All right, here we go. The first part of the semester seemed to run pretty smooth. We had clearly defined goals and we worked well as a team. I think the fact that some of the original members of our team jumped ship made us want to work even harder to prove that we can do just as well with fewer people (we’ve still kind of got that attitude). Not a bad place to start. Sure we don’t have as many artists or engineers as everyone else, but that didn’t really matter during the first part of the semester. We produced prototypes on par with any other group and I am so proud of the team for pulling that off. Now we just need to find that fire again.
It seems like after spring break and GDC the group lost a good chunk of the fire it had earlier. The break didn’t help us at all. When we came back we were disorganized and distraught and that feeling seems to have been with us throughout the rest of the semester. Not a good place to be. We are currently working hard to get that feeling back and keep it throughout the summer so we don’t have to go through another lull after summer vacation like we did after spring break. Here’s to working hard over the summer and no lulls.
What an interesting week this was. I should have known when I talked to the engineers and they had not read the design document yet, that we were going to have troubles come Thursday. We’ll take you through a play-by-play of our EAE day to get you up to speed. At a little before 9:00 am, I showed up to set up for another project and help other people set up their stuff so we could all be ready by the time we took the group pictures at 11:00 am. At the time, I was the only one from our group. But that didn’t worry me. We had plenty of time to get ready. Our artist showed up shortly after me with our tablets and our one sheet so we could test to make sure the build the engineers stayed up so late finishing was stable and ready to go. Sadly, neither he nor I knew what the password was for any of the tablets (my fault). We texted the group to find out what the passwords were, but all we really got was a bunch of people saying “I’m awake.” We eventually got the passwords, but it was getting pretty close to 11:00 by then and besides me and the artist, we only had one other producer there. We all went up to a different building for pictures as another producer showed up, but that only made for 40% of our group that was represented for the first round of pictures. To be perfectly fair, one of our producers had an extremely good excuse for not being there that day, like medical emergency good. But everyone else should have been there. Eventually we got everyone who we were expecting to be there and we had some lunch before we showed our games to the industry professionals. I had played the game earlier that day, and I was quite disappointed. While there were some really impressive things going on in the background of the game, but none that anyone could see. As far as anyone else was concerned, we could walk around a room, take objects from a box and put them into another box. Barely more than we had when we presented it to the industry panel weeks and weeks ago. It was embarrassing. I spent a good amount of time with my other project because I didn’t want that game to represent me. As lead producer, I take most of the blame for the condition of the game. We did not have a unified vision for the game, nor did we have a specific goal for the game that we would present at EAE day. I think we would have done much better if we would have had these things, but we didn’t. It’s time for some re-thinking.
It seems like things are finally starting to flow well on the team. The engineers are well organized and working hard, the artists are coordinating with each other and the story team very well and the producers seem to be working well together. We started having team lead meetings and that seems to help everyone get on the same page. I like being on the same page. I do worry, though that the work we are getting done is not the work that needs to get done. I’ve never tried to lead a group quite this large before and I’m not sure if the right information is being communicated across the whole team or not. We have been able to increase the flow of information, but I’m not sure if the quality of information is there. We have had some trouble lately with members of the team who want to tell other members of the team what the game should be, but they don’t go through the proper channels. I’m not saying that they don’t have good ideas, but we really need to make sure that those ideas go through the lead designer instead of directly to the engineers or artists. If that happens, changes may be made to the game that don’t fit the overall vision of the game and are likely a waste of everyone’s time. It seems like every member of the group has a different vision for what the game is and is trying to make it according to that vision, but that’s why we have a lead designer. His job is to have that overall vision and keep the group on track with that vision. We’re wasting time if the engineers have to keep adjusting to 8 different visions all the time. Hopefully we are able to figure this all out before we do EAE day next week.
