20 April 2013

Approaching the Finish Line -- Week Ending 20 Apr

This week, I've uploaded a few video clips for some of the games (if you've watched the entire demo reel from last week, you won't see anything new--this time they are just broken down by individual game). I'll still pipe in with any relevant updates or changes not visible in the videos, but it should be pretty brief. Enjoy!

Last March of the Dodos

Did you catch the solid white pill-shaped object that appeared and destroyed a few Dodos at the end of the video? Well, that's the shark. :) And even though the final art is not present in that clip, it is in the game now--in all of its tiger-striped glory.

Beyond that, we've steadily been adding more achievements, better UI and camera features, and more charm and fun to the presentation. I've kept busy with a design hand in all of those areas, along with working with Desura to ensure that we meet all of the requirements to publish with them.

A Videogame With/out Rules

The biggest news this week is that we're pushing our release date back from May until mid-June or so. That should give us enough time to construct the physical aspect of the game without rushing and leaving out important considerations. We continue adding final overlays to the build each week, and we've nearly finalized the software aspect of the game. I'll be constructing the wrap kit up until graduation, and then it seems that my involvement in the project will be concluded. It's been a great process, and I look forward to the final installation!


Just the video this week, since we've wrapped up work on this project. We're not sure if we'll continue building it in the future or not, but you'll certainly find the details here if we do.

The end is nigh! Let's get this stuff done!

- Troy

14 April 2013

Game Dev Demo Reel!

I was finally able to take a few hours to cut together a reel of clips from several of the games I've been developing with my various teams. It's not too flashy, but it should give you an idea of what I've been up to.

Thanks for checking it out!

- Troy

Massive Catch-up Update -- Week Ending 13 Apr

I apologize for the lack of recent posts, but this has been an incredibly busy month. Good heavens. First off, GDC was a few weeks ago, and I had a great experience there. I don't know if anything substantial will come of it for me, but it was certainly a great opportunity to network and chat with many different companies to determine what they're really looking for in potential employees. It also pretty much confirmed everything I recorded last year, so check out the post I made a few weeks ago for what those thoughts and observations were/are.

The following week included Team Reveal's trip to the Ubisoft Montreal Game Lab competition, and we had a great time. I'll leave the details for my update on Reveal below, but I'll just say that it was an honor to work with such an incredibly talented and dedicated team. Also, poutine! Woo!

Other than that, I finished my thesis companion document, and we've just been working like crazy on all our games. So here we go!

Last March of the Dodos

We've been working with Desura to lock down our publishing plans with them. They require a content-rich website and an extensive wrap kit to ensure we're serious about the game, so Jesse and I have been compiling and building those. The UI gets more polished day by day, and we've finally got a few more levels in the final phases of implementation.

Derek has done a fantastic job of creating all the individual achievements, Kamron has streamlined all the menu screens and camera functionality, and even Felix has implemented design tools and bug fixes while in Florida!

Jesse has been in touch with a professional music producer, and she has done a ton of work creating sounds and music for our game. It constantly amazes me how much sound brings games to life. It's not surprising, but you simply don't usually anticipate just how much richer the experiences are when the appropriate sounds are in place.

Finally, our shark is working! The player can trigger/summon the shark onto the land by knocking enough Dodos into bodies of water. Suddenly, the shark jumps onto land from a random position and flops along the paths until it eats the King Dodo. At that point, it returns to the water via another random path. The whole time, if it happens to contact any other Dodos on its way to the King, it, of course, eats them, too. It really is a fantastic feature, and it's one of those great "moments of delight" that we've been shooting for.

A Videogame With/out Rules
The big news for this project is that we conducted a public playtest session at The Leonardo a few weeks ago. Not only did we learn a lot about the market there, but our game was also a hit! Kids and families had a great time sitting down and simply engaging with the mechanics that we presented to them. The point (or lack thereof) was definitely more apparent to some than to others, but that is part of what is intriguing about games as art.

At this point, we've finalized our design for the physical setup, and we're simply creating schematics and plans for getting it built. Christine is finalizing the overlays and sprites, Josh and Charlie are finalizing rules and documentation (just in case we have them at all), Wang is implementing new art and minor adjustments as we receive final assets, and I'm working with Al to get the thing constructed. We've got two weeks, so we're gonna make it happen!

