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!