Being a Part of the Conversation

In my previous life, I lived as a Ph.D. student. One of the constant themes concerned throughout my doctoral studies was how our research fit into the overall conversation. In other words, how did the research reflect what other people are talking about and how does it extend this dialogue. What they were teaching me was the importance to know dialogue behind a certain topic, how people are approaching it, and how my research could be a part of this dialogue to the point that it could possibly further the area of research.

Fast forward to a year later. I am learning to use this perspective as a producer and as a game designer. As a result, a question I am beginning to ask is how our game fits into the current state of games. In other words, how does it compare to other games and thus how does this influence our decisions as designers. This idea ultimately leads to the game becoming a part of a dialogue.

For example, and one that will ultimately lead back to one of our thesis prototypes, the game Titanfall has become a huge conversation within the shooter community. The reason for this dialogue is because the game is challenging how we understand and consume contemporary shooters. Since the developers formally worked on Call of Duty, they’ve taken the many ideas from their previous franchise. However, what makes Titanfall standout from the crowd and the shadow of CoD is how it borrows mechanics seen in many platforming games. For instance, they uses the ability to run on walls, double jump, and being able to scale large structures. This in turn creates new strategies for the player. Because of this, Titanfall has become a part of a larger conversation regarding the shooter genre and how it can be pushed into newer, exciting areas.

Concept art from our talented artist, Mark Jarmen

Taking this understanding, we have been approaching how we can become a part of the larger conversation through our own multiplayer shooter game, Hostile Territory. Taking the creative lead on HT, in addition to my duties as a producer, I have been doing my best to reflect how the game is a part of the larger conversation. We are ultimately taking the knowledge of the game’s genre and showing how the game compares to other similar games so as to become a part of the ongoing dialogue.

To be specific, HT is a shooter game similar to many current games such as the CoD or Battlefield franchises. Nevertheless, the game takes the core aspects of the genre and expounds upon it. The game extends the core by creating a vastly dynamic environment and at the same time allowing players to utilize the entire three-dimensional space. Our reasoning for using these mechanics is to create new strategies for the player and to lessen the opportunity for exploiting camping, which I hope will drive the need for stronger teamwork. Our game, therefore, takes what we have seen in recent shooters and like Titanfall, it communicates ideas about the state of the shooter genre.

Ultimately, when others play the game my hope is they will easily understand how HT is reflecting deeper ideas behind the shooter genre. My desire is for the game to extend the dialogue for how we can find new ways of designing shooter games that employ mechanics unique to the current field of games. And my hope is to show how shooter games can become more exciting and engaging for the player.

Learning to Create a More Efficient Process & Taking a More Inductive Approach

 

The theme for this past week was all about refining the process by which we work as a team. This became the professors’ mantra. To clarify why, what they noticed and brought to our attention on Tuesday and Thursday was the idea that we needed to begin defining roles on our team. The reason for this perspective was that they were, as Bob put it, “depressed” with the state of the prototypes of our potential thesis games. As a result, they felt that the process by which we began through the early parts of the semester may have affected our progress. Since our assignment early on was to first form teams, then create and whittle down 100-game ideas into the two we have now, we became accustomed to group consensus to push ideas forward. For this reason, our prototypes seemed to reflect a slow process.

Considering their assessment, to refine the process we as a team we nominated people for roles. When we began the process to change the nature of our team dynamics, it was clear that everyone else felt that this needed to eventually be put into place to speed up the design process – so much so that the speed by which we completed the decision process took no more than 10-minutes. Before, since we felt it was still early in generating a true thesis game, it seemed acceptable to continue with a more consensus approach. However, as we have moved forward we began noticing it hindering our decision making and thus made design meetings long and overly complicated. This was therefore a step in the right direction. Now our team can focus specifically on what each of us needs to do to create the best prototypes we can.

With that, I feel the consensus process resulted from going from our initial deductive game design approach to later attempting to change the mindset back to an inductive approach for prototyping. To provide a clearer idea of this problem, for an entire semester we learned to explore game ideas from an inductive approach. In other words, we would start with a simple idea, find what made it enjoyable, and afterward build a game from there. This time around we took the opposite approach. We began conceptualizing a game by defining its features, mechanics, and art style. We were thus tasked with seeing the bigger picture and thus start with an overarching goal. Thus, when we began working on the prototypes for these games, we were lost. We needed to switch perspectives in order to go from game idea to prototype.

We were also adrift in the sea of game design since some ideas sounded great theoretically, but when working on the initial iteration it became a challenge to focus on what makes a game enjoyable. The deductive approach we began therefore needed to be evolved so we could find the core mechanics of a game.

When we began prototyping we saw both perspectives. This notion became apparent with one prototype, but not with the other. Our game Wasteland began as a wonderful idea about a game that addressed memory, environmental themes, and ideas of reincarnation. After the game was selected as one of our two games to move forward with, the game struggled early on defining its core. We held several design meetings to nail down the aspects we could eventually iterate on. Since we began with the deductive approach, defining the game became a challenge for us. Luckily, as of recent we are moving this game in the right direction and discovering what can make this game fun.