Montreal was a whirlwind experience. I will openly admit that I showed up to the competition without preparing the way that I should have. As producer, I should have been directly constructing the presentation, one-page, and wrap kit for weeks before the event. Those things simply did not happen in time, and I am at fault for that. I certainly did not slack, nor did I waste time (I'm working on several games, a thesis paper, and a TA job all at the same time), but I should have organized and prioritized better. As a result, we were working non-stop from the moment we arrived in Montreal until the moment we concluded our presentation on the second day of the competition.

However, the work that we did as a team during those 36 hours was incredible. The team pulled together unlike any I've previously worked with. We pushed through insane hours of the night as we refined each of our segments of the presentation. We made adjustments to the build of the game. Isaac created more concept art and illustrations for the PowerPoint slide backgrounds. And I hate to reveal that I actually stayed up until 5 A.M. (and then got up at 7 A.M.) on the morning of our presentation, putting it all together into a cohesive pitch. We were lucky to go on the second day so that we had a chance to make strong points out of what were weak points in our competitors' approaches.

Thankfully, and as a testament to the hard work of the team, it all paid off. We received several compliments on our presentation and on our game concept alike. A week later, we were one of five teams to win an award (there were 13 teams in the competition). The jury awarded us the trophy for "Best Creativity and Use of Theme." My hat is off to Jason Thummel, the lead designer and mastermind behind the original concept, and to Jason Kanagaratnam and Andrew Witts, the two members of our team selected for internships at Ubisoft Montreal this summer. Congratulations, Team Reveal!

The Macromancer
I wanted to include this one on the list this week to assure you that this project still lives, although it might be wheezing for breath at the moment. With the semester nearing its end and many of the team members figuring out different plans for the summer, we're not sure whether this one will die gracefully, emerge from its current ashes as a vibrant phoenix, or simply hang on month after month with a slight chance of revival. I would love this to continue, but we're all simply so busy right now that we'll just have to wait and see.

GDC was a great confidence booster for this game. I brought my paper prototype along with me so that we could play it in our hostel room. When we did finally play it on the third night, we had a great time, and we ended up playing for over four hours without realizing where the time had gone! Mike and Jason had some great pointers and feedback for me, and it was a fun experience to get it into some fresh hands. It was particularly encouraging when they said that they felt it was definitely a game that could be published and widely sold. I would love nothing more than for that to happen. :)

Elders of the RuneStone: War for Darkhan City
Not much progress here these past few weeks, as deadlines have been approaching for other responsibilities, but it's still alive and well. As usual, check out the latest (or near-latest) build **here**!

This was a short-lived shot at making a medical game to enter into the Bench-to-Bedside competition, an event geared at combining entrepreneurial endeavors with medical research and new technologies. We took a day to build a blackjack-esque touch device card game that helps people with PKU understand various combinations of food that they can safely eat in a single day. We didn't win any awards for it (perhaps if we'd spent the allotted six months rather than one day...), but I got to fight with learn more about GameMaker for another 12 hours. Honestly, though, it was a good experience working with yet another team and actually creating something in a single day. Check out the HTML 5 build **here**.

Two weeks until graduation week! Holy cow! I think I can... I think I can... I think I can...

- Troy

18 March 2013

Spring Breakified -- Week Ending 16 Mar

Spring Break was this week, and it had its pros and cons. Pros for the projects which had team members present, cons for the other projects. Read on to find out which were which...

Last March of the Dodos
Not much to say this week due to Spring Break. Ugh. We really need all the time we can get, and this break certainly didn't do much to help us. I did plan out a few more achievements, and Derek did fix some bugs and make additions to the achievement code, but we were pretty sparse other than that.

A Videogame With/out Rules
As expected, we didn't have any official team meetings this week. However, those of us who were in town did manage to get quite a bit done. Josh and Chris did a great job pumping out mockups of what will become our final overlays. Meanwhile, Wang figured out how to get extra controllers working for the game, so we can have up to four players at once (or just four movable sprites that people can position around the gamespace, depending on the rules). We're still working to get four actual joysticks functioning, so we'll keep you updated on that front.