Concerns over the weekend
We had some concerns come up over the weekend about the direction the team and the game were going. I imagine as every team tries to settle in to a flow, these concerns will happen from time to time. We are going to make mistakes throughout this process and I’d rather have these mistakes happen early in the process rather than later. I think the biggest lesson I learned from the concerns is that as the lead producer, I need to make sure that everyone on the team is aware of the progress we are making toward our goals. If anyone ever thinks that the team is not making progress, it would be my fault. If the team were actually not making any progress, it would be my fault because it is my job to hold people accountable to the timeline we all decided on. If the team were making progress, but no one knew about it that is also my fault because that kind of knowledge adds meaning to the work everyone is doing and helps them continue forward without being frustrated. I need to be better at that.
Settling into our different roles
I can see the team working hard to do the jobs that we have decided on. We are starting to overlap jobs less and less and trust each other in those roles more and more. This is a great direction to be going. Any time we can eliminate redundant work, the game gets better. There is still some unnecessary overlap, but I feel that this will get eliminated over time. All in all, I’m very excited for the direction the group is going and the direction the game is going.
Through much deliberation and voting and Google searching, we have decided that we will call ourselves Skull Jelly Studios. We wanted the name to be memorable, professional and to communicate more about us and our game than the name Rising Cockroaches ever did. We think Skull Jelly Studios is it. Website, Facebook, twitter, etc. coming soon.
In other news, our engineers are making their own engine. So along with the challenging AI system that we are trying to create, we will also be taking some time to sweeten the engineers resume even more with an original engine. I like to keep engineers happy and excited about their work, and this seems to have done it. I’ve found that many engineers enjoy an interesting challenge more than they enjoy cranking through things that have already been done. This decision obviously adds some challenges to the creation of our game. Our engineering team is now split into 2 teams again, the AI team and the Engine team putting more pressure on each individual than would have otherwise happened had the engine not been created from scratch. It will also require them to work over the summer in order to get the work done that we need done. My engineers assure me that they are up to the task, and they have shown me no reason to believe otherwise. I hope it stays that way.
We decided on Tuesday that we weren’t going to beat around the bush any more. We wanted to get a good solid start on any game that we were going to work on as early as possible, so we chose the game that will occupy our time for the next year. Make a Man Thinketh won the vote by a narrow margin and we started organizing and focusing our energy in the direction of that game exclusively. Thank goodness we have a decision. I’m glad to be able to move forward with just one game instead of dividing our energies and resources.
Now that we’ve decided on a game, we took the opportunity to organize the team in a more permanent fashion. We assigned leads for the engineers, artists, producers and story as well as assigning specific roles for the remaining producers. Nancy is our Lead Engineer, Shane is our Lead Artist, I am the Lead Producer, Sean is Story Lead, Jen is in charge of marketing and business development, Ryan is in charge of certification research and execution and is also a secondary artistic voice, Brad is helping me keep the team organized and…well…that about covers the official positions. It didn’t take very long to decide on these positions and I think that the whole team feels that our personnel resources have been used wisely.
Moving forward, our team needs to decide on a name and we need to get the next few weeks organized so we can deliver something awesome during EAE day on April 24th. Can’t wait to see this big machine we’ve made start moving together toward a common goal. It begins.
Spring Break / GDC
Without getting into too many details, I have to say that spring break wasn’t much of a break. It was more like spring catch-up time rather than spring break. Happily, I was able to get many things done that I needed to get done.
All right, on to GDC.
This was my first time going to GDC and let me tell you, it’s not quite what I was expecting. Based on what everyone said about it, I was expecting a big room full of companies chomping at the bit to hire fresh talent from the world’s colleges and universities. What I found was an expo floor filled with products geared toward developers and another one that had a place where you can talk to recruiters, but nobody seemed to be hiring. Many of the biggest names in games didn’t even have a booth to represent them. I was expecting to see companies like Bungie and Blizzard and so forth, but their presence was limited to a presentation here and there, not a booth. I was expecting the lectures to blow my mind, but in general, they seemed like an introduction to basic sound design rather than the best of the industry expanding the boundaries of what is possible in game sound. I was able to meet a great many professionals during the lectures. I’m not sure if anything else was worth paying for, but this was. My LinkedIn profile grew by a good amount and I had some great conversations with some great people. My advice for anyone going to GDC would be that it is more a place to build a network than a place to get a job. In other words, if you are able to make and keep the right contacts at GDC, you might eventually get a job, but it’s not gonna happen while you’re there.
