This is Where the Story Ends! — Hostile Territory Reaches the Finish Line on a High Note!

This is my final blog post as a graduate student in the EAE program, and to say the least, our team and game have both ended on top!

This past week was our final EAE Day. We prepared our game and setup it up for its final go around as a student game. What happened next was surreal. First to play our game were industry professionals. The professionals that played our game were surprised at how well our game played and noted how much fun they were having playing it. A few people that came from WildWorks even commented that it was the best game they’ve ever played during an EAE Open House — their words, not mine. So please no hate mail lol.

Afterward the industry professionals crack at playing HT, the doors were open to the public. The game proved to be popular as it was with the industry professionals. As a result, we had lines of people playing our game — and even had several play for hours. The game was a huge hit and people regaled at the simplicity of the design, yet deep gameplay it provided. EAE Day was a resounding success for our game. People loved it! And we were so proud that our game brought so much joy to the people that played it.

Thursday brought our thesis presentation. This would be the moment that we would present our game and defend our design decisions while at the same time facing rigorous questions about the challenges we faced. Since as Lead Designer I had a large part in the presentation, I put in countless hours to ensure it was delivered well. Early that morning, we reconvene as a team in order to practice our presentation. After a couple of dry runs, we made some edits to our presentation and we were finally ready to go.

What followed was perfection. We delivered our presentation without a hitch. At the end even the faculty commented that they wished that the presentation could’ve been recorded to use for future cohorts. Afterwards, the faculty asked us questions about the game and especially how we overcame the challenges we faced last semester. We addressed them honestly and openly. We informed them that we used the challenges as a learning opportunity and thus were able to evolve our process. As many questions as they asked, as many kudos they provided for our team. They were very proud that we were able to come together in spite of our challenges and in the end created a fun multiplayer game. They even noted how they were going to use our game to demonstrate to future students how you can iterate to make a fun game without the need to make a large, overcomplicated game.

It was a sweet ending to our time in the program. Although we had our challenges, our ups and downs as a team, we were able to overcome them and produce an enjoyable game. It is all you can dream of as student game designer: to make a game that people enjoy. And it was a wonderful journey with the people on my team. They worked hard and deserved the kudos they received this semester. We started slow and had to face giants, but in the end we stuck together and were successful in finding the fun in our game.

At this point, my writing is meandering. The exhaustion of 4-years (which includes the two years I spent as a PhD student) has finally overwhelmed me. But I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. I learned a ton in my time in the program. I also believe I am a better person as a result. The challenges I faced as a producer and designer allowed me to learn how to grow as well as how to better work with people. And I also learned to never give up! We struggled last fall but never gave into it. Rather than turning on each other, we trusted the core ideas in the design and worked tirelessly until the game became something we enjoyed. Ultimately, we were able to overcome the challenges, which made it possible for us to focus on making the game better.

Well that’s a wrap. But it’s not the end. As I move forward working for Disney Interactive as an industry professional, the journey is only beginning. Although my time in the EAE is over, the memories and relationships I’ve formed will follow me for years to come. And thanks for reading.

And go download the game already! http://www.desura.com/games/hostile-territory

Submission Approved! Our Baby is All Grown Up

The big news for our game this week is that Desura officially approved our submission. After the long year and half of working on this game, it is finally ready for primetime. The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally upon us. We’re releasing Hostile Territory into the wild. As a result of being accepted for submission, we spent much of the week fine tuning and including the new tutorial in our game for our launch day build. We also worked on the game’s music so that as players come closer together, the more intense the music becomes. Owen has done an amazing job with the music and this easily shows why he works at EA as a sound designer. The game has come a long way this semester and we have so much to be proud of as a team. It’s exciting to see it finally available for people to enjoy!

This week we also spent much of our time putting fine tuning our thesis defense. On Tuesday, we presented a mock version of our thesis defense to the projects faculty. Although we were told last minute we would use the time normally reserved for our All-Hands Meeting as an opportunity for a mock thesis presentation, and at the time I wasn’t too happy about it, it was definitely worth our time since we received useful feedback. In addition, it was great that the faculty provided a 1 on 1 feedback rather than as a whole class. This made the setting intimate and the feedback much easier to receive. It was a great opportunity to evaluate what we roughly put together and determine what we can do in the next week and a half to improve it.

Well it is almost finished. Next week I will be writing my final blog post. As I come close to this end I am reminded of the long journey. As Jose noted today, these blogs are for us to reflect on what we have done. With that said, I hope to one day, long in the future, read some of these blogs and be reminded of this challenging, but yet enjoyable journey. And I hope in my distant future self that I will remember these wonderful times with the friends I have been fortunate to have made along the way. I’ll definitely drink to that!

Stay tuned to the final installment. The journey has come full circle.

