14 December 2012

Until Next Semester! -- Week Ending 15 Dec

Well, this week was more about wrapping up final projects and loose ends for all the other classes we had (it is finals week, after all), so direct work on Last March of the Dodos was minimal. However, I did lay out plans with Jesse on which items of business will be most important to address and work on at the beginning of next semester. We're super excited to polish our game up the best that we can. With all the positive feedback we received last week, we are confident that we can really make this baby shine by the time we officially publish it next semester.

With those things in the works, I figured the best way to finish off my blogging for the semester would simply be to post some videos of the current build of the game in action. I hope you enjoy this preview of what's to come!

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Happy Holidays to one and all!

- Troy

11 December 2012

A Successful Semester! -- Week Ending 8 Dec

I'll keep this introductory paragraph brief because there's more interesting stuff that follows. Suffice it to say that this week was all about getting ready to show off Last March of the Dodos. I am pleased to report that the public really likes it! From non-gamers to gamers, students to faculty, and amateurs to professionals, the response we heard from people who tried our game was almost entirely positive (if not entirely!). I want to take a moment to thank our whole team for all the hard work they've poured into the project. It's been a long road (and we're still not finished yet!), but we've learned a ton, and we're thrilled that people are having fun with what we've created so far.

Here's what I did this week:

- Prepared public display materials for our game and sent them to Rachel so that she could compile and print them; this included taking screen shots, capturing video of the game in action, writing instructions on how to play the game, and writing appealing descriptions for "marketing" purposes
- Loaded our game onto our designated computers for Arts/Tech night and for the EAE Open House
- Volunteered at the Arts/Tech night to guide visitors through our studio
- Helped guide visitors and make contacts at the EAE Open House

With that out of the way, I want to note several things that we heard (or observed) from new players during the Arts/Tech night and the EAE Open House. It was quite valuable to have fresh eyes and hands on our game!

 Praise:
- A non-gamer woman in her 50s wanted to keep playing after continual failure. She was intrigued and wanted to keep getting better at the game. Part of her inability to perform well was because she had trouble using a two-button mouse (I'm guessing that she either uses a Mac or doesn't use computers regularly). She also said that she actually thought it was fun. After 5 or 6 attempts, she did successfully complete the first level.
- Many people really like the Dodos' animation. I heard "it's so cute" about a dozen times. Mission accomplished.
- People enjoyed the toony feel in the aesthetics.
- The various traps and their different uses and effects went over very well. A few players commented specifically on how the traps each felt unique and that they understood the point of having them all available.
- It's fun! People liked the pressure of having to keep up with the Dodos and continually be involved in the placement of traps at all times. The feeling of setting a trap in a great place was very rewarding.
- Tossing the Dodos around--especially to specific places like volcanoes--was also rewarding.

Suggestions or negative experiences:
- Messaging can definitely be cleaned up. Certain pieces of information are shifted around from menu to menu (Doin display, for example), there's not much to tell the player whether they're doing poorly, etc.
- Specifically, some sort of marker that floats around the border of the viewing area to designate which direction the entrance, escape exit, and king Dodo lie in would be great.
- A "safety" or "warning" meter/marker that alerts the player to Dodos getting close to the exit would be great (could flash red when a Dodo escapes)
- Appropriate visual and audio cues that celebrate the player's successes are a MUST. Chimes, bells, sparkly numbers, flashes of light, Dodo squawks, etc!
- Get the hot air balloon nest in the game and have it fly off when the level ends! Giving the player a visual reason to not let them escape would make the point even stronger.
- The camera still gives some people trouble (make the UI on the right side of the screen transparent so that people more naturally push the mouse to the far edge of the visible map to move it...?).

So there you have it. Check back next week for the final installment of the semester. Here's a teaser: GAMEPLAY VIDEO!

- Troy

03 December 2012

Semester's End Is Looming -- Week Ending 1 Dec

The goal for the last couple weeks of the semester is to ensure that we have the best possible product to show off at the EAE Open House on 6 December. Though it's no secret that many students in the cohort had a bit of shift in focus once we submitted to IGF (other classes and homework have to get done sometime!), we've still been hard at work polishing and optimizing the experience of our game. The open house is next week, so much of this week was spent making the game easier to learn, thus giving players the greatest possibility of experiencing all that the game has to offer in a relatively brief play session (at the open house, we don't expect players to have the time to play for more than five or ten minutes).

Here's what I did this week:

- Assisted in getting the new color palette implemented. Might be a little bright for our tastes, but we want Craig to look at it for critique
- Got all text tips implemented into the game. They are present on load screens, various stages of menu pages, etc.
- Wrote the text for trap descriptions and put them on the trap store screen. These act as quick reference for players when they're deciding what traps to purchase for the oncoming level.
- Fixed the functionality of broken lava pits. This involved working in Unity to adjust some prefab settings, resizing objects, and digging through the nitty-gritty of some numbers and values.
- Tested trap functionality like crazy. Suggested tweaks to certain collision detections (which were implemented by the engineers), modified the design of trap launch trajectories, etc. Also tweaked the rate at which Dodos learn specific traps and then break or avoid them.

Just a couple more days till we're set to go! We're excited to get the public's feedback, including suggestions and comments from industry professionals that will be attending. Wish us luck!

- Troy

27 November 2012

Give Thanks for Progress! -- Week Ending 24 Nov

Once again, the week was cut a little short by a much-needed Thanksgiving break (not that we needed a break from working on our game--more of a much-needed break from class and homework in general). However, we did have a day or two together, so we did get some things nailed down. Here's a quick run-down of what I accomplished this week:

- Determined a few potential color palettes with Jesse (this was one of our specific goals from critiques we received from Craig). At least one of the palettes should be fully implemented by Monday the 26th.
- Nailed down new level progression and meta game details that tie all individual levels into a persistent experience. These new ideas change the way future levels are experienced/played, and it puts a slightly different spin on the game from the way he built it up to this point. I do believe, however, that these changes are for the better, and not just a troublesome bout of feature creep.
- These changes include incentives for skill mastery on each level to progress (rather than repetitive grinding). High scores now aggregate, with new high scores replacing old ones from the same level, and they combine to give the player a total high score. That score translates into Doins which can be used to purchase traps before beginning a level.

Until we meet again, Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the beginning of your holiday season. I know I will. :)

- Troy

19 November 2012

A Little Here, A Little There -- Week Ending 17 Nov

Though our official studio time/core hours were cut short this week (we visited Cohort 3 on Wednesday to watch and critique their current prototype presentations), I still managed to get some work done.

The meta game and level design architecture are once again in flux as we've been considering how to teach new players the complexities of our various systems. I've been a key member of those meetings and discussions, so I've had to employ a number of communication tools to get everyone on the same page (adding information to blogs and websites, relaying information via email, and directing conversations as we've sat together face-to-face). As of the latest round of decisions, we've decided to add a series of mini puzzle-type levels before each free-form level, in order to teach players the nuances of individual traps. Doins (the currency) are also banked in a different way to encourage players to actually get better at different levels, rather than simply grinding those levels over and over to earn small amounts of money repeatedly.

