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Spring 2015 Week 1 – Resolutions, progress, and ginger kombucha.

Winter vacation was really really refreshing. I spent precious little time thinking about the game, but I did spend a lot of time recharging my batteries. The new semester began and we hit the ground running.

Based on the feedback I received from the team and faculty about my performance last semester, I decided to step down as creative lead. I never want to be a block to my team, so it was just the thing to do. Joe stepped up as Art Lead and I maintained theme and narrative duties. Tony also physically left the team to go work for EA Tiburon in Florida. We’ll be communicating primarily with him via Skype and Slack. Kyle took up the design lead mantle, and we decided to implement some crazy stuff.

Before Tony left at the end of last semester, we had a kind of impromptu design meeting to talk through some of the ideas that had been tossed around the last few weeks. We landed on three ideas that all seemed to tie in nicely with each other.

The ping has gone from an always on, oscillating radius to a flashlight – that is the player may choose when it’s on and when it’s off. Certain paths will be blocked by inhibitors that the enemy hurls and plants in the levels. The inhibitors are activated when the ping comes into contact with it, so we now have a reason to use the ping strategically. The player will be given a bandwidth meter that is filled by travelling on fast lanes and depleted by travelling on slow lanes. ¬†Finally, when one fills the bandwidth meter, the player can use a power shot to destroy the inhibitors when in range. We also toyed with procedural levels, which turned out to be a bit more trouble than it was worth. I think we are going to stay with the loading system we have, with some fixes of course.

So we got to work getting all of that madness designed and planned out. The first thing was the new ping, followed by the bandwidth meter. I created the meter and basic hookups in UMG, and researched how to do custom meters. I also began concepting out the inhibitor:

In other news, we received quite a few plays on the IGF build that we prepared for the judges. Which is amazing and terrifying. Hopefully we’ll hear next week who the finalists are and if we’re among them. Also we made the front page of IndieGames.com! Which is actually HUGE, their readership is vast and they are part of the UBM network, who hosts GDC. We had a significant spike in viewership due to these things and I’m pretty stoked about it. We will continue to move forward and get this thing ready to present at GDC!

 

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Week 16 – EAE Open House, finals, and all-natural junk food.

This last week of school has been a blur. So much happened I’m kind of having trouble parsing how it occurred at all.

We began the week with our usual all hands meeting, in which Tina put together a wonderful little retrospective presentation of how we got to where we are right now. It’s a fun little trip down memory lane:

The game design-wise was in a good place, the new ping effect is wonderful, we’ve receiving a lot of good feedback about it. We began working on polishing everything up for the open house, this included dressing and lighting the new levels, fixing menus, and implementing the new streaming level system we had been experimenting with for the last few weeks. It’s that last bit that kind of broke before the open house, so there was a bit of crunch involved with getting it back up and running in time. But hey, it happens.

Matt was busy putting together a looping video for us to play at the event. We had a large projector, but we didn’t necessarily want to have people’s playthoughs showing on the main screen. I wanted constant motion that would show off the best features and visuals of our game, and Matt totally came through. Best part is, we listened to the music for about 5 hours straight that night, and I still love the hell out of it. Our sound guy Keaton is a master.

The Open House was a great success for us. We showed really well, got some excellent feedback about the game from our friends, families, industry folks, and other students. It was absolutely exhilarating to show off on a large scale like that. My buddy Victor even won our speed run trophy, he played through until he found all the secret passages and then ran the whole thing in about two minutes. I was even on TV for a little bit along with many many other students, and I didn’t mess up too badly!

Here are some screens from the event:

So, all in all it was a fantastic event. Between getting everything in the game ready and then getting everything for the event ready, I was exhausted but really happy. Now if I can just get my other finals done, I can fully appreciate what an amazing trip this semester has been. ūüėÄ

 

 

 

Week 15 – Ping pandemonium, level iteration, and breakfast for dinner.

This week we went through some major design iterations and began prepping for EAE Day.

