Importance of Participating in Playtesting

On Tuesday, the cohort conducted a class-wide playtest. Almost everyone would playtest each of the cohorts games. This allowed us to gain feedback with the desire to use the information to tweak our games for GDC. What I found interesting is how impactful playtesting is when members of the team are able to witness playtest feedback firsthand.

What I mean by this is that playtest feedback is more impactful when the team is able to see and hear people playtesting the game. Now they are able to gauge the quality of the game while at the same time understanding what players are experiencing. This becomes important since in the past whenever we had a playtest, members who were unable to participate at the playtest would disregard the information ascertained through it. This affected how the information was received and ultimately how we used. As a result, following the playtest, some of the feedback gathered would be taken with a grain or salt or ignored all together. This affected how we approached user feedback and experience with our game. Thus, we were unable to tailor our game to gamers but instead to ourselves.

Now that we are able to witness the playtests firsthand, the feedback has become more impactful. Members are able to see players and experience what they experience in the playtest. The information gathered now is no longer seen from afar like a number on a spreadsheet, but has value. This is making our design decisions and tweaks more tailored to the feedback and hopefully therefore make it more user centric.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks. Hopefully you will continue on this journey with me. Cheers!

Blinded, But Now I See

This week we focused our efforts into working towards polishing our game for the Game Developers Conference next month. To get to this point, we have locked down our design so that we can begin focusing on polishing the game. It is our goal in the next few weeks to get the game ready to show off at the EAE booth.

One aspect of the week I would like to discuss is how blind one becomes when constantly working on a game. On Tuesday, we played around with different designs and different builds. Two ideas we were toying with that were born from our two instructors Jose and Ryan. The first we called “light cycles”. Light cycles is a design that is similar to the film Tron in which motorcycle-type vehicles would use a light wall to trap and ultimately defeat the opposing player. In our game, the player’s character would “paint” the tiles underneath them so to capture tiles as the character moves, which can be destroyed by the player. The second involved using “bombs” to paint larger areas. This allows the player to capture larger amounts of territory underneath that too can be removed at the player’s discretion.

What I found interesting is how standoffish I was to these two ideas. When I first played them, I didn’t see the use of the two mechanics. For me, it felt too chaotic. I thought to myself, why would we need these two ideas and what did they really add to the game. I felt frustrated with entertaining the two ideas and for giving them the time of day. And this frustration reached a boiling point after our instructors’ playtested the game. You would think that the very first time they had nothing negative to say would be a moment I would want to frame. On the contrary, I believed that it only made it more difficult to argue against the two mechanics.

But what I noticed is that when we returned on Thursday and began playtesting the game with Allen, I finally opened my eyes to what the two mechanics added. The game felt fun and what we had introduced worked with the game’s core ideas and mechanics. I enjoyed the concepts that came from the faculty – go figure.

At this point I began looking at myself wondering why I didn’t see how well these mechanics worked. After talking with Skip about this fact, I started to realize how much a designer’s perspective can be clouded when playing a game they are making. I noticed this over the summer when I worked as a game tester on Disney Infinity 2.0. When playing the game daily, you begin to only see what you want to see. This affects how well I was able to find game breaking bugs daily since you almost go on automatic. In the same instance, I became blinded my constant and continual playing of our game. And because I have a vision in mind as to how I see our game playing as a lead designer, I overlooked two ideas appear to help support our design. This is a great lesson moving forward that I need to adhere to: making sure I am open to ideas that could push the game forward.

With all of this, this week proved that what we’ve invested in our game over the past year is coming to fruition. Seeing what the game will be and having members of our team finding the fun, we’re definitely are in a much better place then we were when we ended last semester. Exciting times and am looking forward to hearing how people receive our game at GDC.

Returning the Game to its Roots!

This week we began honing the design of our game and worked on defining our final features. We worked on using our theme to push the mechanics in our game. This can be seen in our latest iteration in which the player can use the captured territory to move faster thus simulating stronger connections while traversing the opponent’s captured territory slows the player down, which is akin to a poor connection.

Nevertheless, what I found interesting this week were the strides we made with the art style of our game. In particular, we consciously and subconsciously revisited concepts we created in our earlier prototypes. For instance, our Lead Artist Mark Jarman created a tube very reminiscent of our original one sheet we used to pitch our game to the industry panel. He created concepts around the original art. This allowed the style we originally desire to have to return to our game.

Another example would be the concepts for the avatar from our 3D artist, Robert Guest. It looks very similar to the avatar we created for our second thesis idea for the game re:Genesis. His avatar has taken inspiration from the concepts created for that game. However, Rob appears to have subconsciously fashioned our new avatar after the old characters from re:Genesis.

