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Spring 2015 Week 2 – Commitment, complications, and sriracha BBQ sauce.

Well, we didn’t get into IGF. It would be inaccurate to say the team and I aren’t a little disappointed, but honestly, we aren’t making the kind of game that IGF is interested in. The blow was dampened a bit by the insane amounts of press we’ve been getting this week, as well as the other competitions we are in the running for right now. IGF would have been amazing, but not being a finalist in no way has dampened our spirits or commitment to making this game amazing.

Implementing the new hotness is being a bit of a bear. Joe was able to figure out a new decal shader that pretty much removed our need for the ground level of our game to be tile-based. It’s a brilliant bit of tech that Joe figured out, however it did completely break the level metrics. There was some discussion then about adjusting current levels or creating new ones to match the metrics, we’ll probably have to figure the new numbers first and then make that call.

We had a visit from a potential new professor to the U by the name of Nick Montfort. He came by projects and gave some very interesting feedback about the game mostly in the form of visuals and looking to the experience of the internet to help inform the art style. Cool stuff, definitely good feedback.

I also did a final for the inhibitor model, we’ll wait to see what the team says about the final version.

inhibitorV3

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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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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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Week 3 – feature lock, bosses, and candy skulls

18 Days To Alpha
47 Days to IGF Deadline

Busy week for Team Retro Yeti. On Tuesday we feature locked. We decided at the beginning of the meeting to get rid of the action mechanic. This would have included things like switches and hidden rooms, anything that would require extra skills from the player. In the end we decided we didn’t want to have to design around these things and they seemed a bit out of place with the core gameplay.

So we feature locked the aspects of everything except the checkpoints and the enemy, those are a bit of a longer conversation. We also had a mini conversation about the narrative wrapper of the game. I gave some narrative notes that I had thrown together, and the team seemed to agree that it was a good direction. The TL:DR of that is the PC is a digital denizen who sees her world being taken over and “corrected” by big bad that has infiltrated the system. What was once beautifully chaotic is becoming stark, sterile, and locked away. The PC must use her ability to avoid capture and defeat the big bad, freeing the system of control.

Based on that little tidbit, Tony put together a level aesthetic that we were then able to build a level by level feature list. This was extremely useful in helping James, Tony, and Brenton design levels that made sense and provided flow for the character. We still have some features to work out, the enemy is still a bit nebulous, the win state and fail states are up in the air, and the actual ability needs to be tuned.

We messed around for a little bit with a projectile ability after receiving feedback from Jose and Ryan, but in the end it only felt good to use when the player is in the air after a launch. The problem we were trying to solve was the ability didn’t have a far enough radius to reveal where the player was going to land until just before they hit the ground. The projectile solved that, but felt off during the rest of the gameplay. So we went back to the radius-based ability and are continuing to develop and tune that system.

 

I also pitched the revised art style to the art team. Because of the deadline is 57 days, and art lock 43 days from now, I was concerned about getting everything into the game that we needed. Joe and Cory have been cranking out the kit super fast, and that is great, but there was a lot of detail work that had to happen to achieve the original vision. So my proposed revision of the game is to take the same aesethetics of the closed-in city streets and abstract it. Taking out the literal storefronts and balconies and replacing them with a high density of shapes still has the same effect, but leaves us more room to play with the modularity of the level and level kits. I also feel like it creates some interesting contrast between the “real” world and what the ability reveals.

I also proposed the level by level aesthetic based on the proposed narrative. Basically, the style of the level goes from cluttered but beautiful geometry to minimalist, sterile environments. This is a metaphor for the overabundance of content and the curated, tightly controlled content. Here’s a detailed mood board to express what that looks like:

moodboard_Rev

 

I personally spent some time this week attempting to come up with some interesting tile configurations and icons to help the player understand what they might do. I’m playing with the idea of giving the player iconic feedback that is region and culture neutral so (hopefully) it can be played by many types of people. This is kind of harder than it seems, especially when it comes to arrows. There will probably be a future blog post all about arrows and all the problems they cause, but for now enjoy some concept art (not final).

tileConcepts

tileicons

 

 

There is still a bunch of work that needs to be done on the design front for both art and levels, but as of today, I feel like this thing is finally coming together. Next week we will be starting public playtests of the game so we can receive feedback and further refine the design, so stay tuned for that!

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F14 – Week Two – On more process, answers, and wrinkles.

If I do nothing, then nothing will happen

This is a phrase that became my personal motto after GDC 2014. I came back to school because not long ago I was not living the life I wanted. Due to a radical change in lifestyle four years ago, I decided that I’m not going to fuck around anymore by waiting for something to happen, I’m just doing it. The following blog post is very long, but I want to document everything my team and I are doing to make this thing great. Buckle up, there is no TL:DR.

