EAE Day!

Well, we made it! The semester’s wrapped up and we had a great showing at this semester’s EAE Day. For 3 solid hours, I was demoing Maui with strangers from all over. I was so busy, in fact, that I didn’t even take any pictures. I literally don’t think there was a moment from the time it started to when it finished when there wasn’t someone to show the game to.

Feedback was very positive. To be honest, more positive than I was expecting. We had prototype versions of the new trials in and they were a big hit. One girl told me that Maui was her favorite game at the show – and she was an undergrad working on her own project!┬áThe negative feedback we got was a lot of stuff we already know – the game still doesn’t explain itself well, and there are a lot of moments where there isn’t the right feedback to help a player succeed.

For all of this and more, the mantra for next semester between Ben and I has already become “Polish and Publish.” We have a prototype final “dungeon” inside the mountain on top of the four trials we had in our EAE day build, and we’ve decided there’s just not enough time to do literally anything else. Our whole focus every day all day next semester is make this – THIS, as in what we have now – a publishable game. No new features. Just polish and publish.

Along with that, we’ll have to get a lot more serious about our public outreach. I’m already strategizing how to get our game out there so people will pay attention to it. That will also be a Day 1 priority for me next semester.

We’ve come quite a long way as a team this semester and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. But there’s still quite a ways to go before we cross the finish line.

New “Trials”

After cutting AR, we realized there was a hole in our game that we needed to fill. While having AR was too much, taking it out left us with most of a game but not a great game in its own right. One step we took to remedy this before IGF was make collecting the offerings more challenging and force the player to use the grid to get at the collectibles. After IGF, though, we realized we need to take this further. The answer to that problem is what I call the “New Trials,” though it took some work to get there.

After we hit our IGF deadline and partied sufficiently about that, we started talking next design steps as a team. Lots of ideas came up – surfing, fishing, sailing, foot races, and more, with a particular interest in hula. So much interest, in fact, that we were sitting around my computer as a team watching videos of Parrapa the Rapper. But thanksfully, our professor Jose jumped in right about that point and warned us about scope – a lesson you think we should’ve learned by now. So we returned to the drawing board.

Back when we had AR, we used it in sections we dubbed “God Trials,” where the gods would give Maui a challenge of some sort to gain their favor after making an offering. It didn’t take a lot of thinking once our heads were back on straight that the best way to fill that gap would be to make new trials using the stat grid, which I realized at that point is really our core mechanic and we needed to do a lot more to emphasize it. So I started drawing some simple ideas on a white board of puzzles that would require switching between two of the four stats to pass – for instance, four switches laid out in a square that you need to ground pound with strong enough to switch, but run between fast enough to pound them all before the first one pops back up. The solution here, then, is to switch to speed bonus, run, switch to ground pound bonus, pound, and repeat quick enough to get all the switches down before the first pops back up. The team really liked this and we quickly designed 4 that each use a different combination of stats. These are the “New Trials” and I feel like they’ll really add a lot to the game. I’m excited to see where it goes.

The Death of AR

So one of the biggest decisions we made to make it to IGF was to ultimately cut our AR section entirely. Taken out of context, this seems like a huge decision that betrays our game entirely as it was originally pitched, so I wanted to take the opportunity to give more context to that decision. There were really 3 reasons we dropped it: technical issues, scope, and fun

Technical issues: When it comes down to it, we couldn’t make it work. It was kind of a crazy idea to begin with anyway, and I’m still amazed at how much we actually did get to work, but after we lost Metaio and switched to MaxstAR it looked very promising that we could make up the work quickly. However, what we didn’t realize is that it looked promising on one machine in one set of lighting and camera conditions. As our lead engineer worked out the first new prototypes and started passing them around, they worked on literally no machine other than his. Given the time and talent available to us, even if we threw everything we had at AR alone, I honestly don’t think we could’ve got it working well enough to have a IGF-worthy game.

Scope: The new ideas that became Maui were simple, but big. So big, in fact, that it was really hard to even pitch the game because mentioning Hawaiian culture, explaining the stat grid, and explaining AR in a pitch was getting really difficult for me, and also really difficult to demo or justify in a way that made the game seem like a cohesive, interesting experience. On top of all that, even assuming we could work out those problems, we simply didn’t have the resources at our disposal to make it happen in terms of time, talent, and necessary software/hardware. It came to the point where we had to decide to cut back on something or we weren’t going to hit our deadline, so we went with what was most fun and sold the most people on our game – Hawaii and stat grid. AR had to go.

Fun: Okay, so let’s assume that all the problems mentioned above were solved by our grit and willpower, then we hit the problem of it’s still not nearly as fun as any of us envisioned to hold up a card to control a videogame. Lots of practical problems started happening: your arm got tired, the card was blocking your view of the screen, the cards had to be printed in a very specific way, and more. It just wasn’t fun even at it’s best. And that means no one had any motivation to keep making it. And that killed it more quickly than any of the other problems listed above.

Originally, we cut AR “just for IGF”, but as I look toward the future I don’t see us ever having the time or budget to get it back in. At this point it’s safe to say it’s gone forever.

PS Someone else has actually fixed all of the problems we had and made a game with a very similar mechanic to my original pitch from early 2015, and looking at all they’ve done to solve all the problem, I’m even more glad we got out while we could. Check out Osmo here.

IGF Submission

After a lot of hard work, our team finally made it to the IGF submission. My biggest contribution at this stage was pulling in my brother John to make a trailer and a background interview video for us to support our submission. Check them out!

I’m so proud of our team for making it to IGF with such a strong submission, especially considering the difficulties we’ve experienced over the summer and this semester. The team really showed their dedication in the final weeks with tons of hours of work, and even sacrificing our Fall break to dive deeper into crunch and take the game to the next level for submission.

You can check out our official IGF submission page here.