Revisiting our previous ideas gives us a bit of nostalgia wrapped in our project finally coming full circle. This for me provides insight into our earlier design and how influential they have been overall throughout our time working on our thesis game. The return to who we were appears to be the driving force for us reaching the fun we envisioned at the start of our project.

I’m excited for the future and what we will present for GDC. It has been a long and challenging journey up to this point. But I know we are on the right track and are on pace to create a fun and engaging game.

By George, I Think We Got It!

We’ve found the fun! Let me say it again: We’ve found the fun! After a year of working hard on this project, we’ve have struggled finding what makes our game fun. So much so that some people that playtested our game kept telling us that our game is interesting and has potential to be something special, but it’s missing something. Today, I believe we’ve finally broke our game down to a place where we can say we’ve found that “something”.

It all began on Thursday when we were discussing camera. We spent much time discussing how we can make our camera better for our gameplay. The problem with our camera is that it didn’t reinforce our core mechanic. Our game focuses on ascertaining territory that can be removed and replaced at the player’s discretion to defeat his/her opponent. However, in order to maximize this mechanic, the player needs to see more of the playing field. This became a subject of debate, and we addressed this idea ad nauseam.

Through our discussion we began conversing about our core mechanic. Working with our engineer Skip, he pointed out to me that most of our deaths were a result of accident. For example, I’ve died many times falling through a removed tile or by backtracking off the cylinder. This detail made me realize how little the players are influencing the game and instead error determined victory within our game.

Realizing this problem, I began discussing with members of our team how the core mechanic did not feel advantageous to the player. In other words, it really didn’t matter if the player controlled territory because it really didn’t enable them to truly exploit it to defeat the other player. Deaths resulted from human error. Through my diatribe, Skip was listening to my points. As we continued to discuss the core mechanic and how it needed to change, Skip tweaked it slightly. He then invited us to test the change he had made.

What Skip changed blew our minds. His simple change dramatically affected the feel of our game. Skip decided to merely remove the toggle function that would replace the captured territory. Thus, once the player chose to remove the taken tiles they would never return. What this did was make the game more about attacking the opponent then merely trying to focus on territory control. The permanence we added made the game feel fast and furious as the two players battled in the cylinder that degrades as the players try to kill each other using territory. Now players need to traverse the destroyed environment in order to destroy tiles so as to trap and ultimately kill the other player.

The gameplay felt right and the rest of the lab could here us screaming for joy because we were finally having fun. It took a year to really see that our game could be fun. But no matter how long it has taken, I am very happy to finally be playing a game I would say is fun!

We are moving forward with this core mechanic and I am excited to say that we are going to ride this into the sunset. I’m stoked to see where we are headed. And I wouldn’t trade the journey to get to where we are today.

The Last Semester Begins

Well here I am beginning the last semester in the EAE program. Crazy how fast it has come. This week we entered the final semester losing two teammates and gaining a new one. Our producer Casey Deans did not return nor did our engineer Ron. Fortunately, their absence is unrelated out our game. However, we added a new member, and producer, Owen to the team. Owen left the program briefly to work for EA as a sound designer. Luckily EA allowed him to return to the program to a game that would not be in direct competition with their library of upcoming games. Thus, Owen desired to join our team and we gladly accepted his offer.

On the first day of class, we redefined the theme behind our game. Since we changed the nature of our environment to allow for wall-walking, a jagged/rocky hellish environment caused issues with movement and our game’s camera. As a result, we smoothed out the surface to address the issue. We also made the surface tiles easier to see so it would communicate better with the player. Because of these changes, the environment looked less like hell and more like demons fighting in a technological tube. Thus, the environment and the avatars just didn’t feel right together, and many people noted this problem during the EAE Open House.

To overcome this issue, I took inspiration to what occurred to Xbox Live and Playstation Network during Christmas day. Both networks were taken down by a DDoS attack from a group calling themselves Lizard Squad. The DDoS attack became an inspiration for how we could communicate our theme better. When we returned, I proposed this new theme using the same core mechanics. Our team agreed that this new theme worked better in relation to the visuals for our game.

We also decided to test our assumptions first rather than set anything in stone when it came to design. In other words, instead of just inserting a mechanic into our game, we would first prototype it into our test build, and if it stood through a rigorous playtest, then we would keep it for our game. This allowed us to generate weekly sprints so we can do our best to make a fun game with the little time we have left in the program.

Well, I am very much looking forward to this semester. Although last semester presented many challenges, I know I am better for it. I hope you will follow my blog throughout my last semester in the EAE and witness the conclusion to this journey.