I had a meeting with Al to determine the best way to physically present the game in a museum space. We discussed several ideas that we had come up with as a team, including building the game into an arcade cabinet and simultaneously projecting the on-screen visuals onto a large wall, building a podium for the controls and displaying the game on a large wall-mounted screen, and even setting up the space to feel like a '70s living room. The one we're leaning toward is the podium and large screen, but there is still a chance that could change. It simply allows a very open, public experience to occur, and we can put text and image vinyls on the walls around the screen to give additional context to the exhibit.

However, whatever form the physical presentation takes, it will include a display case bearing an original Magnavox Odyssey...which arrived this week! Check out this unboxing video of our very own 41-year-old Odyssey console, complete with all the extra tokens and overlays it originally contained. (Pardon the view orientation. It was recorded with a smart phone, and Rachel wanted the focus of the viewable area to include my body language and all the goodies inside the box.)

It was actually a good week for Reveal. We had most of the team here, and we even had a few sessions all together. It's pretty much just coming down to populating the levels Jason has built with the art assets and prefabs. The mechanics are there, and I can't wait to present what we've got working!

Personally, I've been working on the animations for the main character. I've had a bit of trouble working with the rig (I am no expert at rigging, so any snags I run into on that front have me running back to Isaac for help), but I got a walk cycle done and I'm moving on to the run and dodge reels.

The Macromancer
As a team, we spent a day jamming out a bunch of work on The Macromancer. We took the opportunity to refine our camera and player controls, as well as to get our enemy AI performing more like we envisioned (still plenty of refining to do). It's still fairly rough, but the game steadily moves forward. Also, Eric is knocking out art that we'll soon be dropping into the game. I tell ya, it feels great to get fun art actually functioning in a game; can't wait to see that art in action soon!

The real news here, however, is that we've decided to change it from a 3D action-puzzle-platformer to a 2.5D one. We just feel that with our resources, we can build a tighter, higher quality experience by eliminating one dimension of gameplay (still 3D art assets). All the mechanics remain, so I'm excited to see how this new direction shapes up!

Elders of the RuneStone: Sealed Souls
I took a few hours this week to refine the physics of the movement and platforming for each character, and it feels much and tighter now. I originally wanted a sort of Super Mario Bros. feel with lots of momentum and floaty jumps, but I decided that the kind of action game I want requires tighter movement controls that are more closely tied to the individual button presses and releases. Of course, that doesn't mean I got rid of momentum and such. I simply refined it all so that it feels more like old-school twitch platforming and action.

Other than that, I'm still looking forward to the moment when I can finally start really building the combat engine. Just too much on my plate for that, at the moment!

Play the latest build of the prototype **here** (forgive the poor level design--that's all up in the air right now, too)!

Too busy for more general thoughts this week--gotta finish my thesis!

- Troy

13 March 2013

What I Learned Last Year at GDC

As I prepare to head back to San Francisco in a couple weeks for the annual Game Developers Conference, I find it useful to reflect on my experience from last year. Here are some of the lessons I gleaned, both from meeting with video game industry professionals and from my own participation in the whirlwind (see my post from last year at this time to find the original installment of this content):

- You can't please everyone. There is no perfect resume; there is no perfect business card. One professional's advice and suggestions are rubbish to another. For example, some recruiters love the objective statement while others told me flat out that it's a waste of space. Whatever. Research the particular company you're interested in and tailor your materials to reflect what they're seeking. Find a strong template and get solid general resume advice from faculty and pros, and then just make yourself shine in the best way that you know how.

- That said, there are definitely better and worse ways to illustrate what you can offer a company. Do more showing than telling on your resume. If a skill can be described in its precise context as it was exercised during a project or product development, that is infinitely better than simply listing what you can do. (At least, that's the story I got from most pros--a couple said they liked a brief list so they knew what to expect from the other details. Again, whatever.)

