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S14 – Week two – On (un)reasonable deadlines, love, and Kinko’s.

Week two – the first full week back to business. I’m not entirely sure how I made it through in one piece. There is much to be said for Tylonol, lattes by Josh at Beans and Brews, and the undying support of my team and co-workers (read: friends).

The week started out with the animation class with Nathan Lindsay, an all around animation genius and great teacher. Animation class will be super fun. And my User Experience class with Amy is shaping up to probably be my favorite class this semester.

Projects is going to be very interesting this semester.

Last week we were tasked with coming up with 100 game ideas to eventually whittle down to our thesis. Thankfully, my team is full of intensely creative and well-read people, so that wasn’t an issue at all.

On Tuesday we broke out into individuals and groups and presented ten of our games to other members of the cohort for feedback. This was probably one of my most favorite times in class, some ideas were so out there and wonderful I’m really excited to see what the other teams decide to start developing. After spending about two hours doing that, we met back up with the team and presented our top three games according to the feedback we received. if(button_pressed) naturally was chosen, and we decided to start developing games based on how to portray mental illness, how to build a robot to perform certain functions, how to hack a person’s brain, and our wildcard game Body Pillow RPG.

A quick note on Body Pillow RPG. This really did begin as a total joke. Half of the engineers were ready to defect to other teams when we voted on this one. But Tina and I saw a real potential. I see is as an opportunity to explore something that is somewhat of a hot topic right now. With films like Lars and the Real Girl and exquisite Her exploring intimate relationships with inanimate things, and how the class reacted to Japanese dating games, I thought this is a great time to make a game exploring topics that no one is particularly comfortable.

So, from there we spent the next 48 hours putting together six-page design outlines for each game. The art team was in charge of putting together mood boards that represent the potential look and feel of the games. We also spent some time looking over the design documents (well done, Matt) and helping with the design of some of the games. It was a bit rough, we all worked pretty late on it.

So Thursday rolls around, we were all a bit punchy from not sleeping. The presentations as a whole, were lacking. Everyone in the class was wiped, and it showed. The class was asked to rate the games based on things like gameplay innovation, desire to play, desire to work on, things like that. We then gave the votes to Jose for calculation and analysis, which we will get the results on Tuesday. So we had a bit of a break to regroup and revealuate, which is good. We’ll see what Tuesday has to bring!

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Spring 2014 – Week One – On recovery, catching up, and spaghetti squash.

My Christmas vacation was spent mostly on catching up with some basic household upkeep and recovering from surgery. I had hoped to do a little more, but since becoming a member of the chronically ill, I’ve come to find that my time is better spent focusing on recovery than trying to force myself back into my everyday life only half-healed. So I didn’t get much done on the games and art front during the break sadly.

I did get to catch up on some games however, I finally beat Bioshock Infinite, I played through most of Antichamber, started the Dragonborn DLC for Skyrim (but ended up just exploring and eating plants as usual), played a wonderful little world building game called Reus, and I think I understand what Clash of Clans is all about.

I didn’t go to class the first week of the semester because I’m still get worn out pretty easily, but I was kept abreast of the coursework by my wonderful professors. I’m really excited to jump into the coursework, so I hope next week will go well.

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Week 16 – I am so tired.

Last week of class. Finals. Publishing a game. EAE Open House. All these things blessedly happen all in the same week. I haven’t slept much, so let’s see if a coherent thought can get through. The beginning of the week was rough. Between my art final and prepping for EAE open house, I didn’t have a lot of time to  work on the game, so when Tuesday rolled around it was a bit of a struggle. New background art, new front and back animations had to  be created, and all of the UI had to be done. Plus the engineers were struggling a little bit to get the animation engine and line connections to work, so everyone was having a bit of a hard time. We kept going though, and Thursday Tina presented the final prototype. We had a rocky morning, but it all came together in the end, which was good. Thankfully, we have until next Tuesday to submit the final version, which will give us a chance to polish the game a bit so we don’t look like total noobs.

That evening was the EAE Open House, at which we demoed the game along with several of the other prototypes. I didn’t see it myself, but Tina said our game was a huge hit with the little kids, which is always fun. The final things to add are to polish up a couple of the animations and to create how to play slides to go before the game starts. We have several stretch goals including survival mode, projectile weapons, and many other things. I’d like to keep working on this, pushing out the occasional update to the Windows store would be a good way to keep the momentum going not just for we students, but for the program as a whole.

EDIT: Here it is Tuesday and we are thisclose to submitting for approval. Skip, Tina, and I are putting the final polish on the game – things like new menus, new animations, how-to-play screens, gasoline line drawings, and credits. It’s going pretty smoothly, nothing game-breaking has happened so we are on track to submit today.

