Go Team

The best part of game development is great teams.

I had no idea what to do coming in today. We were pretty lost about which direction would be best to take. But it turns out a bunch of our team was doing some hardcore homework playing games, taking tasks, etc. and suddenly we’re not only on track, but farther than I expected we could be today.

As people were owning their own jobs,  I felt much more confident in mine, too. It was a lot easier to make decisions as people had really researched out their ideas, and as everything got settled I could finally write some of the narrative out for our game, which I haven’t been able to get to before. I’m totally confident in our group again.

This is especially nice considering that yesterday in Production Class we spent like a third of the class with everyone just giving us advice and helping our team specifically. So it’s good to see all the good will and help turning into solid work being done.

We’re gonna make it.

Talking to Floyd O’Neil

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted anything. Sorry about that.

Things are basically on the same track, and we’ve had GDC and spring break trip us up in between, but we’ve made good progress.

We’re working with a Ute tale we found in a book called “The Boy and the Giant” about a chief whose four daughters get kidnapped and four brothers go to save them from, in order, a buffalo, a bear, a mountain lion, and a giant. In each room, the youngest brother finds the beast’s heart and uses it to defeat the beast before saving the daughter and moving on. It seemed very video game ready so we jumped for it.

This week we’ve made two trips up to the American West Center to talk to Floyd O’Neil, the director emeritus. We didn’t catch him the first time because he had the power go out in his house and was working on getting it fixed, but we met a couple other people who gave us a lot of good info. Today, we actually met with Floyd himself and got a lot of good feedback.

Basically, we’ve learned that cave and rock art are pretty much totally separate from modern tribes and nations so we need to pick one or the other. Our current plan is to finish the boy and giant story and say it’s a Ute tale retold in the style of cave art, and then use other existing cave art scenes as the basis for other levels.

Fun stuff! Lots of work, but we’re making lots of progress.

The Iteration Games

Our game keeps evolving like a virus. That makes it sound bad but it isn’t, I promise. We just keep looking for ways to make using the camera and shape recognition fun in a game.

We started with Plato’s Cave, as I’ve shown you. Then we went to Ochre, the Native American cave painting game. By the way, check that out here:

But now forget that, because now we’re going with Ninja Tactics (not a title, just a theme), where you select ninja units and hold up hand gestures to command them–because ninjas really did have hand gestures in real life for reals. How cool is that?

I’m proud of my team for being so flexible. We’re really just searching for the best game we can make here.  I’m excited about where we’re going.

GDC! Thesis Game!

Today is the beginning of GDC and I just realized I’ve been so busy that I haven’t updated my blog.

My thesis game idea got picked! That makes me team lead, designer, and producer on Ochre, a Native American-inspired adventure game set in a world of cave paintings that come to life as the player interacts with them via their device’s camera.

We’re still not sure how to best implement the camera, so we’re working on it. Here at GDC we’ll ask everyone we can for advice on how to make this game great.

Sprinting Toward Industry Panel Pitches

On Thursday, we pitch to a panel of industry professionals to help determine which of the 10 games being prototyped will be made into full thesis games. So until then we’re sprinting to that finish line trying to get everything in place and bring the game and the pitch together to make us look as awesome as possible. Roger, our professor, pointed out that getting the green light here is basically equivalent to getting a $250,000 investment in our idea. That’s pretty intimidating.

So what are we doing to get there? We’ve been working hard to add two more levels to the one we showed on Thursday: one that shows off the object tracking abilities of the camera tech, and one that shows off color matching. Sean, our lead engineer, and I will be pitching it together. Thursday we’ll be making videos of our game and finalizing the pitch. Then we’ll do the pitches and that will be over and the real work will begin.

Practice Pitch for Greenlight

We continue to iterate on our ideas super rapidly, and today we had a lot of really cool ideas after we practiced pitching our game in preparation for an industry panel coming next week to help pick which of the 10 prototypes will be made into full thesis games.

While testing things last night to make our prototype video, we discovered that it’s actually easier for the camera to see simple figures drawn on paper than actual shapes of objects. Testing things this morning, we found that even slightly different handwriting examples work – but it’s still strict enough that not just anything works. For instance, check out this image:


So in this image, the “EAE” on the circle is what we used to calibrate the camera, and then I took a piece of paper around to other people and had them write EAE to see if it worked when it wasn’t an exact match. Both the “EAE”s in black on that page actually worked, but the cursive, curly one did not.

This experiment led us to thinking about the possibilities of using different glyphs that we just have the player draw on paper and hold up to the camera to solve puzzles. Here’s one puzzle idea:


In this level, the idea is the door is locked, and the player has to hold up glyphs to spell “key,” but they have to figure out how to spell “key” in our made-up language by looking at the images above. It’s a little complicated, and maybe we would just have a bunch of images above and one of the images is a key and so the player would have to draw the same key and hold it up to the camera.

We’re also playing with other ideas like changing the light in the level by holding up different colored objects and revealing new stuff on the wall, shadow puppets (still haven’t given up on that), the room being completely dark and the player having to hold up a light, having to create a tune by holding up glyphs that trigger sounds in the proper order, etc. It’s a pretty exciting time, we just have to nail things down and bring them together.

Finally, check out the video below. This is what we used as a tech demo/prototype for our pitch today.

To the future!

Major Pivot

We had a pretty major pivot this week after trying to make the OpenCV technology and Unity play nice and trying to find a way to meaningfully integrate the camera with the game design while keeping realistic expectations about what we could get the camera to do.

