To EAE Day and Beyond!

Well, EAE day went really well. We had to create a build last minute, and we were making little changes all throughout  the event. I ended up shutting down most of my computer’s processes so that it would build faster, but it ended up working really well (and apparently, I can make builds on my laptop in about 2 minutes!). It usually takes us a really long time to build, so that was a huge relief.

People seemed to really like the idea of our game. I think sometimes we’re a lot harder on ourselves than other people are, because people were generally interested by the camera and the wall walking alone. I would still love to add a little bit more interaction, but I feel really good about the progress that we’ve made so far, and I look forward to next semester and the challenges and opportunities that await us there. Anyway, that’s all for this semester. Moving forward!

Will We Make It?

Well, I don’t know if people are just discouraged or if something has changed, but our progress has slowed substantially. If I had to pin it to a specific cause, I would say it was mid-semester reviews, because I guess a bunch of people got pretty critical reviews this time. I had good feedback as a whole, and the professors seemed to be happy with the progress that I made. I’m still excited about the game, but I’m feeling anxious about stuff. A week or two ago, Andrew came to me and told me that he wanted to make up tasks exclusively, because he’s team lead, and I was fine with that, but I haven’t gotten any tasks since then. So I’ve just been trying to do whatever I can to contribute. I’m a little bit frustrated, but I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

The game is going well though. We keep having problems with textures, but they are looking pretty good, and I think our artists are a lot happier right now. They are working on models to dress the level, and everything is looking good. I’ll hopefully have some screen shots sometime soon. I think we are going to have to cut our game down to a single level, which is a little bit disappointing, but if that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. That’s just how it goes, I guess. I guess we ARE going to have an EAE day now, which comes as a bit of surprise, considering they told us it wouldn’t happen. So we’ll be spending the next week or so getting ready for that. I’m half excited about it, but I think that will grow with time 🙂

Flying to the End of the Semester

Wow! The semester has like a month left! I don’t know where all the time has gone, but in any case, I’m excited for the coming weeks. Our progress has been pretty good, and I feel like we’ve regained our momentum to a considerable degree. I’ve been working on a level for our final EAE submission, and that’s going fine, although I’m not sure how much stuff we’re really going to get into the level. The other designers are also working on levels, and they are looking good, although I think our original plan to make five levels will have to be cut down substantially. I hope we can at least get three levels done, but I guess we’ll see.

ScrShot

The engineering team is doing a great job, and I think we’ll be able to code lock here within the next week or so. That’s the hope at least 🙂 We got in some transmission points, which are basically just collectibles that you have to stand on for a few seconds to activate them. Our sounds are still kind of wacky, but they will get updated over the next few weeks. Life has been stressful, but I feel like we’re moving in a great direction. I wish we had a little bit more freedom and time, but we’ll get things done, and for now that’s the most important thing!

Onward and Upward!

Well, since IGF, not a ton has changed in terms of the actual game, but a lot has changed in terms of our motivation and our overall direction. We voted for new leads, and I was made design lead, so that’s been a really rewarding process. It’s been difficult to know in what direction to steer the game, but at the same time, I’ve had the chance to tackle some cool problems, and people have been pretty responsive as a whole. I sat down this last weekend and put together a big game design document (GDD), and that has helped a lot in terms of defining the scope of the game and bringing everything together. I put together lists of assets, sounds, and engineering tasks, and our leads have been working to get everyone on track and working on them. So far, we’ve only had a few hiccups, but we got more done today, I think, than we got done all of last week, so that’s a definite plus.

In terms of overall design, we are building the game around the theme of futuristic espionage/infiltration. Instead of playing as some super cool spy, though, we’re playing as a robotic surveillance fly whose wings were damaged while entering the facility that we’re infiltrating. The art team is really excited to have a solid theme, and I feel good about things, even though it is, admittedly, a little bit cliche. At this point, I felt like it was more important to have mutual investment and shared vision than it was to have something super innovative in terms of the art. I think the other thing that helps is that our camera itself acts as an art asset, really pumping up the visual value of the game as a whole. We’ve decided to simplify the levels into micro-levels with discrete tasks, and I think that will help a  lot in terms of introducing players to the mechanics and helping them to feel that they are progressing.