After an amazing weekend of emotional breakdown, life course reevaluation, a metaphysical slap in the face, and recharged self-motivation, I realized we needed some process help with the game. We have done so many iterations of the game without knowing what the game is, but every time we are just going in circles because there’s no clear definition. What we needed for the game is to know what we are trying to do with it and what we want the player to experience. But how?! I started thinking about how I approach design in the broad sense.

All design solves a problem. For example, when I start to design a poster, the first thing I do is establish who the poster is for and what the poster needs to tell the viewer. From there I start to drill downward to get more and more specific details until I find an interesting and informative design.

Monday we decided to have an all hands design meeting. Most of the team was there, and they came prepared to work. Instead of pitching new versions of the complete game, I led everyone in an atomic design process. I asked them to scrap everything we had done up until this point, and we will just focus on what our game is about – the ability gives the player information.

The first panel, where we defined what kinds of things we wanted the ability to reveal

The first panel, where we defined what kinds of things we wanted the ability to reveal. This was just throwing things out and seeing what stuck.

We talked about what kinds of information we wanted to give our player. Everyone called out anything and every kind of information we could give our player. From there, we chose three things – safety, hazards, and action points.

Second panel, in which we detail out what specifically about the three things the ability reveals

Second panel, in which we detail out what specifically about the three things the ability reveals

We began brainstorming what these three things could mean in game. Each category had about 8-10 items that we were interested in exploring as mechanics. We narrowed those items down into two items per category – Safety – fast lanes and forward launch, Hazard – slow lanes and backward launch, action points – checkpoints and switches (a broad term we are using for anything that involves a separate set of skills besides running and jumping to accomplish).

2014-09-01 17.41.37

More drilldown into what our decided mechanics are and the natural progression outward into enemy and level design

From this data it seemed that everyone was on board with the idea of this being a runner. Which was good news because one of the things we didn’t know about the game was what kind of game it was. We then debated about having it be time trial or pressure from behind and it was decided we liked the idea of an enemy chasing the player. Which then spawned a great conversation about levels, checkpoints, and puzzles.

The purpose of this exercise was to get everyone on the same page regarding the game. Prior to that day we had just been tossing out gameplay scenarios without really understanding what we were trying to accomplish with this whole thing. I wanted everyone to walk out of this meeting knowing what we are building and why we are building it, but also to feel like it’s something they would play. Because what’s the point of all of this if we make a game no one wants to play?!

So the game is thus – the player uses the ability to reveal certain things about the level. The level has visible death areas (pits), and non-visible safe and hazardous areas. When the ability is used, the player can see the fast and slow lanes, forward and backward launch, as well as special action points where they will have to perform a specific action. The goal is to reach the end of the level without falling in the pit or being captured/eaten/whatever by the enemy.

To help clarify what all that could possibly mean, I put together a metric table listing out all of the mechanics in a fluff, easy, medium, hard, and impossible difficulties. Tony, James, and I started throwing in ideas as to what those different things might mean. The idea is that we can then take those metics, test them, and eventually shuffle them around to create new and interesting level designs. It’s a super useful tool I learned from Andrew (the  Ubisoft guy).

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 6.15.05 PM

Tuesday we had a couple design meetings regarding the enemy and levels, and we got to work. I talked to Joe and Cory about they game, and they were still unclear as to the game is, which was an indicator to me that more work needed to be done on getting everyone on the same page. Together we came up with a ridiculously wonderful razor – our game is Temple Run with Mario cart powerups and obstacles that are reveled by using Eagle Vision from Assassins Creed. But more than that we needed some kind of visual representation for what that means. So I created a concept screenshot for our game. Initial reactions were that this was very helpful.

abilitydemo

Green = fast lane, red = slow lane, black = pit (instadeath), blue = launch forward, orange = launch backward. Purple line represents the ability boarder

After class I went to go talk to our resident production bad ass Amy about how to further motivate our team. She had some very good suggestions that included creating a detailed alpha checklist as a kind of goal for the team to work toward. She said having a concrete goal (beyond “IGF submission deadline) can help rally the team and give us purpose. The other thing she suggested was to create an aesthetic style guide for the team to reference. This is the emotional story behind the game, what the player is supposed to feel while playing, skills they need to play, what the visuals can tell the player, etc. I already had the screenshot concept, so I solicited help from Tina to write the player story and create the new razor and the rest of the stylesheet items.

Brenton set the alpha checklist meeting for Thursday, and we are planning to feature lock the following Tuesday. Feature locking will provide the structure for the race to the end of October. I mentioned to Brenton that we should also choose someone to be the official megaphone of the game and the team so we avoid situations like what happened the Friday before. I nominated Tina, because she is already in the business of talking about our game to everyone, and she is a damn fine presenter.