My other main accomplishment this week has been writing all of the tips and tutorial text blurbs that will show up on different menu screens and on the various load screens. I made them all relatively brief (a sentence or two) and useful while maintaining a lighter tone. This should make the game considerably easier to grasp for new players, and, with that information, they should also be able to understand the subtler AI and environmental interactions.

To recap, here's what I did this week:

- Updated blogs and the public sites with new development information
- Played a key role in making and communicating the design changes that the team determined to be necessary
- Wrote the text blurbs for teaching rules and tips at various points in the menu screens and the load screens
- Updated our development process documents (we are currently managing our Agile process on Kanbanpad.com)

Next week we'll get the text into the game; we'll get a new color palette integrated into all the art assets; and we'll tighten up the balance for the level designs, trap effects, and Doin usage. More to come!

- Troy

12 November 2012

Re-evaluation -- Week Ending 10 Nov

With my "producer hat" on, I spent much of the past week helping the team determine what the most important changes and additions to our IGF build are. What are the glaring bugs or issues that arise when playing? What is missing that would make the game more understandable? What will "sell" the game more effectively?

We got a fair bit of feedback from Roger about what is necessary to get the player up to speed more quickly, and Craig offered several suggestions that would help tie all of our art assets together in a pleasing way. We've taken these suggestions and added them to our polish backlog, so their comments have been noted and set in our plan of action.

With my "designer hat" on, I've been reviewing the balance of trap costs and effects. The number of times it takes for Dodos to learn to avoid certain traps was high on the list of necessary adjustments, so that has taken a good chunk of time to test and tweak. Further, I was involved in the processes of optimizing our camera controls, shadow implementation, and other in-game messaging strategies. Finally, I also helped the engineers determine the best way to make chaining Dodos from trap to trap work exactly as the player expects when they initially place those traps around the levels.

While we are quite happy with the product we submitted to IGF, we are well aware of the improvements that we need to make, and we're pushing to get a lot of them done before the game is actually reviewed by the IGF judges.

Still plenty to keep me (and the rest of the team) busy. :)

- Troy

05 November 2012

We Did It! -- Week Ending 3 Nov

As of 30 October 2012, Naturally Selected Studios (our team) submitted Last March of the Dodos to the Independent Games Festival! It was a heck of a couple of weeks, but all the pieces came together into a product that we are proud to call our own.

I mentioned last week that I spent a bunch of time creating and editing our release backlog/sprints to get us focused on what we absolutely needed in our IGF submission. Besides that, I worked on 3D art assets and level creation. Well, this week was filled with a lot of the same, just a bit more frantic. :)

- Polished level designs, then textured level models, populated them with environmental objects (including environmental hazards critical for the purposes of the levels to come alive), and connected them into the framework of our game (in short, I created the levels so that the gameplay mechanics actually had refined spaces in which to shine)
- Created and supplied images for use in the UI and menu systems
- Determined and communicated design tweaks to both gameplay and UI functionality as we came across problems in testing
- Supported my entire team by being present and willing to help at every moment that any other team member was working on the game in our lab
- Helped with the pitch and submission literature and promotional materials, such as screenshots, descriptions for public viewing, and social media display

It has been an incredible experience working with the whole team, especially one so talented and willing to see a great product come to life. We've got a lot of refining and polish to apply over the next several months (and even days, since we can submit improved builds to IGF until they actually judge our game), but we're thrilled at the foundation we've built, and we can't wait to construct an experience even more packed with compelling content!

- Troy

29 October 2012

Pushing to the Finish -- Week Ending 27 Oct

If nothing else, I've certainly put a ton of hours into the game this week. Fortunately, those hours do, in fact, seem to have paid off. We're almost ready to submit Last March of the Dodos to IGF, in terms of both the quality of our game and the fact that the deadline is only a few days away. I spent the week poring over the backlog tasks that we could reasonably complete for our submission, updating and adjusting as necessary just about every day, and then communicating those needs to the members of our team. I, in turn, grabbed just about anything I could reasonably accomplish along the way, from painting level models to modeling traps and other assets on my own. I took these tasks in addition to my typical expectations: testing the game like crazy, balancing trap costs and effects, arranging the environmental assets inside individual levels, setting up the order of levels, determining win conditions for each, and ensuring that they function properly within the progression architecture set up by the engineers.

Indeed, it has been an incredibly busy week, but seeing the game come together as well as it has is quite satisfying, and it's been fun to to play a real product in which I have invested so much.

To re-iterate for personal records and ease of reading, here's a breakdown of what I accomplished this week:

- Edited, updated, and communicated the feature backlog for our home stretch to IGF submission
- Tested and balanced the game exhaustively
- Tweaked and optimized level models
- Painted level models with final textures
- Applied finished levels into the game's architecture (made them playable in the engine)
- Determined and applied various attributes to the individual levels, including win conditions, Dodos spawned per level, traps available, number of starting traps, etc.
- Modeled necessary assets yet unclaimed by other artists, including the environmental trap (Venus fly trap) and the Dodos' escape point (hot air balloon)
- Again, tested and balanced exhaustively

This is the last entry before IGF submission, so check back next week for my thoughts on the submission process!

- Troy

21 October 2012

Helping Wherever Necessary -- Week Ending 20 Oct

These past few weeks have been filled with a lot of the same work--designing levels, placing the level models I receive into the game engine, testing like crazy, and filling in gaps wherever else I can. This week was much the same, so I'll just get down to the nitty-gritty of what I did with the team this week:

- Drew the level map for our second-to-last level and sent it to Charlie for modeling
- Designed the content and purpose of the final level, including unique gameplay moments and the intended player experience, though I still need to draw the actual map
- Added all new level models into the game engine for gameplay testing (up through level 4 now!)
- Communicated design details through meetings and emails (it still amazes me how many little things I haven't addressed or even considered up to this point--I hope I'm not the only designer who experiences this...)
- Constructed the final iteration of our release backlog, from user stories and gameplay features down to individual design, art, and engineering tasks that will get us there

I can't believe we only have a week-and-a-half until IGF submissions are due, but I'm stoked about how far we've come. In all seriousness, I'm incredibly proud of our team. The game is really feeling great. We've had ups and downs to get here (including my own personal ups and downs--good times!), but I think we'll have an awesome product for IGF, not to mention what we publish in May next year!

- Troy

16 October 2012

More Done, More to Do -- Week Ending 13 Oct

Not a huge update this week, but just a few notes on how I'm taking care of my work and what I've specifically done over the last two weeks (including Fall Break this past week).