I’d like to take a moment and thank my team for being amazing through this process. We’ve struggled and bled for this one, and everyone has worked hard for this end product. I couldn’t ask for a smarter, more creative team, and though we had some rough patches, we came through still friends and with an amazing product.

Here’s some final artwork that I’ve implemented in the game today:

The Game icon

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Pause menu

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Gameplay Screenshots 

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Look! My name is in the credits of a game!creditsWintersucks_logo  

 

Week 15 – Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, expert advice, and mushy peas

So much happened this week it was stupid. On Tuesday we had a guest visit from Tobiah Marks, Game Evangelist for Microsoft and creator of the extremely popular Blast Monkeys. He had some great things to tell us about the development process, especially about marketing and app store optimization. He then went around and played the games and gave feedback. While he liked the idea of our game, he wasn’t entirely sure it was fun. He gave us some good ideas though on how to make it fun.

We talked about it a bit, and decided to try some things out, create some new branches to try some things out. This put Joe and I in a bit of holding pattern for art as two of the branches were proposed to be topdown. This mean we’d have to change up some art style a bit and the animations would have to be redone. Not a big deal, but we still wanted a definite answer before moving forward. So Joe and I worked on the start screen and logo.

Then Tina had a great idea. We’d keep the snow creatures attacking thing, but instead of simply firing upon them to defend the house, we’d play a kind of connect-the-dots game to incinerate as many enemies as possible. We moved the house to the middle of the screen, so enemies can come from multiple directions, and shifted the perspective a bit. It is kind of a 45 degree tilt now, the animations are still front view more or less (they are more interesting that way), but the map will play as though top view.

The shift in gameplay was well received by the faculty and other students. We liked it a lot more as well, the prototype became much more fun to play. The engineers are putting together the animation engine and the connecting line this weekend in anticipation to publish next week. It’s so exciting!

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Week 14 – Short weeks, concepting, teams, and the occasional ocelot

This week was a shortened week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but that made it no less busy! With the first playable due the following Tuesday, we needed to get lots done to show off.

This week I was in charge of backgrounds and character animations. Joe was in charge of weapons and the cabin animations. I came up with three enemies – the yeti, penguin with freeze ray, and snowman. The yeti is the biggest and does the most damage, but is also the slowest. Penguins are medium-fast and have the freeze ray, and they will always attack the main weapon with the freeze ray, causing pauses in the defensive systems due to freezing. The snowmen are fast – they can move fast and attack fast, but they can be defeated in one or two hits. But they can also kamikaze into the house causing more damage if allowed to get near.

The house shows damage by the amount of snow that accumulates on the top of the house. We have devised five levels of damage for the house before it collapses.

The engineers were busy putting together the engine, they decided to use straight DirectX and C++ instead of Unity, for which I applaud them. They are smart fellows, and though they struggled at first, it seems they have it all figured out. Tina has been a total champ in getting everyone together and trying new things, and indeed keeping us all on track.

Next week, first playable, continue to polish, and publish in two weeks. Whew.

 

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Week 13 – On teams, freeze rays, and hot sauce.

So this week was… interesting.

At the end of last week it was mentioned that we’d be able to pick our own teams this next round. What that meant was up to us to decide. Immediately, artist Joe tagged me to be on his team, and we met up with Tina, Sidd G, Skip, and Shelwin. We tentatively invited Owen not knowing if he was able to be on our team. The studio quickly became a feeding frenzy of people recruiting and being recruited to different teams. Everything was in a bit of disarray until Monday evening when it was somewhat decided that we should stick to the traditional team structure so all would be fair among the teams.

But it wasn’t.

Suddenly there were orphans who were once part of teams standing alone. This included myself and some other severely talented people. So quickly, I got Owen on board and we picked up Peijun and Dayna on engineering, and acquired Jed at the last second. The other orphans filtered into other teams needing artists and engineers. I was feeling good about our new team. But then we learned that we would be down two team members halfway through the project – Owen’s twins are due any second, and Peijun is leaving to go back to China for the break. So we had a choice – stay together and get as much done with the full team as humanly possible, then punt the rest of the time with the remaining three team members, or dissolve the team into other teams. Dayna and I were heavily on the dissolve side. Since we are publishing this prototype (more on that later) we decided that spreading the resources among other teams would result in a higher quality game than staying together and attempting to piece it together at the end. It also alleviates the pressure on those team members that have to leave half way through. Owen and Peijun were torn, they really liked the team and wanted to work with us all. I reminded them that this isn’t the end and there is still the opportunity to work together on the thesis game. Jed wanted to keep the team together and see what we could do. In the end, we all voted to dissolve, it was best for the team members and the group as a whole.

