STEAM LAUNCH!!!

This last week has been a blur. I’ve had more work than time and it all needed to get done before April 16th at 2pm.  I worked my tail off to create the masterpiece below.

Map

That is a compilation of all the levels we have. It makes a consistent stream from start to finish and with hopefully increasing difficulty. We compiled it and ran tests. Tons of tests so that we knew it wouldn’t crash. We worked hard and finally published.

Publishing on such a big forum like steam causes me anxiety only because I’ve never received feedback from that large of an audience. I’ve heard and seen how the video game community is and I expected the worse. Of course we got negative reviews, but for the most part they are positive. We’ve had almost 70k plays in the last 4 days and we are getting more press than ever. (you can see that on my portfolio www.jameshulse.com)

With the big relief of launch behind us, we are planning a bug patch for the end of the semester and working on our thesis defense. Oh joy!

 

 

Submitted and moving forward.

This week has been crazy! Last weekend my whole team spent most of the weekend pushing hard to get the game in a good place for IGF. We put art in levels, Fixed bugs, made cool particles, put together cinematic for our trailer, added end matinees for each level. Fixed how our enemy worked a couple times to make it fit our theme and our gameplay.  During the week we continued to push on all fronts to have a fully playable 5 level game that we could be proud to submit for judges. We worked really hard and got down to Oct 30 the day before the deadline and we made a build to submit only to find that after a couple levels the games fps dropped horrifically and became unplayable. Most of the team had left the lab for the day assuming that all we had to do was build the game and submit. So Tony and Sidd called me from home to get on to skype and look at a bunch of null errors that were being thrown from my boss and from a couple other parts of the game. My confusion of what was happening grew as we started to dive into the problem. We found a couple of null checks I was missing, but they didn’t seem to matter when we put them in.

We came down to loading and unloading levels. For some reason the boss wasn’t unloading from the previous level and was still trying to find references to the other parts of the level causing lots of null errors. We didn’t know how to change the unload level funcitonality of Unreal so we did the next best thing and on our trigger to go to the next level we did and delete of all the things that were bugging out. It worked and we got rid of the errors, but we still would like to find a better solution.  In the end we had a complete build of 404sight that shows off our mechanics and a small taste of our theme attached.

The next weeks are going to be improving our build and involving our theme more into the game.

My next task is to  create an interactive loading page that could potentially teach our mechanic in an unorthodox way. We’ll see what I can come up with.

Less than a month, Running to the finish line!

This last week has zoomed by. My personal tasks were iterating on the boss a couple times. I did probably 3 or 4 iterations on the boss mechanics and I feel like it’s in a good spot to get us some fun gameplay, but the easy setting for the boss is going to need some tuning. Our team has been hard at work making levels and adding everything in the game. We started playing through all the levels as a whole and we’ve started putting art, lighting and backgrounds into the levels. These tweaks made our levels come to life!

titleScreen1080

 

Here’s a sneak peek at what we have. We need a little more life to the level, but it’s coming along! Another big event that happened this week was a big playtest that the whole cohort participated. Our team got a lot of positive feedback about our game and had a lot of good suggestions on how to fix our game. We left the playtest feeling really good about where the state of our pre-alpha Alpha was. I’m excited to work this week and take our game to the next level!

Prototyping a Boss Fight!

Our game is progressing really nicely this week. We’ve uncovered a few key areas that we need to focus on and we’re working hard. We’ve been pushing making levels to discover what works and what doesn’t work in our game parameters. So we’ve gotten more than just three of us creating levels now which I think is going to help us learn and get closer to an even more amazing game. Today also we have a build done and ready to release into the wild for playtesting. We have posted the link to the build on several gamedev forums to ask for feedback on our preprealpha build. We’ve already received some feedback about punishing the player a bit for spamming our revealing mechanic and focusing on good level design. Hopefully we get more feedback to sift through to make our game even more amazing.

Mechanic in Action

 

One idea that our team has tossed around is having an enemy or a boss scenerio. This was worrisome because we didn’t want the ‘boss fight’ to take away from the gameplay we have or add tons of new mechanics that made it feel like it’s not part of the game. It kept being brought up and no one was doing anything about it so I jumped on it and made a small prototype of what a boss could be. Our game is about the pace and flow of levels with getting to the ending pillar of light at the end of the level. Riffing off of the idea of getting to the light pillars, I build a boss that was connected to all the light pillars on the map. When the player runs into a lightpillar it cuts it off from the boss and once all the light pillars are gone the boss is destroyed. The boss has minions that spin around it and then throw themselves at the player. They show the player where they are going to land so the player can adjust his path and dodge the incoming minions while also traversing the arena-like map. I also added an Easy, Medium and Hard mode to the boss that adjusts the AI and speed for the minions. This is going to take lots of iteration to make the boss fight feel fun, difficult and fair. The one concern I have is launch tiles because when you hit a launch tile you don’t have full control over the player. The player shouldn’t be outright punished by the boss for choosing to use a jump tile. Another concern I have with it is the Level Design that has to go along with a boss fight will take lots of extra time and iterations. We are just getting to a small understanding of the Level Design for our other levels, but this is another beast. My next step is to pump out lots of scenarios that the boss can be used.

