I Bid You Adieu

Ah here it is.

The end is now here, and to be honest, I’m full of mixed emotions. On one hand, I desperately wanted school to end, because well, it’s school. On the other hand, school is all I’ve known for the majority of my life. Oddly enough, its become a part of me. As I sit here, post EAE day (open house essentially) trying to gather enough energy to type this along with finishing all of my final assignments, I lack a lot of certainty. However there is one thing in my life that i’m 100% certain about, and that’s my team and  fellow cohort members (C4 fo’ life). I’m not the mushy-gushy type, and it’s very rare that I ever get emotional, but dam, I’m going to miss all of my classmates, especially my fellow team members. Differences aside, I consider each and every single member of my cohort family. Regardless if there are some of us who never had the opportunity to work with one another, and regardless of the fact that some of us just aren’t as close as we would have hoped for (mainly because there are soo many of us), I would go to battle for each and every single member of my class any day, any time. Hell, this whole process has been a journey. Some times game development is grueling, especially in the context of school, but there are many times in which it’s rewarding. To the credit of the faculty, projects was by far my favorite course. It’s supposed to be run kind of like a studio simulation, and it is. There is minimal professor interference (which is great), and we all act like our own companies, handling our own processes (most of the teams are actual companies now anyways). However one of my biggest takeaways from projects, besides networking and forming relationships, was the bond that it formed among our cohort. Sure there was invaluable experience learned, but the friendships I made will hopefully last a lifetime.

Now to get somewhat back on track, we also published this past week. Our game can be downloaded from Desura here: http://www.desura.com/games/hostile-territory, and itch.io here: http://indirectgames.itch.io/hostile-territory.

Adding to the above note, our game was a massive hit at Open House today. People who had doubts or reservations about our game in December, were completely turned around today. I’m not going to lie, I kind of had set certain expectations for our game going into today (what response I expected to see that is), and those expectations were shattered. People loved our game. They loved the concept, they loved the way it played, and they loved the way it looked. Most importantly though was that we all learned that we have something great on our hands. I believe with a little more fine tuning and some improvements, we could have a major successful game. I’ve told some fellow team members that once school is done, and all I have to worry about is work, I wouldn’t mind spending some free time on the game to get it to that stage. I think a lot of the team was shocked at the massive amount of support and praise we received today. Hopefully that can act as a catalyst towards motivating people to want to work on it post-graduation. If it doesn’t pan out, then i’m fine with that. What we have currently is something we should all be proud of. It’s a great concept, and more importantly, a great game.

With all of this being said, it’s now time for me to bid thee a farewell. It’s been a roller coaster throughout these past two yeas, and man has it been a fun ride. However rides always have to end at some point, and that point is now for me. I’m bowing out on top now, and wishing everyone I’ve encountered over these last two years nothing but success.

Give the world hell C4, because we earned this!

Publishing ASAP, and figuring out where to go from here…

The past couple of weeks, we’ve been in this semi-limbo state. A few weeks ago, I made the first pass submission of our game to Desura. After about a week or so of not hearing anything back, I got in touch with them. They gave me some preliminary feedback on our game, which I in turn passed along to the team. We began working on additions and adjustments for our game as per their request. Now at this point a few weeks had passed since my initial submission to them. This past week, we got a more detailed report from the head of Desura’s development support, which was a welcomed site. We knew this report was eventually going to make it to us, but until it did, we were stuck in limbo. We had worked on the suggestions/fixes that they had initially reported to us, but we feared the more “detailed” report would ask us to change or add more into the game. I’m happy to report that as far as their feedback  is concerned, we’re good! This upcoming week, we should have a new, and final build of our game ready to re-submit to Desura. I’m hopeful that we can still make our estimated launch date of April 28 (EAE Day), but if not, our publishing date should fall shortly after.