We began the week with some great feedback from Tobiah Marks, Game Evangelist for Microsoft and all around awesome guy. He spent perhaps a grand total of about 30 minutes playing and giving feedback on our game (in three different sessions with different team members), and pushed really hard on the idea of procedural levels. He said our game is fun now, but would have so much more replayablity and social capital with the procedural level because it makes the game different every time it’s played, leaderboards would be a major aspect of the game, and sharing levels between players would be an easy and highly effective thing to do. All of this makes totally sense, especially since we were toying with the idea of procedural areas with the new level philosophy anyway. It’s something that will have to wait until after the holiday break though, but it’s the top priority when we all come back.

Tobiah also had some things to say about the active reload ping ability. In short, it’s interesting on paper, bad in practice. He said that we are telling the player there is only one way to use this ability, and if you can’t/won’t use it then too bad. We shouldn’t be designing an ability that can only be used one way, that is just not fun.

So, we went back to the drawing board with the ping. This lead to a design meeting where we just shot out ideas of what the ping can and can’t do, which of course turned into a larger conversation about how it acts in the world. We came up with some interesting stuff, most of it won’t be implemented until January, but we all felt it’s a good direction. The preview version of it is supercharged ping that can also detach tethered enemy beams. We’ll see where it goes from there.

In addition to all of that, Joe did an amazing job creating a new shader for ping ability, it now wraps around geometry and looks really really cool. We have three new open levels that are really cool, Kyle, James, and Tony worked really hard to get those built. I designed and modeled out a new enemy look, Cory helped with the 3d model for this crazy eye bit that is all evil ISP logos (Verison, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T) combined, and we began prepping for the EAE Open House.

There’s still tons to do before the end of the semester, and even some to do after that, but spirits are high! Or delusional due to lack of sleep, I can’t tell which.

 

Weeks 13 & 14 – New stuff, no stuff, and leftover stuffing

Week 13 we started some crazy shiiiiiit. We changed up how the levels work, changed how the ping behaves, added more art stuff, changed effects, and had some meetings.

After the various meetings from the previous weeks, feedback from professors and friends, and several “Let’s Play” videos, we decided to reevaluate our level design and the ping ability. Tony pitched a non-linear approach to designing levels in which we would have multiple paths leading to a main area where the boss would be. Checkpoints would be “tethers” that are connected to parts of a level that would unlock the boss area from the “paywall”. This new approach means we would be designing smaller experiences and connecting them to each other via clever hallways and large rooms. It’s kind of semi-procedural, only we choose which pieces go where instead of the computer doing it.

Kyle pitched an interesting iteration on the ping ability as I mentioned last post, which we fully implemented this week. More playtesting is necessary, but I myself am not a fan of it. I’m admittedly not great at my game as it is, but then you have to pay attention to a moving effect while in motion and it’s just too much and I end up not using it. Which is fine, as long as we are not punishing the player for not hitting it on the “reload” I don’t care. Reward for skill, don’t punish for lack thereof I think.

This post also contained the week of Thanksgiving, during which I did zero work. It was nice to step away from school for a little while, it made me realize that I’m not dangerously close to burnout, I am neck deep in it. Between stressing about the game and when the IGF judges are going to play it, to going bonkers over my environment project and how little work I’ve actually done on that front, to EAE Open House quickly approaching, it’s all come down and while I’m not drowning, I’m certainly struggling to keep my head above water. I continue to rely on my friends and family for support, which is really great they are willing to do these things for me. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough, but it comes in waves I suppose. But the semester is almost over, one big push to the end!

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Weeks 11 & 12 – Post IGF, a build among us, and comfort food for finals.

Yet another dual post. Seems to be the norm these days. I’m fighting a bit of burnout, so this will be a post about all the cool stuff that has happened in the last couple weeks.

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To celebrate our IGF submission and to blow off some steam before doing our post-mortem, Tina had the brilliant idea of party hats, RY glasses (Imma let you finish Kanye, but Retro Yeti had the best of use those shades ever), and a pinata. We went outside, hit some stuff, and had a good ol’ time.

 

After that, the painful part. The post-mortem. What worked, what didn’t work, and what we can do differently. Here’s a little of what that looked like:Photo Nov 04, 9 55 04 AM

 

After the post-mortem, we got to work on the list for the next sprint, the deadline being the EAE Open House on December 12. As you can see, the art list is quite intense. Doable, but intense.