Thursday rolled around and we hammered out the Alpha checklist. I had one more design change that I wanted to propose before we nailed it all down. I talked with Tony the night before about changing the camera of the game to first person. When I was putting together my alpha wish list, I listed out all of the different animations that we’d need for the IGF submission, and it seemed like a lot. This got me thinking about why we chose the third person camera, which initially was so the player could see the enemy chase them. But why would the player need to see the monster all the time, it should only be when the player is about to die that they should see the monster. Also it would be interesting to be able to convey proximity to the player by not showing the enemy, but instead having it effect the player’s ability to see the safe and unsafe areas. He didn’t hate the idea, and mentioned that it would solve many of the problems that we were currently having with the camera, also first person runners aren’t really a thing.

So we pitched it to the group. There was some pushback, and rightly so, this was a major change and it deserved discussion. Some concerns were that it’s not enough time to prototype, it changes the players relationship to the PC, and that the player may get bored with so little happening on screen. One of my biggest concerns was that it basically took out all of the animation in the game, leaving Kyle with not much to do on the animation front and therefore not much for his portfolio, which is a bummer and needs to be addressed.

Today we are in a good place. Level design is happening quickly, Tony created a mechanic test box so we can play with the different difficulty levels per mechanic, Cory and Joe have a kitbash going, the engineers are working their magic, Kyle designed the main character, the backlog is filling up, and we are kicking trash on the social media front. I am so so proud of my team right now, we were all so discouraged last friday, and we have a complete game a week later. It’s been rough, it’s been aggressive, but I feel like it was the only way to create this game and not disband this team. But I believe in us, and I believe we can make a unique, super fun game, and we are finally underway!

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Week One – on structuring time and the limitations of cheese

When I decided to go back to school, it was because I constantly feel like I’m need to learn more things. I’m self-taught in most things – design software, home improvement, web design – but it really helps to have a structure to what I’m trying to learn. Even through the chaos of the grad program, there’s still some basic goals to accomplish and steps to achieving that goal.

Week one was the first class for Game Arts I, Design I, and Rapid Prototyping. That on top of the kerfuffle the first week of school brings, prepping for comic con, a trip to Seattle for Pax, and pending surgery*.  Managing my time being an employee and a student is something of a challenge, the blur between my student time and staff time have pretty much been blurred together, for good or ill.  The minor crisis I’ve handled while on student time have been quick to resolve thankfully, so it’s not a big deal.

My team for rapid prototyping consists of Casey, Jinghui, Jinzhi, and Tina. The criteria for the game was that Amy and Corrinne have to like it. Basically women over 40, are busy, and like time management and puzzle games. When brainstorming, we started with an across the board idea – culture. Then we started to filter down to things all cultures have and love – food, music, sports. But all of those have been done before in other games. So we started getting a little more out there  and landed on parades. Parades are a cultural constant since the dawn of time. Each culture has them, each cultures recognizes their significance, and every culture has some unique feature to their parades.

We then started thinking about what might be fun about a game about parades. Immediately they time management was introduced, and we had our game. There was some brainstorming about other potential ideas, but we kept coming back to the parade. After a bit of refining, we came up with our game. Keep the audience happy by running a smooth parade. Simple, yet fun.

The mechanics are this – the user will chose the order of a series of parade items – marching band, celebrity marshall,  balloon, floats, and other units. Each item has a specific speed, recharge time, and audience reaction (this will be invisible to the user at this iteration). As the parade progresses, there will be three types of threats to the flow of the parade. Mechanical failure – the float breaks down, environmental hazard – potholes, broken fire hydrants, high winds, etc. and collisions – when two or more parade units collide. To keep the parade flowing and thus the audience happy, the user will have to repair, retrieve, or revive the busted units. They may do this in form of power-ups, but they will have to use them wisely as the power-ups will need time to recharge. Once the parade unit is back up and running, the user will have the option to use a positive reinforcement (ahem, bribe) power-up to increase audience approval, something like throwing candy, swag, fireworks, or having the Blue Angels do a flyover. Players will win when certain specifications noted at the beginning of the level are met. Things like “get 7 parade units across the finish line and have a 70% audience approval rating”. Achievements, more floats, and powerups will be unlocked at every level.

I’m kind of proud of how this game turned out. The design of it isn’t really anything new, but the theme of the game is really fun and absurd.

I roughed out the UI and a basic parade route for the pitch presentation, which was received very well. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time for concept work, but I’ve been working on that during the weekend. I’ve decided a style somewhere between Pixel People and Journey, so kind of soft geometric. Like a colorful low-poly with lovely rounded edges. We’ll see how that goes.

mapLayout

I’m focusing my time on getting a grid and two paths laid out for the engineers, they tell me it will take some time to get the coordinates just right as we are working on an isometric grid. I’ve also started putting together a sample level, complete with background art, environments, and parade units. So far I have two planned – hometown parade (easy), and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Difficult).

hometownTrackcitytrack-02

So now it’s all design and artwork for the game, I’m really excited to see what this is going to look like when all is said and done!

 

*For those not in the know, I have IgA Nephropathy and had a kidney transplant three years ago. Complications have occurred necessitating a stent to be placed in my plumbing and subsequently replaced every 6 months. It’s routine and outpatient, nothing crazy.