Outside of prepping our game for publishing (and all of projects class for that matter), everything else as far as school and work are concerned have been moving way too fast. I’ve never been the type to fall behind on school work, because frankly i’m normally pretty anal about that sort of stuff. Heck, I could have told you two months ago what assignments are due at the end of the semester (I like to consider myself a scheduling fiend). However I also never have experienced graduate school before, let alone having a full time job to boot. It’s definitely catching up to me, but i’m surviving. I begin overtime at Disney next week, so between lots of work (50 hour work weeks), i’ll have to spend all of my free time finishing school. It’s almost certainly going to be a challenge, but luckily for me, I love love challenges. Hey, no one ever said it was going to be easy, right?

In these next coming weeks, I plan on accomplishing a lot – both individually, and with my team. I really want to meet with the team and decide the outcome we have in store post graduation. One of the coolest aspects about our program is the diversity. With diversity comes new learning experiences, but also new friendships. It’s amazing at how many students in the cohort, let alone my team currently have jobs in the industry, or have jobs lined up post graduation. We all came to this esteemed game development program with the aspiration of gathering networks, and finding jobs. However with jobs, comes the realization that we may never get to work with one another on our thesis games again. I know deep down, a majority of us have the desire to continue on with our game, post launch, well after we graduate. Establishing some of that before we all leave, may be crucial.

When it’s all said and done though, I’ve enjoyed my time in the EAE program at the U. I’m terrible at math (not really but i’m too lazy to look at the course list), but I consider each and every fellow student in my cohort (like 50 somethin’) friends, and heck, some even family. Game development is challenging, and frankly sometimes infuriating. But I wouldn’t have wanted to go through all of this with anyone other than C4.

The waiting game.

This past week was very similar to last week, in the fact that much of my time was spent adding, and changing Desura submission items, but more importantly, still waiting to hear back from them. After a few e-mails here and there, I was eventually able to confirm that it will take approximately 7-10 days for them to review our game, give us feedback, etc. So to that end, this week we should be hearing back from Desura. I’m hopeful that everything they say is good, and that our transition from final build to publishing will go smoothly.

On Tuesday, we also had another all hands meeting. This time, not only was the usual crowd there, but so were Bob and Roger, who this past semester, we’ve seen very little of (they teach cohort 5). The feedback we received from them was great, and we’ve already begun making changes to the small/simple critiques they gave to us.

As for the rest of the week, attention was still focused mainly on the camera in our game. At this point, it’s really the only downfall I can think of. The downfall isn’t necessarily the camera itself (at least not in my opinion), but the fact that everyone has varying takes as to what it should be, and all that yields is people continually harping on it week after week.

This upcoming week we will know our fate for sure. Will we get the green light to be published on April 28? Or, will Desura have other plans in mind for us? Stay tuned. However, before I leave you on that cliff-hanger, here are some updated photos/assets from our game!

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Credits Screen

 

Submission, Fox News, and other fun!

As our time in school winds down, and with notifications going out almost weekly reminding us of our graduation plans, days now seem to become one massive blur. However, quietly, we’ve been getting things done behind the scenes no matter how fast time seems to be going.

This past Thursday, we submitted our game for publishing to Desura. I would call it a “first pass” of sorts, for the simple reasoning that we needed to submit asap, because of the 4+ week process and time frame that Desura mandates to some degree for games getting published (4+ weeks is how long it may take them to review the game, approve, and so on). The reasoning this past Thursday was the deadline was because 4 weeks from now is our estimated publishing date, April 28, or EAE day. Don’t let the “first pass” tag fool you, or lead you to some confusion. Make no mistake, our game looks and plays great! However we’re still lacking some of the art for visibility purposes like a new poster, logo, etc. We also have been discussing the possibility of adding new levels, and networking (simple networking) prior to launch, so that’s a discussion as well. Throughout these next coming weeks though, I’ll be updating our submission as much as possible so when the time comes (or when we hear back from Desura) for publishing, we’re as ready as possible!

