Monthly Archives: September 2014

Introducing All is Dust!

Remember how a while ago I mentioned that we’d soon have a name for our thesis game?  Well today is that day!  I’m super excited to formally introduce our thesis game- All is Dust!

F***in Glorious.
Coming in 2015 whether we’re ready or not.

All is Dust is the successor to the Mannequin game that we were working on last semester.  It uses the same core mechanic of an enemy freezing in place when you have line of sight on it, but adds a lot more supporting material to that concept.

All is Dust is a horror game set in rural Oklahoma during the height of the Dust Bowl. Players must navigate through an otherworldy farmstead in order to find shelter from the gathering storm, all while evading the clutches of a wicked scarecrow and his minions.

We had a bit of a crazy week getting to this point.  We’re a team of 16 and this was the first week we really saw it cause any hiccups in our process.  We were shooting for a build review on Tuesday, and everyone was working very hard towards it, but for some reason everything felt very disjointed and we had a lot of trouble getting everything together to review the progress.  Some of this is the fault of Unity not being friendly with version control (Note, I’m still very glad we’re using Unity.  This issue is outweighed by many other awesome things it allows us to do).  Some of it is on me as a producer for not having the process figured out just yet.  Whatever the cause, Tuesday we did not get to the build review we wanted.

It was a good thing for us to go through this though, because it’s better to see issues in our process now than it would be for them to happen right before IGF submission.  Tuesday was kind of a loss almost, but we course corrected and have better systems in place going forward.

Honestly, I think this is probably to be expected on what’s pretty much a new project.  And it’s almost a new team too, we’ve added 2 more members since last semester and have a more concrete structure, so our dynamics have certainly changed.  We saw that the approach we took to Tuesday’s build review and some things leading up to it didn’t work, so now we’ll have a different process for future builds.

So for Thursday’s class we switched gears a bit and were able to get the build review we hoped for.  In it, we saw that a few of the things we added over the last sprint were big successes in fixing some of the issues we’d seen.  The biggest was the addition of giving the player a way to defend themselves from crows in the field, which made time spent in the field a more active experience for them.

Seriously, ignore the mace.
Ignore the mace.

The game is really coming in to it’s own, and I’m super excited and proud to be working on it.  We should have a deployable build very soon, and that’s when we’ll start putting it out into the wild and getting feedback.  We’re about a week away from the point when we stop adding features, so we’ll have a little over a month before IGF to polish up what we’ve already got.  It’s going to be so busy, but I think what we’ll have will be so worth it.

On Iteration and Embracing Change

I think that when work on the Americana project is all said and done and we take a look back at the process, this will be remembered as one of the most important weeks for our game.

Farmville 3D

We finished our first build on Tuesday of this week and so subsequently had our first build review, where I took the screenshot above.  This review was HUGELY helpful and has only convinced me more of how important it is to do build reviews early and often.  We celebrated as a team the fact that we had essentially rebuilt our game in 2 weeks, and what we saw was already more impressive to us than what we built in Mannequin last semester.  It was nice for each of our 16 members to be able to look at the scene and see something that they contributed, and putting on the Oculus Rift and walking around in the world we’ve built is always a good time.

But we did notice something potentially alarming.  Our lead artist Christopher played through the level, and we noticed that for the majority of his time he was just walking.  He was enjoying the experience but he was just.. walking.  It was very passive.  The scarecrow was chasing him as intended, but the world was so big and open that he was just easily running past it and it didn’t seem to have much interaction at all.

For those of you following this blog you know that the mechanic of Mannequin was similar to the childhood game Red Light Green Light, or the behavior of the Weeping Angels if any readers are Dr. Who fans.  In Mannequin it worked well because there were many mannequins, and you were confined in a mall having to avoid them and keep an eye on them all at once.  In Americana, there is just one scarecrow behaving this way, and the field is so open that it was easy to just keep an eye on him and never really have to get up close and personal.  It didn’t give the same effect.

