Monthly Archives: September 2013

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monster_concepts_Tomato
Art courtesy of Mark Jarman


Now that we as a class have one prototype under our belt, it’s time to abandon it, divide into brand new teams, and move on to prototype #2.  (Actually, we are still developing Starving Artist because we all liked working with each other and we all thought the game was good enough to finish.)  After being split into our new teams this week, we were given instructions on how we were to proceed on the second prototype.  The process of creating the first prototype was very much a “vertical slice” style of development meaning that we got the basic core mechanics working with polished art and sound assets making an almost finished product, albeit a limited one.  This time we will be trying our hand at building a “white box” prototype where we build using one week sprints to get as much done and usable as possible then the next week we reassess the game, try to find out how we can make it more fun, and do another development sprint the second week.  We will be doing it in the same amount of time as the first prototype, but we should have a far more complete game functionally than we did the first time.

Dig Dug?

Another caveat for this prototype is that we are required to take an existing game from the late 70’s and early 80’s and re-make it (hopefully better than the original).  This helps us save a lot of time trying to figure out a set of mechanics that may not have been done before and allows us to focus on making the game.  As a group we decided that an interesting game to mess with would be Dig Dug.  It has a simple set of mechanics and is still challenging.  We wanted to make it a little different though (as per the assignment) so we added 2 things that were not in the original game.  First we added a map that you can spin, similar to the door lock puzzles in Skylander Giants.

Rotating the puzzle board causes your little green character to fall. Using the blocks in the puzzle to avoid falling the whole way, you can navigate your little green guy to the 3 circular goals and solve the puzzle.

This feature wouldn’t be very fun if we left it as is, especially because the original Dig Dug characters were not affected by gravity.  Only the rocks were affected by gravity.  This leads me to our second change to the original game.  The main character and the bad guys will all be affected by gravity.  This adds a great new challenge to the game.  While trying to kill the bad guys, you may accidentally spin the screen the wrong way and plummet to your death.  You always need to be sure that you have a safe place to be when you spin that screen or you’re in trouble.

Dig-Dug-Arcade-Juliste

Our take

As you might notice, the big red guy in the above picture is quite menacing compared to the original bad guys in Dig Dug.  We wanted to make a little more sense than a guy in an astronaut suit running around inflating cute animals to death.  Ours is set in a place where there has been horrible mutations to plants and animals.  These plants and animals have dug deep underground and are devouring all the food.  Our main character is trying to destroy them and save the food.  The big red guy above was inspired by a tomato (with jackhammer hands) and other bad guys will have different inspirations and attributes.  There’s a lot still to figure out.

 

 

Post Mortem

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The initial prototype is finished, and in spite of all we have done to delay and overcomplicate and generally ruin the game via inexperience, it is still a very fun game to play.  There were obviously many different challenges that we faced and overcame during the development of this game and many lessons that can be taken away from the entire experience.  Our game is well put together thus far and requires a lot of work in order to be finished.  But considering the challenges we faced, the team did an amazing job with the tools we had and put together a great prototype.  Even so, with this experience under our belts, we can do even better moving into the future.

Starving Artist Postmortem(1)

MOAI (know your platform)

Our engineers had the unenviable task of using a platform that they had not only never used before, but hey had never even heard of it before.  This caused several problems throughout the development of the prototype.  The engineers had trouble implementing the core mechanic (which is slightly important), they were unfamiliar with how to implement the sound in the game, and had difficulty making animations work in the gameplay.  To their credit, they worked hard and worked together to figure out each of these problems seeking help outside the group when necessary and spending extra time in the lab to be sure everything got finished on time.  I think that due to the problems caused by an unfamiliar platform, they had the hardest job on this build and need to be commended for their hard work throughout the process.  Well done Siddharth and Peijun!splats_80x80

Find the Fun

The question, “What is fun about this game” was not clearly answered until very late in the prototype development process.  There were a thousand things that we thought would be cool to add to the game, but we didn’t sit down and decide which one best encapsulated the fun of the game.  Once we were able to decide that (at the end of week 2) we were finally able to focus on that fun and that mechanic and everything started coming into place.  That decision needed to happen much earlier than it did.  Because of our indecisiveness, our poor artist had to re-design the UI several times more than he would have otherwise needed to.  Happily, our artist is awesome and took every new challenge in stride delivering great work on time regardless of our indecisiveness.  Great work Joe!