In other exciting news, our graduate program was recently ranked #1 by the Princeton Review as the top graduate school to study video game design at, while the undergraduate department was ranked at #2. Here is a link to the article in which you can see the whole list. Additionally, local Fox 13 News came to our lab this past week, and interviewed my team and cohort in regards to our #1 ranking. Check out the B-roll of my fellow team members playing our game on camera, as well as an interview with Bob Kessler, and Jennifer Francis.

Next week, I should have all the final PR art assets (like logos, etc). I’ll post those, as well as give an updated on the status of our submission process with Desura.

Spring Break

This past week was spring break, so nothing new to report on as of this point.

Even though we weren’t in class this past week, we are still working on polishing and refining our game for submission to Desura. This upcoming Tuesday we plan on beginning to gather all of the necessary submission requirements, and hopefully, we’ll be able to submit our game by the end of day.

Until next week, stay tuned for more detailed information on the status of our game! Hopefully the next time I check in, i’ll have news on how our submission went, and how our game is looking!

Starting to hit me…

Everything is finally starting to hit me.

As I sit here, typing this blog, thoughts are racing through my head. With less than 9 weeks left until I graduate with my masters, recently I’ve been feeling the weight/pressure of what all that entails. Graduation, from my viewpoint, signals the end of a lot of things (as it relates to me). Not only does it signal the end of school (which has been a long  time coming), but it also brings about the beginning of the rest of my life. Man, just saying that hits me in the feels. While i’m somewhat emotional on the subject, it’s a necessary step in life that I welcome with open arms.
I think part of this pressure was brought along by some events that happened this past week (well mainly one event). Recently (as in this past Monday), I settled into my new, temporary job (that as of the moment, lasts until August). The first week was awesome, and frankly, I love what i’m doing. However I know that these next 8 weeks or so are going to be somewhat rough. Having to finish the school grind, while trying to work somewhat full-time at my job, is going to take a lot of mental strength. It’s not that I have a lot of school work to make up, but rather it’s the fact that i’m somewhat of a perfectionist. A task that would normally take a few hours, I extend into a weekend project. I just hope that my school work doesn’t suffer because of how excited I am to be working at my current job. It shouldn’t, but it’s a worry that will always linger in the back of my mind until I graduate.
As for our thesis game, things are going great! We had a chat this past Tuesday about publishing deadlines, and camera. Mark was adamant on the fact that if our camera was a little better, it would finally push our game from “okay” to “great”, and bring in that ever-so-needed fun factor. We all agreed, and the engineers came up with a compromise on tweaking the camera, that at this point, seems to make our game play/feel better. On the flip side, we also chatted about publishing – what we want to do, and when we want to do it by. For now, we plan on publishing to Desura (similar to Steam in a sense), with the intent to maybe look into Steam later. I’ve heard the argument that Desura is somewhat of a cop-out when it comes to publishing (i’m assuming people get that from the submission requirements or lack thereof), but i’m not buying it. Plenty of awesome games have been published to Desura, and we plan on being the next one.
This upcoming week is Spring Break. Even though we aren’t in class, I’ll be doing some publishing work in my free time. The week following Spring Break (so two weeks from now) we plan on submitting our game to Desura. In a couple of weeks, hopefully I’ll have some great news!

GDC

So this post is going to be a rather short one. I’m still winding down from my recent GDC high, but thought it would be best if I post a little update about how the event went – successes, and misses.

So this GDC for me, was rather short as compared to last years. Last year, I was in attendance for the whole week, whereas this year, I was just in town for literally one day. Initially, I wasn’t going to go, but my fellow friend, and artist on our team Mark, convinced me to head out to San Francisco for the day with him. Long story short, i’m glad I attended this year, even if it wasn’t for any significant amount of time.