We've redone our menu systems and UI fairly extensively, so I've played a large role in the flow of pages, clicks, and information. I'm really pleased with how things are pulling together in these final weeks before our IGF submission. Besides the necessary changes to accommodate gameplay and meta game updates, the entire experience now feels more streamlined than before.

In addition, I've also continued producing level designs and adding whiteboxed level models (once again, modeled by Charlie from my designs) into our engine and ensuring that they work within the game. At the moment, only two levels remain for me to design, and one of those is well on its way. I should have the last of those designs ready for modeling by this coming Wednesday at the end of our core development hours (class time).

Since I've pretty much described to you what I've worked on lately, I'll forgo the obligatory list of itemized contributions to the game. You're welcome.

I'm excited to help get Dodos in ship-shape over the next couple of weeks. This is the exciting time when everything really seems to finally be gelling. Awesomesauce.

- Troy

02 October 2012

Course Correction -- Week Ending 29 Sep

In the moment of critique or correction, I imagine that many people feel a bit defensive, perhaps thinking that the critic just doesn't understand the intent behind the action or product. I know that I have certainly felt that way on many such occasions, and this past week provided me a few more opportunities to choose how I reacted to critiques of my work.

It is in those instances that I have learned (even if it's still difficult) to consider such critiques as course corrections rather than personal attacks, especially when they come from someone more experienced and who honestly has your well-being (and the success of your product) in mind. Take Wednesday for example. After we presented the current build of Last March of the Dodos to faculty and other students, Roger Altizer came over to personally try out our game. Game-freezing bugs aside (rar), he honestly had concerns with the meta game design (or lack thereof). Thankfully, we were able to consider his thoughts and suggestions and come up with a solution that we feel will be a great addition to the game with what limited time we have left.

As designer, I was able to seriously analyze how the various core mechanics of our game work together to lead the player to the most satisfying possible experience. As it stood, the collection of "doins" (our in-game score/currency) appeared to be the end goal, since there was nothing on which to spend millions of eventually banked doins. We had previously assumed that it would be akin to earning high scores and reaching for the top of the leaderboards, but it turned out that simply trying to earn doins to spend frivolously on traps here and there distracted from the core concept of the game. In other words, the mechanics seemed to push earning doins over the real hook of the game: destroying tons of dodos in fantastic ways.

My solution (eventually approved by the group) was to make each new level a money sink that has to be purchased. These new levels promise new, fun ways to terminate Dodos, with more and more masses of the birds available on each level. Finally, the ultimate goal is to buy passage to the secret (and ridiculously expensive) Dodo haven island. This final level has scores more Dodos to kill and is laid out like a Dodo hunting playground, providing a space for the player to go crazy with fowl-slaughtering imagination. With these changes, we feel that the collection of money reinforces the concept of the game rather than distracting from it. The player will want to earn money not just to earn more money, but to eventually be able to buy the most possible fun the game has to offer (which, when beaten, will result in the games ultimate win state).

We deliberated a number of solutions over the weekend, and we feel that this is our best solution, especially given our remaining time of only four weeks. It feels good to have been able to take constructive suggestions, give them real thought, and put forth a solution that we honestly feel is possible to accomplish.

Here's what I did this week:

- More level creation, including designing, drawing, and putting the whitebox models into Unity for playtesting
- Helped prepare the presentation of the game with Jesse (our team lead)
- Organized the final design meeting to decide which new changes and features we want to (and have reasonable time to) implement in order to ensure that our game ends up the best it can be for our IGF submission

And on that note, I've got my work cut out for me for this final month. Keep checking back, and I'll let you know how our last leg shapes up!

- Troy

23 September 2012

A Solid Work Week -- Week Ending 22 Sep

With every team member pretty much knowing what they were tasked with for the week, there was relatively little producer-type work that I had to do, which left me with a great week of designing levels. That's not to say that I didn't deal with people and communication scenarios--there was still plenty of that--but I was able to spend most of my time designing and creating tangible assets and features for the game. And that's my favorite part. :)

Which brings me to the next point. Up until now I have struggled with getting a good grasp on how our levels should feel, what would make them the most fun, and how to really let all the features shine. However, because of a fairly simple paradigm shift (no doubt brought on by using some level planning strategies taught in Joe Bourrie's virtual worlds class--thanks, Joe!), these goals have become clear. Now that we have these new levels, it's finally really evident how all the pieces come together. The gameplay has been there for weeks, but without a refined space to use those mechanics to great effect, it was difficult to enjoy the whole experience as intended. And it is good. :)

 So here's how my week was spent:

- Communicated needs (or lack thereof in some cases) to art outcource artists
- Helped with menu and UI design details
- Helped design camera functionality
- Wrote out the purpose of individual levels, including the major dramatic question/player experience that each is intended to facilitate for the player
- Drew out the maps for those level designs
- Took the whitebox models (modeled by Charlie) based on those designs and put them into our engine in Unity
- Added the necessary parts to those new levels to allow them to play as functional levels

We've got a presentation of the game to faculty on Wednesday, so I'm doing my best to make sure the latest build is in great shape with full game functionality. Let's hope the work pays off!

- Troy

16 September 2012

Settled into the Work -- Week Ending 15 Sep

For the first week in the semester (and perhaps much of last semester), it feels like everyone has their tasks nailed down, and it was all about just getting into the groove and doing the work. I love weeks like this because they feel like the whole process concept is actually working and not something we simply strive for with meetings all the time.

So with few details to mention other than the excitement that I could focus on design work rather than typical producer work, it was all about simply creating the game this week. Here's what I did:

- Designed in detail the progression of the player (and the associated profile) as levels are beaten, including the unlocking of traps, areas, and characters
- Redesigned the aesthetic and functionality of the main menu with key members of the engineering team and our team lead
- Modeled test levels in Maya and added the pathing for the Dodos to follow in Unity
- Wrote the developer diary/blog entry (as I have every week along the way)

I hope for another week of hands-on work starting Monday. :)

- Troy

09 September 2012

Always Something New -- Week Ending 8 Sep

To this point, the drama level in my various teams has remained relatively low. Thank goodness. Throughout my life, the primary difficulty I've had with any sort of group or team project has been drama (or the occasional one wherein I felt like I was carrying far larger a load than was reasonable). Unfortunately, the past week has brought with it a degree of drama that I hoped would not end up in our thesis team.

The best remedy for such issues (that I have found) is an environment of open communication and a requirement that egos be left at the door. I feel that our team has generally done a great job of upholding these ideals, but introducing outsource artists to the mix has brought its own set of challenges. Stifled communication and a lack of understanding individual roles has thrown some kinks in the mix. And sometimes, sadly, individual personalities fail to join the team in its overall goals. In those cases, appropriate, effective assertiveness is the solution. I think we've worked out solutions to our struggles this week through some team meetings and personal discussions, so I hope it doesn't turn to more dire straits.