We spent most of the week staring at a fork of two similar but different enough games that we had to make a choice. We had the original pitch, which was proving difficult with trying to make the camera stuff work the way I pitched it, and Sean, our engineer, had another cool idea that played more with the weird relationship possibilities of looking at 2D shadows of 3D objects and the gameplay spaces there with changing perspectives and surprise reveals.

Yesterday, we got together again at the beginning of class and came up with a door number 3 that we’re all pretty excited about.

Now the game starts with a calibration screen where it tells you to hold up a square object and then a circle object and then you’re presented with a level that looks like this:


Basically, now Plato is running to escape the shadow world and an evil shadow monster will be chasing him and trying to bring him back. While Plato is running (the character will run on rails–the player doesn’t control him), there will be obstacles along the way that the player has to help Plato overcoming by casting proper “shadows” by holding the right object up to the camera at the right time. In the level above, the first obstacle is just a hole in the platform that you fill in by holding up your square object, the second obstacle is a rotating platform that you have to stop at the right time by holding up your circle object, and the final obstacle is a platform moving up and down that you have to stop at the right time by holding up your square object again.

This way we had a timing mechanic to the game to give it more fun and action than just the simple puzzle game we had before. This also eases the technical burden by only requiring that the camera find a match of a previous image rather than read real-time shapes and orientation changes like before.

Now we just have to finish a prototype before practice pitches tomorrow.

Wish us luck!

Pitch Story

So I’m late in getting to this, but last week we pitched thesis games and this week we’re prototyping them. Let me catch you up on what I’ve done so far this semester.

Over the break I thought constantly about what game I was going to pitch as a thesis game idea (after I got through Christmas and New Year’s). I didn’t know how we’d be picking thesis games or thesis teams, but I knew in any case we would need a solid game idea, so I did all I could think of to find the best idea possible. I played games I could find in any form, anywhere, anytime. If I couldn’t play a game, I tried to learn about it by watching videos and reading descriptions. I looked especially at IndieCade and IGF, as I knew we’d be targeting such venues for recognition with our thesis games.

As I looked all over, I made a list of common traits of winning student IGF games. I also did some soul-searching and made a list of my own personal all-time favorite games, and then went one further and wrote a list of my all-time favorite aspects of games. I was looking for ingredients for a great thesis pitch.

By the time school started again, I had three ideas I felt good about that I was going to pitch in whatever form we ended up needing to pitch thesis ideas:

1. Cardboard RPG – Tearaway meets Minecraft as you traverse a cardboard world, harvesting cardboard from your enemies to build fortresses, customize your character, and create weapons.

2. Alone at Home – Turn-based procedural survival game where you play as a kid left alone at home fighting off supernatural creatures entering your home. Each turn you move to a room and can either collect from that room or set up a trap, then the creatures all move. Don’t die. Kill things cleverly.

3. KaleidEscape- The main mechanic is rotating a kaleidoscope to alter the game world so the character can escape.

The problem of level design for idea 3 really got me thinking, so I ended up paper-prototyping a very basic level:


I did that one just to get the message across of the idea, but then I wanted to make an actually challenging level, so I made another paper prototype of that one:


Then I started to think of all the possibilities of that kind of level design-other shapes, intersecting shapes, 3D, etc. I started making some PowerPoint slides for a pitch.

When working on the PowerPoints, Roger and Bob came over and looked at it and Roger said, “What if you added augmented reality?” Essentially, he suggested we use a coin to control the different circles.

I took that idea and thought about it over the weekend before we had to pitch on Tuesday. I took the augmented-reality thing and ran with it and started thinking of level designs where you had to use an object as a controller. I was especially excited by the idea of shadow puppets because I haven’t seen a game made with shadow puppets and hands are the one object you can count on your players having with them when and wherever they play the game. Then, in thinking about shadows I thought about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the interaction between the real world and a “shadow” of the real world inside the game’s virtual reality. That all came together and became Cave of Shadows, the game I ended up pitching.

People liked the pitch for Cave of Shadows and those who liked it came together. We are now a team of 4 engineers, 2 tech artists, an artist, and me working to make a prototype over the next 3 weeks to show to an industry panel and possibly get picked to become a full thesis game.

Here we go!


Yes. Best Game Yet.

I love our last game, Sumomentum. It’s my favorite game of the semester. Watch this trailer I made:

It was a huge hit in our final pitches and at the EAE Night open house. For our final pitch, we showed off the game by having the “1st Ever Sumomentum World Championships” between two of our best play testers. It was a big hit with the audience.

At EAE Night, our game was constantly being played and often had a crowd watching as well. I made a “List of Champions” and had it sitting out next to our game so people could record their names after five wins. I also set up a document that explained the controls and my team made it a desktop background on the computers the game was being shown on so that if our team wasn’t there to explain people could still enjoy the game. One kid sat and played it for a half-hour straight and almost refused to leave. It was literally the last game shut down at the event as the challenges just kept coming and people kept watching the matches unfold. Our professors, Bob and Roger, even got in on the action at the end, with huge crowd watching and cheering on the game.

This game makes me very excited for what we can accomplish with our thesis games starting next semester. I can’t wait to work on a bigger project and eventually publish. I feel like this semester has been great preparation and I know what needs to be done to make a fun, good game with a team. I’m very confident for my future at this point.

Here’s the Sumomentum team, Asia Punch Games. We were a good bunch.



Best Game Yet?

We’re closing in on the end of the semester and the end of our final prototypes and I really, really like our game. It’s just fun, and I’ll be really happy to show it off at EAE Night on Friday and watch people have fun with it.

It’s encouraging to have the last game be the best. I feel like I’ve improved over the course of the semester and I’m more confident organizing and leading a development team toward a shared goal.

I’ll definitely have more to show you tomorrow with our game.