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!

A Summer Well Spent

Like many of my classmates I started the summer with the best of intentions to keep up on this blog even when classes weren’t in session.  Clearly we can all see how that went…

It was an amazing summer though!  I worked at The GAPP lab at University of Utah on two separate projects, and it kept me BUSY!  The GAPP is a partnership between EAE, the Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) and the Eccles Health Sciences Library.  There we work with many different groups both on and off campus to make games and apps with a purpose.

The first of my two projects was an unannounced prototype for a local start up, which was great to work on and I’ll be very excited to talk all about it once we get the go ahead to speak publicly about it.  But I can talk all about the other one today!

I present to you Doodle Health!  You can think of Doodle Health as Draw Something- With a Purpose!  Doodle Health prompts community members and the world at large to draw images to accompany medical terms.  For instance, if I had to communicate to you the idea of “take two pills a day” through an image, what might that look like?  The biomedical informatics people found that the existing images used in situations like these aren’t always clear, so they hired us to make a webapp to help fix the problem.  We give people a platform to draw medical images, and then guess the meaning of images drawn by their peers.  The researchers then collect the data and see which of the images was best at communicating what it was meant to be.  Later, they’ll use these images to give people who are being discharged from the hospital (and many other situations) better instructions on how to care for themselves.

The coolest part of this project is that you can help!  Go to www.doodlehealth.com  and start playing, anything you draw has the potential to help doctors provide their patients with better care.  And if you don’t feel like drawing, go ahead and just guess what other drawings mean.  You’ll still get points and help advance this very valuable research!

better than Draw Something? You bet!
Check it out at www.doodlehealth.com

It was a great summer working on this project.  We had a small team which allowed us to have a very flexible process.  But this didn’t mean we omitted using any tools to aid us.  As a lab we decided to adopt Hansoft as our project management software and I must say it was amazing.  It really helped us keep an eye on the state of the project and clearly communicate as a team.

As a producer, learning Hansoft this summer was one of the best things for me, as we’re now going to be using that on our thesis team.  It was helpful on a four person team for sure, but I couldn’t imagine handling the workload on our sixteen person thesis team without it!

Speaking of the thesis game-  I’ll definitely have more to say on it next week.  The game underwent a lot of transitions this summer.  I can’t even really call it Mannequin anymore… But the team has done amazing work this first week back to school.  The new direction we’re taking is really starting to find it’s footing and the team has been working hard at making the concept a reality.  Mark Breeden and Christopher Cherrington have done a great job this first week as our Lead Engineer and Lead Artist respectively and it’s making this 16 person team run like clockwork.  I know challenges will come up throughout development, but I think we’re equipped to handle them.

IGF submission is like 2 months away and there is so much to do and seemingly so little time, but there’s no team I’d rather be making this effort with!

Gamasutra What?!

Hey, so instead of writing a new post here this week, I’m going to link you to a blog post that I wrote for Amy Adkin’s User Experience class that I submitted to Gamasutra.

Guess what?!  It was featured!  I’m not even entirely sure what that means, but I think it’s cool?

Anyway, please click HERE to go to Gamasutra, give my post a read, and leave a comment with your thoughts.  It would mean the world to me.

Here’s the url just in case you need it

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/TravisTurner/20140429/216470/InGame_Value_From_Online_Communities_a_Case_Study_of_Mighty_No9.php

Thanks again guys!  I’m super excited.

EAE Fest

that robot doe.
Come to EAE Fest 2014!

So this is definitely the most important thing that any of you can do with your time this week.  Come visit us at EAE fest 2014!  From 2-5pm this Thursday you can come see the great games we’ve been working on all year in the MEB 3345.  There’s literally something for everyone!

Do you like IGF award winning games about deleting all of your student debt?  Come play Cyber Heist!

Do you like games where you get to groove to your PERSONAL MUSIC LIBRARY and surf in the needle of a record? Vinyl is for you then!

Do you love the PSVita?  Well hey!  Our undergrad students have been doing Vita games all year and have published them to the Vita store.  Come check them out here and then go download them!