- If you have multiple professional interests and broad skill sets, focus your resume on one core discipline and make sure that every detail on that resume supports your specific professional goal. If you would like to try your hand at a couple different disciplines, make completely different resumes that focus on one discipline each. Companies want someone who can nail the specific jobs they need done, not someone who can kind of do a bunch of other people's jobs. It's still a good idea to include jobs and skills that are related to game development in other ways, but make sure your description contextualizes and focuses them onto your core professional discipline. For example, why does knowing some basic programming enhance your ability to be a producer? How do animation skills help you be a better senior programmer?

- Talk about team sizes and your personal contributions to the nitty-gritty of your projects' development cycles. The more you can convince someone that you actually make games and are valuable to a team in the process, the better.

- Make games. Seriously. Just make games like crazy so that you can show people your passion, your work ethic, and your creativity with something they can personally see, hear, feel, experience, and enjoy. Also, get a tablet so that you can show off your stuff. It's 2013.

- Ask questions. You want to learn from them--let them know that. Let them know how excited you are by treating them like the experts because, well, I suppose they are. They are the ones getting paid to do this, after all.

- If you are talking to a company's representative, that company should be the greatest thing since sliced bread. You want to be with them. You need to be with them. You have amazing things to offer them, but they have the world to offer you. Be excited! Brag on them and let them know how honored you are to be talking to them. And do it all genuinely, even if it's not exactly what you think. You have to play the salesman card in every way possible, without being a tool. Sound hard? It's incredibly difficult for me to be like this. I haven't mastered this skill, so I didn't reap its benefits, but I watched other people do it right in front of me, and it works wonders. Practice, practice, practice!

- Go to have fun! There's a ton of work to be done, but pace yourself. Play the IGDA's meta game, go to parties, and just talk to everyone who's willing to lend an ear. You never know how much work you can actually get done in the video games industry by playing with other people. Just remember to play nice. :)

Do you have any advice or experiences you can share with me or with others in the same boat?

- Troy

11 March 2013

Progress on Games and Papers -- Week Ending 9 Mar

In addition to the work on my various games this week, I also finally got all of the content for my thesis companion document figured out and organized according to my outline. It's still incredibly choppy and lacks a cohesive voice, but I'm happy that I've actually written out everything I'd like to say. The first draft is due this coming Friday, so I've got about a week to edit the whole thing. It's a large task, to be sure, but with a bit of focus, I should be well on my way to officially graduating once the next week has passed. Woohoo!

Last March of the Dodos
The bulk of the work this week was done by engineers, as they continued to implement achievements and cut down some of the features that we decided distracted from the core of the experience. Additionally, Jesse reworked most of the environmental textures, and the landscape looks much more stylized, clean, and alive as a result.

I got my hands dirty by sketching out concept art for the various achievement rewards. Basically, each achievement is represented by a fun image on a postcard, and the collection will be presented as a sort of photo album accessible from the main menu.

The achievements themselves are what we believe will help give the game longevity. By giving the player a dozen or so goals to shoot for on every level, the players must approach the same level with different strategies and techniques several times. This will coax them into trying new things that they discover to be fun, and these new ways of playing will also help them find success later on during the more challenging levels of the game.

A Videogame With/out Rules
We made some executive decisions this week, finalizing the number and types of overlays that will be available to players. With a strict goal of eight unique overlays, each based on a different style of play, the players will have a great foundation from which to start negotiating objectives and rules.

Furthermore, we narrowed down possible choices for how we'll physically construct and exhibit the game. The two strongest options we've come down to are A) an arcade cabinet with an accompanying large projection of the on-screen action (so that visitors can see what's happening even when they're not one of the people playing) and B) a simulated living room, complete with a TV set, a couch, and a small stand that has the control peripherals attached. Regardless of our final choice, there will also be a display of an original Magnavox Odyssey to give visitors some historical context. I'll be meeting with Al from the Leonardo next week to get his thoughts on which is most museum-friendly. However, if we move this game around to different venues after its tun at The Leonardo, we certainly have the option of different physical setups.

Our game continues its progress! The engineers continue to refine the mechanics, and the designers are constructing the levels and scenarios in UDK. We're on the verge of having our playable prototype complete with everything that we want it to have, so we're excited to show off what we've got running by the end of next week.

