Finally There Were Two (& Boy It Wasn’t Easy!)

Well this week we finally got our game ideas down to two. As much as it appears effortless to write or even read this last sentence, in actuality it became a daunting task. So much so that I am trying to tie down these blurred memories in order to relate the week’s events. Nevertheless, I feel that the challenge presented this week is developing ourselves as a team and me as a producer.

On Tuesday we were tasked with taking down five ideas to three. In order to break these ideas, the data gathered from last week were used to help guide us. The twist to this was that the data would not provide the name of the game idea in order to distance personal feelings from the discussion. When my team received the survey data, we noticed that two games right away were clearly ahead of the rest. As a result, we quickly decided that these two would represent the final three. There were two other games, however, that were similar while one was clearly lower than the rest. Unfortunately the game that received the lowest score was my own. It represented a juicy and interesting topic (which I will save for the future), nonetheless I guess people felt it would be an interest game (as I have been told) but not for a thesis game.

The team erupted into a short debate trying to use the data to clearly show a winner between these similar two. In order to this, I and a fellow producer Allen attempted to use what we thought was the important aspects in the data that represented a good thesis game. Using this logic, we put “gameplay” and “juicy topic” at the top of our list and as a result we were able to quickly vanquish one more.

The survivors that were included in the final two included a game that utilized a device to defy gravity and solve puzzles, one that examined the ideas of waste, memories, and reincarnation; and the final game examined the idea of visualizing to the player senses other than sight. After we had decided on the three, we were tasked with making updated game documents for the three games.

On Thursday came the moment of truth. We needed to ax one of the ideas and begin pursuing, and ultimately prototyping, the final two. However, this proved to be a very difficult decision for our team. In order to eliminate one, we would first discuss it with our professors. Unfortunately, they were indifferent with these three ideas and offered only their thoughts on each one. This information began a discussion regarding the three games.

At first, the game about senses appeared to be the clear winner and it was decided it would be one of our last two. But as we began discussing this game later, the other two began to make their way pass them. Now the discussion turned into a horse race with each game appearing like the clear winner only to have the others catch up and pass.

One of the games that we were unsure of as a team during the day was the game Wasteland – i.e. the game about waste. Mark, our artist, took the idea and evolved it to the point where we began to formulate an interest game mechanic and idea for the game. The team began riffing off the idea to the point that no game was safe.

At this time we decided to administer a revote per se to see which game we felt would be safe. The game that made the list was the game, now named Inverse World, with the teleporting-type device. The game, as Bob our professor put it, sounded fun. It is a game that could easily be a game that could explode on Steam or on a next gen console. Plus, it would be easy to prototype right way. The game however did not have a clear hook that could extend to an IGF audience. Inverse World nonetheless made the cut since many felt it was fun, interesting, and could be iterated on to possibly make it worthy of an IGF finalist spot.

Because of this vote, the senses game, Out of Sight and Out of Mind, was no longer safe and it was between it and Wasteland as the second game. Our discussion of the two games continued for some time. Since it appeared the team was still divided, we decided to ask for our professor’s input. This proved to be similar to the earlier when we spoke to them for the reason that they were both split in the middle. They proposed, since us as a team liked both ideas, we could possibly work on three prototypes simultaneously and see which of the games we would eliminate based on the prototypes.

I, however, argued to my team that this could possibly hurt us in the long term since we would be focusing our energy and resources on three prototypes. I also expressed my fear that it could divide the team and further polarize us by dedicating our time to one of the three. Thus, I proposed that we should go forward with two and make the difficult decision to kill one. After a brief discussion, the game that appeared safe was no longer moving forward. Wasteland’s last minute surge because of Mark’s brilliant ideas for the game, helped propel it ahead. And at this moment we finally had our two.

I know I am very happy to have it down to two in spite of the fact that I really wanted Out of Sight and Out of Mind to move forward. The reason I am happy is that the team appears to be eager to begin work and the process of eliminating games appeared taxing on everyone. We have spent the last three weeks creating 100-games ideas and quickly working to slice them down to two. Exhausted and eager to work, we are now ready to move forward. And I am ready to move forward. It’s time to prototype!

Hitting the Curveball: Getting Down to Five Thesis Game Ideas

The past week was one of the most hectic and chaotic as we have experienced throughout our time in the program. So much so, that even though we typically invite each other to lunch after our projects class on Thursday, this time most of the cohort absconded. Tired became the theme on Thursday, but our hard work and passion reflected this need for rest. In this blog post, I intend to generate a personal narrative of the week’s events in order to present some of the challenges we faced with generating 100-game ideas for our thesis project and breaking them down to the top five.