Besides trying to work with the aforementioned situation, the week was short for our team due to Labor Day (though some of us did meet to discuss art pipeline issues). All that noted, here's what I did:

- Managed both the art and the engineering backlogs and sprints
- Designed levels and whiteboxed them using Maya
- Established deliverable milestones up to the point of our IGF submission deadline (test sessions, official presentations, etc.)
- Organized, attended, and ran pipeline meetings for the engineering and art teams

Wish me luck this next week!

- Troy

03 September 2012

Busy Again -- Week Ending 1 Sep

Things are moving forward again, not much different than I remember from last semester. We all have our tasks, and we're all doing what we can to make our game the best that it can be.

As far as my thoughts for the week are concerned, there are a few things I'd like to point out. The first is that Agile development processes definitely have their flaws. Or maybe it's just that I have my flaws and am trying to force things in what I understand to be an Agile fashion, when I'm really missing the point. Lately, things just seem to go more smoothly when there is a dedicated document (design or some other type) and schedule to run things by. When we've tried to add or implement new features, there are so many new questions that come up ("How does this look? What's this supposed to do exactly? Would this fit with the rest of the framework? Have you thought about what this will do to these other features? Where do you want these buttons to go?"). It's almost impossible to have the forethought for all of these when trying to redetermine tasks and scheduling as you go along. I suppose I'm ranting, but I think it all goes back to my philosophy of "Plan like a Waterfall process, implement and develop with an Agile process." Trying to plan new things in the middle, however, has proven to be particularly difficult. So avoid feature creep and stick to your guns! Or just plan and design a better piece of software from the beginning--as if it's that easy...

The second is that I feel like I'm carrying much more than the load of simply the Lead Designer. As a member of the producer track, I understand that I'm expected to do "producer things" to gain the skills I'm intended to and to fulfill my MFA degree requirements, but I sometimes feel like what should be (and what I want to be) my main focus--design--falls by the wayside. I love design, and I want to design games more than anything else, but my class time is often filled with (hopefully effective and essential ) meetings and working out Scrum processes and documents. And my nights are filled with setting up other meetings and working out team issues--something I feel that the team lead should be heading up instead of me.

Finally, sometimes I feel like the work I do put into the project falls on deaf ears or simply isn't up to the level that we need it to be. I'm learning new skills and approaches to these problems all the time, so I'm typically able to push through any discouragement, but this work is not without its low points.

All that noted, I love this work, and I love being part of a team. And I love making video games. There is so much fun in the process, and there are so many rewarding moments along the way. I have confidence that the end result of all our effort will be the most gratifying and rewarding part of all--a fantastic published game.

Here are my contributions this week:

- Updated and defined new tasks and scheduling on the tech/engineering backlog
- Handled some major design work, including the implementation of newly added features involving the trap shop, avatar and narrative inclusion, and UI aesthetics and functionality
- Helped the engineers determine the architecture for player/user profiles in the game that will store key information about all of the above features, as well as the overall implementation of those features themselves
- Determined and created an updated art backlog
- Guided the meeting for the determining of our final art style (the specific rules, etc.)
- Contacted and held meetings with our outsourced artists

I've still got a ton to do, but I'm excited to help this team create something awesome!

28 August 2012

Back at It -- Week Ending 25 Aug

Summer was fantastic; I worked on a few independent game projects (quite extensively, actually--can't wait to show them publicly!), did some professional web development and site maintenance, and enjoyed my first anniversary with my wife. (We celebrated by going to Disneyland for my first time. It was incredible!) However nice it was, I'm ready now to get back into action on our thesis game, Last March of the Dodos.

To be honest, I even worked on the game during the summer in the form of running testing sessions with various youth summer camp groups that visited our studio. I got a lot of great feedback from them, and much of what they suggested or had problems with is already on our backlog to be addressed. We've got two months to whip this thing into shape for the Independent Games Festival (IGF), so we definitely have our work cut out for us.

 I won't lie: I feel a bit overwhelmed. We keep getting all sorts of feedback, suggestions, and "this would be so awesome!"s, so it's been difficult to know when to draw the line for our backlog. We've done a lot to try to suppress feature creep, but when we feel like these ideas are important for the design as a whole, it's difficult to know exactly when to say "no." Or even just "we simply don't have time." I want my team to all have confidence in the group and in themselves, so I don't want to dash lofty goals, but I understand the need to be realistic. Now I just have to figure out how to really put it into practice without anybody feeling like their contributions and ideas are not valued on the team.

So that's where we stand. We have a functional game that is far from polished in gameplay feel, art, or engineering. I do have confidence in our project and our team, so I'm going to work like crazy to do anything and everything I can to help our team come out on top and with a real sense of accomplishment, success, and a freakin' sweet game.

That said, here's what I've done this week:

- (Summertime) Led test sessions with various youth summer camp groups and recorded their reactions, feedback, and other suggestions
- Got the team up to speed via meetings so that we could plan our next few weeks and months of action
- Assisted the engineers in re-constructing the remaining backlog and sprint breakdowns for tech issues
- Helped our team lead (Jesse) organize and put together the official presentation of our game for next week (where we are, what our plan is, etc.)
- Re-evaluated our game design and laid out a few last features that we believe will push our game from "interesting and fun for 10 minutes" to truly engaging and enduringly fun
- Designed new levels with our new level design goals in mind
- Met with and initiated a potential outsource artist; brought her up to speed on the team's work and helped establish our game's art style with her and our art team
- Communicated team notes, details, suggestions, and goals via emails and meetings as necessary

I think we've hit the ground running this semester, and if I keep up this pace for the next two months, I really believe we'll have a stand-out game to submit to the IGF.

- Troy

23 April 2012

Swamped -- Week Ending 21 Apr

I'm not entirely sure what percentage of my time has been spent working on school projects and papers over the past several weeks, but I do know that it's at least twice the percentage of my time spent sleeping. I don't mean for this to be a boo-hoo/vent post, but it's all starting to catch up to me. Balancing school, work, family, and my tiny fraction of play/relax time has truly become my greatest challenge as the end of the semester looms near.

So I'll cut to the chase as far as my actual work and tasks are concerned. Here's what I did during the past week:

- Held design meetings to brainstorm the effects and layout involved in menu interaction
- Defined and further refined the GUI systems as we began actually implementing them
- Used Felix's (one of our engineers) foundation to tweak the visual effects involved in the menu transitions
- Helped plan and prioritize remaining engineering and art tasks (as the associate producer role)
- Continued development on my side RuneStone game project, specifically getting the scrolling camera to function exactly as desired...finally!

This seems a little short this week, but perhaps I'm just getting slower as the work piles on. Time to stoke the fires and kick into high gear to finish the semester off strong!

