online Creative Team.
All images are the property of the Walt Disney Company.