Producing 101

During this entire process, I had the opportunity to work with one of the best producers in our cohort.  He was constantly and anxiously concerned for the well-being of our team, our game, our relationships, and our image.  He was able to see things that needed to be done long before I did and taught me a lot about how powerful a good producer can be for the development of a game.  He did what he could to help the engineers find the necessary algorithms to solve problems in the code, even though he didn’t fully understand the code.  He learned Adobe InDesign to help lighten the load for our artist by designing all the promotional materials for our group.  He always kept a bright outlook and kept our stand-up meetings positive and on-topic, always moving forward.  He was and is a great example to me and I am thrilled to have had the chance to work with and learn from him.  Thank you Travis.  You’re awesome.

The Team

There were plenty of problems that we had to get through in order to deliver a finished prototype on time.  There were plenty of things we did very wrong.  But one thing we did right was to develop clear and respectful communication between the members of the team.  Through that communication came strong working relationships that made the obstacles seem very small indeed.

Focus

The process we started last week of paring down the scope of the project and expanding on the core mechanics of the game continues this week.  I had to continually remind myself that our goal is a working prototype and not a finished game.  Most of the features we had intended on including in the game are not necessary for this iteration and thus, need to be abandoned for a time to finish what we can in the time that we have.  So this week we focused on what we could actually accomplish in the time that we have been given rather than attempting to make a game that is exactly how we picture it in our minds.  One of the features we had to let go was the exploding paint animations.  Since they were not necessary for the actual operation of the game, they had to go.  Also, we had to get rid of the sliding animation, menus, and a couple of power-ups all for the same reason.  We had to change our mindset.  We are not going for perfect right now.  Perfect will come later.  We just need something that will work and that will express the fun that we know the game has in it.  I feel like I’m repeating myself, but if I am, it’s probably just a subconscious need to get this concept across to myself.  Make the main mechanic work, then you can worry about the varnish.  Get the bowl out of the cupboard, then you can worry about the ice cream and caramel and fudge and banana and nuts and whipped cream and cherry on top.  We need a framework to put all our great ideas into, otherwise, when the time comes to pitch the game to the client, all we have is a mess.  Nobody wants to buy a mess.

As far as the sound goes, we decided on the low key version of the music.  When we put it in the game it turns out to be soothing rather than depressing.  So we kept it.  I made a few alterations to the order and added a couple more sections to make the loop a bit more bearable, but other than that, I didn’t change much.  We did have some trouble with one of the sounds.  The sound that is triggered by the initial click on the paintballs just wouldn’t work in MOAI.  MOAI played it back with too significant of a delay to be useful for that type of sound and it distorted the sound as well.  So, unless our engineers find a way to avoid the delay and fix the distortion, we are leaving that sound out.

I’ve included some pictures of various versions of the user interface so you can see how the game has developed over time.  Thanks to Joe, our artist, for providing these.  Enjoy!

User Interface Concept #1

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User Interface Concept #2

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User Interface Concept #3

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Change

There is nothing more constant than change. 

After all the work we did last week on the mechanics of our game, we have decided to disregard most of it and implement a new way to think of the game.  We will now be putting a slider on the bottom and on the side of the paint grid making the grid into a sort of 2 dimensional Rubix Cube.  We all thought this was a far more intriguing game mechanic than the old, stale, swap-2-colors-to-match-3-of-the-same-color mechanic as in Bejeweled.  Changing the mechanic does pose several other problems though.  First of all, we’re under a deadline and our engineers have been dutifully working on the swapping mechanic that we just threw out and now need to figure out how an extra slider is going to work.  Next, we may have made it too easy to make matches of 3.  We may need to use a time limit, or turn limit or increase the number that you have to match from 3 to 4 or more.  Finally, our artist is going to have to redesign the UI in order to accommodate the extra slider vertically.  Should be fun to figure all that out.  I’ll let you know what we decide on all those fronts.

Happily, we also made several changes to our organization this week as well.  We have a master list of tasks for each department (Production, Engineering, Art, and Sound) which we check off each time we begin a new task, or finish an old one.  We used a google doc so we all had access to it and can each make changes to it when we need to.  We also learned about Scrum this week and are beginning to implement stand-up meetings at the beginning and the end of each day.  I feel a lot better being organized and think that even with the new changes, we should be able to finish on time.