I’ve been working on UI these past couple days, and I’m not really sure where to take some elements just because of our perspective. I had initially played with a semi-3rd person view in combination with the first person camera, but that ended up looking a little bit strange. I’ve been experimenting today with a true first-person view with the fly’s nose and antennae visible on the edges of the screen, and that definitely helps you to feel like you are the fly, but I still feel like it needs some serious tweaking. I’ll be playing around with it more this week and working on levels as well.

UI

All in all, things are going well. We’ve got some good momentum, and people seem to be a lot happier than they have been in a while, so that’s definitely good. Excited to see what we can pump out over the next few weeks!

Scrambling to the Finish Line

Well, we are quickly coming toward the IGF deadline, and I’m a little bit worried about us getting everything done, but I’m confident that we’ll have something  🙂  We got everything put into the build today, so you would think that means that we’re done, but there ended up being some bugs with the level manager, so our engineers are scrambling to try to find out what is going wrong.

Originally, I thought it was something that I had done, because the bug, which crashed the game pretty consistently, was happening only on my level, which we had dropped in only this morning. But after hours of testing, after gutting my lighting, my turret systems, and a bunch of other thin
gs, the engineers determined that it was an engine bug. I was relieved, but we still weren’t able to get it to work, so we pulled the level and made a stable build that we’ll update as time goes on. I’m a little bit disappointed, because the other levels really weren’t designed so much as they were thrown together. I would guess that we’ll be able to change things up over the next few weeks, though, and get some more interesting levels in.

Pan

I’m excited for the possibilities ahead of us, in any case. I know the team is a little bit discouraged right now, but I’m really trying to be positive, even though it’s hard sometimes. We honestly have some really cool mechanics, and I think if we can get some solid direction, we’ll be able to really pull through. We’ve just had a problem with getting everyone on the same page, but I think after we formally submit to IGF, we’ll vote on new leads and a lot will probably change. Anyway, I’m hopeful. Things are going fine, all things considered, and I am excited to see what we come up with over the next month.

Change is… Complicated?

Well, things are kind of chaotic right now, because we’re still not exactly sure what to do with the game. We had a big meeting where we talked about some of the problems on the team and came up with a sort of game plan for the coming month. To make a long story shorter, we realized that our primary contradiction was not between the wall walking and the camera but between the FPS (shooting) elements and the camera, so we went back to the drawing board and removed shooting as our main mechanic. We realized that aiming, the thing that you need to be able to do best in a FPS, was the thing that our camera handicapped the most, and in playtests with actual FPS players, they would always turn off the camera before engaging enemy players. Anyway, it’s taken a lot of courage to step away from that idea, because we have so little time, but we’ll be working over the coming weeks to make something awesome with what we have.

In our big meeting, we decided that we were going to start by prototyping out a small game where you dodge wall-walking “green shells” and try to make it through a level. It’s really simple, but we hope that by starting small, we can get iteration going quickly. I am hopeful, though I know a lot of the team members were less enthused, even though that’s what they voted for in the end. It’s hard to get people to offer up honest feedback when they are in such a big group setting. Twelve other people are enough to intimidate pretty much anyone into agreeing with the group, even if they have different ideas for where the game should go. Anyway, I hope things work out. At least we have a more workable direction, and we don’t have to worry about networking anymore (for now at least).