Do you like getting sneak peaks on games that aren’t even out yet?   Well that’s where my cohort comes in.  Come check us out in the “Super Secret Lab” and see how the progress is going on our amazing titles.  Hostile Territory, Make a Man Thinketh, Premonition, and Mannequin.  Between the four you’ve got destructible environments, mind control, superpowers and virtual reality horror.

Do you like learning about game development?  Well then come hang out with us and enjoy seeing behind the scenes, we’ll all be happy to talk about what we do.  Also if you don’t come say hi to me at the Mannequin stations I’ll be very sad.  If nothing else you’ll get to try out the Oculus Rift, and who doesn’t like that?

Do you not like video games?  Oh.  Wait, there may be nothing there for you.  You should rethink your life a little bit.

Anyway, come to EAE fest this Thursday.  It will be worth your time FOR SURE!

BearForceOne

I’ll keep it short this week as there are a million things to do.  But check out BEARFORCEONE!

This game is what I’ve been working on for my final in our engineering class, and it’s been a huge learning experience for me (it’s also just been a huge amount of work, but that’s another story…)

In BearForceOne you play as a bear on an airplane, you’re trying to eat the passengers (the white circles in this current version) while not getting killed by the sky marshalls.

I currently have the ability for the bear to sprint for a limited time, and if you use too much sprint the bear gets tired and moves slower for a little while.  It sounds so simple to just say it like that, but the logic for getting it to work took me a long time to figure out.  It’s one of those moments that gives me so much respect for the engineers that do this sort of thing all the time.  Even the most seemingly simple things can often take SO MUCH WORK.

In other news, mannequin is progressing along super well.  Our team is hitting it’s stride and I think we’ll have some awesome things to show during EAE day, which is next Thursday!  I can’t believe it’s that close.  Next Monday I’ll post more details about when and where you can come check out all the projects we’ve been working on.

Thanks for reading!

Halfway

One of my classmates posted on Facebook the other day that we’re less than three weeks away from being done with our first year of grad school, putting us at the halfway point in our education.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!

This year has FLOWN by, it feels like way less time has passed than that.  We’ve kept so busy all the time that the months have just disappeared.  But this is a good thing!  I remember times in my undergrad schooling when I was counting down the days until the next break, excited to be done.  Now there’s always some exciting thing to do and I feel like I could just keep going.

April is going to be probably the busiest month of my life up to this point.  We’ve got lots of work to do on Mannequin to get it ready for EAE day at the end of the month, and then we’ll be submitting it to Indiecade mid May.  The team is doing AMAZING work, and we’re so close to having an alpha build.  I’ve been working on our website and helping the team wherever I can.  I know we’ll reach our goals but it’s going to take a lot of time and work to get there.

Aside from Mannequin, I’m submitting an idea to the Games4Health competition which is taking a lot of time, and then we have our auxiliary classes to think about.  Engineering class has us making a game all on our own in C#, and I’ve got research and paper writing to do for my User Experience class.  Both of these classes have been amazing in broadening what I can do and my understanding of the jobs other parts of my team does, but they definitely add a lot of time to what needs to be done!

So you may not see or hear from me over the next month, but it will be worth it!

It’s almost April?! pt. 2

Some of the other things that happened this month were GDC and the whole grind for trying to find an internship.

Some of you know that I had the opportunity to interview at Disney Interactive (more specifically, Avalanche Software in Salt Lake) for a Game Design Internship.  I unfortunately recently received the news that they decided to go with another candidate, but the interview experience was a great one.  I thought to myself that a year ago I would have had exactly zero chance of even getting an interview there, and how far I’ve come in my education to make games.

I certainly had help in getting the interview, I’d never deny the importance of networking well to anyone reading.  But in the interview I felt prepared and able to answer most of their questions.  I’m sure they chose someone with more published titles or something along those lines, but the interview was valuable for me to learn the sort of questions that are asked in these kind of things.  And it will help me focus my efforts in the future to make my skills even more in line with the type of things that they might be looking for.