Two Saturdays ago, we decided to get together as a team to break down our 100-game ideas. We spent the better half of the day working to realize what game we would all be passionate to work on and at the same time fit the criteria for the Independent Games Festival (IGF). As a result of our time fleshing out the ideas, we whittled them down into a top 28. These games consisted of not only interesting game ideas, but also themes we’d possibly explore. At this moment, we felt strong about our chances of making a great game.

On Tuesday, however, we were thrown a curveball that broke harder than most thrown by Clayton Kershaw. The curveball came in the form of the requirement to create a six page document for each of our five choices. These documents would be presented along with our game idea in less than 48-hours from when we were told of this necessity. At this point, we knew we needed to act fast to break our games down into five before the conclusion of class. This proved to be a challenge given that we were only left with an hour-and-a-half to reach this goal.

Consequently, we decided to go around the room pitching own ideas to our other classmates. This may not have been the best course of action since now we went back to whittling down the original 100-game ideas rather than a select few. After about a half-hour, we reconvened to share the feedback we received and afterwards vote on the best games. We worked tirelessly to get to the top five as quickly as possible to the point where we were 45-minutes passed the end of class and some of us were late to our afternoon classes.

Now we had our top five and we needed to compose the documents for each. This became a challenge organizing people to work on each game. And this was only exacerbated for the reason that some needed to leave for afternoon classes before we had our five games and some of us were in class until 9 p.m. (including yours truly). It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that we finally had everyone organized and working on each document.

The six page document consisted of a one-page summary of the game with its innovation; a design document displaying the game visually for the reader; a page on scope and challenges for the game and its design; a “mood chart” showing images for depicting the inspiration for the game’s art-style; and a technological analysis page communicating the reasons for using a particular engine. This in the end consumed a significant amount of our time. So much so that many in the cohort worked well into the night/morning to complete them or at least have it mostly done before class. These documents became a bane in the process of transforming our game ideas into a palpable pitch.

One roadblock that occurred for our team is that new ideas for games crept up while we worked on the final five ideas. One idea the team felt passionate about came about during Thursday morning. As a result, this pulled resources away from the other four game ideas. This became even more of an issue when our instructors informed us that we had 30 less minutes that we previously thought since a faculty member was scheduled to come in and discuss any questions we had for the upcoming Game Developers Conference in March. Hence, we began rushing to help solidify the idea and its six page document.

This situation turn out to be a learning lesson for myself and my fellow producers. In the future, we need to set a deadline for when will cease entertaining new and novel ideas. This concept is important for us in the future to guard against “feature creep” that could possibly delay or hinder the completion of a project. I know I will need to set a clearer timetable for such situations in order to keep the team organized and on task.

At 11 a.m. we began our two-minute pitches detailing the five games we felt would be worthy of our thesis game. If that doesn’t sound like plenty of time to pitch game ideas that would lock us in for the next year-and-a-half, well you are correct in your assumption. The two-minute timer was turned on right after the previous pitch idea allowing for little preparation. While this was going on, the faulty and our cohort rated each game on a scoring sheet. This would later be tabulated to help with reducing the number of ideas down. Nevertheless, I and my cohort did our best to present a clear picture of our game ideas to the class. And for the most part, I believe we did well considering this challenge.

At the end of all of this, we were all tired. Many of us who had been working determinedly these last two weeks to generate great ideas and pitch them to the faculty and cohort, were exhausted from the effort. It was very relieving to hear that we would not have any assignments over the weekend, but instead would use the information gathered from the surveys to help lessen our ideas down to three during class on Tuesday. Thus, this week as daunting, but at the end of it we survived and should be proud of our effort to complete this first phase in isolating the final game idea for our thesis. Stay tuned to see what we choose.

Exciting Times! Let’s Get this Thesis Game Started

During winter break, I was very anxious anticipating the start of the semester and the beginning of our thesis games. I filled the cold nights envisioning how the final three semesters would transpire. I felt eager with the thought of working with a much larger team for an entire year-and-a-half with the intention of creating a unique, I would say academic, game to complete our master’s degree. Much of my apprehension revolved around not knowing how our professors would approach the assignment and what it would ultimately entail. Nevertheless, throughout our first class this past Tuesday, we finally discovered what to expect more or less for the rest of the program.

During this first class meeting, we learned that we would begin by forming our teams consisting of 10-15 members, then compose 100-game ideas, break these ideas down to a select five, and present them to the class. Afterwards, we would work on two of these ideas chosen by the class simultaneously creating two separate prototypes. The goal of working on two prototypes is to see which idea worked best so as to pursue this game for our thesis.