- Troy

14 April 2012

Filling in the Gaps -- Week Ending 14 Apr

Being a game designer entails a lot. In fact, it appears that there's way more to game design than I ever considered--at least in the way we're distributing duties among the nine members of our team. I've had a hand in art direction, certain engineering processes, the minute details of how each tiny piece of the game interacts with the others, the prioritizing of development tasks, and--most recently--the navigation and transitions of every GUI element in the game. However, I don't mean to suggest that this is a bigger workload than any other member of my team has--simply that it is a lot to keep track of since the job covers so many different aspects of the development process.

Because of all of that (and for other reasons as well, I'm sure), most studios have different people covering game design and level design. Now, however, I'm finding myself in charge of the level design as well. Again, don't get me wrong--I love level design. I think that most games make it or break it in this facet, and I feel like I have a strong understanding of what makes levels compelling in their given genres. Unfortunately, I don't think I've ever played a game quite like this one, so I'm having trouble developing levels that take most advantage of our mechanics (which still need tuning, too). Couple that with my lack of 3D modeling software skills, and I could definitely use some help with this part. Everyone on the team is so busy, though, that I don't think there's any other way to get it done. /ventsession

That being said, I'm still having a blast. I love having something to do with all the different parts of the development process, and it's an incredible satisfaction to be part of such an awesome and dedicated team. The game is coming together into a fantastic product, and what we have so far is definitely fun.

Bottom line, I don't want to let the team down. So I'll get back to designing levels now. :)

Here's what I did this week:
- Worked with individual team members to communicate design details--about everything from the physical force behind certain collisions to how a particular level layout lends itself to interesting scenarios with our trap setups
- Headed up stand-up meetings and made sure everyone had tasks to work on (this was my particular duty when Jesse was gone for doctor appointments this week)
- Laid out and listed every logical and visual function of GUI interactions and displays throughout the entire game--everything from the opening title menu to the in-level HUD to the retry and level select screens
- Used Sketchup to model/design level layouts

- Troy

07 April 2012

Feeling the Pressure -- Week Ending 7 Apr

Today's entry will be a little short because the semester has entered Act III, and everything is quickly moving toward resolution. In other words, I've got a ton to do, so I'll keep this brief.

Last March of the Dodos is looking great. Just about every trap is functioning correctly, and we're just finishing the implementation of physics so that the Dodos can be tossed around and chained by the individual traps. We've had to make several more design decisions this week--decisions whose ramifications still remain ambiguous without the luxury of thorough testing yet. I think I'll be in for a lot of testing and design iterating over the next three weeks.

Work on Chroma and RuneStone has taken a back seat to homework for my other classes and to the development of Dodos, so I don't have much to report on there. Work still pushes forward on those projects, just not particularly quickly this week.

However, I do have an interview for an internship coming up this next week, so I've been specifically preparing for that. I've been really trying to study up on and play this company's game so that I can have a good idea of what the company is really about--their approach to design, how they run development, and what my life as a production intern might entail. I'm excited for the opportunity; they would be a fantastic company to work for, especially just starting out my video game industry career.

Here's what I did this week:

- Participated in product design meetings with our product owner (Bob), key engineers, and Jesse to determine how Dodo AI will be perpetuated and how the physics of launched Dodos will play out
- Created level models in Sketchup and imported them into our Unity project (they work!)
- Created the UI/menu progression map and skeleton for menu designs (both visual and functional designs)

Back to work!

- Troy

02 April 2012

Figuring Out the Designer's Role -- Week Ending 31 Mar

This was another busy week, but it was productive and fulfilling. I'm particularly happy with how Last March of the Dodos is coming along. The team is really pulling together, working hard to do their part to make this a successful group effort. A lot of progress has been made, particularly in the engineering, and the alpha release is definitely taking its intended shape.

As the designer, I've had a lot of opportunity for group direction as well as one-on-one conversations with every team member. I've had to continue developing and solidifying the bigger picture of how each game aspect complements the others, and I've put many hours into refining dozens of game mechanics--both in their low-level mathematical relationships and in their high-level implementation into the overall design.

I finally finished storyboarding how all of our alpha-release traps can chain together, and I emailed my diagrams along with descriptions to the team. Hopefully this will be a source of confidence in what our game can be, as well as a motivational display of effort.

In other project news, I've been creating level designs for Chroma Clash using Google Sketchup. I hope to use this experience as a springboard to learn Maya for more complex, detailed level designs and character models.

I've also started developing another personal project based on Elders of the RuneStone, an independent comic book that I've had professional association with for years. It's a classic-style side-scrolling action-platformer, wherein the player can swap between a collection of characters in real-time to have access to their different abilities as necessary. My primary focus for now is the engineering. I imagine that I'll run into many roadblocks along the way because of my minimal engineering expertise and experience, but it's been very fulfilling, and it's gone relatively smoothly so far.

Here's what I did this week:

- Conducted sprint reviews with Jesse, and particularly the art team
- Reviewed art assets and made suggestions and requests where necessary
- Created art-only sprints to plan for every asset every step of the way
- Updated the team and personal blogs
- Created remaining trap-chain storyboards and emailed them to the group
- Worked one-on-one with each team member to nail down and communicate the design specifics of the individual facets of the game that they were working on
- Defined and communicated several trap effects and their bigger role in the game framework
- Created level designs in Google Sketchup for Chroma Clash
- Engineered several mechanics in the RuneStone platformer  

And that's it for this week!

- Troy

26 March 2012

The Producer/Designer Dilemma -- Week Ending 24 Mar

I enjoy the production side of video game development. In fact, I want to do it as a career. I like having a part, however small that part may be, in all the disciplines involved. I love seeing how the various pipelines work and trying to find ways to help them run more smoothly and efficiently. I love talking up my team to others, presenting great game projects, and being able to learn about every different aspect of development from the geniuses who focus in and nail their specific responsibilities.

However, my true passion is in design. From the high-level concepts of what a game could be based on to the low-level fine-tuning of the mathematics involved in intricate scoring, I love designing experiences that will be compelling to a broad range of players. One area at which I could definitely become better and learn more about is in coming up with completely original concepts that aren't based on existing properties or ideas. I'm great at fine-tuning, explaining why a particular mechanic does or does not work well, and editing content to it's most essential parts. I'm working on abstracting all those experiences I've had into building blocks that I can use to make games from scratch. Any help you'd like to offer would be most welcome. :)

Back to the point of this entry, though... What I discovered from most of the recruiters and contacts I met at GDC was that they don't want someone to be both a producer and a designer. They want someone who is interested in--and fantastic at--one thing. Thus my dilemma. It's incredibly difficult to break into the industry as a game designer. That's typically a senior position, one that individuals must work professionally for years to obtain. Of course, they do want everyone to understand design principles at some fundamental level, but that's not the same thing. The other difficulty here is that breaking in as a producer is also challenging. So many companies have different notions about what a producer is and what a producer is expected to do. With it being hard to go either direction, I've attempted to bill myself as both and hope that hiring managers recognize the value in my understanding of a broad range of concepts and skills. I'd certainly love to use both my production and design skills and abilities wherever I end up...

