Focusing on the Three C’s

When Andrew Witts from Cohort 3 (who works as a game designer for Ubisoft on the new Rainbow Six iteration) came to speak to our cohort, he emphasized the importance of the Three C’s in game design. What he noted is that the Three C’s compel designers to focus on the heart of a game. Without them, the player will become frustrated and lose interest in the game.

To get a better idea of what they entail and why they are important, the Three C’s regard a game’s Camera, Controls, and Character. The camera entails the degree by which the player is able to see the game world. Controls emphasize the degree to which the player is able to feel agency through the game’s controls. Lastly, the character regards the identification with the game’s avatar and thus the player’s connection to the game. What the Three C’s try to emphasize is that no matter how perfect everything else is in game, such as art style or maybe a compelling narrative, gamers’ enthusiasm for the game will wane if the Three C’s aren’t functioning properly. Therefore, if the game’s Three C’s are problematic, they will impede the experience and gamers will more likely discontinue playing the game.

Considering this, the Three C’s have been an important aspect for the creation of our game. It has been priority number one since the beginning of the semester. And unfortunately, since we have changed engines three times in the past nine months, two of the Three C’s have been a challenging getting them to behave as intended. Our game concisely is a third-person shooter. It involves the player traversing a rotating and dynamically changing environment fighting to control territory to attack the opposing player. Our game thus is dependent on a robust camera and control system. If the player doesn’t feel they have agency in our world, the player will quit playing our game no matter how the game looks or the mechanics behind the design.

Our controls and camera haven’t been realized just yet. When Andrew came weeks ago, when playing our game he noted how poorly our controls and camera movement felt. Even though he believes our game has potential to be an enjoyable experience, our controls and camera movement would hold gamers back from experiencing the fun behind our ideas. After speaking with Andrew, we made the Three C’s a priority to create a fun experience for the gamer.

As I am writing this, we appear to be overcoming the challenges we have had for making a quality control and camera scheme. The challenge of the Three C’s however have caused us to fall behind in comparison to the rest of our cohort. Nevertheless, emphasizing the controls and camera will in the end make for a more enjoyable experience for the gamer. And in the long term we will have a better game because we took the time to focus on the Three C’s

Process Needs Friends: The Importance of Relating the Philosophies Behind Process

I love watching soccer. On the weekends, when I awake I usually will put a game on the tv and enjoy it. Last weekend Manchester United defeated Queens Park Rangers 4-0 to get their first win of the season. After the game, the team’s new manager Luis van Gaal spoke with the media to discuss how the team can rebound from their current poor form. When asked about how the team is adapting to his system (which is the idea behind how to play a match), he argued that a team’s success is not solely on any particular system but rather the team adapting to the philosophy behind it. In other words, if the team does not embrace the reasoning behind the system and how it can benefit the team, they will not be successful moving forward.

van Gaal’s words resonated with me. What I took from them is that creating games goes beyond merely adapting a process. Lately, our cohort has been criticized for not having a clear process for our teams. However, for me process is just a tip of the iceberg. Instead, what we need to do in addition to a process is the philosophy behind process and ideas for what works for our team in creating a great game. Process is great in focusing the team and ensuring a systematic approach. It enables the team to establish a routine and an unconscious procedure for creating ownership of a task. Nonetheless, the process is only as good as how well the team’s culture adapts to the structure as well as how the team embraces the ideas behind process.

Thus, process becomes analogous to the system van Gaal spoke of in his interview: ultimately it doesn’t matter. Instead, it is the philosophy behind the process that enables the team to see the benefit of the process and how it can benefits the team overall. I saw this concept at Avalanche. Even though we have had new employees come from other gaming companies, when trying to establish a new process in their new jobs, these people experienced a bit of push back. For me it is not because the process was flawed. Instead, it was because people did not embrace the philosophies behind the idea.

Process is just one aspect in making games. Although process is important to making games, it is needs support for it to work. We therefore need to determine how we can get people to embrace a philosophy that in turn supports the process. And that is the challenge I am presented with moving forward with our thesis game: getting the team to see the reward behind process. It goes beyond just a backlog. We need to understand how the process benefits the team overall.

War is Hell: Creating Depth to Our Thesis Game’s Theme

After two chaotic weeks, this week we finally starting to become a well-oiled machine. Since returning from break to a new lab and a creating a completely new process, it took a bit of time to get going. This was apparent in implementing new ways to refine the process for developing our game. Nonetheless, the one accomplishment this week I am happy to note, which is the topic of this post, is the depth we’ve added to our visual theme. And following Bogost’s scholarly work on games and persuasion, the theme we have chosen provides our game a definitive rhetorical impact.

Before explaining what this underlying theme entails, I’d like to provide a bit of background. On our team, we have a few people who served and have military ties. Our two artists are both military veterans who served overseas during wartime. On top of this, I grew up as an Air Force Brat in which my father served several tours overseas during the Vietnam Conflict. My father sadly died a service related death six years ago. Nonetheless, the one thing we collectively learned through our time surrounded by the military life, is how difficult war really is for the people who serve. Being a soldier unfortunately is not the glorified warrior you see on those recruiting commercials, films, and games. Instead, war in reality represents the closest thing to hell on earth.

From our experiences, we decided to create a theme that could convey this understanding. That is why we are developing a hellish, underworld shooter game in which demons fight for supremacy. The theme on the outside appears to be a stylized version of Diablo. But digging deeper underneath its skin, the game becomes a rhetorical argument for the realities of war. For instance, the gods in the game represent the politicians that send their citizens to war. The demons the player embodies become a metaphor for the generals sent to fight and win these wars. The damned souls the demons use to attack each other as well as use to control territory represent the soldiers that fight wars. In our game, to conquer territory and ultimately defeat the enemies, the players use these damned souls. This connotes generals that use the soldiers as an expendable resource with little concern for their wellbeing. Ultimately, the game symbolizes the nature of war. It addresses the fact that people in the end become a disposable supply that will be used in any way possible to defeat the enemy to ascertain a new domain. These are the topic we’d like to address in our game as we move forward towards IGF and the completion of our game.