Where the career fair was lacking (I had overheard someone saying it was the smallest career fair in recent memory), the expo floor was abundant with new VR tech, and gadgets. Even though there weren’t as many studios/publishers hiring this year, there were some surprises to be had at the career fair. For example, Nike was there as an exhibitor (i’m assuming for the first time ever), pushing their whole new consumer digital technology plans. This intrigued me a lot, and needless to say, I spent a majority of my time at their exhibit chatting with staffers. Personally, Nike hits home with me. My first ever job, a job in which I worked/held all through high school (when I first hit 16) up through college (and right before leaving for grad school), was selling shoes, apparel, and tech – predominantly Nike – at a local retailer in the Mall. It was almost like a “coming full circle” moment for me. Not only am I armed with a vast knowledge of old, and new Nike products, but now, I was armed with game development knowledge. I’m not sure I believe in destiny or fate, but it was a semi-awkward (as in good) moment. Here I am, someone who spent a vast majority of my life working in and around a variety Nike products, and all of a sudden, Nike shows up at GDC for the first time ever, looking for game developers. I’m rather blunt, and i’ll be the first to admit when someone is better at something than me. However, I couldn’t feel more confident in my ability to potentially work for a company such as Nike (I do feel somewhat more qualified than others in this aspect). Like any student developer however, opportunities are few and far between. I go into most situations expecting the worst, but hoping for the best, so only time will tell if the stars do truly align.

Outside of touching base with Nike, the best part about GDC was seeing people play our game (and a lot of people). While it was mostly great feedback, there were some concerns brought up, that frankly, we had already known about (camera issues). Regardless though, getting to see such a wide variety of gamers play our game, was something truly special to see.

Final push for GDC

This past week was dedicated to finishing up, and polishing our game for GDC (which is only a couple days away). Our new character is in place, our environment is looking clean and smooth, but most importantly, our game is bug free.

On my side of things, I spent a majority of this week updating our website, and social media outlets. It’s been quite some time since I updated anything as it related to our site and press kit. We’ve been undergoing some dramatic art changes as of late, but now we seemed to be locked down.

Here is a link to our GDC build (currently Windows only):

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1HIb-9MMEqkNlZ5ZW1HUDJlSWs/view?usp=sharing

As another side note, I accepted a QA position with Disney Interactive. I’m definitely excited and grateful to have been offered this opportunity. It’s definitely going to be an interesting next couple of months. I’ll be working as close to 40 hours a week as possible, while also finishing classes so I can graduate in May.

All hands meeting, character changes, and player experiences.

It’s been a while since I last blogged, due in large part to a very, very busy past few weeks. Over the course of these past few weeks, we’ve grown not only as a team, but individually as well. It’s funny, because in the past, there have been moments where as a team, we were erratic – people on different pages, etc. Flash forward to now, we’re basically a well-oiled machine – we all function on the same page, and everyone gets things done.

With all of that being said, let me go over some of the things that happened throughout the course of these few weeks I was MIA. First, and probably most importantly, we had our all hands meeting (including faculty) just about a week or so ago. All hands meetings, simply put, are meetings where each team generally goes over changes that they’ve made to their games (by visually showing them off), as well as changes they plan on making in the future (so like future fixes). Last semester, our cohort held all hands meetings once every week, usually with just the other cohort teams and our professors in attendance. This semester, we’ve backed down from once a week, to once every three weeks. This last all hands meeting was the most important to date though, because not only was it our pre-GDC all hands meeting (and the only one we’d have before GDC), but we also had more spectators than usual (a majority of the faculty, not just our professors, were in attendance).

Going into this particular all hands, as a team, we were unsure of what to expect. Sure, we have gone through this process many times before, but there were going to be some firsts at this particular meeting – first time we were showing off our new art style/direction, etc. Topher did a really good job at presenting everything we had to say – our current mechanics, what we had changed from the last build, and what our future fixes/changes we’re going to be. Once the presentation was over, the faculty/fellow students gave us feedback on our game. The biggest criticism/concern people had, was in regards to our new character. Everyone loved our new art style, but the new character concept we were using, seemed to do more harm than good. Outside of some just not liking the way our model looked or blended with our environment, it was causing issues in relation to our camera and shooting mechanisms in game. See, our new character was designed so that shooting would occur from the center of her chest (the character is somewhat of a cyborg). The main reason that location was chosen was because  we weren’t really going for detail. Previously, our old character thew minions from his hand, off to his side. These minions were highly stylized and detailed, and from that perspective, we wanted to visually show them off. Given that now, we were trying to focus on less detail (less is sometimes better), we felt shooting from directly dead center would benefit us.  However given everything else going on with the character (the tubes rising above the head, etc), it became clear, and fast, things just weren’t working. Shooting felt broken, but that was more so because as the player, you couldn’t see the projectiles. The tube structures arising from our characters head were obstructing the players view, causing some confusion and unrest. As a result, our shooting felt broken.

