Monthly Archives: January 2014

Narrow

And then there were two.  We spent this week narrowing down what games were left from last week to 2 games.  There were definitely benefits to all the games that were left, and challenges.  First, we’ll talk about “Perfect Time to Panic.”  For those who don’t know, this game is based around the uncertainty one feels inside a dream.  In a dream ones perspective can shift abruptly causing disorientation and sometimes fear and confusion.  Our group decided it might be interesting to try to emulate this quality in a video game by changing the player’s perspective from 1st person, to top down, to 2d platformer and anything else we could think of.  This obviously has the potential to cause some interesting problems when it comes to developing a prototype in a limited amount of time.  We would essentially need to create several games in one in order to properly explore the concept in a prototype.  Another problem with the game is that a similar mechanic has been used in other games such as ROM Check Fail and others.  Since one of the goals of this game is to garner as much attention as possible in competitions such as IGF, innovation was going to be a key decision making factor.  Ultimately, we decided to move forward with 2 other games, understanding that, although it was a very good idea that would likely do well if executed correctly, it did not fit our goals we have for the thesis game as well as our other two finalists.

One of the two finalists is a game called “Make a Man Thinketh.”  This game carries with it the potential for the greatest reward if done correctly, as well as the biggest failure if not done correctly.  The original concept for the game was the player plays as either an angel or a devil trying to influence the world without being able to physically affect the world.  The only power they have is the power of persuasion, or the ability to alter the thoughts of people.  In the game, they can take the thoughts from one person and use that thought to affect the thoughts of another person.  For example, if one person is thinking “I need to go shopping.  I should do it now,” the devil could take the “do it now” portion of the thought and place it in the mind of someone contemplating suicide, causing them to follow through on their thoughts.  It’s a very interesting concept that has the potential to examine a great deal of social issues if done well.

The other of the two finalists is called “RagWheel.”  This game tries to answer the question, how do you give the player in a racing game choice, and still keep the head-to-head nature that makes racing games so great?  Sadly, the answer to this question may take some time to explain, so bear with me.

One of the problems with racing games is that there isn’t much choice when it comes to what path you take and understandably so.  If you give the players too many choices, the game loses its competitive appeal, its head-to-head nature.  RagWheel preserves that nature while still giving the player challenging path choices presented in engaging ways.

To have multiple choices, the paths have to split.  Normally this is done with a fork in the road, but RagWheel uses a mechanic called a Flip-Turn to abruptly change direction.  A Flip-Turn is performed on an area of the track that flips a portion of the road surface 180° when a vehicle drives across it.  The vehicle is then flipped to the underside of the road and continues driving in the opposite direction.

RagWheel_DesignDoc01

In other racing games the head-to-head nature is lost when the player makes a choice that is different than their competitor.  But RagWheel uses a system of Ghosts to solve this problem.  If you are on a different path than your opponent, a Ghost on your path will represent his distance to the finish line.  So instead of not knowing how you stand in relation to the other racers, you can see a Ghost representing each of them so you can make strategic decisions based on their positions.

One decision you will have the chance to make in this game that isn’t in any other racing games is the choice to “Ghost Draft” one of your competitors.  To understand ghost drafting, you need to understand what will be happening with the ghosts as your competitors move through the course making different choices.  Since the ghost of your competitor is placed in your path based on his distance to the finish line that position will not remain constant if they make a choice that leads them down a path that is less efficient than the one they were previously on.  From your point of view, the ghost will jump backward when they make a choice away from the shortest path and it will jump forward when they make a choice toward the shortest path.  If you are able to match the movements of the ghost at the same time that one of these jumps happens, you will jump with them.  That is what ghost drafting is, using a competitor’s ghost to jump with a competitor.

Now that we have narrowed the games down to 2, we will create prototypes for each game to see whether or not the idea will translate into fun when it is implemented for real.  If either of the games fails to deliver on that engagement, we will cut it and continue forward with the other game.  Let the prototyping begin!

