EAE Day: Perfect Day to Playtest our Game Hostile Territory!

Well EAE Day has come and went and boy am I exhausted. We worked long hours to meet our first milestone. It was difficult recreating the Unity build we created for our thesis game, Hostile Territory, into Unreal 4. This took a ton of work to make our game function the way we would like it, especially as it pertained to networking. Since Unreal 4 uses blueprints, it was a challenge to rehash the network in a blueprint form. Luckily, when we were stuck at certain points, Epic released tutorials on making a working network in their new engine.

What was great about the EAE Day, was having the opportunity to playtest our game. As I have noted in a previous blog, playtesting is very important to design. It helps to determine what works, what doesn’t, as well as help reveal ideas about the game that the game’s creators never noticed in the development of the game.

As EAE Day was in full swing, I was excited to have people test our design, and see if we were communicating our intentionality in our design, for the first time. In short, we wanted to see what people found fun. Through reviewing our playtest forms and feedback from the playtest, people enjoyed the conquering of territory. As one friend’s wife noted, it’s a shooter version of go. People enjoyed using the environment to attack each other. What we didn’t account for, at least to me as the game’s producer and lead designer, is how much fun people had using the territory to attack the other player. Since being in an opponent’s territory creates damage for the player (hence our game’s name Hostile Territory), and since you can use the gun to change squares in the other player’s territory to match your own, people abandoned direct damage and instead relied on using the indirect damage as it pertains to changing the territory. Therefore, this became everyone’s weapon of choice.

Me showing off the game to my friend Nick Simmons.

Also, people liked the platforms and the circular, spinning environment. The platforms were fun for people. Some even desired more platforms to jump on and use to attack their opponent. Furthermore, the people who playtested our game enjoyed the circular environment. A person commented that it made the game feel unique compared to other similar games. These comments surprised me since the circular environment is not a feature I particularly feel is important to the game. Nevertheless, the public has spoken and they seem to initially like this design choice.

The playtesting moreover helped bring to the surface things we need to tweak and fix. Features such as our double jump and having to jump to high platforms to replenish ammo. Also, people wanted the environment to be larger. These comments are like gold to us and we hope to address them so we can make the best game possible. And overall, people enjoyed our game. The best comment of the afternoon was a friend in my cohort said that the game was more enjoyable than he expected and that it is looking like it will become a fun game.

At this point I am getting delusional from my fatigued brain and thus will end this post with expressing my enjoyment with EAE Day, my pride with my team’s hard work to create Hostile Territory, and value the information we gained from our playtest. Good things are coming our way and I know we are going to create positive vibrations as we move forward. Please continue to follow my blog. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Finding Innovative Ways to Iterate

Mark Jarman’s concept art for our thesis game

The first milestone coming up for our thesis game is EAE day. This will be the second opportunity to show off our game. Since it is now less than two weeks away, EAE Day has become the focus for our team. However, having a working prototype to show off has been proving to be difficult task for the reason that we are taking the original prototype we created in Unity and are recreating it in Unreal 4. This biggest challenge has been getting the network to play nice with the game since our game is multiplayer focused. Fortunately yesterday, the our engineers made it an emphasis for getting it working, and so far, a prototype for EAE Day looking promising for our game.

Nevertheless, one concern expressed to us by our professor Bob is that we would not have time to truly iterate on our game and its current design. As the creative lead, this too has become a major concern to me since iteration is what fuels innovation. And since we will just have the basic build of our game in Unreal 4, at least at this point, we may not have time to iterate.

Even though it may be difficult to iterate on our design at this juncture, we are coming up with several ways to address this challenge. One of the methods we are thinking about iteration and testing our design is through paper playtesting. This gives us a chance to visualize what options we could possibly take in an analog form. It becomes a “board game” version of our game and design.

Also, playing around with the original build created in Unity could provide us with perspectives as to what feel we desire for the game. We can play with it to see what works, what doesn’t, and what we can iterate on with the new build. Lastly, one last possibility to play similar games to the one we are designing. This will help focus our attention defining and refining our core mechanics.

Hopefully next week we will have the core game built that we will be able to begin the iterative phase. And we are looking to see how the game is received during EAE Day on April 24th. Hostile Territory has a ton of potential and we are pushing to make this promise a reality. If you’re reading this and not from EAE, then please join us on April 24th.


Designing a Compelling Multiplayer Experience for the Fewest Players

This past week our team continued working hard building our thesis game in Unreal 4. The first iteration of the game in the new engine is looking very good in spite of the lack of documentation with it. And as a result, we are hoping that Unreal will provide us with the tools necessary to create a great game.

Nevertheless, one concern going forward is how to translate our multiplayer focused game so that two people can play the game without the need for a larger number of people. As noted in a previous blog, what I noticed at GDC and in the IGF awards show, is the challenge of showing off a multiplayer indie game. I know the IGF Student Finalist Cyber Heist, a cooperative game created by fellow graduate students in Cohort 3, were concerned having judges play the game since it was multiplayer focused. Plus, with only about six computers brought to our EAE booth this past year, I became worried about demonstrating our game next year. For these reasons, as our game’s creative lead I began thinking about how to provide a small audience the feel for our game.

Specifically, my concern centers on making a game compelling and exciting with only two people possibly playing. To address these concerns, our professors suggested that we should use bots to simulate the multiplayer experience. However, I am not a big fan of bots for the reason that I have played many games that used bots as a substitute for real people. For instance, I played Battlefield 2, Red Orchestra, and even the recent Titanfall that uses bots to populate the environment and act as a resource. In such cases, the bots for the most part never came close to simulating real people (to argue for Titanfall, it was never their intentions to create such an experience, which I will address later). I know playing on servers in Red Orchestra with bots embedded with other people did not replicate the experience of a 32 or 64 people fighting against one another. These instances never translated into a compelling and exciting game session, and as a result, whenever I noticed a server populated with bots, I would avoid them like the plague, and if there were only servers with bots, I would exit the game. Lastly, even though DayZ is a horror-survival game surrounding A.I. controlled zombies, people find more satisfaction in killing each other than working together to kill zombies.

Therefore, how could we make the game that would make the game compelling and exciting for the player and yet be able to service the fewest amount of people we could support? Well there are two influences I have used in visualizing our game long-term. The first, and obvious inspiration, is Titanfall. What I thought Titanfall did well, in spite of my critique of its bots, is that the world feels populated and compelling. I know when playing the game, it feels action packed. Plus, I rather enjoy the design choice to use the bots as a resource rather than merely a substitute for players. The idea of using the bots as a resource and not just to create feeling of a populated map, is something we are exploring as we move forward with our thesis game.

Likewise, another inspiration for our game has been taken from MOBAs. Before I begin, let me douse any fears by stating that we are not turning our game Hostile Territory into a MOBA. Nevertheless, MOBAs such as Monday Night Combat and the recent SMITE could lend themselves to our game and thus make a 1v1 experience fun and captivating. What I find interesting is using bots to create a feeling of a chaotic battle without needing to program complicated A.I. Furthermore, with pathing A.I. featured in MOBAs, we can be more purposeful in our design. Now instead focusing our resources on A.I. development, we can find ways in which the bots can interact with the game and introduce new strategies for the player. Thus, now they are a part of the overall design rather than tacked on because we need to include some sort of single player element for our game.

Although we are still playtesting and determining what makes our game fun, it is important to begin imagining iterative approaches in which we can be purposeful with our design so that we can make a fun, exciting, and ultimately compelling experience.