Following the lecture, we began forming our teams. One of my fears going into this semester was to be stuck with a team that would not work well together. It was scary to think of working with an unhappy team for the rest of my time in the program. Luckily, I was recruited into a group full of talented individuals that have proven not only their skills, but also their commitment to working together. Now my excitement went through the roof with the thought of being a part of this team. I was also ecstatic having the opportunity working with a combination of people I had worked with in the past with others who I have not.

At that moment, any anxiety remaining transformed itself into excitement. Here we began the beginning of the end of this program. Sitting with my new team, the notion of this project became real and I was all for it. It was great feeling looking across at the faces I would be a part of for the rest of my time in the program. I see potential, I see a team capable of doing something special.

Although it is still intimidating to think about the long drive towards developing a great game, I am overjoyed to take on the challenge. And because of this, be prepared to read the evolution of our thesis game. I hope you will enjoy taking on the journey with me. This is definitely an exciting time. I am ready. Let’s go!

Reflecting on the First Semester: What I Learned Along the Way

I know I am a bit late bringing this post to the world (I was planning to write this at the end of the semester, but got caught up in all the holiday fun). Nevertheless, in this brief blog post I will cover five aspects I learned after my first semester as a video game producer. Enjoy!

One lesson I definitely learned is the importance of controlling scope. If you have followed my blog since its inception, you will have noticed how scope has been a challenge for me. I tend to think big, and as a result, I end up delivering small. Scope can adversely affect a prototype to the point that it can negatively hurt a team’s performance. As a result, I have come to learn that as a producer I need to be conscientious of scope and do my best to control it. This will make our game and our experience more solid.

Showing is Better than Telling
I have been fortunate to have taught public speaking for a number of years. Coming into this course, I believe that I had this area covered as a producer. However, what I did not expect was the differences between what I learned and how I presented as an instructor with the tech industry and speaking to executive producers. My initial presentations were focused on content and with telling our instructors and clients what our game entailed. This caused several of our presentations to come away with little effect.

With that, I began to notice how much more showing the prototype and design impacted the presentation. Rather than merely speaking about the game, showing the work to the audience helps them to visualize the idea and mechanics of the game. This was apparent in our last presentation in which we were able to show off our game we were publishing in the Windows App Store. By demonstrating the game itself, its mechanics, and thus the experience playing the game, in the end it made our presentation much stronger and impactful.

Cohesion is Greater than Talent!
In our program, talent is apparent everywhere. Many of my fellow students entered with wonderful skill-sets that I know many people in the industry will eventually salivate for. However, if a team is unhappy with each other or the direction of the prototype, the team suffers and as a result the game itself. For this reason, I have found that team cohesion has the greatest impact on the experience and final product. Cohesion for me does not necessarily regard liking each other or being best mates at the end of the day, but instead a team maintaining a strong professionalism that is needed to work well together. When team cohesion is high the product reflects this idea. If it is low, the game will reflect the lack of cohesion with the team. Hence, team cohesion is an essential aspect for producing a good game.

Importance of the Backlog
During the semester, we created and maintain a huge list of backlogs. Consequently, I have noticed the benefits of a backlog. It is for instance the most efficient way to maintain organization of the team. It helps the team during the semester to prioritize work. It also aids in preventing “feature creep” from affecting the final push to complete the game/prototype. And it finally provides an avenue for ensuring people deliver what they promised. As a result, the backlog becomes the producer’s best friend. In difficult situations or during crunches, I have found the backlog to be a godsend. And I know this will be essential as we move forward into our thesis games.

The user experience is key to making a fun game. If the user is frustrated, bored, or unhappy with any aspect of the game, it prevents the game from being fun. For example, I experienced this in my course work in the Virtual Worlds course. In this class, our final project was to create a level utilizing what we had learned regarding level design throughout the course. When Joe Bourrie (level designer for EA and works on the mobile game, Tetris Blitz) played our level for the thesis game Cyber Heist, we could visibly see his frustration because of the difficulty in our level. Since we are designing our level and become experts at it, there is a tendency to forget how the user will experience the level. For us, it was difficult, but we subconsciously knew how to successfully navigate through the level.

However for Joe, it was a frustrating experience since he was unfamiliar with it and thus needed to learn how to beat the level. As a result, the playtest allowed us to tone down the difficulty with the level and therefore create a better experience for the gamer. For such reasons, playtesting is an integral part of game design.

In conclusion, I learned so much in my first semester in the program. Hopefully, I will be able to continue to grow in order to make the best thesis game possible. I am glad to have picked up these essential ideas as I move forward into the program and a career within the game industry.