Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 13

Monday, November 18, 2013.

Looks like our Team 10, Prototype 4 team is coming together!  So far we have…

Rachel Leiker, Artist

Dayna Stevenson, Engineer

Peijun Zhou, Engineer

Owen Peterson, Producer

Jed Merrill, Producer (that’s me)

I’ve worked with Dayna before, but everyone else is new.

Oculus SmallIn other news, I got my Oculus Rift Dev Kit in the mail today!  Can’t wait to try it out!  It has that “new VR” smell, and comes in an impressive black case like high end camera equipment.

Tuesday.

Change of plans!  With one engineer heading to China on December 10th, our other Producer’s wife possibly having a baby in the next month, and our artist heavily recruited by another team, we vote to shut down team ten and split between the other nine teams.  Neither Producer is thrilled, and Peijun is willing to go either way, but it ends up working out just right.

IMG_9656 2I am recruited by JenJen’s team, consisting of JenJen, Kent, Mark, George, and Binoy.  We review several ideas and come up with what may be the perfect idea for a fourth, production prototype, if there is any such thing.  No doubt it will change between now and publication, but the goal this time is to release the game.

In Amy’s class, we talk about the overall process teams go through in making a game.  If someone says they want to make a game, our first question should be, “When do you want to ship?”  We then work backwards to develop a calendar, feature priorities, and budgets.  We discuss the importance of QA testers, who receive the gold master and pronounce a game to be Alpha.  She says games are sometimes shipped for manufacturing months before street date.  There are really only two places that manufacture game discs, so you have to call in favors sometimes to get yours made before Black Friday or whenever your release date is.

Jen Jen and I meet with Amy after class about our project.  It sounds like men find our concept fun while women may not.  Will we have to change it Thursday?  Since our team came out five-sixths male this time, I’m guessing we’ll stick with the theme but search out more female input.  Amy likes our theme and sees the potential, but cautions that a theme is not the same thing as a game.  I agree, though I think a carefully chosen theme magnifies great game mechanics.

Wednesday.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.43.46 PMIn Jose’s class, we talk about literature and narrative in games.  Tonight marks the end of the second of three parts of our Game Design class, which has so far focused more on game studies and history than game design.  We conclude by discussing how Jose might restructure the class for future students. Personally I’ve liked the format that involves two groups of three students each spending an hour each discussing a topic in depth, followed by Jose speaking to us for up to 30 minutes on each topic.  To bring it to another level, I might turn the class into an MOOC, where our presentations are recorded and broadcast to 40,000 to 120,000 people like the Games and Learning course was recently on Coursera.  I think it would encourage an even higher level of scholarship on the part of the class, and allow us to expose the program to the world.  Public speaking is not for everyone, and some people might make fools of themselves, as Jose points out, but the ability to communicate is essential to Producers.

The class ends with Jen Jen informing me she has talked the group into going back to the monkey idea. She doesn’t feel a first person game can be considered casual, even if it would be insanely fun and appeal to a provably broad demographic.  I tell her I think the monkey idea is funny but not yet fun, and challenge her to come up with reasons or ways it could be fun by the following morning while I come up with reasons why the existing project is fun.  We agree to present our ideas in PowerPoint/Keynote form first thing in the morning to the group and see which idea wins out.

Thursday.

It may or may not be my birthday today.

We arrive early and I present ten slides that include video, and the group loves it.  Jen Jen presents slides she stayed up late making as well.  While the group seems to prefer my idea, they are uncertain whether the scope is achievable in three and a half weeks, given that Thanksgiving uses up half of one of our weeks.  We agree to work on the monkey idea, though every person on the team but one says he or she wants to help with my version if I choose to pursue it on the side or as a thesis project.

Ironically, compared to our first project, I wasn’t that attached to my idea and I said so.  I just want our group project to 1) impress the Microsoft rep, as it is not every day you get to present to one, 2) sell more copies than the average for the platform (preferably 100 times more), and 3) push our limits a bit so we learn something that sets us apart, as individuals and as a program.  I also happen to believe the idea I represented would have given the Engineers another reason for a company to hire them. It is a project that makes you go “Wow.”  Will monkeys?  That’s in part up to me.

I may in fact bring the original project to investors in the next week or two along with Adriana Jones.  The upside for me is I now own the whole thing, minus any equity I have to give up to get it made.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 1.46.56 PMAt 11:00 am, we get together to present our project ideas to the Microsoft rep.  My team goes second, and I finally understand the mechanics of the monkey game.  By the end of the presentation, I have several tag lines that can help to communicate the essence of the game.

Following the nine presentations, Randy, the Microsoft rep, allows me to privately show him my idea.  He connects with it immediately and says to keep him informed of my progress.  It turns out his father worked in the industry the game relates to, and to some degree he did, too, before working for Microsoft.  He suggests I use Microsoft Robotics 2008, which is part of DreamSpark, to create a vehicle for the game.

Roger teases me a bit for “stabbing my team in the back” by presenting a second idea, but doesn’t mean it and praises me for going for it.

At 4:00, Jen Jen and I meet with the Awards Committee of Games for Health to start our fundraising process.  We each suggest names of companies that might be interested sponsors for the contest.  Jen Jen and I both volunteer to be part of any presentation to these people.  Heidi seems pleased with the results of the meeting, and we dismiss for two weeks.

IMG_5371Rather than going home, I stick around the lab to test out the Oculus Rift, then head to the Microsoft store for the Xbox One launch.  Randy said there might be food and a tournament there.

IMG_5486Because the store is already full, I stand in line in the cold with hundreds of other customers, but Microsoft sends out pizza and offers hot chocolate to people willing to leave the line to get it.  There is a raffle for prizes, mostly Xbox Live Gold memberships, and we have a chance to sign up for the Killer Instinct Xbox One Launch Tournament.

IMG_5482Initially I sign up for the tournament in case it gets me out of the cold sooner, which it does, but I decide to take it seriously in case it helps my eSports career.  The tournament starts at 11 pm, and I am finally eliminated at 1:24 am. Not bad for a game I’ve never played!  That puts me in the top 12% of players at the tournament.  I get to stand in another line to claim my prize, then pick up a copy of Dead Rising 3 Day One Edition on my way out.

Friday.

IMG_5498My original plan was to drop by GameStop in SugarHouse Thursday night to compare the Xbox One line to last week’s PS4 line.  That didn’t happen due to the tournament.  I also didn’t get to pick up my preordered Day One edition console from Orem until morning.  The box is black, setting it apart from the Day Two+ edition everyone else will enjoy in green.  Unboxing the console is like opening a gift inside of a gift.  Microsoft has clearly put far more into the next gen user experience than Sony has.  I can’t help but think this will reflect in sales moving forward.

I play Dead Rising 3, download Killer Instinct (free with the console, with paid upgrades), and Crimson Dragon using a gift card I won in the competition.  Amazon will ship me Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Wearing the black, green, and white Xbox One t-shirt I received at the launch tournament, I immerse myself in Kinect 2.0.  I love the voice commands, even if they make it a little too easy for someone who knows what he or she is doing to shut down your console in the middle of a game.  I’m even a fan of the snap feature, though I am not a Windows person these days.  (I run Windows 8.1 using Parallels 9 within OSX Mavericks on both my MacBook Pro Retina and Mac i7.)  If the Xbox One interface is any indication, Windows has a chance at catching up someday.

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