Photo Nov 04, 11 21 47 AM (1) Photo Nov 04, 11 21 52 AM (1)

 

One of the things that have made us so successful as a team is that we are probably the epitome of agile. We have almost no documentation, we abandoned Hansoft and any form of electronic task management weeks ago, and for the most part the only time the team is in the same room is during class. And yet everyone has a deep understanding of what our game is, the engine, their current tasks, and even what everyone else is doing. Even though we aren’t all in the same room, the entire team is really diligent about working outside of class. I think the only time I haven’t seen anyone else on Slack (our team communication tool) is at like 6am. And it’s not even in-engine things that are happening, there’s design stuff, research, concept work, learning new software, social media tracking, all kinds of stuff. But that is what is necessary to get this game up to where it needs to be, and we are committed to doing that. Which is a really good feeling when everyone is on board.

This week also saw some design revisions, Kyle has been hard at work designing a way to make the foresight ability – now referred to as the Ping – a more useful and beneficial ability. The new idea is the ability would go out and then come back to the player, behaving as a real “ping” might when testing internet speeds. The new feature that Kyle added is similar to the active reload ability in Gears of War, so when the ping comes back, if you hit it at just the right moment, you are rewarded with a larger range of revealed tiles. So far it’s pretty neat, I can’t wait to playtest it.

We also had a significant amount of press in the last two weeks including two Let’s Play videos (Here and Here), President Obama announced his support for Net Neutrality which resulted in some traction for us, and we made some media appearances on Radio From Hell and at the Pushbutton Summit (pics below).

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So, to recap, it’s been a good couple of weeks post-IGF, we look forward to getting new features implemented to show off during EAE Day. ūüėÄ

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weeks 9 & 10 – More dual posts, sleep is for the weak, and the beauty that is the Pie.

Another dual post this week. The only real thing I can say about the two weeks is that we went full tilt into the IGF submission. We worked a crazy amount of hours, weekends, evenings, into the wee morning hours to get everything together. I tasked the art team with level dressing, shader polish, and animation polish, all of which were completed with stunning results.

Brenton and Matt worked on the trailer animation with Unreal’s Matinee system, which I am so impressed with. Everything in that trailer was done in engine and it looks amazing. We went from a storyboard to full trailer in just two weeks, I am so so proud of Brenton, Kyle, and Matt for all their hard work, and to our new addition Keaton Anderson, sound guy extraordinaire for the wonderful soundtrack. Here’s the final version:

Some amazing design decisions were made in the last few weeks as well. The first one was we decided that all slow tiles will now be fired from the enemy, instead of residing in the levels automatically. The enemy uses the same firing system as before, but instead of focusing on both firing ahead and at the player, it predicts where the player might go and fires ahead of them to cover the area in slow tiles. This forces the player to look forward and be a bit more strategic about how they move. We also added the ability to clear the slow tiles by activating a counter ability. So if the player can negate the slow tiles to maintain speed and flow. Both abilities are still limited.

The other big design decision was to add the option for 3rd person view. We played through it just for funsies last week, and people in the lab were pretty interested in what it looked like. We playtested it out with a few people and it was about a 60/40 split in favor of 3rd person.

What’s interesting about this is that it’s reinforcing some patterns that have been emerging about our game. It appears that we have two types of players – the speed runners and the platformers, and there are different sets of expectations from both types of players. While it’s not impossible for either type of player to play the game, there are definitely things that make the experience more enjoyable. Adding 3rd person perspective made it a much more enjoyable experience for our platformer-inclined players. It’s just easier for them to orient the player in world and make the jumps and such. So we added the ability to play as 3rd person.

Prepping for the IGF submission was probably the most fun I’ve had not sleeping. It was an astounding amount of work, but my team should really be commended for making the process actually fun. We are now fully submitted for the Independent Games Festival Student Showcase, which feels amazing and terrifying at the same time. We will still be doing weekly builds to improve on the game, and we are so excited to start receiving feedback as we move forward.

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Weeks 7 and 8 – Dual posts, crippling [insert emotion], and grilled spleen.

