Full Speed Ahead!

We are moving along at a very quick pace. We have completed a bunch of our project well ahead of  our original deadlines. We are moving so fast that my role on the engineering team is taking a back seat to my role as the lead designer. Basically, everything that can be worked on at this point is already being worked on. This has put a bunch of pressure on me as basically the only designer to be pumping out quality design choices that impact our game in a positive way.

Here is a list of things that are already done:

Movement
Level Editor
Pule System(grid UI)
Collection system
UI text pop-up system
Basic AI system
Partial AR level 1
Gameloop
Aumakua Narrative System
Link Grid system to Character
Title / UI elements

Design is one of the hardest things I have ever encountered in this program so far. When I just worry about programming, It is simply a matter of getting my portion of the code done. even as a lead programmer, my goal is just to make all the pieces that we have work together nicely. With design, it feels like I have no limitations, but at the same time, i have no guides either. I am hoping to improve my skills as a designer by talking more about the design with professors and colleagues, playing more games similar to ours, and perhaps reading up a bit online as well as watching YouTube videos related to the theory around design.

Massive Changes and a Design Overhaul.

Well the summer is over. Back to work!

First things first, Metaio is dead. Unfortunately Apple decided that Metaio was a sweet piece of software and gobbled it right up. The locked the licensing and basically made it impossible for us to continue development legally.

So that sucked…We spend the entire summer building new technology to make our game play better and now…. unfortunately we lost a bunch of ground with the metaio loss. We were pretty lost about what to do. We had a few options:

1. Remake our game by refactoring all of our code into a new AR engine.

2. Pivot our game.

3. Dissolve our team.

In the end we chose to pivot our game. Along with throwing out metaio, We decided that throwing out the other problems with our game. these problems were namely:

1. lack of vision

2. lack of cultural backing despite being a culture game.

3. overall tired art theme which was too complicated and too bland.

Our Solution to the project caught me a little by surprise. While we were lamenting the death of our current systems and considering our options, I brought up the idea about making a game about Hawaii expecting fully to be denied. I had mentioned Hawaii before and the general opinion was that we would be better suited by local native american cultures. However, Once I started talking about Hawaiian culture, people were interested and after less than an hour of design boxing, we had a compelling idea for a game that everyone could agree with. As a native Hawaiian and a teacher of the Hawaiian culture for 4+ years in my life, I felt confident that we could make a better game than before with new direction.

In order to give you a better idea about our game I will tell you about some of the design decisions we have made. The game will be set in a timeless ancient Hawaiian ahupua’a (strip of land from the ocean to the mountain- pre western influence). The game is 3d isometric view, like popular games such as Spiral Knights, Pokemon(3ds), or like Zelda. The gameplay include an open world with quests to accomplish and basic collection and combat systems. So basically when the player starts the game, the will be given a quest to talk to someone, collect something or fight, etc. As the player completes the quest, they progress through the story.

The mechanics of the game were created from key cultural words/phrases that became systems in the game that help to convey the feelings or underlying meaning of each word respectively. Our main mechanic is linked to the Hawaiian idea of pule or prayer. At any time in the game, a player can choose to pray to one of the four main male gods in Hawaiian culture namely, Kane, Ku, Kanaloa or Lono. By doing so the player gets a bonus stat that is related to the god they have prayed to. Other systems include “aloha aku, aloha mai” or “give and take” where the player can use taro fields to replenish health, but if they don’t replant the taro, it will no longer yield any health. Reversely, if they do give back, next time it will replenish more health than before. Other systems include kapu(basic rules and regulations), halau(system for learning more about Hawaiian culture), ‘Aumakua(narrator and game guide), and others.

Our aesthetics are all Hawaiian themed. Our artists are spending a lot of time learning about Hawaiian plants, structures and design. We embrace all things Hawaiian which is an advantage of a timeless Hawaiian village, we can pursue an aesthetic that feels right culturally without being too bogged down by historical details. We are also going with a stylized art style rather than ultra realistic art style. This allows for more vibrant color schemes, and a symbolic representation of complex cultural ideas.

Our narrative is still being formed and will likely be near the last thing we add to the game to tie it all together. It will be based on real Hawaiian legends. We are tentatively leaning towards the legend of Naupaka and Kaui. As stated before, the narrative will be revealed as the character completes quests, meaning that the quests should be related to the narrative in a meaningful way. The goal of our narrative will be to draw in the user into the legend and let them have a meaningful experience with the culture. Possible story lines could be the telling the story with the main character as Kaui or Naupaka, it could be a riff off the story where you try to reverse the curse on them, etc.

So you might be thinking, What about the AR stuff? well it took us 8 months to implement so I think we need more time. IGF is coming in 2 months so we really need something we can confidently finish in time. We decided to use the AR stuff as a subsystem to complete boss battles themed around the four main male gods(Kane, Kanaloa, Ku, and Lono). We still like the AR stuff and will use MAXstAR to complete levels. We think that the AR style matches the aesthetic and highlights the difference between interacting with the real world vs. the divine world. It is still under development and may not be completely implemented in early versions of the game.
In the end we hope that our game is more than just a fun experience but we hope to contribute to the positive momentum in recent Hawaiian movements. Recently with all of the changes in Hawaii including the ‘Aole TMT movement, The Aloha Aina March, and the ongoing effort towards Hawaiian sovereignty, I feel like Hawaiians are waking up to take more interest in our aina. For the first time in my life I am seeing Hawaiians have more interest in our own kuleana and I want to participate in helping our people. By making this game I hope that I can help everyone gain more interest in Hawaiian culture, and that we can help people understand the underlying principles behind the real world problems Hawaii is facing now. As such, I plan to contact groups in the Hawaiian movement for direction and support in making this game successful. 