Other than Disney, I haven’t had many (ie any) bites for internships, so it looks like this summer I’ll be looking for a normal job!  All I can do now is keep applying everywhere and doing my best at school, because really it’s the relationships that I make here with faculty and classmates that will help determine my placement in the future.

Game Developers Conference.  GDC is amazing.  And exhausting.  GDC is a whirlwind of networking, learning, parties, interviews, everything.  I came back in awe of the talent in this industry, people are making such cool things and it really strengthened my resolve to make the coolest things I can too!

Cyber Heist, one of the thesis games from Cohort 3, had an incredible showing in both the IGF Student Showcase and the Intel Student Games Competition, and we were all so excited for them.

I think for me this year at GDC was almost a preparatory year.  This is in the sense that I’m not exactly looking for jobs yet, and I’m making contacts that will be useful to me now and after graduation.  I learned a lot and came back knowing what I should change to make an even better showing of myself and my talents for next year.  Plus, next year we’ll have our own incredible thesis game to show off.

So thanks again for reading, and sorry the wait was so long!  It’s going to be another crazy month ahead in the sprint to the end of the semester, but I’ll do my best to stay on top of this.

It’s almost April?! pt. 1

Well, I have totally dropped the ball on this blog over the past month and I’m sorry!  I know there are a few of you out there that read most of these posts and I’ve been terrible at providing new content to you.  Let me quickly list out some of the things that have kept us so busy this last month and then go into detail about a few of them-

1. Pitching thesis games to a panel of INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS (no big deal right?).

2. Narrowing down from 2 potential games to the 1 that we’ll work on for the next whole year (again, nothing intimidating to see here…)

3. Applying for ALL THE INTERNSHIPS (Interview at Disney yes please).

4. Game Developers Conference (San Francisco is as amazing as everyone says it is)!

Actually, I’ll talk a bit about all of these things.  You’ve all been patiently waiting and you know what you deserve it!  Pat yourselves on the back.

Pitching the games.  I know I’ve been kind of silent on the thesis game process this far, but a big part of that was because there was uncertainty which of the projects our team was working on would end up moving forward, and I didn’t want to begin writing much about a game that might not continue past the semester.

The agoraphobia game evolved into a game that we titled Supernova, and I must say I am insanely impressed by the Supernova team.  We all worked very hard and in the end came up with a super fun platforming game with some unique mechanics.  We went for an extremely low poly art style and in the end the world came out looking like this

The other half of our team was hard at work on the Mannequin game, which is a horror game for the Oculus Rift.  Mannequin had some of the best reception by the industry panel.  There were so many professionals that said basically “Make that game.  Now!”  Our team took some time to discuss the games and the pros and cons of each, but ultimately the decision was clear.  Mannequin would be the game to move forward.  Check out some super early gameplay that we used for the industry pitch below.

The whole team has been amazing, both those that worked on Supernova and on Mannequin.  We’re just now beginning to come back together to work as one big team so we’re adjusting to how that whole process feels, but I wholly believe in my team’s ability to do great things.

In order to keep this post from getting too long, I’ll make a part 2 to talk about internships and GDC!  Stay tuned!

Where does the time go?

Making video games is HARD.  Anyone that says otherwise can’t be trusted.  It’s fun, engaging work that you can get lost in, but it takes up a lot of time.  I can’t believe we’re already closing in on the end of February.

For those of us in the EAE program that means we’re nearing the presentation of our thesis games to a panel of industry experts on March 3rd.  This is a huge occasion for all of us and it means that we’re just going to be busier than ever in this next week and a half leading up to that.

It can be easy to get stressed in this time leading up to such a big event but I think it’s during these times that we as producers get to shine.  If we’ve been doing our job correctly, we have a plan for the remaining time and we’ve had this date in mind from the very beginning.  Having a plan allows us to check our work along the way and make sure that we’re not falling behind.