The Finish Line is in Sight

This past week was all about finalizing our game. Specifically, we focused on submission and composing the final two presentations. To begin, we finally received the specifics as to what Desura wanted changed for our game to pass submission. Luckily, the main issue noted by Desura is to include a tutorial to help gamers understand the gist of our game. Topher has taken the initiative to create a video detailing how to play our game Hostile Territory. We will implement the video this Tuesday with the necessary UI so we can resubmit our game and hopefully publish it before we graduate.

Also this week I spent much of my time working on our final two presentations. The first presentation is our last All-Hands meeting. Before Thursday, I took on the task for creating and presenting the entire presentation. Since the theme of the presentation is around the game going gold, I purposely made the presentation around the evolution of our game to what it is today. It was my desire to center the the content around the growth of our game and not necessarily about us as students.

However, last minute we learned that the faculty desired this to be a dry-run for our thesis presentation. At first we were panicked since we had a presentation already and as a result of their change of heart, we needed to create a new one  to accommodate our faculty’s late request. Luckily, Allen was able to negotiate with Jose that we continue with the presentation I had composed. But to satisfy the faculty’s demands, instead of only me presenting, all the leads would have an opportunity to speak about their areas role in the evolution of our game. I am happy for this compromise since I spent hours working on the presentation and would not have wanted much of it thrown away. I’m am very happy the faculty worked with us so we can not only satisfy their desires, but also allow us to give a good presentation.

This week we also continued conceptualizing the thesis presentation. My goal is to center the thesis presentation less about our game but more about us as students. It became a hot topic on Tuesday. So much so, that even Ryan added his two cents on how we should go about creating it. His suggestion was to have everyone on our team speak when addressing their specific areas instead of just the producers providing the bulk of the presentation and then having the rest of the team individual speak about his or her contribution to the final game. Even though I was opposed to it at first since it would take a bit more time to organized, it seemed to be the best option to allow everyone a moment to shine. As a result, we decided to compose our presentation around Ryan’s game plan. Well played Ryan, well played.

The program is reaching its climax and we are at the cusp of its completion. My only regret at this point is that I wish we had more time to work on our game. This semester our game finally became a game we can be proud of. But instead of feeling like a complete game, it’s merely a vertical slice of how cool our game could be in the long run. It’s there, we just need more time to make it a complete experience. we found the fun. Even my fellow cohort has been having enjoying playing it. Just wish we had more time to make it go from fun to memorable. So close.

Well stay tuned for my last two blog posts. The journey is just about over. I need to invest in many tissue boxes soon.

The Week That Was: Getting Harder to Find Something to Write About Edition

As we reach the final days for completing our time in the program, it is becoming more difficult to cover a specific topic. Since our game is almost golden and ready to ship, there is not much major updates or significant changes to relate. Therefore, instead of relating information like in past posts, this week,I will relate the week’s happenings like an old RKO news brief — that analogy predates me too!

Well this week we focused on juicing up our game as well as bug squashing. Our artist Rob created a new jump animation as well as added some FX to the jump. He also is creating a disintegration of the avatar when it dies. So far, these changes are making the game appear more solid than it did a month ago.

I began focusing this past week on the all-hands meeting by creating the presentation around our gold build. This presentation will focus on celebrating the growth of the game over the past year. While also working on this presentation, we continued to solidify our thesis game presentation. The thesis celebration, unlike the final all-hands presentation, will cover not just on the game, but us as students. I want to present the challenges we faced, what we did to overcome them, and in the end what we learned through the process of making a published game. The central idea is to celebrate us as students and the lessons we will take into the professional industry.

And to begin relating our journey and what we have done, on Tuesday we will have everyone on the team bring in a slide with a few details on what they contributed as well as what they learned as a result of our time in the program. What we hope to accomplish through the creation of the slide a few weeks before the thesis presentation, is to allow us the opportunity help everyone on the team contemplate what each person has done, eliminate any redundancies with everyone’s part in the presentation, and help focus the content in a 30-second to one-minute timeframe. Thesis presentation is in motion so stay tuned.

I can’t believe I was able to write so much this week. Well I hope next week I will present something more significant. But for now, as we reach the end, we are quickly reaching the end and that is making for a smooth ride towards the finish. It’s almost over and the final three weeks will reveal how far we have come in over one year’s time.

Camera Obscura: Finding the “Zero Point”

One of the ongoing debates on our team is finding the most effective camera for our game. What we have debated for months is the appropriate camera angle in order for the player to best see the playing field and the opposing player. The difficulties with a camera lies in how to translate it technically to achieve the feel we desire for the game. The two traditional cameras in a shooter genre entail a camera that is locked to where the player’s aiming point and a free camera that locks onto the opponent when aimed at the nearest enemy. Since our game is competitive multiplayer shooter, we decided to go with a locked camera perspective as used in many games in the genre. This wasn’t just based on a whim. We studied many third-person shooters such as Gears of War, Minimum, and Sunset Overdrive to understand how they implemented their camera as well as how it felt overall. They all use a camera that is locked to the weapon used so that aiming is emphasized rather than necessarily viewing the environment.