So, I was then immediately picked back up by Tina and Joe’s team, where I originally started. But that is exciting because I get to work with another artist! Something that I haven’t been able to do up to this point. Our engineering team is top-notch, and Tina is always fun to work with.

So, this prototype is going to be published on the Windows App Store. We had a huge presentation from Randy, Tech Evangelist (yes, that is a thing) from Microsoft telling us about the cool features in the hardware and software options for the new Windows stuff.  We will be publishing the prototypes on the MSAS because it is ridiculously underpopulated and easy to publish. Plus we get a whole bunch of MS swag and software to play with.

So, we wanted our game to be casual, have an audience of people that received new fun things for the holidays, and people who will be needing distraction during family functions. We wanted something with repetitive play and big payoffs to keep people coming back. After tooling around with the design box for a while, Joe and I came up with a game where you defend you winter getaway cabin from the hordes of snow goons trying to destroy your fun.

I threw together some concept artwork for the monsters (snowmen, penguins, and yeti for now) and a couple weapons to use (hairdryer, hot chocolate hose, and a sun gun) to melt the icy monsters before they get to the house. The bad guys will also be capable of tossing snow at the house, potentially destroying it. Concept sketches at the bottom of the post.

We presented to the group and received some excellent feedback, the most exciting of which is the potential to craft the main weapon instead of switching it out mid-game. So you start with a hair dryer, and after the first wave you can go to “The Attic” and rummage around until you find something like a motor or super heating element to enhance the original blow dryer. This has huge potential I think, and the changes you make to the weapon can be visually represented at the beginning of the round. You can also choose to make upgrades to the cabin to make it more snow-proof.

I’m really excited about this prototype, I think it’s really fun to develop and should be fun to play. And really, nothing is better than penguins with freeze rays.

 

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Week 12 – All the feels. Wow.

Another prototype at an end. The presentation went well, the feedback positive. But this one felt different.

The early part of the week was spent retesting with faculty and students, tuning and implementing the levels, and polishing the textures and lighting. We actually completed everything we needed before the presentation on Thursday and felt genuinely good about it. Tony and James took the feedback Roger gave them and ran with it. Tony gave a narration to the playthough (instead of just explaining what was happening) that woke up and engaged the audience. It was brilliant.

We received feedback from the faculty that our game was probably the most “indie” out of all the prototypes, and even suggested that we continue to develop the game to pitch for the thesis and perhaps even submit to the Experimental Gameplay workshop at GDC. We are very interested in pursuing both.  I am so proud of my team and grateful that they were willing to stick with the concept and see it through to it’s glorious end.

So this prototype felt very different than the last two. I struggled every step of the way with this one. We didn’t have a solid concept for almost two weeks into the project. I muddled my way though Unity and was extremely frustrated with the software 80% of the time. I didn’t have a clear concept for my levels for forever, and creating the implementing the effect took even longer to get right (I still don’t think it’s correct, but it works for the prototype). And even the presentation was rough until the final. But it all came together. And it came together into something great that people liked and support.

After the feedback and doing the post-mortem with the team I sat down and started thinking about everything else I had to do before the next round of prototyping started. Art homework, design homework, prepping for EAE Day, GDC, on and on and on. But a really weird feeling crept up on me just then, I didn’t really know what it was at first. The best way to put it is a mix between satisfaction, elation, and relief. It was a good feeling. My first instinct was to recognize it then put it way and move on to the next bit of work. But then I realized I hadn’t really let myself experience the “end of prototype” high with the others. I was always too distracted to live in that moment. So I gave myself permission to feel that for the rest of the day and carry me through the rest of my work and play.

So now, I’m motivated to get to that feeling again. To earn it like I did with this last prototype. And I want to have it every time I complete a protoype, a sprint, a project, a game, anything. And I know that level of emotion is equal to the amount of work I put into something, so here goes nothin’.

Week 11 – Lights, first person perspective emulator, action(?), and droppin’ the bass.

I spent some time attempting to learn how to project images onto planes in Unity, it was no small task. I started out trying to get the actual projectors to work, but that was an abysmal failure, then with some extensive googling and help from Tony, I learned how to make lights work with projected shapes. This has limited success, they tend to bleed in funny places and I don’t know how to fix it. The first room has a simply line up the dot puzzle.

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The second room is a little more complex with a maze element to it. If one travels to the back, you’ll see a bulls eye projected onto many walls. Line it up and you can proceed to the next level.