Besides imparting information and being Corinne's messenger (she's been Ubisoft's contact for sharing details on what we need to submit over the course of the competition), I also organized our team's video session in which we had to shoot several minutes of ourselves giving introductions to our team, our work, and why we're just so dang awesome. The event was incredibly classy. Trust me.

Elders of the RuneStone: Sealed Souls
Sadly, I was too busy this past week to get any real work done on this personal project. However, in case you haven't seen the latest iteration of the prototype mechanics, check it out **here**!

My next post will be a recap of my experience and what I learned from last year's GDC, so check back again within the next few days--you won't want to miss it (and it will be a good reminder for me as I wrap up my own preparations for this year's)!

- Troy

04 March 2013

Learning Experiences -- Week Ending 2 Mar

I had an interesting experience this week, as we submitted Last March of the Dodos to Steam Greenlight--finally! From this experience (or, rather, collection of experiences), I learned that you must pick the forums and distribution channels upon which you release your projects wisely. Communities have certain expectations, and if those expectations are not precisely met, then they will let you know in no uncertain terms. Selecting the right platform for release is not unlike determining your target market as you develop your game. Further, even if you perfectly match your game design and aesthetics to your target market, you still have to release or distribute your game in places generally populated by your target market. In short, Last March of the Dodos might not be the best fit for Steam Greenlight as far as the community is concerned.

That's not to say that everyone on Steam Greenlight dislikes our game concept, nor even that everyone on Steam Greenlight thinks alike. In fact, we have several hundred "Yes" votes from the community to get our game on the platform, and the average game in the top 50 on the service only has 57% "Yes" votes. This brings me to my second point: you cannot please every gamer out there, so don't try to do so. Figure out the kinds of people who want to play the kind of game you're making, and tailor the experience to them. And release the game in a place where they'll find it! It seems that the Steam community is less welcoming of quirky student projects than of what they are used to: high-production-value-fueled hardcore games. That is in no way meant to be an excuse for whether or not we get the "Greenlight," since better decisions and more dedication throughout production would have made the game more impressive.

Finally, while we would have loved to see it on Steam (and we're still holding out hope), we did not expect it to end up there. This was a low-investment experiment to see how our game would fare publicly at this stage, and it has been a great learning experience. To see what will happen in a community when they get their first glimpse of your game is a great opportunity to learn, evaluate, and make improvements as final decisions are made and the last leg to official publication is run.

Last March of the Dodos
As mentioned, this week's big accomplishment was our submission to Steam Greenlight. I headed up the process, gathering all the videos, screenshots, and description necessary. Further, I undertook the task of learning how to get our game submitted and getting the team on board for using the Utah Game Forge to publish. We had simply been dragging our feet with the process for too long, and it had to be pushed.

I also continued directing the UI re-design, as well as how some of the new features (and cut features, for that matter) will be implemented and visually represented. I've served as the main communicator between our engineers (including our offsite engineer currently interning at EA Tiburon--we miss you, Felix!), and helped to clarify features and design decisions when necessary.

The team continues to make progress, with Jesse cranking out new, polished textures, Chris putting the finishing touches on UI elements, and Charlie trying to finalize the model of our land shark.

A Videogame With/out Rules
We continued development on the game without too many hitches. Alex Johnstone, our Leonardo contact, dropped in on our meeting to try the game out, and he gave us his mark of approval. The concept is pretty much set, though we're now tinkering with the possibility of providing physical tokens, dice, timers, etc. to allow players more options to play games and track their own details.

I worked with Roger to manage **our blog/site** (though the theme and aesthetics are still very much under construction), and we also continued developing **our Facebook page** so that we can share our production process with everyone who is interested in how these sorts of things work. I also worked with Rachel (our assistant program manager) to get some new toys ordered for the project: trackballs! Though we've been researching them and trying to figure out our best hardware options for a few weeks now, we finally took the dive and ordered three more from different companies that we want to try out. Should be fun to play with once they arrive!