Aiming shoots towards roof rather than being centered

However, what this caused is a difficulty for seeing the opposing player. Since the player’s camera is locked onto their weapon’s perspective, at times the player will lose track of the opposing player. A person on our team felt that an independent camera would help alleviate this issue. I, on the other hand, felt that the issue lied more in aiming. Aiming at the time wasn’t connected to what I called the zero point. The zero point pertains to centering the aiming so that the player can see an ideal perspective of the playing field while maximizing shooting projectiles towards the opposing player. The problem with our game is that when the player is dropped into the level, the camera suggests the ideal camera. However, this ideal perspective depicts aiming that shoots up at the relative top of the cylinder (see the above image). After playtesting the game ad nauseam, I noticed that it took a large degree to move the camera up and down since the player is aiming high. This also caused the camera to see less of the playing field when attempting to capture tiles closer to the player since it was pulled in to see tiles closer and the opposing player.

As a result, I proposed to first zero the aiming to the center using the noted image. This was meant with some resistance as it wasn’t seen as a large enough change to overcome the issues with the camera. But like I noted in a previous post, it appears when there is an issue, there is a tendancy to focus on the technical aspects rather than first understanding what the ideal user experience is, in this case specifically how aiming should feel. Using this idea once again, as Lead Designer I wanted to first capture the feel we wanted for the player. Afterwards, I worked with Skip our engineer to create this ideal user experience. As a result, we centered the zero point at a point that both gavethe player a perspective of the playing field while lessening camera movement. In other words, the aiming was moved to the center rather than to the relative top of the cylinder.

This change ended up providing the player with more perspective of the playing field and at the same time reducing the degree of moving the camera up or down. It made the camera movements therefore less jarring and helped better track the opposing player. To make it even better for the user, we moved in the camera in so as to connect better with the player’s avatar. For us, it finally made the experience more beneficial and enjoyable for the player. What we’ve been trying to accomplish with the camera seems to finally be upon us.

Moving forward with the final weeks with our game, we have a few surprises that will make the experience feel more complete. So as usual, stay tuned.

Submission & Other Happenings This Week

Everything is beginning to move fast. The close we get to the end of our time in the EAE program, the faster it seems to go. OK, now onto this week’s happenings.

On Thursday, we finally submitted our game for publishing. We decided to submit our game to Desura, which is a popular hub for indie and student games. This is a great outlet for us to publish our game as well as a great platform to show off it off to future employers and gamers. Hopefully the process for approval doesn’t take too long so that we can make our launch date of April 28th, which is also our final EAE Open House to show off our game.

Furthermore, this week I started creating a “flat” level for our game. I doing my best to create a flat level that takes us beyond the cylinder and adds to the game. I really desire that our game feature another level before we all go our separate ways post graduation. As a result, I am doing my best to see how well a flat level will work within our core mechanics. Stay tuned to this goal.

We are also contemplating including network in a our final, launch day build. We had a great discussion on Thursday as to how this would look design wise. I believe that a simple network of a host/client relationship between players would work great for our game as well as make the game more enjoyable overall. Hopefully we would be able to surpass the technical limitations and time constraints we are all under — we graduate on May 8th, CRAZY!

Well, here we are in the final weeks in the program. Like I noted in previous posts, it is amazing to think the journey is about to come to an end. I have learned so much about myself and the process for making a game. Noting my time here and how much I’ve grown as a designer and producer, there is a great reason why we are the best graduate game development program as noted by the Princeton Review (You can read about our #1 ranking here).

And here is a link of me and my team featured on the local Fox 13 News regarding our #1 ranked program here at the University of Utah. Enjoy!

Stockholm Syndrome?: The Week That Was

This week felt strange to me. On Tuesday, as we sat discussing GDC experience for those who were there, it was the first time I felt sad that this long journey was is coming to end. Maybe I’m experiencing a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, finally identifying with my captors, or just feeling solidarity with those who’ve survived this long journey, whatever the case may be I felt sorrow that the experiences I shared with some of the best people I have been lucky enough to enjoy will all soon be over. But no matter what the depressing feelings meant, it steamrolled my week.

Well this post will not be about saying goodbye just yet. Hell, we still have a game to finish. To get back to our game, one of the accomplishments this week is that we refined our camera. Finally, people spoke positively about what we were doing with it and felt it was making our game better. Mark this week was very adamant to fix our camera and we finally are reaching a happy medium that makes this experience feel much better.