13 Days to IGF Submission

One post for two weeks. Yep, it’s been that kind of month…

We are in full-blown alpha, the crazy stuff with the mechanics and gameplay and level flow have been mostly worked out, no onto the hard work. We started the week by toying around with “juicy” effects as per some feedback.

Kyle, Sidd, and Brenton worked on getting the effects for the floor tiles and the enemy attack up and running, with beautiful results, I might add.

kT2Ebua shadershit2

Joe worked on an amazing shader that activates with the foresight ability. He’s a mad genius when it comes to that kind of stuff. Cory and I worked on getting the square kit together for the levels. There are quite a few unique pieces, Cory is quite brilliant at kit construction.

Fall break came around and I spent some time away from my desk to refresh and decompress. Then I got screamingly ill from sitting in airplanes and lost two days of work. Which was not great.

Thursday we all got together and the first thing I hear when I walk in the door ¬†is “we gotta change the game.” Naturally, I freak out a bit, but it was just a pitch to change the game name back to 404sight because of some feedback. The reasoning was silly, but in the end no one cared either way, so we went back to 404sight. So yay! Name changes!

Then we got back to work. I ran around importing my kit into Unreal, checking animations, giving feedback, talking to people about how stuff worked in-world, basic narrative stuff, and attempting to get some art into a level. I was more or less successful on those fronts.

I was able to get to dressing the first level with the kit. The kit works beautifully, as you can see in this brief walkthrough (more to come later).

After making sure that stuff worked, I went to task on a couple items for the team – a storyboard for the intro for Brenton and Matt, and a poster for the game (which in all honesty is an assignment for art class, but we needed one for the IGF submission anyway). The storyboard was actually pretty fun to put together. I wrote a short outline on the plane, but getting the visuals in helped me get a better idea how to introduce the world to the player. Here’s a super brief preview. Brenton and I will be putting the thing together in Unreal 4’s Matinee program, which is looking pretty neat.

 

 

IntroStoryboard

The poster took me quite a bit longer than the storyboard, I wanted it to be reminiscent of the old-style movie posters such as Star Wars and Blade Runner. The concept is there, but the execution is weak, I wish I was a better digital painter. Ah well, I still think it’s cool.

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Less than two weeks to the IGF deadline. It’s going to be balls to the wall from here on out, I expect my posts may become more and more truncated, but perhaps I can just throw a video together with what we’re doing. As always, you can also follow @404Sight or www.404sight.com for more updates to the game that I may have missed.

 

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Week 6 – This silly thing we call alpha, SO many boxes, and a hoppy IPA.

This week was a mad dash to Alpha. Thank god my art team kicks ass and are super good at their jobs. Joe and Cory plowed through the environment kits for using in multiple levels, Joe placed a bunch of the assets in level two, and it looked fantastic. We need a few more assets for the V sequence of environments, and we need to get to work on the square shape assets for the kit.

My work this last week encompassed everything from UI, to environments, to character, to taking feedback. First things first, I put together the basic outline for the game’s menu system using Unreal 4’s experimental UI system UMG. It’s buggy as hell, but simply amazing in it’s functionality. I’m very excited to see the full release with 4.5. Anyway, I also laid down some rough textures on the character model (see gallery images). This was a first pass and will require some tweeking during alpha. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out initially though. I will do some other studies just to see which ones work best. The only other remaining items on the alpha checklist were smaller items that I was able to complete quickly.

The big task for me this week was to add enclosures and skybox stuff for the levels. The level designers simply added the floor tiles and walls where the design lead them, thus we had lots of floating platforms and areas. For the feedback event on Friday, we wanted to have something that looked more complete than floaty platforms and incomplete walls. So I set out to build enclosures into all the levels. All artwork below is simply reusing unreal cube assets to dress the levels, but the effect on the overall feel of the levels is striking. Suddenly it feels like a more complete tangible game world, which is very exciting. Add that to the environmental kit work Joe did earlier, and suddenly things started coming together!

The week was a bit of a crunch to get through to the friday feedback party. Not a lot of sleep was had last week, but in the end it was worth it. The feedback party went very well, as far as the people giving feedback at my station, it was all quite consistent and encouraging. We have a few level problems that can be quickly solved, the slow tiles were difficult for people to read and understand what they do, and over half the players didn’t understand the negative feedback associated with spamming the ability. But everyone said the game was fun, and they were beginning to see the flow of it.

