All posts by Travis Turner

About Travis Turner

1st year video game production student at Entertainment Arts and Engineering at the University of Utah.

A New Challenger Approaches

And by a new challenger I mean real life.  We’re 1 week away from being done with school.  Really, after Friday of this week I just have nothing left to do for school. We’ve got EAE day on Tuesday, I’ll show off my level design stuff on Wednesday, and then our Thesis Defense is on Friday.

That’s it, and then I graduate the next week!

It’s so crazy, but we don’t really get a lot of time to stop and think about it.  This past week has been nuts.  We launched our Greenlight on Monday evening and it’s been a fantastic week for it.  As of my writing right now, we’re 98 percent of the way to the top 100 Greenlight games!  Actually here, let me show you and let that sink in!

Greenlight progress

It’s a fantastic trajectory and with the extra exposure we’ll get at EAE day there’s almost no way we won’t break into the top 100.  After that, it’s up to the people at Valve to decide, but we’re very optimistic!  In the chart in the bottom right, we’re the bright green line.  So you can see we’re well above the pace needed to get in the top 100.  And the 51 percent yes vote ratio is really good, the average is around 30!

In addition to the Greenlight we’ve been busy prepping the thesis defense.  We had a dry-run on Tuesday and were summarily destroyed.  So we’ve spent a decent amount of time reworking it, and I think it will pay off.  I’m pretty happy with the flow we’ve got now.

Tuesday will be crazy showing off the game at EAE day, but it’s going to be a great day and we’re excited to show All Is Dust and see all the great games everyone else has been so hard at work at!

All Is Dust on Greenlight!

Well, I’m a day late to my blog but that’s because WE JUST LAUNCHED ALL IS DUST ON GREENLIGHT!!

It is a SIZEABLE process getting a campaign like this ready, and I’m sure that there were a million other things I could have done to help out getting us ready.

But HERE IS THE LINK!  Please visit and give us a yes vote, and share if you feel so inclined.  The game is free and it would mean the world to us to help us get on Steam.

Once the dust settles and we’re either successfully on Steam or not, I’d like to write a more detailed blog about what I learned in this process.  Honestly, this has totally given me a better understanding to just what a massive and HUGELY important job community management is.  Balancing getting this campaign ready with normal production responsibilities has been tough!

I’m so proud of my team and all the work they’ve put in to getting the game looking and playing so good!  So anyway, short and sweet this week.  Stop reading and go vote/share!

 

The One Where He Turns His Blog Into a Task List

This will be a quick blog post since I’ve been swamped with things going on, but quick is better than none right?

So, graduation is now less than one month away…

 

 

WHAT!?

Yeah, so we graduate on May 8th, and there is so much to do between now and then.   I think I’m going to list them here as it might be interesting to those who may be reading this blog wondering what the EAE experience is like right at the end, and it will be a place I can look back at to remind myself what I need to be working on!

  • Wrap up production on All Is Dust- This seems obvious, but it’s something that needs to happen.  We need to get in the work that is outstanding and make the final build.  This will happen within the coming week.
  • Publish All Is Dust-  This is the big one, the one that’s going to take the most time, but it’s also the most important.  We’re shooting for publishing on a few different platforms.  I’ve spoken with one of the founders of wearvr.com and he says they’d love to have our game there, so we’ll definitely be with them soon.  In addition to that platform we’re submitting to Desura, the Oculus Share platform, and we’re going to try our hand at Steam Greenlight.  We learned a lot watching the VERY successful Greenlight campaign of our classmates at Retro Yeti, so we hope to take those lessons and give our game the best chance it has.  Oh and BTW their game is releasing on the 16th, go get it HERE!
  • Prepare the thesis defense- This is another biggie.  This is where our team defends the work we’ve done and justifies why we feel they should give us degrees.  No biggie…
  • Prepare for the final playtest- This feels like it’s less of a playtest and more celebrating the work we’ve done as a cohort, but we need to make sure we have the build in a good place for it on Tuesday.
  • The final All Hands presentation-  John is taking the lead on this one, but it’s a significant one so I’ll help as much as I can.  We can probably double-dip a lot of the thesis defense material as well.
  • Make my level for Virtual Worlds-  I’ve chosen Disney Infinity 2.0 to make a level for, and the editor is VERY user friendly, but even so making a fun level is a sizeable amount of work.
  • Edit rules for the Paper Prototyping class-  In paper prototyping we all designed a board game, and now we’re swapping our rulesets with another classmate in order to have two perspectives on them.  So we need to take the rules we’ve been given and try to enhance and clarify.

I am like 100 percent sure I’m overlooking something, but these are the big things that are on my plate.  It’s a lot, and I’m working a full-time job now too, but it feels doable.

Oh yeah, I haven’t said on the blog.  I started doing QA at Disney about a month ago!  It’s a great learning experience for me and I work with some great people.  The game we’re working on is being announced next month I believe so when that happens I can talk more openly about it, but it’s I can tell you it’s great!

