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