On an unrelated note, I played Doom II with John Romero.
The pitch went better than I could have hoped for. I practiced it 20 times before the event (I was aiming for 100) and the length was still coming in far too long too often. I still spoke slowly with pauses and portions that made it seem as though I was unsure about the content. This made me even more nervous, which is good. I learned a long time ago that the only times I should feel nervous is either when I don’t put the work in, or when I’m over confident. Neither of these was the case. I knew I had done the work but I was definitely not over confident (scared to death actually). After spending several years as an actor, I knew that the energy that is caused by nerves can be transferred into an energetic performance. So that’s what I did. And while I wasn’t able to foresee and address some of the panel’s concerns and confusions in the pitch, I felt that the pitch was clearly and confidently delivered and that it expressed the core of the game in a very short amount of time.
Now that the pitch is over, we have to decide which game is going to be the one we work on for the rest of our time here at the University of Utah. The comments we received at the industry panel proved that we had two very strong ideas and that either one would be an IGF contender if done well. I think our group polarized the panel more than any other group. They loved one of the games and hated the other one almost across the board. Anything that causes such strong opinions is definitely an avenue worth pursuing. Though it doesn’t make the decision any easier. On Tuesday and Thursday we decided to move forward with both games for a short time to see if any of our concerns could be addressed by another iteration of the prototypes. We’ll see what fruit that bares in a couple of weeks. As for now, Spring Break followed immediately by GDC. Should be fun!
Rough draft pitches and prepping for the industry panel.
So I pitched the game officially for the first time in front of faculty and the other members of my cohort. All in all, I think it went pretty well. As has always been the case, Ragwheel took a long time to explain and the faculty kindly pointed that out, but I think everyone understood the game well enough and liked it. Hopefully I have represented the rest of the group in a way that they can all be proud of. I would hate to be the one that is supposed to represent the group and also be the weakest link.
After the rough draft pitch, we immediately got started on improving both the games and the pitches so they can both be as effective as possible when we pitch them to the industry panel. We are paring back the Ragwheel presentation so it can be as sleek and concise as possible and we are expanding the Make a Man Thinketh presentation so it can explain more clearly what we expect to happen in the game. We have also started receiving concept art for some of the vehicles in Ragwheel from Mark Jarman and Rachel Leiker with more coming from Kyle Chittenden as well. This will definitely help our presentation pop in front of the industry panel. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to practice pitching in a situation like this. The more I do it the better I get. Hopefully that trend will continue.
Just a couple of updates and then back to work. First of all some good news. Binoy has done some amazing work over the last couple of weeks and because of that we have flip turns working! There are still a few bugs to work out, but the car not only sticks to the road at any orientation, but it also sticks to the road while the road spins during the flip turn. Apparently he had some trouble with the cars being flung into oblivion by the road when the flip turn started. As fun as it is to watch, it would probably discourage people from using the flip turns if they were constantly flung off the road.
The ghosts have proved to be a far more vexing problem than we originally anticipated. While the ghost does split off from the player it does not stay on the path. It often floats in space well off the track. We have been able to test whether the mechanic is fun (it is!), but we would like to see the feature in its full glory before we get to the industry panel in 2 weeks.
Oh…I haven’t told you yet? A group of industry professionals from local game studios will be here to watch us pitch our games. We should have people from Disney, Eat Sleep Play (Twisted Metal), EA Salt Lake, and a bunch more. Next week we have a rough draft pitch so we can do our very best for the industry panel the week after. Should be exciting. I’ll let you know how it goes next week.