Which moves us into a brief discussion of my current role(s) in our thesis team: game designer and associate producer. Yes, I'm acting as both. People are coming to me for art validation (I've somehow slipped into some sort of art direction role, despite Craig Caldwell being our designated art director), for the specifics of how our scoring system will work, and for guidance on task distribution and sprint management. Besides my involvement in communicating various information with others, I'm also currently designing level concepts and finally learning how to use 3D modeling tools to actually build them.

I'm really trying to figure out if I'm doing everything I should be doing, if I have my thumbs in too many pies, or if I'm just trying to compensate for a lack of understanding my own actual duties by slipping into everyone else's business. There's a lot that goes into this stuff, and while I think I'm figuring it out pretty well at this point, I'll be trying particularly hard during the coming week to get advice on how to really fall into my assigned and intended position. Of course, if I'm capable of helping out team members in their respective duties, I still want to do what I can for them.

Here's what I did for Dodos this week:

- Organized the art team and their pipeline, and helped them distribute their tasks into the first few sprints
- Clarified some design points, including how the scoring and combo features will work
- Sketched storyboards and designs for potential levels--from trap chaining ideas to beginning creation of 3D models for importing into the game project
- Helped lead team meetings
- Distributed assets, information, and previous builds of the game's prototype to team members for reference

Further, here's what happened with our side project, Chroma Clash, this week:

- Had a team meeting with Derek (engineer), Spencer (producer, assistant artist), myself (designer), and Laura (our newly recruited lead artist and menu designer); thanks to Spencer for recruiting Laura!
- Constructed our official backlog and distributed it to the team; we'll be using one-week/one-feature sprints as our process from here on out
- Settled on Unity as our engine for the prototype of the game
- Started using Google Sketchup to create 3D models of level designs

Lots going on because there's lots that needs to get done! For the moment, I'm keeping my head above water, if only just barely. It's a good thing that these swimming lessons still have their healthy share of fun!

- Troy

10 March 2012

GDC! -- Week Ending 10 Mar

The week of truth has come and gone in its flash of hopes, dreams, and glory. Hard to believe all the buildup for this year's Game Developers Conference has run its course. It was a fantastic experience, as dizzying as it was helpful, and I can't wait to take what I've learned from GDC '12 and apply it to the forthcoming GDC '13!

Here are some of the lessons I gleaned, both from meeting with video game industry professionals and from my own experience participating in the whirlwind:

- You can't please everyone. There is no perfect resume; there is no perfect business card. One professional's advice and suggestions are rubbish to another. For example, some recruiters love the objective statement while others told me flat out that it's a waste of space. Whatever. Research the particular company you're interested in and tailor your materials to what they look for. Find a strong template and get solid general resume advice from faculty or pros, and then just make yourself shine in the best way that you know how.

- That said, there are definitely better and worse ways to illustrate what you can offer a company. Do more showing than telling on your resume. If a skill can be described in its precise context as it was exercised during a project or product development, that is infinitely better than simply listing what you can do. (At least, that's the story I got from most pros--a couple said they liked a brief list so they knew what to expect from the other details. Again, whatever.)

- If you have multiple professional interests and broad skill sets, focus your resume on one core discipline and make sure that every detail on that resume supports your specific professional goal. If you would like to try your hand at a couple different disciplines, make completely different resumes that focus on one discipline each. Companies want someone who can nail the specific jobs they need done, not someone who can kind of do a bunch of other people's jobs. It's still a good idea to include jobs and skills that are related to game development in other ways, but make sure your description contextualizes and focuses them onto your core professional discipline. For example, why does knowing some basic programming enhance your ability to be a producer? How do animation skills help you be a better senior programmer?

- Talk about team sizes and your personal contributions to the nitty-gritty of your projects' development cycles. The more you can convince someone that you actually make games and are valuable to a team in the process, the better.

- Make games. Seriously. Just make games like crazy so that you can show people your passion, your work ethic, and your creativity with something they can personally see, hear, feel, experience, and enjoy. Also, get a tablet to show your wares on. It's 2012. (I don't have one yet, dangit. I should get on that.)

- Ask questions. You want to learn from them--let them know that. Let them know how excited you are by treating them like the experts because, well, I suppose they are. They are the ones getting paid to do this, after all.

- If you are talking to a company's representative, that company should be the greatest thing since sliced bread. You want to be with them. You need to be with them. You have amazing things to offer them, but they have the world to offer you. Be excited! Brag on them and let them know how honored you are to be talking to them. And do it all genuinely, even if it's not exactly what you think. You have to play the salesman card in every way possible, without being a tool. Sound hard? It's incredibly difficult for me to be like this. I haven't mastered this skill, so I didn't reap its benefits, but I watched other people do it right in front of me, and it works wonders. Practice, practice, practice!

- Go to have fun! There's a ton of work to be done, but pace yourself. Play the IGDA's meta game, go to parties, and just talk to everyone who's willing to lend an ear. You never know how much work you can actually get done in the video games industry by playing with other people. Just remember to play nice. :)

It Has Begun! -- Week Ending 3 Mar

Pre-production is underway, and so far it's been interesting exploring my role as official game designer. To this point, it has meant gathering everyone's design, feature, and backlog ideas and making sure those ideas are clearly communicated to the team members. Then, along with Jesse (our team lead and Scrum master) and Bob (our product owner and executive producer), I've helped to cull down those ideas and create an official release backlog for our alpha goal. My job has really come down to ensuring that everyone has the same vision of what the game should be, can be, and will be.

I'm excited to see exactly what else my responsibilities will include, but I'm trying hard to make sure that I'm at least as busy and productive as every other member of the team. There hasn't been a lot of nitty-gritty in terms of design tweaks and optimization yet, so I've tried to fill in where Jesse needs help, acting as associate producer with items like research and team communication.

Besides that, I've also worked with the engineers quite a bit to find the best plug-ins for Unity Pro (our development engine) that will make the implementation of our game design run as smoothly as possible. We discussed heavily exactly which platforms of release our design lends itself to, and we've worked together to put into perspective what can realistically be achieved with the time and resources we have.

All in all, it was a good week, and though we have a couple weeks before we start our development sprints (GDC! And Spring Break!), we've got a great start on focusing our efforts and maintaining unity and vision of what we can accomplish as a team. Can't wait!

- Troy

25 February 2012

A Sense of Accomplishment -- Week Ending 25 Feb

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks. Interestingly, stress has been relatively low, but a lot has happened, and we've been dealing with a mass of new information, decisions, restructuring, and getting the gears in motion once again.