Thanks for reading and letting me use this blog post as a task-list.  I’ll try to follow up with another short post next Sunday.

The busy days leading to GDC

Oh man life is crazy at the moment.  We have like 1 work week until we’re heading  down to San Francisco for GDC, and there’s so many things going on.  All Is Dust is looking great I must say, here’s some gameplay footage that John recently recorded.

If you compare this to the old footage you can see just how far the game has come along, there’s a lot more going on visually and the redone map is so much better.

We’ve also turned ourselves into a real company.  We’re called Mannequin Games LLC (an homage to the game that was stolen from us :P).  Being a company allows us a bit more legitimacy and may open doors for further publishing options.  Being able to say I’m the Lead Producer of Mannequin Games LLC doesn’t look to shabby on a resume either.

We’re so excited to show off the game at GDC and see all the other cool things going on down there.  We printed off some cool postcards to hand out to people, and my team is being super helpful and excited to help staff the booth.  It’s crazy to me that this time last year we were taking the Mannequin prototype around on a laptop, and now we’ll have All Is Dust with some prime booth space.

So if any readers are going to be at GDC, come visit us at the University of Utah booth (right next to the IGF pavillion).

This is the time when production work is really ramping up!  Trying to figure out the appropriate platforms for us to publish the game once it’s finished, managing the last few sprints before we declare it done, it’s nuts.  It’s the busiest I’ve ever been (and it’s just going to get busier) but I do feel more able to do it after the 2 years of schooling.  I’ve also got a great team that is happy to do their share of the work, everyone really pulls their weight!  The team leads are crushing it and it feels like this semester we’ve really hit our stride in working together as a team.

Blog? What Blog? Oh….

I’m sitting here just in shock that it’s been almost 3 months since I’ve made a blog post.  I’m disappointed in myself for letting it go that long and getting caught up in other things, but at the same time I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made on All Is Dust in that time.

We’ve finally got the story pretty much locked down and we’ve decided to have the story elements conveyed through a series of hand drawn 2D images, rather than trying to construct new scenes for just what’s essentially a cutscene.  This is working out really well since it lets our engineers focus more on making the existing scenes shine, and we have Jing on the team who is fantastic at 2D art, and she’s super excited to take a crack at the new story elements.  We should have her mockups to show soon, and we’ll know then how everything is shaping up.

The game has a definite direction that the player is supposed to take, and we’ve come a long way in conveying that.  It used to be that we pretty much just put the Oculus on the player and said “have at it”, but now there are all sorts of things to help guide them.  There is a ghost of the daughter character that leads them around, there is a map that they can bring up at will to help re-orient themselves if they get lost, and there’s a much improved text and UI system in place.  So we have much less of a problem of players just wandering around aimlessly now.

GDC is now exactly 1 month away!  We have a month to polish this like crazy and show it off as much as we can, and we’re all working a lot to make it shine and also sell ourselves as potential employees.  I’m excited to go back to San Fransisco with another years worth of skills under my belt, and to see what connections can come out of it.

Test Blog Please Ignore

Thinking up names for blog posts is hard…

I’m doing my best to keep up on blog posts, but there are SO MANY things pulling for our time that I’ve let the personal blog fall to the side more than I should.  Let me start with some good news.

WE SUBMITTED ALL IS DUST TO IGF LAST WEEK!!!

The team worked super hard to get the game to a playable state and they succeeded!  We had a really good playtest with some highschool kids the day before we submitted, and we definitely succeeded in scaring a teenage girl or two- yes we feel quite proud of that :).

Horror games are so difficult to get right.  They’re so dependent on sound and textures and ambience to get the fear working.  This makes development somewhat ungratifying for the team I think, they work so hard for so long and it’s just not quite scary, until that moment when it finally IS.  And that was phenomenal for those of us that were there.  The game jumped from being not scary at all weeks prior, to finally making someone yell from fright.  It’s like someone flipped a switch and all our hard work finally started paying off.  We didn’t get a video of the reactions, which we’ll definitely want to do starting very soon, but here’s a picture of Swapnil playing with our “modded” Oculus to tide you over.

Speaking of the Game, please check out our website HERE, follow All is Dust on Twitter, and like our Facebook.  We would definitely appreciate any traffic we can get to these sites and these will be the places to get new information about the game’s development.

Lastly, we’ve got a fun gameplay video that shows some of what players are in for.  Let me know what you think!

IGF Submission is 1 week away

The title of this blog post should elicit different reactions based on who is reading.  If you’re family or friends reading this it explains why you haven’t seen me in a long time.  If you’re games industry people, it’s an exciting time when a lot of new student releases start to surface and we get a sneak peak at all the cool things going on.  Or if you’re EAE cohort 4, it makes you panic a little bit.