Christine knocked out some killer overlay mockups, and Wang got all the joystick controls working smoothly (the next step is getting multiple trackballs to work--cross your fingers!), and Charlie kept working on various rule sets based on the original Odyssey games. Josh mocked up a few different proposals for displaying those rule sets, so we're trimming away the bad and focusing on the good in every category!

The mechanics are all in place (though there is a great need for refinements), and we're finally starting to piece together our level designs! Sadly, we ran into issues with some of our computers not being capable of supporting UDK as we need them to. Luckily, we've got some crazy powerful computers in the second-year MGS lab, so we should be able to manage that mess with few further headaches.

We were also given the details for our travel plans to Canada this week. Pretty dang exciting! The program is heavily invested in this competition and in our team, so we're all trying to step it up to make the best product that we can. We'll be preparing our presentation over the next couple of weeks, too, so we've got plenty to do still ahead.

As for my producer-type work this week, I honestly didn't have to do much. I got Corrinne informed so that she'd come to our meeting and talk about stuff, but that's really all I had to do. The team has been incredibly dedicated, so they've stayed on top of their tasks and even updated their work in Hansoft without constant reminders. However, as we get the computer/UDK issue resolved, I'll be building levels with the other designers. Finally, it looks like I'll also be helping with some of the animations, and I am really looking forward to that!

Elders of the RuneStone: Sealed Souls
I didn't have much time to work on RuneStone this week, but I did implement an enemy object that can be killed by player attacks. Still super rough, but it's steadily coming along, and that is what matters most to me.

After I fix the enemy destruction bug (all enemies die when you only kill one...), I'll be working on the attack physics, such as making the character move in specific ways as the attacks are activated (slower falling so that air combos are possible, reducing momentum while attacking, etc.). Once I nail those things, I'll probably get working on how attack combos work, and then practicing creating a couple extra unique characters.

Play the latest exported build **here**.

GDC is coming up quick, so while I try to balance all this stuff, I'll also be preparing for that. Trying to keep it all under control...

- Troy

23 February 2013

Progress Despite Distractions -- Week Ending 23 Feb

This was an interesting week. A number of events occurred that took time from our usual core development hours (like critiques of both the capstone class and cohort 3's current games), but we were still able to get some things done. Since time is of the essence, we can't afford weeks like this very often, but this one doesn't seem to have upset our deadlines--as long as we keep our heads in the game for the next two months.

Last March of the Dodos
Sadly, it seems that Dodos took the biggest hit of missed work for the week. It certainly didn't help that a few team members fell sick, either, so we've got a little extra slack to pick up next week. Luckily, Charlie has a new model of our landshark nearly completed (it is what it sounds like--how awesome is that?!), and Derek still crunched out the engineering for several achievements/goals we're implementing.

My work was pretty much what I expected this week: a lot of testing and determining the aforementioned goals. Hopefully we'll get a jump on our sound process this coming week, and I'll be cranking out the design of more goals.

A Videogame With/out Rules
What was once known as The Leonardo Project has its first official working title: A Videogame With/out Rules! We had another playable prototype this week, this time with a functioning joystick. We tested it along with Charlie's rule-selection form and the chip-tuned music that I put together, and it made a pretty cool showing.

We even had Rachel (our assistant program manager) and Bob (the head of our program) test it together, and they enjoyed the experience. Bob particularly felt that the idea behind the game is fascinating and that the concept and system are truly fun to explore.

In addition to my usual distribution of notes, team communication, meeting scheduling, and GameMaker practice, I also found a viable selection of arcade trackballs to order and created the music for our prototype.

Reveal keeps pushing forward, and the engineers are doing awesome with tackling all the tasks they've been assigned. Our artist Isaac is also doing a great job keeping a steady stream of 3D assets coming in. As of our midweek sprint review, we have all the core mechanics functioning in the prototype, and we'll be plotting out and starting the construction of test level designs this weekend.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much interesting to capture for a public video yet, but I think this coming week will yield that video I promised! However, like usual, I headed of the sprint review and set up the next week's sprint with the engineers. Acting as SCRUM master has proven easier with this particular group than probably any of the other teams I've been on so far. Everyone updates their tasks and hours punctually, so it's been simple to keep up with everyone's work remaining (and, therefore, any adjustments that need to be made). This is truly an incredibly talented and dedicated team. It's an honor to work with them.