This week we also began making plans for publishing. As producers, we have discussed the idea of publishing in the past and with the team, but now we commenced with finalizing these plans. At this time, we are going to shoot for the online hub Desura to publish our game. We are hoping to officially begin the publication process on the week we return from Spring Break. It is our goal to get through the process and ultimately publish our game at the end of this semester.

We also started scoping out what we want to present for our thesis defense. Since all the producers on our team are now full-time in the industry, I pushed for us beginning to imagine how we would like to approach it. I, along with Topher, outlined how we could present our game to the faculty and fellow students. We want to use this outline as an evolving template so that we can create the best thesis defense presentation we can.

Well the week that was is bringing forth the future that will be. Crazy to think of how far we have come and how much further we still need to go. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Please continue following my posts as the journey reaches it’s finale.

 

While the Cat’s Away, this Mouse Worked!

While everyone was at GDC last week, I remained behind. Not because I wanted to stay home and take a break to play games waiting to still be open on my shelf. Instead, I was fighting the good fight for Disney Interactive. Sadly, I can’t reveal what I am working on, anything fun and exciting I get to do. No, I am under legal contract to bite my tongue. Nevertheless, I worked hard like a 24/7 Battlefield 4 server last week. Since last December, I’ve occupied a position vacated by a producer. This intern thus is a supersaver production assistant for the Disney Infinity franchise and hopefully this hard work has been noted along the way.

Well hopefully tomorrow everyone will regale me with stories of GDC and how much fun they had. Although I did miss going to that awesome conference, it is great to be working in the industry and seeing how the sausage is actually made. No matter what the future holds, I hope that what I learning as a student and as a professional will aid me for the rest of my career.

One Little Change Can Make a Whole Lot of Difference

It’s crazy how just changing one small aspect of your game can make a huge difference. Recently, when we inserted our new avatar into our thesis game, all the critiques we received regarding the shooting mechanic evaporated. What seemed to occur is that our previous avatar exacerbated the shooting mechanic to the point that some of our faculty argued that we should remove our shooting altogether. Nevertheless, my perspective was that the avatar created problems with the mechanic rather than the mechanic itself being the culprit, and if we were able to iterate on its design of the avatar, the mechanic itself would be fixed. Ultimately, the mechanic wasn’t the problem, but the avatar made it appear as if it was a problem.

What this taught me is how much in design we need to pay attention to what is going on within the game. A person can play the game and argue that one aspect of it is not working well. They may even argue that the mechanic needs to be eliminated altogether. In their assessment, from a surface level they would be correct in observing an issue with the game. However, as designers need to probe the design to see what is causing the problem and work on the underlying issue rather than merely addressing the visible problem. In our game, the shooting mechanic was broken. But it was the avatar that was causing this issue rather than the shooting mechanic itself. If we would have merely tackled the shooting mechanic, we would have overlooked the real cause of the problem. Therefore, being observant of the design helped us to fix the real problem with shooting that in the end allowed us to fix the observable problem caused by it.

Well everyone is heading to GDC and hopefully people will stop by the EAE booth and play our game. Hopefully people will enjoy the game and it exposes all the hard work we put into it.

Creating a Better User Experience with our Game’s Character

Since I began making video games, I have found viewing art assets before implementing them in the game a challenge. What I mean by this is that art assets may look great on “paper”, but when they are finally imported into the game they may not fit in with the design and ultimately the game’s experience. This occurred recently when we finally implemented our new character only to find issues with it in game.

For one, we designed the new character to shoot projectiles from its chest. The reasoning for this change was that our previous character threw minions to capture territory. Since we changed themes as well as pushed our camera back to see more of the playing field, we decided the effort to create a wonderfully detailed minion was not worth our time. Therefore, we decided to redesign the character and the position in which it shoots projectiles.

As we moved forward, our artist conceptualized the character reminiscent of the borg from Star Trek. Using this as inspiration, he created long tubes that ascended high above the character’s head. Initially, I very much liked the character and it’s look, especially when looking at it up close. However, when we finally inserted the alpha version of the character into the game, the player experienced difficulties viewing the projectiles being fired because the tube-like objects above the character’s head obstructed seeing the projectiles. As a result, the game and the shooting mechanic felt broken and unresponsive.

Second, since the camera was pulled back to show more of the environment, it was very difficult to view the detail on the character. The character looked great up close as noted above, but from afar the detail was wiped away. And it even played against seeing our character since the detail muddled its appearance. It just didn’t look or feel right.

Taking the problems into account, we decided to make a slight pivot on our character and simplify its design. This would ensure that it would communicate more effectively to the player. Now we could assure that the communication problems would be lessened moving forward and thus make the shooting mechanic feel more fluid and natural. Hopefully for GDC we will have the new character in place.