Hostile Territory, Welcome to IGF Submission!

The moment we submitted to IGF! Photo by Topher

Today I’m proud to announce that we finally submitted to the IGD completion our game, Hostile Territory. It has been a long and sometimes arduous journey to get here, but it has been well worth it. I am proud of our little demon themed indirect shooter, and even though we have submitted our IGF build, it is only the beginning. Nevertheless, this post is going to briefly address the happenings of this momentous day.

The day began with an interesting twist. When we began our standup this morning, Jose informed us that we would give a “formal” presentation of our game to the faculty. They of course did not give us any forewarning. As a result, we attempted to balance the need for working on the submission for our game with the requirement to present it. Luckily, Topher was working on our trailer for the game and we quickly put it together a brief presentation to coincide with the trailer.

The presentation sadly went poorly. With little preparation, we had barely enough time to envision it let alone perfect it. Luckily, the feedback we received on our presentation and our game was worth the mediocre performance. Since we became accustomed to presenting to the faculty, they game us advice on how to present to industry professionals. Thus, we needed to tailor our message better to articulate the ideas behind our game to this audience. The faulty also loved our trailer and gave great suggestions on how we can create an effective gameplay video to use for future presentations. With the advice we received today I know our next presentation will be much more effective.

The words that made me very happy to hear is how people really like our game and that our faculty noted how much work we had done in such little time. We went from a shell at the beginning of the semester to finally having a fully functioning multiplayer game. It took a ton of work and sleepless nights, but here we are with a game people are excited about and seeing the potential for an even greater experience.

Making games is hard, and making great games seems like an impossible task. I am glad to be at a point where we are seeing the fruits of our blood, sweat, and tears. Now time to relax and enjoy Halloween. But don’t worry, next week begins the next phase of our game.  So continued to stay tuned!

Below is the IGF trailer of our game. Enjoy!

Catching Fire: Pressure Can be So Motivating!

My time at Avalanche Software has enabled me grow tremendously as a producer. From my time in Dev Support and now working as a Production Assistant Intern, I am learning the ins and outs of what it takes to be successful in the game industry. But it’s not only the work that is allowing me to grow, but the stories you over hear along the way. These experiences people share help one to understand game design and development in new ways.

This takes me to a story I heard at the beginning of the month. One concept artist, Jon Diesta, speaking to people at Avalanche while we made the rounds, related an anecdote about a game Avalanche was working on for four years. This game was the company’s pet project. However, after years of working with the said project, it eventually was canceled. Jon rationalized that the reason why the game was unsuccessful was that the game never “caught fire”. In other words, since there was little the pressure to complete the game, the creativity and drive to take it to the next level never transpired. It was this lack of pressure that nullified the determination needed to finish the game.

Why do I relate this story? Well during this past month, our game has grown significantly. We have accomplished more in the recent days than we have in weeks prior. Ultimately, I believe that this growth has stemmed from the fact that our game has caught fire. Because we are under a pressure to have the game complete before the IGF submission on October 31st, this pressure to complete the game I feel has pushed us. So much so that the game is looking and feeling a thousand times better than what we presented earlier this month for the cohort’s playtest. This fire thus appears to be forcing us to realize that if we want to get the game done, we’re going to need to hunker down and just get it done.

This pressure has also stimulated our creativity. We have created some late features that are improving the design and polishing areas of the game to make it better. The pressure to finalize our IGF build has pushed us to playtest the game as much as possible to see aspects of the game that can be improved. After the past few weeks, we are imagining the game more vividly than before.

As we stand here with one week to go before the IGF deadline, Jon’s hypothesis appears to provide a perspective as to why we our game has grown so much in the past few weeks. Catching fire has pushed us beyond our limits. And I think this fire is inspiring everyone to make the best game we can make. The next week is going to stretch us more! So stay tuned!

What’s In a Name? The Long Circular Journey to Finding a Title for Our Thesis Game

Some new art

One of the most exhausting aspects to making our thesis game has been something that a person wouldn’t generally determine as a difficult. Nevertheless, selecting an appellation for our game has been one of the most draining and arduous part of this thesis project.

As to why this has been difficult, let me take you through the process of creating our game’s name. Early on when we were prototyping the initial idea, Mark Jarman, our lead artist, came up with the name Hostile Territory. Since early on our theme revolved around two parallel universes fighting each other in a wormhole in which conquering territory and using it to attack your opponent was key to winning. Hostile Territory was a natural fit for the game since it described a key feature of the game and its design.

However, after presenting the game to the industry panel and ultimately selecting it as our thesis game, some faculty were not enamored with the theme behind it. Thus, they forced suggested that we change our theme. As we made this change, we were not so sure how the title worked with the theme. For example, we changed our premise to an underworld battle for the souls of humanity after judgment day. This new theme compelled us to revisit the name. After the faculty ridiculed evaluated this new theme, we decided to appease our tormentors change the theme to one that addressed the rapid evolution of technology and thus the need to stay relevant. This also caused us to reassess our game’s name.

When the fall semester returned us to our project, the artists wanted to return to the underworld theme we originally conceived last semester since we were all having trouble conceptualizing the technology idea. We as a team decided to move forward with it no matter what anyone said. As a result, we kept Hostile Territory as a working title until something would come along and change this title to fit better with our theme.

