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.
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.