The more things change…

Along with being a producer on this project, I also have the opportunity to be responsible for all the sound in the game.  Luckily, the new changes didn’t affect the music or sound at all.  This week I started on the music and I’ll complete the sound design next week.  For the music, we wanted to keep the artist theme going so we decided that there were two cliché’s to choose from.  We could either use classical music to hearken back to classical artists or we could use mellow jazz to hearken back to the beatnik era.  I have a lot more experience with jazz, so we’re doing jazz.  We also decided that we could use horn hits for various achievements in the game like getting more in a row than is necessary or starting a chain reaction.  These hits will not be unlike the horn hits during the fight scenes in the old Batman TV show with Adam West.  Hopefully we’ll be able to pay homage to the show and the era without breaking any copyright laws.

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I am having a little trouble finding the right balance between mellow jazz and exciting game music.  The music so far is in a minor key and 6/8 time.  The rhythm section sounds fine but any time the lead trumpet comes in, I get depressed instead of excited.  I think the chord progression is fine, I just need to change the melody to a more peppy rhythm.  Otherwise the horn hits in the game are going to seem out of place.

We’ve got a lot of work to do next week.  Should be fun.

Winning!

“Winning means showing oneself superior in the outcome of a game.”     -J. Huizinga

I am a game designer.  I am a game producer. That’s what I keep telling myself.  And one day it will be true.  I have set myself on a path which will take me through some very uncomfortable situations in the hopes that this discomfort, if used to its fullest, will mold me into something that I wasn’t before or at the very least, amplify some part of me that wasn’t discernible before.

Divide?  Sure.  Conquer?  We’ll see.

Split up into groups and design a video game from scratch.  Three members of our group have never designed or built a game before but hopefully our years of experience in playing games will be helpful (I knew it would come in handy some day).  We started by talking about some things that we feel our clients would like.  The general consensus was that either a puzzle game or a time management game would be the best bet based on the class conversation with our clients.  Being the experienced professionals we are, the first idea was to somehow combine the two genres into some sort of super-genre targeted specifically for our clients.  Think Bejeweled meets Diner Dash.  How do those games fit together?  We couldn’t figure it out either.  We finally waded through all the bad ideas and settled on a Bejeweled style game with some tweaks to the mechanics that will hopefully make it more entertaining.  We included sliders on each side of the game board so you have the chance to slide the entire row either direction one space, which will either help or hurt you depending on how much you are paying attention.  We also decided that paintballs exploding was a very satisfying experience and designed all the game pieces with that in mind.  From then on, the decisions were academic.  What kind of aesthetic or theme could we use to compliment those satisfying paintballs?  An art theme of course.  concept_power_full_with-_powers

We could have the paintballs pop on the background and create a Jackson Pollock style painting that you can share with your friends.  What kind of power-ups should we have?  Well, art themed power-ups, of course.  Like a paint thinner bomb that clears out a large section of paintballs, or one called “Van Gough’s Ear” that slices off an entire column of paintballs.  Needless to say, we started to feel like maybe this was all going to actually work.  But we still didn’t have a game.  And in two days we had to sell the game we didn’t have to our clients.

Sell the Idea

“Have you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a starving artist?  Have you ever wanted to dedicate your hopes and dreams to something amazing, only to have those same hopes and dreams trampled on by the uncaring masses? Well, now you can. In this game you can follow in the footsteps of other great artists who lived in poverty and died in squalor only to enrich the pocketbooks of investors after their death.”

As a producer it was my job to work with the other producer in our group to figure out the best way to pitch the idea for our game to the clients.  The plan was high energy and hilarious, the result was moderate energy and amusing.  Though, I don’t think we did a bad job.  We were able to hit the important points and explain very clearly what our game is about and why it’s fun.  I was thrilled that we were able to represent the rest of our group without embarrassing ourselves.  As always there were things that can be improved upon like stop looking at the screen, stop looking at your notes, and generally more confidence in everything we do in the pitch.  I was happy to learn what we can do to improve future pitches.  Regardless of our imperfections, we got the go-ahead to build the game.  We have added some more ideas like adding the ability to mix colors.  That should be an interesting mechanic that not all games of this type have.  The game concept is getting more solid all the time.  Now all we have to do is make it.

“In all games it is very important that the player should be able to boast of his success to others.”  -J. Huizinga

I don’t think I’ve won anything yet.  It’s a good start, but there’s still plenty of ground to cover before I’m going to go around boasting of my success.  We start building the game in earnest next week.  Let’s see what happens.