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