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