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