The main event this week was the announcement of which prototypes would become our theses. I'm honored to say that Last March of the Dodos was greenlit and will be one of three thesis games that we produce as a cohort! The presentation of our prototype (including the concept art, the playable demo, and the actual pitch) was well-received and garnered positive remarks from the industry panel and the faculty.

I feel like I'm understanding what I'm being taught and practicing as a producer, and to receive positive feedback on the work that I put into these projects is a great boost. It feels good, but I wouldn't have had an opportunity to present a great product without the dedication and unified vision of our whole team. Each member gave a ton of effort and focused on implementing exactly what we were taught by professionals and faculty over these semesters, and it all showed. It was awesome to be a member of a team that bonded and cared about the game. Kudos to Chris, Jorge, and Kamron!

Along with the announcement, we were also restructured onto larger teams for full production (visit my developer diary/production blog for details on the new team and on how Dodos is proceeding).  With two members of the producer track on the project, my role has been altered somewhat; I am now the official game designer! I am stoked for the opportunity, since being a game designer has been my career goal and dream for decades. I still expect to do traditional producer work along with Jesse, but I am excited to play such a heavy role in the essence of the game and in the final player experience. I couldn't ask for anything more!

There hasn't been a big push for actual building in our new teams yet (especially since our work week was cut short by the Presidents Day break), so we've been brainstorming ideas, features, and process suggestions that we'll dive headlong into on Monday. That said, here's what I did this week:

- Recorded both positive feedback and critiques of our prototype and presentation, then distributed that document to team members
- Helped lead our new team in a meeting to get everyone on the same page and then to brainstorm ideas and features for full production of Dodos
- Took notes from said meeting, and distributed them to all team members
- Sent the research packet (about dodo birds and their cultural appearances & references) that I compiled for our small team to all the members of our new team
- Updated the blogs

I am greatly anticipating the game we can produce with such a talented (and larger!) team. The next 10 months are going to be a blast!

- Troy

19 February 2012

Well Worth It -- Week Ending 18 Feb

I'm actually surprised at how stressful this week was not. Though we had two presentations to give, I feel like we really came to understand the idea that, at some point, the intention of the developers and the game design document actually are the game itself. Once we allowed the game to be what it is and stop fretting about our prototype, we were able to focus on what we actually had and how we could best present our hard work to our peers and to the professionals. At that point, my job became easy. I was able to really describe our goals with the game, and I was able to create a presentation that focused on what we felt like we did well in creating a foundational prototype.

Being able to present to our faculty and peers first was a huge help. We received a lot of great feedback on how to polish the presentation (and or game) in time for the pros. I was also quite impressed with how much the graduating cohort could see and how much they have all gained from this program. Their suggestions were invaluable.

When it finally came down to the moment of truth--the official pitch presentation to the panel of pros--I feel like we made a fantastic showing. My team really took to heart what we felt would stand out among the crowd and what the pros woulds need to see most, and the response was incredibly positive. While there were certainly a few critiques and wary questions about design, the majority of the comments were supportive suggestions and iterations on what we could do if this game moved into full production. We took that as a good sign.

Regardless of the final decision as to which games become our theses, I'm incredibly proud of our team, of our game, and of our program. I'll be honored to continue work on any of the cohort's games.

Here's what I did this week:

- Organized a team meeting to nail down final features for the presentation build of the game
- Motivated our team members to keep working hard to the end, while congratulating and validating all their hard work so far
- Organized and collected postmortem thoughts from all the team members
- Compiled the wrap kit for the game
- Created the presentation and revised it after feedback
- Created the one-page and revised it after feedback
- Gave the official presentation of our game to faculty, peers, and the professional panel
- Updated our blogs

I'm grateful to be where I am in this program with such a talented group. I can't wait to see what the future holds in store!

- Troy

14 February 2012

Learning to Adapt -- Week Ending 11 Feb

Sadly, sometimes things just don't go according to plan. Such has been the case with our thesis prototype. That's not to say that things aren't in a good spot--they are--but they have progressed somewhat slower than we hoped. As producer of our group, I've had to make some adjustments to our Scrum sheets and backlog to ensure that we end up with the most important features solidly in place. I'm not sure if it's a matter of people not putting in the hours that we should be, or if tasks are just taking longer than we originally planned for. I have my suspicions that distractions are pushing things toward the former. If that's the case (and I'm certainly not without guilt in this regard), then I need to figure some ways to get us all even more excited about the vision of our game than we already are. Who knows, maybe it's not a lack of excitement, but it's just life in general. I'll get back to you once I discover the truth behind all of this.

In any case, we've still got a great prototype in place, and we're excited to present it to our faculty and the professional panel next week!

My side project with Derek and Spencer is also moving along. We've decided on a general art style, an architecture for building levels and puzzles, and the engine and platform that we'll be developing with. We make slow but steady progress around our more pressing responsibilities and deadlines from other classes and projects.

Here's what I did this past week:

- Outlined trap/tool algorithms for LMOTD and walked through their processes with the engineers to get as many implemented as possible
- Created and gave an informal presentation of our game to visiting Microsoft reps
- Created a one-page about the project and the team to send with the Microsoft reps (to remember the team by)
- Adapted our development process and schedule (re-tooled the Scrum sheet), deleting items from the release backlog and beefing up others as necessary; this led to redeveloping a hierarchy of important features to ensure were present in the prototype release
- Updated the team blog (and this one)
- Contacted the ASUU to obtain their support and sponsorship of our upcoming guest lecturer, Jon Dean of EA Salt Lake! (this is still in progress--phooey on red tape)

I can't wait to see what happens next week! It's a big deal that will be a pillar of my education and my professional life, so I'm excited to see the final verdict on which games will be our theses!

- Troy

04 February 2012

Foraging On -- Week Ending 4 Feb

It was another productive week, though it was occasionally difficult to maintain focus and motivation. You see, SoulCalibur V came out on Tuesday, and I've spent a fair bit of time in its character creation mode. I've always been excited about creating models of characters that I've designed or that I am a fan of and then being able to use them in the games I love. I've done this dozens of times in the several SoulCalibur iterations, ModNation Racers, RPGs, and other fighting games with color customization. There's just something about creation and expressive play (thanks, Ernest Adams) that allows me to really get lost in a game and feel like I've contributed heavily to my own play experience.

Back to school and projects, I've been able to contribute plenty of design to various projects this week. An exciting update on my game design side, we have moved into official pre-production on CHROMA CLASH, the game I originally designed as a pitch for a thesis game. Though we're not doing it officially in the MGS, two other guys have formed a team with me to work on outside games, and this is the first one we're going to try our hand at developing. It's exciting to see other people catch the excitement about a project that I designed, so I'm stoked to see it become something at least a little more substantial than a pipe dream.