Additionally, since we had pulled the camera out (as per the request of players) so players could view more of the environment, the detail on our new character was going unnoticed as well (well, more so unnecessary). With all of this in mind, the professors chatted with us, and suggested that we drastically simplify our character. So, we went back to the drawing board, and made a new, basic character (kind of like a mini-turret):

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All of the changes that we’ve made between the all hands meeting and now, have been done to ensure that our communication, in game, is clearly presented to players.

Playtesting and Publishing Plans

This past week, on Tuesday, our cohort conducted a class-wide playtest. Outside of a few members per team sticking with their games to help instruct people playing, a majority of the class got a chance to roam around the studio and play each of the cohorts games. Not only did this allow us to gather crucial feedback in regards to our games (especially given GDC is less than 3 weeks away), but it was also a nice change of pace, from an otherwise hectic past few weeks. Playtesting our fellow peers games also allowed us to gain some more insight into where their games are at, and where they may be headed before GDC. This is important because in some capacity, most of us producers will be at the EAE booth at GDC pitching our own games, but also boasting about our fellow cohorts games as well. Even though we all work in the same environment and space, sometimes we put blinders on as teams, and are focused solely on our own games. While we all know information about each others games to some extent, getting a “refresher” is always nice, as things may have been added/changed.

Like I had briefly highlighted on earlier, this past playtesting session allowed us to gather valuable and crucial feedback, especially since GDC is coming up. However, this playtesting session was valuable to the team for another reason as well. The past playtests we’ve conducted, outside of maybe open house, only saw a handful of us team members running them and there to witness the feedback. Normally, when we conduct a playtest, a few of us producers will run the setup, and gather feedback while people are playing. Occasionally, other team members, such as an artist or engineer (or both) may be there to help with technical problems if they should arise. Rarely has it been the case that the whole team has been at a playtest to witness players feedback and responses. This is important, because it allows everyone to gauge for themselves that status of our game, and the quality of the gameplay that the players are experiencing (like is the game fun and so on). When producers conduct a playtest, receive feedback, and then present that feedback to other team members, it may be passed off by some. However when everyone can see the playtest session, how it goes, and the overall response among players, that information can’t be passed off or taken lightly. Overall, it was a great playtest, and as a team, we learned a lot.

This week, we also began discussion with the team as to publishing outlets for our game. At first, I think we had all assumed that Desura would be the way to go. It’s similar to Steam, minus maybe the “popularity” of it, but it’s also much less strict to publish to than Steam Greenlight is (which in almost every case, is a popularity contest). However at the beginning of the week, one of our faculty members e-mailed the teams about Xbox publishing, and connections he had that could essentially “fast-track” us through the submission/application process. On Thursday, we gauged the interest of team members as to their stance on Xbox publishing, and if they felt it was something we should pursue. It seemed as if a handful wanted to pursue it, and the other handful didn’t, while some were impartial to either. There are a lot of regulations that would need to be set in place if it is in fact something we wanted to pursue. We wouldn’t be able to develop the game on campus (due to the dev kits and a conflict of interest with the university), it may take longer than we expect, we would have monetize our game (then you get into making a company, and taxation issues), people not being able to work on the game due to job non-compete agreements, and it may cost a lot of money with buying insurance for copyright and IP. This week, we’ll know more, and hopefully another meeting with the team with ensue so we can finalize our publishing plans.