Pitches

So, this Tuesday we were given the task of narrowing down our 100 amazing (I’d say tolerable) ideas to 5 ideas.  This was an interesting process.  Our whole group came to class with this task in mind and we got started with it right away because that’s what was on the syllabus and we were not aware that our professors had a plan for helping us make this decision.  So as a group we decided to rank our top 5 games individually and then come back and decide from that group of ideas instead of reading through all 100 ideas since we only had a few hours to make a decision.  But before we could put the plan into action, we were called over to hear an alternate plan from our professors.  Their idea was that we pitch each of our ideas to 4 people not in our group and then narrow down the ideas based on the feedback we got.  I can see you’re doing the math in your head right now.  How does someone pitch 10 game ideas to 4 different people and get productive feedback from them as well as give them productive feedback on their games all in less than an hour?  You can’t.  I never pitched more than 3 games to any given person and I only heard more than 5 pitches from anyone once, and I kept looking at my watch the entire time.  And after all these pitches, we still needed to meet together as a group to decide on our top 5 games.  So we did.  But it seemed like the feedback, while somewhat useful to the individual who was pitching the games to the rest of the class, wasn’t very useful when it came down to deciding which games to choose.  We still ranked our top 5 games and only used them to make our decision.  We went through and pitched each one that we ranked in the top 5 and did a quick vote yea or nay on whether we should keep it or not.  After going through about 25 games, I could see the eyes of all our group members start to glaze over and people seemed to be voting based on their boredom rather than on the merits of the games.  But we had to keep plowing forward because we had to have a decision made by the end of class.  Sadly, most of the class was consumed by that activity with very little redeemable value from what I’ve observed.  So instead of doing the process right and having everyone happy with the decision that was made, we ended up with 5 games that may or may not have been the strongest contenders.  We then took these 5 games and prepared 6 pages of documents for each over the course of 48 hours.  That’s 30 pages of documents in 2 days so we could pitch each of the 5 ideas in 2 minutes to the class on Thursday.  With everything else I had to do (and everyone else on the team) we barely completed the task in time to present on Thursday.  I’m actually very proud of our team for what they were able to accomplish in the time given to us.  After the presentations, one of the professors told all the producers to stay for a while.  We did and we were treated to some excellent advice.  Our 2 minute pitches were not necessarily the most well executed presentations in the world.  We had been working constantly for 2 days and we didn’t have time to prepare properly for the pitches.  If we had power point slides, they were lackluster at best and there was little time to practice our pitches since we were still finishing them up to the point that we presented them.  But there is one thing that this program has been very clear about from the beginning.  When we represent ourselves or our group or our program in front of anyone, we need to own it.  No excuses.  The lesson for today was that if we foresee that we will not be able to own it, if we foresee that we won’t have enough time to prepare a proper slide show or practice the pitches enough that we are solid, we need to make sure that we create a situation where we can own it.  We need to bring any unreasonable requirements to the attention of our superiors so that the pitches can be given the consideration they deserve rather than being dismissed because they were amateurishly presented.  In a regular academic setting, when a due date is set, that is when the assignment needs to be done.  No excuses.  In this program, an assignment needs to be done well.  No excuses.  If the faculty did not give you enough time or resources to complete an assignment in a way that you can be proud of, tell them, and if you make a good case, they will provide the time or resources necessary to make it right.  But if you don’t tell them, it’s on you to make it right.  This does not mean that you can procrastinate and talk to them to get more time on something you haven’t given the proper amount of effort to complete.  This only applies if you work for 48 hours straight and still can’t get the assignment done to a standard you can be proud of.  I think that this is excellent advice, though it may take me some time to shed the old habits learned from other academic situations.

New Team

Another semester begins and another group is formed.  This time, though, the teams will be together for the rest of our time here at the University of Utah.  That’s right, this week we chose teams for our final thesis project.  After 3 minutes of chaos, we had all picked our teams and quickly got started on our first team assignment.  We were given the task of researching past IGF student winners in an attempt to find what makes these games “IGF material” in order to emulate that quality in our own games.  Our group was to study the winners from the years 2010 and 2005.  We were to describe the innovations present in each game and present them to the class the next time we met.  It was actually somewhat difficult to figure out what some of the innovations were because the games were so old that the innovative parts of them had been copied several times and from a modern perspective, there was nothing new about them at all.  We were also given the alternative task to research the GDC experimental games discussion from last year.  This, provided a far more fertile base for finding out what the current state of the industry was and what, moving forward, might be innovative.  After our presentations on Thursday, we were given the task to figure out 100 innovative ideas by next Tuesday, and I find the whole activity kind of silly.  To tell a group of people that in the next 4 days you are to find not just one idea, but 100 ideas that have not been thought of in the course of human existence seems a bit daunting.  After class on Thursday, we met as a group to brainstorm our ideas, but I must say that even though our white board was full of words, there were very few ideas worth pursuing after our discussion.  During our discussion, it felt like we were just cranking out ideas, but I think that may have given us a false sense of exactly how much work we have left before we come up with our 100 ideas.  We’ll see what happens next Tuesday.