Postmortem & EAE Open House: The Culmination of a Challenging, Yet Rewarding Semester

This week we wrapped up the semester. In particular, we were completing the build we wanted to present for the EAE Open House. During this time, our team met with the faculty to go over our team’s postmortem for the semester. Leading up to it everyone was a bit anxious. Since we faced several challenges along the way, the time in the postmortem could have honestly turned ugly. Luckily, this was not the case. Instead we discussed our team’s strengths, weaknesses, and what we could do moving forward. It was a positive experience and I walked away feeling better about my team and myself.

Leading up to the end of the week, we prepared for showing our game. As the game’s lead designer, my desire was to use the time showing off our game as a means to gain feedback that can benefit the final design of our game. For the most part, the feedback was great. Most people that played our game enjoyed our mechanic. They gave us feedback as to what could be changed and how the experience can be improved. For instance, one engineer I work with at Avalanche Software noted that our game should create better opportunities for strategy and generate that “aha I got you” moment of killing off your opponent. Such feedback we were able to ascertain dung the open house will benefit our game moving forward.

What I found interesting about our game during the open house is how much young adults enjoy playing our game. Kids seem to enjoy painting the tiles and moving about the environment. I know in the past we have seen this audience enjoying our game. Jose’s children fought over the game and even squabble with one another to play it during a previous playtest. And at the EAE Open House, Owen’s son commented that the game was his favorite to play. Maybe moving forward this is a group of gamers we should focus on. Who knows, maybe our game can be marketed as a child’s first shooter.

As we conclude this semester, I would like to take a moment to say that this was a rewarding semester despite its challenges. So much so that the challenges I have faced have helped me in my job as a production assistant intern at Avalanche Software. In actuality, what we are facing here as producers is similar to what we face in the industry. Because of this, the situations I have experienced in the EAE program have become learning points. And even through successes and failures, it is the knowledge that we can use these incidents as a means to grow and make ourselves better. I know I feel I am growing as a producer and as a person. It is here in these moments where you can become vulnerable so as to see the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves, and I know I am identifying them.

Well I hope you continue to read my blog. It will be on hiatus through the holidays. But don’t fret, it will return in January. Here I will recount the end of our thesis game and my time in the EAE program. I hope you will follow me as I reach the culmination of my journey. See you in January!

 

Hostile Territory made the news. At the end of this news piece shown on our local Fox affiliate, you can see our game being played. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CozOCnbv2C4

 

Being Purposeful with the EAE Open House

Latest concept of our environment

Well we are one week away from the EAE Open House. At this time, we are doing are best to get the EAE build done before the end of next week. There are several ideas I would like to test during this day to further develop our game. This week I would like to detail what we hope to accomplish from our experience with the EAE Open House.

For one, we went to determine if the new prototypes of our game are fun? Ever since we completed our IGF build, we have been conceptualizing and creating prototypes. From the feedback we received, we have been working on two ideas. The first has the players using destroyed tiles to defeat their opponent. The second entails allowing captured territory to be destroyed at the player’s discretion so as to kill the other player. Furthermore, after much feedback and exploration by our engineers, our game now allows the player to walk on the walls within the cylindrical environment. Players can now traverse the entire three-dimensional space in our game. Because these ideas are new and haven’t gone through rigorous external playtesting, we hope to therefore use the EAE Open House as a means to determine what aspects of these game modes people prefer.

One of the most challenging aspects to creating our game have been the Three C’s: Camera, Controls, and Character. Since our game takes place in a cylinder in which the player is able to utilize the entire space, it has been a challenge to get the Three C’s to feel just right. Currently, we are iterating on the Three C’s to allow for the camera to be placed much further back in order to permit the player an opportunity to better view the environment. It is imperative before we finally complete our game that we have the Three C’s perfected. Without them, the game will fail before it even starts. The EAE Open House would be a great opportunity to test the camera as well as find more effective ways to refine them.

A final goal is to determine what participants find fun about our game. Currently, there is much debate as to the core mechanic(s) people particularly like (most has been personal experience with the game). Everyone that has playtested our game recently has said the game has potential to be very fun, but is missing “something”. Finding this something is what led us to create new iterations of our game. I hope that next week we will be able to find that something so we can spend our last semester in the program building around this idea.

The EAE Open House ultimately is not just to show off our game, but to further playtest our thesis game so we can further refine the experience. It is the desire to use every opportunity as a means to make our game better. Look forward to seeing you all at the EAE Open House.