A couple other ideas I want to prototype with the boss is that the minions don’t attack you but attack tiles and turn them into death tiles. This would make level Design even more crucial as we don’t want to make the level impossible only more difficult if the player doesn’t complete it. Another idea was that the minions wouldn’t permanently change tiles, just neutralize them. With a little more time and testing, we’ll see where this idea goes.

Screenshot 2014-09-19 10.05.05(boss in the sky with his minions) (all art is UE4 starter art stuff)

 Boss Animated GIF

The next step in our overall game is to get in art in the build which I feel is going to be a long process. Also lots of level Design needs to happen. I’ve been reading lots of articles on gamasutra and other such sites about methodologies of Level Design and how to really focus in on making my personal stuff better. My next step in my research for that is contacting actual developers and getting input. I’m scared to do that, but I think it needs to happen to improve.

We are 2 weeks away from our ‘alpha’ igf date and 6 ish about from our submission date. Team Retro Yeti will make it!

 

More Levels and needing a narrative?

The start of this week was a huge focus on levels. Brenton, Antonio and myself started creating levels. We all created very different types of levels. Tony’s were compact and precise. Brenton’s were large and complex. Mine were expansive and simple. We played through a lot of them and couldn’t really get a grasp on what our levels were doing. After a Wednesday of pondering and talking we came to a conclusion on what we needed to do for our game. We needed a precise direction with the levels. We needed to know where the character started and ended and why. We needed to know the purpose of the level and what the level was going to bring to the game as a whole. I’m usually the last person to say that a game needs to focus on a little bit of the narrative, but we needed a little bit of narrative to tie our levels together. Tony bounced ideas off of me Wednesday night and we came up with how to progress our 5 levels we want for the IGF build. We created a document that conveyed the what each level needed as far as mechanics, goals, aesthetic, duration, fail states, mood, enemy, and a couple more things. Now that the document is filled out we can direct the art that is done, we can create and iterate on levels, we can actually start forming our game. The team is super stressed still about the state of the game and it’s been difficult to get the team hyped about what we are doing, but we’re continuing to push forward and build things and hope that they work.

StartLevel

Level_overview

 

Also one thing I did Thursday was make our mechanic into a throwable item. So the player would toss out an orb that would reveal around where it landed. The prototyping went really quick, and it was a pretty slick mechanic, but the problem was is that it didn’t solve any of our problems really. It was a good try and adjustment, but in the end it didn’t work.

I also added a visual ring for our mechanic so the player could see the radius that is used for the mechanic and can see how the click is actually working. It’s still a prototype visual, but it’s there.

All in all I feel that we ended the week pretty strongly. 😀 I’m excited to move forward and see where we’re going to be in another week.

 

Finalizing the Design

After a summer of iteration and trying different things on our game, the team has finally come down to what the alpha version of our game has. I was starting to write it all, but here’s a picture of our Alpha Checklist that we need to have done before Oct 31st IGF submission.

AlphaChecklist

 

So now our team has a checklist to go over to now if we are ‘done’ with our ‘alpha’. I put those in quotes because as students what we call alpha and beta are more of a prototype and what we call done is essentially an Alpha.

To highlight a bit of the engineering that I have done during the last week here are two snippets of blueprints.

This is the code snippet I put together to make our camera in 1st person now.

http://wiki.retroyeti.com/index.php?title=True_First_Person_Camera_from_Thirdperson_view

And this picture is what I put together to make a Tile that launches the player forward based of a directional arrow that is invisible (yet visible before running to help the Level Designers) on the Tile.

LaunchSnippet

 

I know this post is scatterbrained a bit, but I’m also going to be doing some level design. I’ve always been interested in level design putting together my own maps in Starcraft and other engines, but I’ve never done it for a game that I’m developing. I’ve done lots of reading on gammasutra about level design and other places on the web. Now with some help from our resident Design Master Antonio Revard I’m going to be diving into it. I’ll post pictures next week of some of the things I come up with and why they all will probably be fails and ready for a third or fourth pass, but I’ll have something. Wish me luck. Only a month until submission!

Ready for anything!

 