This proved to be a lot harder than it sounds. We spent hours conceptualizing new names and created lists to sift through. We later had the team vote on the ones we felt could be worthy to move forward. However, none of these names felt right. Either the proposed name was dark, too convoluted, too obscure that no one would associate the name with the game, or too comical. But we needed a name, a good name so that we could move forward and finally begin submitting our game to the IGF competition.

Well it all came to a head on Tuesday. We sat around for a good hour-and-a-half writing out names, brainstorming new ones, and even clustering ideas. This all proved to be fruitless and we became frustrated with the process. Because of this, we spoke with the team about the name. Most of our team members felt that Hostile Territory is fine for our game and that we should just end the search for that ideal title and keep the name. We voted to keep the name Hostile Territory. And finally we had one name for our game.

So as of this past Tuesday, our game is now officially named Hostile Territory. We like the name because it still describes our game well in spite of it not encompassing our theme. For this reason, we welcome Hostile Territory to the world.

*Note the strikethroughs were meant to be comical. If you’ve made it to this point and had a good laugh, then we can be friends. Thanks for having fun with me.

“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate”

After a summer working in development support for Disney Infinity 2.0, I learned the value of playtesting a game. Playing Disney Infinity every day (for sometimes up to 13+ hours), you learn the ins and outs, and what designers could do improve the game’s overall design. This experience enabled me to appreciate the value of consistently playing a game during the development process.

Using my experience in dev support, I began to explore our playtesting. After the past two weeks playtesting our game internally and externally, playtesting has uncovered some issues we have with our game. Specifically, what I have learned about our game has a communication problem. Playtesters would traverse the environment and not know clearly the objective behind our game. They would press the triggers on the controller, see the environment color change, and yet not understand what the point of the game ultimately entailed. And the playtesters’ avatar would die and yet they were perplex as to why. As a result of these miscommunications with our design, I have been exploring better ways better to communicate our design and in this post I will detail some of the ideas I hope to implement soon.

One of the critiques we have received is people do not know when they occupy an opponent’s territory. They would be in the territory and it would fail to register that the character was taking damage from being in the opponent’s territory. One idea, which came from our engineer, Skip, is making damage more significant when occupying the opponents territory may help communicate this more effectively. The idea behind this is to clearly show that being in the different color area kills the player. Making territory a bit more hostile (pun intended), helps to refine and focus the design.

Another communication issue we have noted is that when occupying an opponent’s territory, there is little visual indication that the player is taking damage. For instance, when traversing through the environment, it can be hard to know when a player is being hurt by the territory. The only indication is a small numbered health meter that isn’t the easiest UI element to see during the heat of battle. As a result, we are improve the design by showing other indicators such as a flashing health bar and possibly a steady graying UI. We hope that immediate feedback will enable the player to know that they are taking damage.

Playtesters, especially faculty, felt that the game provides little indication dealing with progression. In other words, people have little knowledge if they are winning, losing, or when the round/game will end. We do have this information linked to a button on the controller. However, the player will need to know to enable it to see his or her progress. Taking this critique into account, we decided to add more UI elements showing the number of kills so the player will know who’s winning. A timer will indicate the time left in the game. We hope that these simple UI elements will be suffice for the gamer.

Playtesting has been a wonderful tool to iterate on our design. Even though it can be hard to digest and cause one only to see the negative aspects with the game, playtesting can assist in making the game the best it can be.


It’s Beginning to Come Together

Fun with art

This has been a fantastic week for our team. Everyone has hunkered down and focused on making our game a reality. For most of the semester, our process left little to be desired. What we had was everyone working on the various aspects of the game, but most of what was being created sat alone by itself like a castaway on some deserted island. The work was being done, the features were being created, and the art was being conceptualized and made into useable assets. However, all these assets were not being implemented into the game and thus we did not really have a game. The issue over time seems to have become problematic and ultimately lowered the team’s morale.

But this week, things changed. Maybe it was the thought that we still didn’t have a game; maybe it was the need to create something for the cohort playtest with the cohort, alumni, and faculty this Friday; maybe the thought that the IGF submission deadline is closely upon us; or even possibly the fear that the Ebola virus may just kill us all before our game is complete. Whatever it was, this week the team concentrated on creating a fun and compelling game and it showed.

Ultimately seeing what the game can be is inspiring for me. Conceptualizing an idea is one thing. I have spent countless hours fleshing out the game design document, worked closely with level designers, and artists to visualize the game. But when you see it play in a way that you dreamed it could, then you feel vindicated.

Environment for our game

Why do I feel this way? Well first off one of the concerns we have had for a while is controls and camera movement. As I noted in a previous blog post, this has been a challenge getting them to feel just right. Today playtesting the improved controls felt amazing. It finally felt like I had control over the game’s character. Thus, the controls at long last felt identical to what I had imagined it should be. Furthermore, it was amazing to see the art implemented within the level itself. The beauty of the level was so visually impactful that people surrounded our artist Rob in awe of it. Our professors even noted their joy at witnessing the appearance of the level. Seeing the game beyond the white box I believe helped to further strengthen our excitement for the game – I know it did for me.

Even though the game is still a week or two away from a true alpha build, it is fantastic seeing the potential for this game being realized. I hope in the upcoming weeks to relay the excitement and joy for the new iterations of our game. Sometimes seeing a game grow is like seeing your child reach another small, yet significant milestone. I hope to be sharing these milestones like a proud papa in future posts.