I’ll be interested to see if we can get the whole team working effectively on this, though, because we definitely have some morale issues. I made crepes for the team the other day, and I think that helped some, but there’s still a lot of divisiveness, and that’s hard. I’m working to try to build relationships with individuals who feel a little bit disenfranchised at the moment, and that’s helped a lot. I think sometimes, people just need to know that there’s someone there who understands what they are thinking and feeling. Anyway, things are going well. I’m really exhausted at this point and don’t expect that to change any time soon, but again, I’m hopeful for the future.

Comic Con Prep!

We’ve been trying to get a build ready for Comic Con, so that’s been kind of exciting. We weren’t informed until yesterday that we needed a build, so we’ve been scrambling to get last-minute bug
fixes in. Our artists are busy with their own stuff right now, so I’m working on promotional materials, and that’s been going well. I got a couple of mock-ups done for a poster, and the team really liked one of them, so I think we’ll be going ahead with that. I’ll be volunteering at comic con, so I’ll hopefully get to see people’s reactions to the game. We’ll have to see how things turn out.Panoptic

Andrew Witt, who was lead designer on Rainbow 6, came and talked to us about the game, and he’s pretty concerned about our camera. I’ve been trying for about 5 months to get our team to drop either the camera or the wall-walking, but they’ve really been married to our mechanics until now. But now that Andrew wants the camera out, other people do, too. Haha, I guess that’s just how it works sometimes. Anyway, the team is trying to figure out how to go forward. We have about a month until GDC, so we don’t want to start all over, but at the same time, it’s seeming like something big is going to have to chance, no matter what. I’m excited at the possibility of change, because we have some conflicting design values in our game right now, but I worry about changing so close to GDC. A month isn’t much time, especially when we throw presentations, fall break, and everything else into the mix. We’ll be meeting soon to discuss the future of the project, and I hope it all goes well. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Level Design Fun

We’ve been working to get our core loop figured out for Sensory Overload. We had a big meeting where we went through what we need to get done before IGF, and I think we have things figured out a little bit better, but I think people are a little bit discouraged with how much there still is to do. We definitely have a game, but there are still a lot of issues in terms of playability.

I’ve been working primarily on level design, and that’s been going well, I guess. I made an outdoor tubes level that is mostly just to get people used to the environment and playing around with wall-walking. We were having problems with indoor lighting because of our camera stitching, so I tried some different outdoor level designs, and this ended up being the most fun. I think it has a few strengths and a few weaknesses. In terms of strength, it does a really good job of acclimating players to the camera and wall-walking, and it has a familiar jungle-gym feel that people can wrap their minds around. It also ends up being really fun for chases and stuff like that. On the downside, though, it’s very hard to acquire targets with so many intersecting geometries, and some of the angles end up being less than optimal for wall walking. I’ve learned a lot from this level, though, and I think I’ll be able to apply those lessons in later iterations and in other levels.

I also made an indoor level, but we ran into the same problems that we had with other indoor levels. The different positions of the stitched cameras brought in light at different levels and made the screen look really strange. For now, we’re going to put indoor levels on the back burner while our tech artist tried to figure out fill lighting. He thinks we can use some sort of volumetric lighting to get uniform lighting across all surfaces. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try pre-baking the lighting, though I’m not sure whether that will resolve our problems. All in all, things are going well. I’m excited to see where things end up.

New Directions

Well, summer is over, but I’m really excited to see everyone again and have the team back together. It’s funny, because I didn’t realize before how much the cohort feels like a big awkward family to me. It’s just nice to be back and have everyone here and excited to get moving on the projects. It’ll probably take a little bit of time to get people back up to speed with some of the changes that have taken place with the game over the summer, but I’m really hoping we can catch that momentum and kind of ride the wave all the way to IGF.

Our game is progressing well. We have networking and the camera pretty much (hopefully) finalized, and we’re getting the character controller figured out a little bit more this week. I’ve been trying out level design stuff, though honestly I don’t have much experience in that regard. I’ve done a lot of 2D level design, and some basic 3D stuff for RTS’s, but my shooter experience is fairly minimal, and I have really no idea where to start with a wall-walking, 360-degree vision shooter. I’m trying to extract some core concepts, though, and that’s been helpful.