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The last level I’m not sure what I want to do with quite yet. I have the projected images that you line up down, but I feel like this room need something more special. I’m in the process of trying to figure out if the projected warped grid is useful and engaging, or if I want to do something more complex, like putting together numbers in a sphere like certain puzzles in The Room or as Professor Roger mentioned the Saw games. I really don’t even know how to go about creating something like that though, so we’ll see what happens. PICS This is all really reminiscent of my time doing stage lighting in another life, and I gotta say, I kind of like it. Will lighting turn out to be my thing? Who knows. Let’s see if I can get these levels to work first. We have the mock presentation on Tuesday, final presentation on Thursday. It’s going to be a helluva week I think.

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Week 10 – On design by committee, nebulous goals, and string cheese as dessert

This week was rough. The team spent the weekend thinking of puzzles for the game, but we still had no discernible goals or win state, no narrative, and I think the team was frustrated with the concept as a whole. So on Tuesday we met as a team and hashed out a couple ideas. Some things that were thrown around was the player is stuck doing mundane tasks for a job, but at any give time can deviate with unexpected results, going completely random with a non-linear narrative as in 30 Flights of Loving, a portable button that you carry with you that will reveal other buttons in the room you visit, Pavlov’s Dog-type psychological warfare, crazy non-linear gameplay and nutzo visuals of Antichamber and Stanley Parable-type narrator direction among others.

We finally decided on a kind of hybrid Pavlov’s Dog and Antichamber, mostly based around a level with a recursive (repeating) room that Mark built and coded that was really fun. I threw together some textures and built a nice-looking button to use, and I get to do some sound! I made a button click by mixing two space noises and a low-bass thump together. It’s sounds pretty neat.

Thursday we had the first playable prototype. Professor Mark had some interesting things to say about how to show the player what to do for the 3D perspective levels without holding hands. I’m going to look more into color theory and psychological effects of color like which colors are interpreted as “correct” and “wrong”, like green means go, red means stop. I don’t  want to be as obvious, but something like that would be neat.

The levels I am experimenting with are based around 2D perspective changes, such as illusions like these:

I’ll need to spend more time with Unity to figure out just how to go about projecting images onto multiple planes. I know you can do it in Maya, so if all else fails I can do that and import it hopefully.

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Week 9 – Simplicity, what does “indie” mean to me, and 100% post-consumer materials

The magical magical design box. Conceptualized by noneother than Dr. Raj,  this is a very useful tool in determining what your game is, what it can be, and what it isn’t. Four walls, audience, tech, aesthetics, and play/theory. List all the things, erase some of the things, and add even more things. The game ideas based on those things goes in the middle. Then the box shrinks, and you start again. Iterate, refine, and design.

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The parameters for this prototype are make and “indie” game (determine first what that means to the team), and needs to be based on one of the lenses as defined in Jesse Schell’s Book. Ours is Simplicity/Complexity. My team for this round is James Hulse and Antonio Revard on production, Mark Breeden and the lovely Peijun Zhou on engineering.

After much discussion and tinkering with the box, we came to the idea that the game will be about pushing buttons. Literal buttons, not provoking people. The simple action of pushing a button will cause changes in the environment. We thought it would be the puzzles of Portal, exploration of Myst, and the cool perspective and graphics shifting of Evoland. We felt that “indie” means taking risks and requiring more of the player than regular games, so this gameplay felt like a good fit.

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The game will start out as a text adventure

You enter a room, it is empty except for a large red button in the center. What do you do?

>>Push the button
>>Leave the button alone

Stage 2 will unlock a top-down adventure game like the original Zelda. Stage 3 will be low-poly Wolfenstein-esque maze level. The gist is you have to navigate through these rooms and explore your way around to find the buttons and progress to the next level. Sometimes the puzzles will be mechanical, other times psychological, other times skill-based. And as the game progresses, the graphics evolve to be more and more complete and beautiful. The simplest action (pushing a button) will unlock ever increasing complex levels that evolve as time progresses.

This is also my first 3D game. Having only starting living in a 3D world a short 9 weeks ago, I’m still pretty rough on the whole thing. Good thing this is a prototype, I think I can manage creating assets for a low-res version of rooms and things. We chose Unity for our platform, since it’s much much easier to learn than UDK, for both me and the engineers. And I think I’d like to do more sound for this one, I haven’t done any sound on the games previous to this one.

So we’ll see what happens, there is still some refining that needs to happen, and we still need an end goal/win state and a bit of narrative to help shape the game as a whole.