Ryan said something pretty interesting, that we currently have no way to differentiate the good players and the¬†great players. We have the fun timing thing, but we need some other skill for the player to use or not use to be really good at the game. I think we’ll discuss this at length this week and come up with some compelling ideas for the IGF submission 25 days. Wow. 25 days. I might go throw up now.

 

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Week 5 – names, alpha, and bologna with the wrapper on (ick).

5 Days To Alpha
33 Days to IGF Deadline

This week saw a major shift in the gameplay. The old way the game played was the player clicked to revel what the tiles do, but we changed it this week so that the ability not only reveals the tiles, it also activates what the tiles do. So when the player runs through the levels, all tiles are just regular boring tiles until the player uses the ability, then all the tiles activate and the player can use the expanded mechanics.

We came to this decision because a majority of the playtesters responded with complaints about constantly spamming the ability, but not really having any incentive to do so. Thus the idea to make it activate the world around you instead of just reveal it. So far, it’s increased the difficulty of the levels, which has been fun, and has lead to some interesting level design choices. Playtesting will be super important this week, I can’t wait to see the feedback.

Tony also figured out how to animate textures on the tiles and add sprite sheets. It adds a little extra juice to the whole tile effect. Here’s an example with fast tiles, and jump tiles with trajectory lines:

I also spent some time on the enemy stuff this week, a few designs were approved and I modeled them.

enemy3 enemy 2 enemy1

Poorly. Thank the gods for Cory who fixes my stuff. We went with the third design, which James was able to animate in the scene to follow and attack the player.

I also did some concept art for how the premonition ability might look in-game:

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Thursday was also a big day for us because we decided on a name! I am super proud to present FORESIGHT 404!

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We started with 404sight, but after some feedback from the faculty and cohort we went with Foresight 404. We feel the name is pretty cool, it’s unique for SEO, and it SCREAMS student game which is great.

So, looking forward to hitting alpha this week, there’s still lots to do before we hit it. So here’s to the big push forward!

 

 

 

 

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Week 4 – on cones, accessibility, and ghosts.

11 Days To Alpha
40 Days to IGF Deadline

Many things happened this week. Most of them involved research. The first was pretty rad actually, Tony came back from the weekend with some feedback that his colorblind friends couldn’t play the game at all. This led to a conversation about making the game friendly for our colorblind friends on multiple spectrums.

Tina actually did her class project in the User Experience class about this very subject, so it was easy for her to pull up her sources. In addition to her resources, I found a really great article on Kotaku about the challenges from a colorblind player, and the games that attempt to make an enjoyable experience for colorblind players.

One thing I am¬†very interested in doing is¬†making the color palette usable to folks with green/red color anomalies (Deuteranomaly and¬†Protanomaly respectively). While they can’t see the colors fully, there is a difference in how they see the colors. This is helped by keeping the different colors in high contrast with each other.

Full color test (full color vision)

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Green anomalous color test

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Red anomalous color test
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The color tests are ok, there seems to be enough differentiation in the color to be fairly readable to a colorblind player. But this is clearly not enough. One thing that can help colorblind players differentiate between colored areas is adding some kind of symbol or texture. Since we were planning on doing this anyway to help players understand what the different tiles are supposed to do, it seemed like a very easy thing to implement for our colorblind players as well.

Coming up with a symbol library proved to be somewhat difficult however. Last week I posted some concepts for the tiles, but they were all a bit complicated and couldn’t easily be implemented for our build. So I came up with a super simple iconography to use.

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This won’t be the official iconography, but it is simple enough to use for now. We ended up switching the circle and triangle symbols based on feedback.

Next up I spent some time concepting out the massive enemy dominant. It is supposed to be a thing visible from anywhere in the level that directs the player to the final location, which will be somewhere inside the enemy. During the later levels, the enemy will be shooting things out and destroying parts of the places you’ll be running.

 

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Destruction concept. Stuff on the right is unclaimed space, stuff on the left is claimed space that has been “fixed” by the enemy

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Enemy concepts and organizational flow of claimed spaces