Level Design
We’re learning by trial and error that traditional FPS level design just won’t work with our wall-walking mechanic. But we’re moving forward to new levels of weirdness and wonder!

There are a bunch of interesting considerations to take into account in terms of the overall level design. First off, there’s the notion that any object you add introduces not a single square of walkable space but SIX squares. So we have to be really efficient in terms of the objects that we introduce to the system, and we have to be careful to have lots of intersecting geometries but without becoming too confusing and without interrupting normal flow. One thing that we’re doing to try to get around this is having one our engineers develop an analytics path-tracking tool that will show us paths people are taking and locations where people are either killing or dying the most. I’m really excited to get to use it, because I think it will really influence some of our overall level design choices

Another interesting design consideration is that with wall walking, hard 90-degree angles can be difficult to navigate, so we’re having to learn from hard experience. We’re realizing that we’re going to have to build our “rooms” unlike any room you’ve ever seen before–sloped corners, passages coming in from all different directions, spaces that work from any angle. It’s a pretty huge task, especially for a team with fairly little professional level design experience. I am learning a ton, though, and I’m getting to be a lot more confident with the tools. I’m hopeful for our game’s future, but we’re definitely going to invest a lot of time in fine tuning the levels and the character movement controller.

americanmountainbuffalion
The famed buffalion. Our characters are coming along nicely. Skins soon to come!

Anway, we’re back in action and moving forward! We had our first pitch of the semester, and Jose and Brian had some really great feedback for us. Based on their comments, we’re triyng to unify the single player and multiplayer experiences so they feel less like two separate games. They suggested that we have not just a single player tutorial but also a sandbox-style level with dummy players. It’ll take some work to get basic AI going, but I think it will be worth it in the end, especially since IGF judges will likely be playing single-player. We’re also working to make some goofy weapons to try to match the wonky art style. We’re still ironing out a lot of things, but we’re moving in a good direction, and I’m excited to see where the coming weeks take us!

A Year in Review

It’s funny how during the semester all you can do is freak out about everything imaginable, and then you get the end, and everything seems calm and quiet, like midnight streets after snow. I feel like these last week have been rather tumultuous in terms of the thoughts and emotions and late nights and everything else that’s been going on in life, but things are done now, and I feel so peaceful about everything. I feel so reassured about the efforts that we’ve made this semester, and I feel proud of the person that I’m becoming, little by little.

They tell you when you go into grad school that you’ll learn a lot about yourself. I knew that would be true, but I guess I didn’t realize how much grad school would get to me on that raw, visceral level, where it really matters. It’s something completely different from undergrad, or maybe once you’re in grad school, your own thoughts and feelings just seem so big that everything else that came before kind of just fades away. Maybe you just forget about the troubles of undergrad, just like you forgot about what it felt like to be seventeen when you turned eighteen, or eighteen when you turned twenty.

In some ways, life is a lot like a game. It’s a series of rooms, where in each, you struggle for the first little while and you fail a lot and you learn a lot, and you encounter all sorts of characters along the way–some more friendly than others–and for those moments, that’s all there is. You are in a room, and you have to figure out how to get through everything (i.e. how not to die) and how to overcome all the obstacles that you’ve placed in front of you so you can grow. It’s a lot of failure, over and over again, but it’s a lot of fun, too, especially if you can keep in mind that there are always second chances, even in life. That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that we won’t have to go back a little bit and redo parts of the level or of our lives that we somehow messed up before. Even in those moments when we maybe feel like life has hit a game-breaking bug, there’s always a way forward, always someone who cares, always someone to help us through the rough patches or teach us the controls.

In short, I feel really blessed to have been able to attend this semester, and I’m looking forward to lots of things to come. I look forward to the challenges and the growth and the beauty that we find in even the most unexpected places.