All posts by Paul Bills

Game Production Master's Student as the University of Utah's Entertainment Arts and Engineering program. I make videogames.

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! The 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.

 

 

Narrative and Textures

Our team continues to speed along as we keep refining and improving Maui.

Our big changes since last time are the addition of narrative elements and textures, as well as a AR game redesign (that isn’t yet implemented, unfortunately).

We learned some good lessons about motion controlled games using AR technology, namely, real-time action elements are basically impossible. The second the program loses sight of the image, the player freaks out trying to get it back and by the time they do too much time has passed the the player has either lost or close enough to have a terrible experience.

So we redesigned our AR games (yet again! Iteration!) to be more plug-n-play (as our artist Erica puts it), meaning you set up the pieces how you want, then tell it to run and see if things line up the way you expected. Sean and Aqeel, our dedicated designers, found a cool way for this to work thematically by having the AR games be a challenge to align the gods and help them to bring about the “circle of life.” For instance, Kane in the sky brings light and Kanaloa of the sea brings water to the field, which Lono helps to prosper as long as the people tend it with the excellence of Ku.

Pretty cool stuff.

As for narrative, you can check it out for yourself here:

As you can see, it’s coming right along! I still can’t believe how well it’s going. IGF, here we come!

Velocity Raptors

I’ve given our team a nickname (that I haven’t told them yet but probably will after writing this): the Velocity Raptors.

I continue to be mind blown at how quickly we are throwing this game together. We gave a presentation to our whole studio last week showing our progress and I think it captures our velocity well.

Here’s a link to our presentation that you can download and view if you wish. Note that NOTHING shown in this presentation existed just 3 weeks ago.

I also threw together a very, very basic prealpha trailer that you can view below:

Things are going great!

Hawaiian Zelda

Hawaiian Zelda – those are the magic words that have sold our game to our professors finally.

We used this phrase to pitch our game to a couple recruiters from Infinity Ward that visited our studio today and it seemed to really work. We got to practice our pitch again with the CTO and CCO of Infinity Ward and it went ever better.

Perhaps the most rewarding part was talking to the professors and staff afterward who were listening in who suddenly seemed on board with our project more than ever and getting a better sense of our vision.

Since my last update, we’ve also professionalized this operation much more. Ben and I worked out a week-by-week, build-by-build schedule for our team to make it to IGF. The best part about it is we are currently on schedule! Look at that!

Also, our artists continue to be swamped so I’ve kept working on logos and other graphic design stuff. Thankfully, we finally settled on a title I think will work: Maui, which is both a recognizable, pronounceable Hawaiian word but also a common male name so we’re using it as the name of our main character and the title of our game. Here’s the logo I made:

MauiLogoFinal

We also have a team name! We’re Kokua Games. Kokua is a Hawaiian word that roughly means cooperation, but like all Hawaiian words it has multiple levels of meaning, which works for us–we’re working together to make the game, but we also are working with Hawaiian experts to make it great. We’re also hoping to inspire Hawaiians to cooperate and people who aren’t Hawaiian to cooperate better with Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture. Here’s a logo I threw together for that:

KokuaGamesLogo

And with these I’ve developed a PowerPoint template for future presentations we have to do. Here’s some screens of that:

Template1

Template2

I’ve also started writing out the narrative and line-by-line script of the game, working very closely with Sean to make sure it flows with the game/level design and the culture.

There’s a ton going on right now, but it’s really rewarding to pitch the game and show early stuff and how positive reactions. We’ve got a lot of great forward momentum right now and I’m looking just to keep that ball rolling right into IGF and beyond.

Good-bye Utah, Hello Hawaii

Well, we’re back in action and summer has brought us quite the present.

Apple bought Metaio, the AR engine we were using, and made it proprietary and basically did everything but delete the files off our machines. So we had a big problem.

In any scenario, we basically have to start over. So we took the opportunity to look at the problems facing our game other than just the AR tech troubles.

We realized that the more we asked about Navajo and Ute culture, the more we heard that they wouldn’t be very pleased with people not of their culture presuming to tell their stories. On top of that, our game felt like a loose collection of mini-games with nothing gluing them together. On top of all of that, our team felt pretty dead on our project as it was. Morale was very low and vision was completely gone.

So, we were bold and made a solution to all our problems that we’re now calling Naupaka and Kaui. Here’s some cool logo ideas!

LogoPlay

 

I actually made these myself. Our artists are swamped with all their tasks so I took it upon myself to give us a working logo of some sort to start putting out there.

There’s a lot different about our new idea and it’s entirely different game, but it keeps the same core: retelling cultural legends accurately but in a fun way involving new mechanics and AR technology. We’ve invented an additional mechanic for our non-AR gameplay section we’re calling “the Grid.” It’s based on the actual relationship between the four main Hawaiian gods and represents calling up their favor according to your current needs and situation. More on that later!

It’s gonna be a fun few weeks before IGF submissions!

Thanks, EAE Fest!

Today was EAE Fest, and we had a great turnout! A lot of people came and enjoyed Ochre. Check it out!

View of all EAE Fest today

 

Tons of people played Ochre!

 

Check it out in action!

And here’s the actual gameplay that shows everything we have so far.

 

It’s been a great experience getting the game this far. We have a lot of exciting ideas to take this game to the next level.

Thanks to everyone who’s played and supported the game so far!

Poster and Videos

Behold, a poster for our game:

OchrePosterEAEFest_2_small

 

Behold, some update videos:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bwv-R2-UbTlTTk9jekgtYkZ3TVk&authuser=0

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bwv-R2-UbTlTeUlGZlJIN3k5VDQ/view?usp=sharing

We’re coming along. The camera actually works. We showed it off a the ACM Indie Games Festival last week and it went pretty well.

Our problem now is getting actually interesting game design back in the mix with the new theme and new tech. We have lots of ideas, it’s just a matter of time before we get them back in there.