Our other game, which we is now aptly named Hostile Territory, began as a game designed as a puzzle game using a device for movement. Alas, the person that conceptualized the initial game idea for it switched teams. Because of this, we decided to revisit the idea in order to evolve it. This led us to find a new way to approach the game, break it down to basics, and iterate on the idea. Thus, this changed caused us to take an inductive approach and made it easier for us to move into prototyping unlike the former game.

To conclude the week’s events, I am glad we took a step back to refine the process. I believe in the long term it will make us a more efficient team and consequently make stronger prototypes to present to the industry board on March 3rd. Now back to work.

Protocol: Transcendence is the MoDev Windows $10k App Contest Winner!

I am very excited to announce that our game Protocol: Transcendence is the MoDev Windows $10K App Contest winner for the voting portion of the competition. After surviving four rounds of voting, we ultimately came up the victor. So thanks everyone for voting for our game!

For more information on the game, please click on the tab above our just click here. You can also download our game from the Windows 8 App Store by following this link. It’s free to play.

Cheers and thanks to everyone once again that made this a reality — especially the EAE cohorts!

Scheduling Time for the Schedule

Through the hectic nature of making a game, it is easy to overlook various aspects of being a producer. I know throughout my time this semester, with everything that has occupied our time in order to get down to the two prototypes, it has been a challenge to find time for other important tasks. Because of this, on Tuesday Amy met with all of us producers in the cohort to discuss responsibilities we needed to better address. Here, the main focus of the meeting was to encourage us to focus on scheduling.

Scheduling is important for our prototypes for several reasons. For one, the obvious is that a good high level schedule keeps the team organized and on time. One example of how easily a team can become sidetracked is the problem with “feature creep”. Feature creep occurs when a person desires to include a feature or mechanic even though it is outside the features list defined in the schedule. For such a problem, the schedule keeps everyone focused on what needs to be done and lessens the opportunity for going beyond the parameters of the game.

Furthermore, as producers we need to visualize how our idea can become a viable prototype. This can only be done through taking the core features of the game and determining if they can be implemented within the time. With that, scheduling helps us take into account the hours everyone has to work on the project. In our program, since we meet twice a week for four hours in our classes, we can simply calculate this time to know how long we have to work on our games. And doing this only creates a safe estimate of in-class work since on occasion we have lectures, guest lectures, presentations, meetings, etc. Therefore, understanding a realistic assessment of work hours, a schedule can help account for such challenges.

Scheduling additionally aids in compelling producers to create a game design document (GDD). This arguments stems from the idea that in order to clearly define the features of the game and thus know how long they will take to be made, the GDD helps clarify the extent for creating a feature. By understanding a feature, now one can go about understanding the time it will take to create said feature. This takes me to another point: scheduling encourages clear design. Out team on Thursday spent a considerable amount of time clarifying the short and long term designs for our game. The reason for this was to create a viable schedule for the prototypes. In other words, if we knew the particulars to the design we would thus mold a feasible high level schedule.

After Amy’s discussion with our cohort, it was clear to see that we needed to spend more time with scheduling. And for me, it helped clarify aspects that I felt that can only be addressed through creating a strong schedule.

Getting Back to Basics

As noted in my last post, we were excited to finally begin our prototypes this week. Finally, we were going to leave the conceptual side of game design for the moment and progress into actually determining whether the ideas were as good as they sounded. However, as we sat down to discuss how we would go about beginning our prototypes for our two games, we began to see the limitations in conceptualizing our initial ideas. Hence, we finally needed to get back to the basics of creating a prototype.

Wasteland (the working title for one of our two games) presented our first challenged. Although the game concept of a game in which the player experiences environmental problems with reincarnation themes, how to make it into an actual game proved to be a difficult. This resulted since the game focuses on gathering items through exploration of the environment to progress the game. The reason for this challenge stemmed from the idea of how can we make this captivating for the player. From this question, we finally began to turn the design into a full fledge game. Thus, the team is focusing on exploring how to make exploration and gathering items fun.

Our second game also went through similar growing pains. The concept of a game in which the player uses a device for teleporting around a 3-D space in order to solve puzzles, was very appealing to the team. The initial concept, however, appeared similar to other games. The game Portal kept coming to mind as we discussed how we visualized the prototype for the game. We thus felt challenged with distinguishing our game from the others that have preceded it. As a result, we began to try to determine what would make this game fun.

Considering this, and after discussing the idea with our professors, in particular Jose, we decided to focus on the concepts of introducing a dynamic environment while using the entire 3-D space in the level. Our initial research question was to see how we could move beyond the limitations of a 3-D environment, in other words not being limited by moving on the ground. Now, we evolved it to include how a dynamic environment and moving around in the 3-D space can create new strategies for the player. Initially, we are conceiving a multiplayer game using these mechanics – which may change as we move forward.  We hope that the unique mechanics and features for the game will enable us to distinguish ourselves, while at the same time, keeping with the IGF themes of experimental and innovation.

Ultimately it has come down to what Bob suggested we needed to focus on: starting with a prototype to see what can make our game ideas enjoyable. It was a reversal from what we experienced the previous three weeks in which we attempted to conceive a game concept to push us forward for the next year and a half. Thus, we are now returning to what we learned last semester by working to see how we can make our game ideas fun so that we can make a compelling game.