Needless to say we’re firing on all cylinders getting the game ready to submit to the contest.  I’ve been hard at work making sure we meet the submission requirements, which isn’t always a cut and dry thing.  We are working with a composer at the school to do the score for our game, and he’s not a student so I had to reach out to IGF to make sure this would be OK.  After some waiting and worrying that we wouldn’t be able to use his work, I actually got a reply from the chairman of IGF himself and he said that as long as it was just the music and the rest of the work came from us that it should be fine.  So that was a huge relief.

I then needed to figure out how to make an Installer package for a Unity project since this is one of IGFs rules, automated installation and unistallation.  Luckily I stumbled upon this blog post and this software, and it makes it all pretty easy.

I’ve also been leading the charge for our online presence for the team, we have our website up at www.allisdust.com and you can find us on Twitter @ALLisDustGame or on Facebook.  It’s a lot of work to keep up on all these different platforms (you can tell I’ve let facebook suffer the most) but it’s going to be really important for us if we want to be noticed at all.  We’ve also used do.presskit by Rami Ismail of Vlambeer for any press that may be interested in doing a write up on us.

It’s crazy how I’ve been able to talk this much without really even getting into the game, but that’s kind of where a lot of my work goes into.  I get to help talk about design and goal-orientation with the team here and there, but between keeping up an online presence, worrying about SEO, contest submissions, and every other supplementary thing my time is pretty split.  I have been learning CSS and a little HTML for my work at the GApp lab and for the web stuff for the team, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity it’s given me to expand my skills.  But I do wish there were more hours in the day.

In other news Owen, one of our wonderful sound guys, has been hired as a sound designer at EA Salt Lake, and has to suspend his work on the team once he begins there.  We’re super excited for him and we’ll miss having his expertise here, but also so grateful that we got him for the months that we did!

It’s down to the wire for sure, the team is doing another nighttime game jam tonight to clean up some things and polish up the build that we’ll submit.  We’ve reached a place where the game is starting to get scarier and we’ll be proud to submit what we have, then we get to spend the next months improving on it and adding a little extra content.

Thanks for checking in and hopefully I’ll be better about regular updates in November!

Document Everything and Be Willing to Change

With the arrival of October we are officially less than 1 month away from the deadline for us to submit our game to the IGF student competition.  And there is still so much to do!  I guess this will always be true- even with the best planning we can do, there will always be things we could do to improve the game.  This is one of the reasons it’s so valuable to set deadlines like this, it gives us something to shoot for and judge our progress against.

Speaking of deadlines- we’ve been working really hard this week to get a deployable build ready for a playtest party that Tina organized.  And we got there!  We have a deployable build that is super buggy, but it’s playable and gets the idea of the game across.  We’ve added a way for the player to die, a dust effect, TONS of sounds, all sorts of things.

Screenshot with dust

So let me put this call out to all readers in the Salt Lake area- come to EAE North tomorrow at 5PM and come play All is Dust and all the other great thesis games we’ve been working on!

Progress on All is Dust has been coming along at a reasonable pace, but I think we’re all feeling we’d like to be a bit farther along than we are.  I see two reasons for this- technical issues and communication issues.

Some of the tech issues are just due to the fact that we’re a team of 16 trying to play nicely with the version control in Unity, which anyone will tell you is TRICKY!  I’m always amazed at the capabilities of the engine, but this is one of the things that continues to pop up and give us mild headaches from time to time.  Maybe it’s our inexperience in setting it up appropriately?  Maybe it’s limitations of the engine?  Whatever the case, it’s a real issue and it’s slowed us down some, but it’s also something we’re adapting to and learning a lot from.

The larger issue is the one of communication.  We all share some responsibility for this, but I think that as a producer- even more specifically as the lead producer- this falls largely on my shoulders.  This is the largest team I’ve worked on and it’s difficult to keep the one-on-one sort of communication with every individual team member that I feel very effective at.  This means that to effectively communicate ideas and vision, it’s so important for me and the other team leads to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.

I bring this up because there has been some uncertainty with team members on different aspects of the game- like why we’re trying a certain thing, if it’s “indie” enough for IGF, etc.  It’s not that there isn’t a vision for all these things, it’s just that myself and others heavily involved in the design haven’t been great at disseminating that information to all team members.  Which is a big no-no.  As leads we have spent a lot of time this past week trying to evaluate our process and course correct.  We do believe All is Dust has the potential to be great and it’s our desire that the team regains that confidence in it as well.

I guess this kind of turned into my own sort of “thinking out loud” about things I need to do better with.  I know I’m in school and I’m supposed to make mistakes, but it’s still no fun!  We’ve got a plan in place to make the necessary changes to get the team back to the excitement levels that everyone had when we set out on this.

I think the future of All is Dust is bright, especially if we’re humble and willing to make the necessary changes in our process.

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.