As far as Last March of the Dodos is concerned, I've also acted as the main trap and level designer so far. My ideas for what the effect of the different traps should be have been well received by the team, and my diagrams and explanations of how they factor into specific level designs have been met with equal enthusiasm. The exact forms and aesthetics those traps eventually end up with is still in the air, but the function is the most important thing for this prototype.

Other specific tasks I've completed this week are as follows:

- Found, created, and collected sound effects for the game
- Followed up with the music producer about the state of our potential game music
- Held meetings as necessary to make sure everyone was still on the same page about our core designs and aesthetic approaches
- Sent bi-daily updates to the team about the state of the various elements of the project
- Nailed down and posted on my own computer (more sticky notes, woo!) 5 specific roles that I should been focusing on as a producer -- Producers: Essential Glue For Any Project or Useless Bags of Meat?
- Convened a lunch meeting to restructure our schedule of sprints
- Updated the developer blog
- Researched and put together a collection of Dodo artwork, history, facts, and pop culture appearances for reference and inspiration
- Helped the engineers fix occasional bugs in code syntax and algorithms
- Outlined algorithms for the functions of various traps in the game

I think we're all fairly well on schedule, but we need something impressive and playable a few days early because Microsoft is coming to visit our studio. If everything runs smoothly for the next 3 days, we'll be in great shape, but we don't have any time to lose. Here's to hoping everything goes according to plan!

- Troy

28 January 2012

Career Prep -- Week Ending 28 Jan

It's been a grueling week--definitely productive and often fun, but grueling just the same. Outside of our official schoolwork, I've been focusing on getting a solid online presence--a website, a dedicated and up-to-date portfolio, and some extra work polishing these blogs. Hopefully I'll be able to make a good impression if potential employers seek out my credentials now.

In addition, I've been meeting with a couple other guys in the MGS, and we're narrowing down designs to determine a game that we'll be developing on our own. We've been tasked with independently bolstering our experience, portfolios, and professional endeavors, and I think this should do the trick.

In other news, our prototype is coming along. I've been working a ton on refining our development process and creating tools for everyone to track our progress efficiently, and we're on schedule for now. Besides that, I've been designing traps and levels for the game--definitely more fun than managing spreadsheets. It's great to be hands-on with the actual content of the game, and I hope that I'll be in a position to continue doing so once we move into full production on our elected theses.

Here's what I've done over the past seven days:

- Organized and led team meetings to hammer out process, design, and game flow details
- Contacted outside help to compose and produce music for the game (we're in negotiations right now)
- Researched, obtained, and played games with similar themes to learn what works and what doesn't for our game style; followed that research up with my own level and trap/tool designs
- Updated the game blog for aesthetics and content
- Updated the Scrum sheet continually and kept the team informed about our progress
- Researched Unity tools and scripts to help the engineers overcome some engine obstacles
- Created a sticky-note checkout system so team members can have physical tokens of their current tasks
- Designed (with documentation) traps/tools and levels to be implemented into the prototype
- Created signs with our slogan and game goal to post on all our team members' computers

It's been fun this week, and I feel like I've accomplished a great deal, both personally and as a member of an awesome team. Here's to a successful run next week!

- Troy

24 January 2012

Support Experience -- Week Ending 21 Jan

This week has been full of learning experiences--some harder to swallow than others. First off, my thesis game design pitch was not one of the seven picked to move forward into prototyping. I refined the idea over several iterations until the concept was something I was really happy with, paper prototyped it to get a feel for layout and visual experience, and put nearly twenty hours into the documentation. The end result: nothing. Shot down. Canned. Left behind in a period of restructuring. Well, that's how it felt for a few minutes, anyway.

I quickly realized the opportunities this opened up for me. In my opinion, the idea is still a great concept and design, and now I have the option of developing it without the legal issues of fifteen other people being involved in the process. I can iterate on it to my heart's content until it's at a level of quality that I want, regardless of the schedules and deadlines of others. And I have the opportunity to work on another fantastic project that holds great promise; Last March of the Dodos is going to be a blast, and I'm honored to be involved in the development of Kamron Egan's concept.

Regardless of who originally came up with the concept, the thesis games belong to all of us, and I'm dedicated to producing the best thesis project our team can develop. As a member of a team, I've learned to support the group and the decisions that we make together. This is an amazing opportunity, and I'm stoked to be a part of it.

Besides, as it turns out, I've had a chance to do a fair bit of design on our game already, which was the point of my pitching an original concept in the first place. I couldn't be happier.

Here's what I did this week:

- Organized pre-production meetings with the team to get everyone on the same page
- Sat down with individual team members to create our release (well, prototype release) backlog and figure out the labor investments required for each task
- Created the Scrum document and divided the tasks into sprints for our future month of development
- Completed further Unity tutorials so that I can assist in managing the tools if other team members run into snags with the engine
- Designed in-game traps and tools (here's the fun stuff)
- Designed level layouts, including game spaces, challenges, solutions, and playground-esque elements

The game is already feeling like it will be tons of fun to play, and I'm excited to be a part of it. During the next week, I plan on playing some similar games to help inspire more trap and level design ideas (design work), as well as creating a sticky-note task checkout system that I've previously had positive results with (production work). I'll let you know how it all goes!

- Troy

16 January 2012

Thesis on the Horizon -- Week Ending 14 Jan

The time has finally arrived for us to start the long and exciting process of developing our thesis games. This week was spent individually creating, refining, and pitching our own unique ideas to the faculty. Once they've considered all the ideas, they'll pick six to move forward into the prototyping phase. After a few weeks of prototyping, we'll make final pitches of what we've got to the faculty, the cohort, and a panel of industry professionals. Based on the feedback from all those groups (if I understand correctly), our faculty/committees will decided which two of the six are to become our official thesis projects. We'll be divided into two groups, and full production will begin!

Since I am bent on being a designer in some capacity on one of the games (my professional goal is to eventually become creative director of a studio), I spent a great deal of this week working on my own game pitch. Based on feedback from Roger, the implementation of my original idea changed fairly dramatically (I still like it, but I think my new one is a better fit for this project), but the core of the experience remains. Besides just refining the game design, I then spent a good chunk of time working on the one-page, AKA the pitch document. I deliberated for quite some time over how much specific information I wanted on it, how much art, what the layout should be, etc. In the end, I feel like it came out nicely, and I'm excited to see what the other students have done!

We'll find out during the coming week which six will become prototypes, but in the meantime, here are the relevant tasks I completed this week:

- As previously mentioned, I refined my game design with heavy emphasis on the concepts we discussed in design class last semester
- Created the one-page of that design for submission
- Worked through a number of tutorials on using Unity to understand its pipeline functions and get a better handle on how I can help both artists and engineers when using that engine
- Continued work on other game design projects for my personal portfolio and possibly later introduction to the cohort

I'm excited to see what the coming week brings. While I certainly hope that my design moves on to the next phase, I just can't wait to start work on our thesis. Game development is a blast!

- Troy