We went to lunch with a large part of the team to discuss possible solutions, and this lunch was a very productive time for us.  John said something about “letting the game speak for itself” (I’m sure I’m butchering the quote) and it really resonated.  We needed to not be hung up on what Mannequin WAS and instead focus on what Americana is BECOMING.

So lunch turned into a long discussion about solutions specific to the game and ways to engage the player more actively.  And after hours of brainstorming we think we have it figured out.  I won’t hint to it this week cause I’d rather just show the change in the blog next week, but I can honestly say that I think the change is going to make the game great.

As a producer, an iterative change like this MIGHT be scary, but I think we’ve done well in planning time for things like this to come up.  We’ve set our date to lock features on September 30th, so we’re not technically behind until that date.  If after then we’re talking about radically changing things, then I’ve done something wrong.  I’m excited that we’re using this time to truly iterate rather than just steamrolling ahead to build the thing we originally had in mind, even if that thing is no longer appropriate.

So, I truly believe that whatever Americana becomes, this week was certainly an imporant one.  I’m glad to be with such creative people that are willing to respond well when things aren’t necessarily going perfectly.  The team has seen where we’re lacking and is making steps toward correcting our course.  I’m excited to see where we go next.

Insipiration

FULFILLING PROMISES

Today I find myself mad at myself from a week ago!  I know in my post last week I promised more of an in depth look at the shape of our thesis game, but things have come up this week that I feel more disposed to write about.

I’ll give a quick update in where we’re at with the thesis game- the project is known to us on the team as Americana.  This is just how we’re referring to it and the name will certainly change (I should have an actual name next week!).  We’ve taken some of the better mechanics from Mannequin and revamped the setting and theme of the game drastically.  Americana takes place on a farmstead in Oklahoma during the height of the Dust Bowl.  It’s still a horror game, our player must navigate their way through this landscape while being attacked by dark forces.  While traversing the farm they must come to terms with events both ongoing and passed in their life.  I’ll stop being vague and give more details in a future blog post when I can afford the space to do it justice.

We already have the interior of the farm house and the farm itself built and are playing around with the different variables and mechanics, and I’ve got to say I think the game is already better than mannequin.  The team is running smoothly and buy-in seems to be at an all time high.

INSIPIRATION

I’ve been so busy these last two weeks which I would think should be stressful, but for the time being at least I feel great about it all.  Progress on Americana is going great, I love the people I work with, and I’ve had some great sources of inspiration, which I’d like to give a shout out to.

1. I just recently picked up and subsequently beat Thomas Was Alone in one sitting.  A fantastic game, and created by such a cool guy.  In his most recent tumblr post found HERE Mike Bithell talks about some things that we should think about as developers, and just humans really.  I especially like the 5th point.  Just really solid feel-good advice in a time where the industry is kind of in an uproar.  Follow Mike on twitter @mikeBithell for some cool perspective every now and then.  Also go buy and play and love Thomas Was Alone.

2. We also watched in class this week a talk that Alexander Bruce gave about his creation of the game Antichamber.   Antichamber is also amazing but I am clearly not smart enough to beat it in one sitting.  He talks about just how much work it took him to make the game the breakout success that it is.  He attributes the success to IMMENSE PREPARATION and HARD WORK on his part, but he’s also humble enough to admit that he had a lot of help and a lot of people looking out for him along the way, and a little bit of luck here and there to.  The talk was motivating enough for me to want to just work harder in everything and make myself a better dev, and for this reason I’ve decided to breathe new life into a side project of mine, which I’m sure I’ll talk about here soon.  I wish I could show the talk but it’s only available to those with GDC vault passes.  Follow Alexander at @Demruth and then go try to beat the part of Antichamber that you’ve been stuck on for so long.

So these two things this week really just helped me get back into feeling excited to be doing what I do, and made me want to better myself and be more involved in the community.  I have so much to learn from people like Mike and Alexander, and I hope someday someone will learn something from something I write.

Follow me on twitter @tarvusthegreat and I’ll do my best to post relevant and interesting content.  Thanks for reading!