Teamwork? yeah…kinda…

So we are totally going to meet our goals for EAE night. After working towards our goals for this sprint, we have stepped on each others toes more than once with this clunky version control problem. So what s the solution? Karthik! This dude has taken the initiative to finish pretty much all remaining mission critical tasks AFTER the work day. This results in less problems because he has no conflicts and can just get everything done without the need to double and triple check with version control. Honestly without his work I think that we would have struggled a lot more in reaching our goals.

Our game in general feels much more like a game than ever before. I am glad that I can work together with our team. All of our engineers have such unique abilities and I am so glad to be able to work together with them. To help ease the burdens and frustrations, I will try to provide some tasty treats for them and my team. Hopefully we can all end this project without feeling cheated out of work, or hurt by the necessities of dealing with the inconveniences of the system.

EAE day here we come.

So recently we have had some conflicts on our team that have brought up some very important issues and ultimately have made our team stronger. We are coming up on the end of the semester and have to present our game at EAE day. This means that we need something to show. Currently our game has about 5 seconds of playable game. This seems pretty unacceptable for EAE day so we had a meeting. In the meeting among other things we talked about what we need to show at EAE day and how we can get there in the amount of time that we have left. This was a great meeting because we were finally able to tell people to stop talking about where the game will be in a year, and start talking about where it will be in a week. We decided to worry less about changing our game and more about finishing it as it is now and then improving player experience and iterating on the fun. I feel like at this point, we are making strides in the right direction. I am confident that we will have good stuff to show at EAE day.

The downside is that I am struggling to find tasks for everyone to do as we can only have one person working on one scene at any given time. In order for people to not just override others work( or lose there own) I am bouncing back and forth between any teams that might have conflicts and the only advice I can give them is to wait until the other person is finished. It feels so wrong at this point where we are at crunch time….but I don’t know what else to do. We have very clear goals for EAE day and the work would be so easy to do in a day if everyone could work at the same time…but unfortunately we cant. This means that we will have less time for iteration and will have to play with whatever we end up with.

Troubles?

Today I felt some of the pressures of a lead programmer. Currently we are working with unity and a large portion of what we are working on is scenes. Unfortunately our version control only allows for one person to work on a single scene at a time. This means that we need to work in small teams at computer stations rather than for each person to work on the projects alone. it is a bit annoying but we are solving this by breaking the game up into smaller scenes so that more people can contribute. I am feeling a bit of pressure because I feel like Engineers have less work to do(making them outwardly disappointed and inwardly happy. lol), and the producers want everyone to be working. So…As the guy who breaks up the task, I am hard pressed to give everyone meaningful tasks when our system cannot merge scenes, and we are narrowing down our scenes to only the most important. So i am assigning some guys some research tasks, assigning some with creation of prefabs and generalizing scripts, and others with cleaning folders and implementing the artists assets etc. I am foreseeing a bottleneck of labor at the end of the semester when we have done all of that and then need to focus on fixing scenes…

The haze clears…now its getting real

So basically with GDC and the spring break our team has not had much time to meet together. It has been good for a break, but terrible for the progress of our game. It is nice to get back into the swing of things. We have recently been having some serious problems hammering down the direction that our game should be going in. We have different factions in our group that want different things. In a very general sense here is what I am observing: We have the producers who seem to want to flush out the original idea of camera and whatnot, We have some artists who want to try something new and more exciting, and finally the engineers who just want to simplify and work with what we have. Personally I feel that everyone has good points and I am a bit unsure at how we can resolve them. I also feel that this idea of democracy in game design is taking too much time. I love the idea that everyone helps with design…but currently we have a system that everyone says ideas, but no one decides. This means that we waste a lot of time talk about nebulous ideas that have no value as they will never be implemented. I hope that we can resolve this issue quickly and get back on track.

 

Post-GDC thoughts

GDC was pretty sweet. I love the san francisco area and the whole gdc scene. It was parties and networking galore. I learned alot and had such a great time. I was able to meet some amazing people and talk a lot about our game.  here is a video of what we showed for our game:

 

 

Here are some tips I have for first time GDC attendees:

1) Pace yourself. I lost my voice by the third night as a combination of fatigue and constantly chatting it up at loud parties. When you need to rest, rest!

2) Talk to everyone. It was great to meet so many people in the industry. I was able to get the most out of the experience by opening my mouth and not being shy.

3) Enjoy yourself. Sometimes the most meaningful experiences at GDC are not related to the gaming industry. Spend time with friends, see the sights and eat good food! This helps make the overall experience feel more rejuvenating rather than focusing solely on networking etc.

 

GDC here I come!

GDC starts next week and I am flying out tomorrow to go check it out.  The EAE staff has been super cool in hooking us up with matching shirts and jackets and giving us tips on making the most out of GDC. We plan to meet a bunch of people and Introduce our game so we made an introduction video for the game as it currently is.

As for the game itself, We are feeling the growing pains of a large team. Our meetings seem to last a lot longer and there is more talking and opinion exchanging and less actual progress which worries me. I think that this will pass as we realize that we don’t have the time to develop a game if we don’t start working. I look forward to our post GDC meetings where we can nail down the direction we want to pursue and we can unleash our engineering team on the game.

Saraba ja!

We did it!

Well we did it! Our game was one of 5 final projects that were chosen. now we are organizing into bigger teams and I am looking forward to working with a bunch of cool people. We are looking to add Bug, Diana, and Amit to our engineering team which makes us one of the largest engineering teams out there. That’s super exciting. We are spending a bunch of time now just getting the team organized and are trying to iterate on our original game ideas.