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Taking Something Old & Making it Taste New

As I write this, I am digesting the amazing food I enjoyed from our Thanksgiving festivities. In spite of being stuffed larger than the bird we cooked, I am still looking forward to a weekend full of turkey leftovers. What I find interesting about leftovers is that we reimagine our Thanksgiving dinner and turn it into all sorts of new dishes. We take what we have and make new creations such as turkey sandwiches, fried turkey chunks, and even turkey soup. Thus, we make new creations with the original design.

Like leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, as a team we are reheating the leftovers and making something new. Specifically, we are taking the IGF build of our game and using what we have to make something novel and hopefully better. The holiday theme expressed above seems to resonate with our recent work and how we are approaching this holiday weekend.

Will these leftovers taste as good as when it was first cooked? Only time will tell. We have a solid foundation of the hard work we did to create this Thanksgiving dinner. But what we do to make these leftovers taste better than the original dinner is what will define the rest of our time in the EAE master’s program. That is where we are headed. Hopefully what we cook up for the EAE Open House will taste even better than the original. But until then, enjoy the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend.

New Iterations Brings New Fun for Our Team & Game

Latest iteration of our game’s poster

As noted in my last post, this past week we tasked ourselves with developing several prototypes. We hoped by creating these prototypes we would define the final direction for our game. Our goal was to take what we have already done and make a more fun experience for the player. To get to this objective, we set a deadline for Tuesday to complete the various prototypes (mine was in “paper” form) and determine which of these iterations we would continue to develop for the EAE Open House this December. As a result, last Tuesday our prototypes were ready to go, and in order to determine which prototype moved forward, we would playtest each idea as a team as well as utilize our faculty’s feedback.

After playtesting the prototypes we developed over the weekend, two of them stood out, and were thus clear winners from both our team and the faculty. The first of these two prototypes was very akin to our EAE Day build back in April. To be more specific, the one aspect of our EAE build people enjoyed was the mechanic of destroying tiles and using them to defeat the other player. Likewise, one of these prototypes used lobbying the minions as a means for destroying tiles. But unlike this previous iteration, the player is given the choice as to when they’d like to “detonate” the minion so as to destroy the tile. This created a game in which the player is trying to avoid falling to their death while trying to strategize to have their opponent fall to their own.

What made this idea popular with the team is that it simplifies the design so that the player is not tasked with tracking too many elements such as was the case in our IGF build. It also clearly shows progression in the game. In other words, the player is able to know what is going on in the level clearly. In our IGF build, one of the critiques we received is that it wasn’t clear what the player needed to do to be successful in our game. As I wrote in a previous blog, we have had communication problems with our design. Thus, this prototype enables us better to communicate our game’s core mechanics.

The second prototype similarly destroys the environment, but also allows the player an opportunity to rebuild it. The “lights on, lights off” iteration, as we call it, allows the player to capture territory and at the same time, allow them to decide if they want it to be destroyed or rebuilt, which can be cycled at the player’s convenience. This idea ultimately permits the player to choose how they want to use the environment in order to find the best strategy for defeating their opponent. Players will need to find ways to use the territory to their advantage, but don’t make a mistake and destroy the environment you’re crossing.

The opportunity to prototype created a new enthusiasm for our team. And now that we have chosen a specific direction, we are now excited once again to move forward with our game. In the coming weeks we refine these iterations. I hope that you will be at the EAE Open House on December 12th to see how well we executed these new ideas. Stay tuned!

Here We Go Again: Prototyping

This week, our team decided that before we move forward with our game, we should explore new ideas so that we could iterate on the design. Some people expressed that in order to find what’s fun, we should prototype new ideas. As a result, several ideas are being developed as I write this post.

I am also working on my own iteration. This iteration brings us back to the original design and brings to the forefront what I feel has become the star of our game. My idea centers on maximizing the minions in our game. The minions are featured on our poster, website imagery and in our trailer. And people love the minions from their cute sounds to their tail flapping in the air.

Taking this idea into account, my idea centers on having the player capturing specific regions on the map in order to spawn minions. Once spawned, these minions would seek out the player’s opponent in order to attack them. Furthermore, the longer the territory is captured, more dangerous minions will spawned. This would also be sped up if the territory that spawns minions are connected to one another. The first player to die at the hands of the attacking minions loses the match.

In order to create more strategy, players will have limited “ammo” and would need to go to specific areas to replenish their ammo. This area would also have places where power-ups would spawn to help balance the game if a player is behind.

In a nutshell, that is what I am currently working on. Hopefully, during this time of iteration, we will be able to come to a consensus as to what direction to take our game. The next coming weeks are going to determine what will be seen in the final game. Stay tuned!