I am very excited to evolve our theme as we move forward.  Seeing how we can be part of a deeper conversation, albeit in an indirect way (hence the continual emphasis on the “indirect” in Indirect Games), would be something special. Maybe it will give a voice to the many people who have participated in war. And maybe remember soldiers like my father.

Seeing the Little Things in Game Design

This week on our thesis game we worked hard to clarify many ideas for our game. Whether it was with engineers, artists, and producers, the goal was to clearly address the aspects of our game. From my end, the past two class sessions I have spent clarifying design. In particular, visualizing what we wanted for our alpha build. And to be honest, this week was tough. Why? Well it’s been challenging working the current features and mechanics into the reboot of our “demon” theme. This change in theme and move towards alpha, consequently, has been a tremendous learning experience for me as a designer for the reason that I am beginning to see the little things.

Creating a game is difficult. Let’s just be honest and say that it’s hard! When things get crazy, there always seems to be ideas you don’t think about that are major pieces to the game moving forward. For instance, how platforms functions vis-à-vis the environment is critical to the user experience. As a result, we spent more than a half-hour discussing how the camera should function. The question we wanted to answer was whether the camera should be free to move about the environment for the player or should be always fixed behind the player. Since the new theme allowed us to experiment with platforming elements in our game, we needed to determine whether the game’s camera should focus on the shooting or the platforming feature. We new that by focusing on either ultimately creates a different feel for the game. Even though trying to perfect both would be a great challenge to undertake, however with the time we have left to submit to IGF, this wouldn’t be a great use of our time.

The above example demonstrates the challenge of making games and design and how we can take for granted the “little” things. I know sometimes I can focus on the macro game. In other words, I focus on what compels the player to play, what makes the game unique, and how can we make the experience one that is memorable. With that, I end up neglecting design choices that can be critical to the entire user experience. These overlooked mechanics can ultimately affect whether a gamer cares to play for a minute or thirty. 

Thus, I feel that the need for explanation this week is helping me grow as a designer to not only see that I can solidify design, but also see the characteristics of myself I need to work on. I know I need to focus on not just the general design of the game, but the entire user experience. Because of my experience working on this game, I am determined to extend my design to every aspect of the game, whether it as cycling weapons or even something as the exit menu options. In the end, I have come to have a greater appreciation for game designers because damn is it hard to make a great game!

No Rest for the Weary

After a summer crunching for Avalanche Software to ship the new iteration of Disney Infinity (which I will be working as a Production Assistant Intern this fall), instead of finally finding time to relax, our team hit the ground sprinting – I guess there is no rest for the weary. To reflect the rapid pace of this week, I will jump right into it.

This week we made some major decisions as a team moving forward. In particular, we decided to change engines and theme once again (and hopefully for the final time!). When we first put the idea for Hostile Territory into action, we decided to prototype the idea using Unity. In spite of this, when we all viewed the potential for Unreal 4 at GDC, we decided to take the risk and use it for our game’s engine. When we returned we recreated our game using the engine and presented it at the end of the semester. Over the summer, however, our engineers discovered its limitations. Consequently, on Tuesday they suggested we return to the original engine we prototyped the game with. To play devil’s advocate, I asked them what would be the best use of their time since we had already created a working version in Unreal. They noted that we would be able to move exponentially faster in an engine they have more experience using than to work within the caveats of Unreal. This was proven during the week in which they were able to recreate the same game in Unity in two days then what we accomplished in four weeks last April. Nonetheless, only time will tell if this was a wise choice.

The next major decision we needed to make was address the rollercoaster ride that has been our game’s theme. Sadly we have changed our theme three times over the course of the semester. The theme we settled on at the end of the semester addressed the evolution of technology. Even though the theme is interesting and could be potentially a unique experience, conceptualizing how this would look within the game proved difficult. For instance, it would be a challenge depicting high and low poly characters without appearing as typical tropes. In short, we didn’t want our game to look and play like some rip off of Tron. Thus, with only eight weeks to submit a complete build to participate in the IGF competition, it would be prudent to select a more feasible theme. Since the artists would ultimately be conceptualizing the build, we let the artist give the final say in which theme we would use. The artists on our team decided to revisit the demon/judgment visual style we initially conceptualized last semester. Since it would be easier to envision, we decided this would be a more effective route to pursue.

The changes to the theme have made me revisit the game’s features and mechanics. Specifically, I need to visualize how the theme and new engine would influence the game’s design. This has been my project for the week: maintaining the game’s core features while evolving it to work with the current premise. In addition, I am trying to recall how the theme worked with the mechanics. So stay tuned.

As a postscript, over the summer we added a new producer to our team. Brad DeDea is a great addition to our team and should be great helping us with various tasks such as the IGF submission. We also added a new engineer this past Tuesday. Skip Fowler, with whom I had the pleasure of working with at The GAPP Lab last spring, joined our team. His talents and expertise, such as in networking, will help us tremendously moving forward.

Even though my stress level remains high (as usual), my outlook for what’s to come is even higher. We have 15 talented individuals and it will be exciting to see what we can producer over the next 8 weeks. I am optimistic we will be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat. It will take blood, sweat, and tears – to beat a cliché to death. It is now we realize this potential. The final year has begun!