Hitting the ground running to IGF

And we’re back with another awesome year in the Graduate EAE program! During the summer recap: I worked in the GApp lab again during the summer running three project: Oppy Animation, Oppy Runner, and Nanotubes v2. They went really well and it was a super intense summer, but we pulled through and delivered our games. Also during the summer we worked on our Thesis game. We didn’t put as much time as we would have hoped, but we still got stuff done and we narrowed down our theme for the game and some of the mechanics. We narrowed down to our premonition mechanic, a different camera mechanic, and our death tiles. We basically had all of the code done for those during the summer and we have spent the first week of school getting them into the game. We now have to play test it and start really playing in the space that we created. We know that the game is missing something to really make it wow and stand out. Over lunch today our producers were able to bounce ideas around, and next week we are going to start the week with a Design meeting to continue bouncing ideas around the whole team. The goal of the meeting it to end in a place that we can iterate and play with new stuff in the game. We don’t want to add a million mechanics, just find a couple more that work super well with what we have. On the Gapp lab side of things, we are changing things up in the Gapp lab and are going to be doing a total of 5 project in the Gapp lab. The project I am running will be a game helping teenagers understand the importance of taking care of the air quality of Utah. I have a great team and I hope just praying that the new approach we are doing in the gapp lab will be successful. I’m going to be there with a bunch of awesome student developers that have created some awesome stuff. We are going to push for greatness! As we push ahead in the thesis project, We are looking toward an Oct 31 deadline for submission to IGF. It’s a huge goal, but not impossible. We keep moving forward. More details to come as the semester progresses and more on my position in the team as a producer/engineer.

Brushing it up for end of semester.

 

Our team is getting ready for the end of our first year in grad school. Our game of premonitions has three levels or iterations. We have a hallway run through while everything is exploding  and the floor is falling(the premonition ability shows the player what floor tiles are going to give out), a small room that lasers that run through the room in sequences (the premonition ability allows the player to see the laser patterns before they activate),   the last is a stairway that has spikes in the floor that are traps (the premonitions will show the player where along the stairway he will die).

I’ve been working on the stairway iteration and making sure that the mechanic will function in the level. I’ve set up the design, traps, and coding of the level. The part I’m not working on is the base premonition mechanic. Below is part of one Blueprint I created in Unreal 4 for the stairway level.

MYBLUEPRINT

Our game has a semi-theme and style. We are going for a more Cartoony, comic book style or art, and we are thinking of using a super hero theme. Our professors tell us that we have a good start, but because we are a student game, we need to have something to stand out. Like super heroes fighting obesity or something like that. Taking a topic that people know about and use the game medium to get people thinking about it. We haven’t found that piece yet, but we’ll get there.

As far as normal producer tasks, I have been getting more of that experience from The GApp lab. My team just got approval on our Alpha and we are now working hard for the next month to get a polished awesome beta. I’m super excited for another year of learning and growing!

And then there was one.

Monday’s pitch to the Industry panel went better than expected. We had a lot of positive feedback from the panel on both games, and the producers that pitched our games did a great job at getting to the point of what our games were so that the panel could riff off of our ideas and give us some good suggestions. After the pitch, it didn’t seem obvious to which game we should pick. The Tuesday after the pitch we had a long discussion in class as a full cohort. Even after the discussion with the cohort and the faculty it didn’t seem obvious what we were going to choose. Yesterday I was still unsure on whether we were going to chose the button game or the premonition game. Both have tons of potential. Both have flaws that need to be worked out. I have seen button since it was a small idea and prototype from our first semester and kept with it up to the point of becoming a pitch and second prototype to the industry panel.  The premonition idea was a good idea that our team has crunched on for 2 weeks and have made a great prototype of the idea. They both really could be great games, but the professors gave us until today to make a decision: Choose a game, keep prototyping both ideas, disband the team. I did not want to get to today and decided to keep prototyping two ideas. It was completely dividing our team and I wanted a cohesive idea that we could all get behind. With a lot of contemplation and some good advice from a c3 producer, I made a decision about which game I was going to fight for. I weighed the options and chose to NOT vote for the button game though I was attached to it. I thought that the only way I would have wanted to choose the button game was too completely change it, which wasn’t good for the team. I went to class this morning ready to face a team divided on the issue. We gathered for our stand up and started with: “Maybe we should just list pros and cons of each game.” Then It was mentioned, “Let’s just do a vote.” It was agreed and the team got ready for a vote.

“How many want to do the button game.”

Not a single person raised their hand. I was shocked and also very happy that the entire team got behind one game to move forward. Finally with a game, we set out on a long 2 week break which will give us time to think about our decision and get ready to start working on our thesis project! The first decision we are making is what Engine to use. WE are trying to make a quick decision to start the learning process, but we’ll see how quick it happens. Also we are going to try to do something really risky and rewarding, We are going to try to get access to the Unreal Engine 4 which isn’t out for public use. It really is a shot in the dark, but why not try at least right?! So that’s the current project. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for our group!

Industry Pitch!

The great and dreadful day of the semester is upon us. In a few short hours, We will be presenting our game ideas to a panel of industry professionals. Our team has worked insanely hard to get to this point and both of our games have great potential. Matt is pitching for Button and Tony and Brenton are pitching for Premonition. They have practiced a ton and we have tweaked the powerpoint a million times. Our prototypes are full of art and goodness ready to be seen and judged. I just can’t get over how amazing our team is. So the last week I’ve been sick with a headache, cough, stuffy nose that I’m going to relate to stress because nothing I do seems to get rid of it. So hopefully after today, I’ll be able to relax a little.

I’m excited to get some constructive criticism on our game ideas and I’m ready to narrow it all down to one game. Whether that’s Room 207 or This is a Test, I think they could both be awesome so I’m willing to work on either. Bring on the pitches!