Monthly Archives: December 2013

Snow Place Like Home PUBLISHED

Our fourth prototype is now available on the Windows 8 Store.

Check it out at http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/en-us/app/593bbdd5-f0ea-4fa5-ab30-4c9df5eaad83.

Snow Place Like Home is a game of moving connect-the-dots.  Protect your cabin from enemies by selecting them and form chains to get higher scores.
Snow Place Like Home is a game of moving connect-the-dots. Protect your cabin from enemies by selecting them and form chains to get higher scores.
The Snow Place Like Home team from left to right:  Joe Rozek, Rachel Leiker, Siddharth Gupta, Skip Fowler, Siyuan Cheng, Tina Kalinger.
The Snow Place Like Home team from left to right: Joe Rozek, Rachel Leiker, Siddharth Gupta, Skip Fowler, Siyuan Cheng, Tina Kalinger.

Fourth Prototype Announcement and Post-Mortem

Blogging about prototypes was difficult after the third prototype.  I could make excuses about coursework and prototyping picking up and requiring more time, but at the end of the day the answer is that I didn’t blog well for the fourth prototype.  I will detail the fourth prototype four week period in detail in following paragraphs.  Before then I will detail recent events.

We recently had the EAE Open House which was a fun.  Though we have learned a lot I know there is a large piece of the puzzle missing in being a successful game designer and engineer.  All games presented (and not shown) were prototypes.  There were mechanics, themes and designs that did not work for the game.  There were games where only part of the programming was finished.  There were teams trying to defend their game during critique especially programming bugs….  I am probably guilty of all of the above.  I am learning to listen to the player base without interjection.  Everyone that came to the EAE Open House was here for the students.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be critiqued on our fourth prototype.  I noticed our prototype was a hit with children and wonder how it will translate to touch devices.  I hoped the chicken prototype would be featured, however I am happy for the teams that had prototypes featured outside the Windows 8.1 prototypes.  The area around the Windows 8.1 prototypes was very crowded.  I noticed fellow students knocking off “The Nocturns” to show a unlisted prototypes.

I will now detail the fourth prototype now that my impressions of the EAE Open House have been written.  The fourth prototype involved an injection of drama from the start.  The drama began with team formation.  We were allowed to form our own teams.  There was a lot of team stacking that occurred using the team formation approach chosen.  There are a lot of talented engineers in the EAE Master Game Studio program.  I was chosen early which may reflect popularity.

My team consisted of a single producer: Tina Kallinger, two artist: Rachel Leiker and Joe Rozek, three engineers: Siyaun Cheng, Siddharth Gupta and Skip Fowler.  We were tasked with developing games to publish on the Windows 8.1 app store.  We decided to make a side scrolling shooter game themed for winter and snow.  We determined the best route to the Windows 8.1 app store would be to program the game directly to the Windows 8.1 runtime (WinRT).  We chose to write our prototype in C++ and DirectX.  The decision turned heads when we announced our decision during the initial pitch since the other teams were using Unity and GameMaker.  Unity and GameMaker are useful tools for prototyping and will probably grow on me.  C++ and DirectX worked well for creating a prototype however.

C++ and DirectX were able to show their real power during the third week of our prototype when we had a visit from Tobiah Marks, a developer for the game Blast Monkeys and game evangelist for Microsoft.  I brought up the potential for the problem during our first meeting, but it was left “to testing”.  The game mechanic of our side scrolling shooter was not fun.  Side scrolling shooters can be amazing as in the case of “Elona Shooter” (http://armorgames.com/play/4800/).  The game features lanes and clicking projectiles working well with a mouse.  The game has strong procedural generation of enemies encouraging replay-ability.  The RPG element further adds to the replay-ability as players try to acquire new weapons and upgrades.  The prototype didn’t tap into any of the features that “Elona Shooter” or “Balloon in a Wasteland” (http://armorgames.com/play/5272/) did right.  Our projectile flew across the level with physics and enemies only spawned in one place.  Our result was that the game required players to swipe left as rapidly as possible to win.  Our game was boring.  We decided to branch the game or as producers call it “pivot”.  We were able to reuse most of our code in the “pivot” due to the strength of developing Actor-Controller interfaces and a 2D rendering system in C++ and DirectX.  We also had the advantage that our SVN version control merged code well compared to Unity version control.  The disadvantage was that the C++ language allows developers to do really foolish things and they did happen including breaking the head revision and using #define macros for numbers.  We were able to code review and clean problems at the expense of losing engineering time.

A few days after Tobiah’s visit we were given an idea from our producer about playing moving connect-the-dots in a top down environment.  We decided that would be our project.  We started work Thursday evening.  We had a working build of the new game by Friday again attesting to the power of C++ and DirectX.  We continued to add features over the weekend and following week.  The game is much more fun, however I am concerned that we are still missing the mark.  During our pitch we were told that since the game is moving connect-the-dots instead of having enemies move toward the center enemies should move around in patterns that the player can outline similar to connect-the-dots puzzles.  I like the idea and feel we are in need of another iteration.

Overall, I think prototype four went well.  We will be entering our game into contest and it will be published on the Windows 8.1 app store.  I will post announcements and directions when that time comes.  I will also post a short video of the prototype in motion and our teams post-mortem board.