Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 6

Jedi Ninja Lightcycles

Tuesday, October 1, 2013.

This morning gives us a first shot at impressing Roger and Robert with our new game designs. We expect to present Silk and Steel, but one of our Engineers spent the entire weekend working on something closer to the look and feel of Tron. It includes a cool Matrix-y special effect that may be too good to pass up, so we decide to get Roger and Robert’s feedback. We add background art to the Silk and Steel prototype so the two stack up favorably, and wait our turn.

“Team Six!” That’s us.

Robert notes that the Silk and Steel movement seems more compelling, but Roger is in favor of the aesthetic of the Tron clone. They intentionally avoid telling us which project to do.

I argue for Silk and Steel, because I want to make games we can use to attract funding to continue to develop. Weare unlikely to get a Tron license from Disney as students, so Tron 3.0 would essentially be a glorified tech demo.

In the end I capitulate and agree to the Tron project on the condition we make it split screen, simultaneous multiplayer. While the game mechanic is a more important feature, I am not convinced the AI will be sufficient to make the game fun in less than a week. This is a gamemeantto be experienced headto head.

My preference is to develop the two in parallel, borrowing the best elements of each to make the ultimate product(s),but the tradeoff is we have limited time and resources.

Roger is impressed wehave two toys, not one, and Robert notes we have completed this week’s assignment twice.

I return to my desk and listen in on feedback Roger and Robert give the next group.

Tuesday Afternoon.

Amy leads the class in a discussion of risks Producers and others involved in the game development process get to manage. We diagram thirty or forty on a wall size white board.

Our purpose as Producers includes representing the client, speaking on behalf of the players, and managing risks such as a project not delivering on time and budget.

We let out early to join Cohort Three in a surprise party for Roger Altizer at the Master Games Studio North. A chocolate fountainis re-purposed as a nacho cheese fountain, but the cheese is too thick, so it looks like nacho pudding. Tastes cheesy, though!

We get to know each other and the faculty better for an hour, and I get permission to record Jose’s class so I can attend Bench to Bedside Wednesday. Siddharth Bhavsar shows off a Punch Out! style game he made in two hours using Stencyl, and I get the high score: 13. Will 13 stand the test of time?

Wednesday.

I record tonight’s Game Design lecture so I can attend Bench to Bedside’s team formation event at the University’s Health Services Education Building. Free food is rumored.

Looks like I will be on as many as four teams contributing to health-game hybrid projects ranging from ADHD, PTSD, cardiology, and one I can’t talk about yet.

For the ADHD game therapy project, I will serve a business advisory role and act as competitive intelligence officer. As a Veteran, I will lead the PTSD project myself. The cardiology project I get to partner with a third year cardiology student to do research that, coincidentally, my father attempted twenty years ago at Yale with limited success.

I consider joining every project so I can say I won all $70,000 in prize money, but time and focus are not unlimited in a program like this. For the people affected, this is more than a game. I look forward to collaborating with medical, legal, engineering, and business students over the next eight months to produce games that improve and maybe save lives.

I stay up late catching up on Jose’s lecture on ethics and religion in games.

Thursday.

We are given the option to playtest Cohort Three’s games at the MGS North, but most of us opt to stay at MGS South to focus onour second prototypes. We make massive progress on our eighties inspired game that is now nicknamed Jedi Ninja Lightcycles, loosely based on Tron. “Coming soon to a classroom, and courtroom, near you!” We can now play the game two player simultaneous, making this the first multi-player game of Cohort Four. We watch other teams show off games based loosely on the ancient but proven game mechanics of Robotron, Frogger, and Digdug. I put together a brief soundtrack.

In the afternoon, I walk with Jen Jen to the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Business for the first meeting of the Design Committee of “Games for Health”, a competition similar to Bench to Bedside. Four students and three faculty/administrators discuss ways we can maximize the event that kicks off in November, along with the logistics of fundraising for it. We leave with the assignment to see what other competitions have done so we can incorporate the best, but also differentiate what we do. We meet again next Thursday.

As I see it:

  1. We must include people who help us engage with the broadest possible audience, so sponsors are happy and get more than a warm and fuzzy dinner plate out of a generous contribution. Our reach and frequency needs to exceed the 235 person seating capacity of the final event. Media, movers, and shakers are essential!
  2. We should narrow the scope of the projects so they really make a difference to the industry, sponsors, and patients served instead of leaving the door 100% open to the observation of students who may not be aware of the health industry’s deep needs…and simply choose based on hearsay health. Narrowing scope increases creativity and improves results.
  3. Our event should help promote the games and apps produced, since with just over 900,000 apps in Apple’s App Store today, they are up against serious competition. I wonder if we could contact Apple and have them create an App Store page highlighting innovative health apps from the competition, much like Nintendo has done for this week’s IndieCade?

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