On our Agoraphobia game we’ve had some challenges, one of the foremost being the simple fact that conveying a feeling of agoraphobia through a video game seems nigh impossible.  A second challenge is that our game takes place in and around a spherical world, rather than a on top of a flat plane like the majority of games; this has given our engineers a lot of difficulty.

Despite our struggles we’ve had a good plan for the future and an awareness of what we absolutely must have and I feel confident that we’ll be ready for the big pitch next Monday. The game is certainly different than it was when we first started working on it, but I’m really proud of what it’s become.  We have to record a video for the pitch so next week I’ll upload that and talk more about the specifics of the game, rather than just the things we encounter in developing it.

I’ve had some good meetings with professors this week and that has given me a lot of good insight and tips for how to handle the pitch, which I’m very excited for!  And soon we have spring break and GDC, so it’s going to be a very eventful few weeks!

Also-  Protocol:Transcendence won 1st place in the popular vote of the app contest that we entered!  That’s $2500 for the team, and we couldn’t be happier.  It was great to see the support from everyone, and we’re all excited that we now have that little bit to put on our resumes.

Sorry to those of you that read the blog regularly, I’ll be more diligent in updating.  But I’m sure you’ll understand that sometimes there is just SO MUCH TO DO!

So Many Exciting Things

This past week has been so insanely busy, but it’s only been busy because it’s been filled with so many good things.  

Thing no.1-  Our prototype from the end of last semester ,Protocol:Transcendence, is currently at the number 2 spot in the MoDev $10k app contest.  Please take just a quick moment to go HERE and vote for us, you could help us win up to $2500 dollars!

 

Voted yet?

Great! Well now that you’re back I can say just how grateful we are for all the support from our friends, family, classmates, co-workers, everyone.  We’re a small game in the app store still (~100 downloads) but with your help we’ve managed over 2000 votes.  It really seems incredible.

It’s been a great experience for me as a producer in particular.  I’ve been learning about the efficacy of social media and how to effectively promote a product online.  We’ve had overwhelming support from our peers, but I’ve learned that you really do need to give people regular reminders in order to maximize their effort.  I’ve learned more about Twitter and using hastags and tweeting the right people to make things get noticed more.  Regardless what happens to us in this contest, it’s been very valuable to me to learn these things.

Thing no.2- As I mentioned in my last blog post we’ve divided into 2 sub-teams to work on the two prototypes that we will present to industry professionals in about a month.  Progress on both of these games has been going at an amazing pace.

It's already scary. I can't even handle it.
Testing the game with the Oculus Rift

Here you see 3 of our engineers testing the Mannequin game with the Oculus Rift.  After less than one week, we’ve got the Rift up and running in the prototype.

This is a good chance to talk about the Mannequin game.  The basic idea here is that you are in a horror game where there are mannequins that want to hurt you, but they can’t move while you’re looking at them.  The engineers already have the basic mechanic up and running.  If you look at the mannequins, they won’t move.  But if you look away and look back, they still won’t move, but you can tell that they are closer, and pursuing you.  Now imagine that while wearing a VR headset.  It’s pretty eerie.

Thing no.3- The other game, Agoraphobia, is shaping up in a much different way but it’s progressing very well in it’s own right.  For Mannequin we had a mechanic idea, but for Agoraphobia we had an aesthetic, or a theme/thesis idea, but weren’t 100% sure how to make the mechanic to support the idea.

So those of us working on Agoraphobia have taken to making a few separate prototypes over this first week to explore what’s fun and it’s been fun seeing what everyone has made.  I’ve supported this by going to forums for Agoraphobia support groups, researching the disease, and just learning all I can about it so we can really convey it well in a game.  It’s an interesting approach, and I’m excited to see how it will pan out.  After we get some feedback from our professors tomorrow we’ll probably choose 1 Agoraphobia prototype to move forward on and finally hone in on the mechanics that will work best.

Thanks for reading, these three things have kept us so busy but it’s been a great week!  Vote for Protocol:Transcendence once a day from any device you have, and hopefully next week we’ll have some good news saying we’re the champs!