Elders of the RuneStone: Sealed Souls
Notice the new title! I decided that I wanted it to reflect what the hook of the game is--the fact that the heroes' souls are bound to each other via the "RuneStone," which allows them to physically take the place of one another as the acting character at any time.

This is not exactly how it works in the canon of the comic book, but it gives the player a chance to use each of the characters' unique abilities when and how they see fit while playing the game. Think of it as the immediate/real-time weapon-swapping of Devil May Cry, but with characters who have unique traits instead of weapons that do.

I made a bit more progress with the wall and floor collisions this week, as well as cleaning up some of the programming so that adding new characters with distinct movement abilities is quite simple. I'm still trying to figure out the best style of momentum and physics to really nail the feeling of movement that I want in the game. While I continue to work on that, the next step is to get attacking enemies working! That's the bit that will really make this game stand out the way I want it to.

Once again, try out the current build of the prototype **here**.

In other news, I'm all set up with travel, lodging, and my ticket for GDC! I'm stoked to capitalize on the opportunity this year, and I'm excited to go with one more year's worth of developed skills and experience. Let's make it count!

- Troy

16 February 2013

Love for Creation -- Week Ending 16 Feb

Happy Valentine's week! Just remember that if you don't have some investment (dare I say "love"?) in the games you are involved in making, it would be wise to step back and reevaluate your role. What can you be passionate about that you can offer to its creation? How can you be passionate about your assigned tasks?

Last March of the Dodos
This week was somewhat of a stake in the ground for Dodos. After another presentation of the current state of the game and our intentions for finishing it up, the faculty had a meeting with our team to define the remaining needs. We laid out our plans, and we're in a great place to finish up as we have been hoping as long as we all stay on top of our responsibilities.

One of the biggest changes to the game that was determined was that the pre-level trap store is being eliminated. Members of the faculty feel that it detracts from the meta game rather than enhancing it. While I have my opinions about how it actually enhances the game overall, I'm willing to trim out that particular feature if it helps us focus on the more pressing and important features.

We've revisited our backlog, and we're once again set to make a final push for the next two months. I'm primarily responsible for designing and determining achievements and level designs along with Charlie, so that has been my focus during this past week and will continue to be so. I'll also have a hand in the sound design. Here we go!

The Leonardo Project
Breakthrough! We're going old-school. The design of the game revolves around stated sets of rules that people can adapt and change, but those rules are not enforced by the game itself at all; it is entirely up to the players to negotiate and play by the rules as stated. We tested the concept at our latest meeting, and it was actually a really cool experience. It definitely brought up conversations, and it got people interacting with each other in interesting ways.

There will be several sets of rules established for players to choose from ahead of time, but players will also be able to create their own sets or modify existing ones. People can then vote on them, and the most popular rules or sets will be more readily visible.

With these changes and decisions, our experience is now about player interaction as they negotiate the rules and the spaces of games, and how they hold each other to those negotiations. In addition, the idea of modding and popularity/visibility in digital spaces is also present with the meta game of creating individual rule sets.

As for controls, we're leaning toward arcade trackballs, as they're probably the most unique and yet truly representative mode of control when it comes to old-school video game play.

I think we're all the most excited about this particular experience than any of the others we had previously come up with. Our design meetings and rapid prototypes have definitely paid off!

Things keep moving forward on Reveal as well. We had a few more design meetings this week, since it felt like we were floundering a bit in finding truly compelling experiences with such a broad range of mechanics and expected player procedures. In short, we've cut combat from our prototype release backlog, and we're focusing on exploring and interacting with the environment via the Pulse and the EmberWave.

The game is now primarily exploration with tension coming from the unknown and from accidentally irritating the environment to the point of trying to harm you. Puzzles involve "activating" certain plants with the EmberWave and taking advantage of the environment's actions to make your way to your destination. Exploration is still primarily conducted with the Pulse, as it functions like a sort of temporary paintbrush that lets you "feel" the general shape of the environment by making lights brighter for a limited time.

My contributions this week have been managing our Agile process with HanSoft, conducting sprint reviews with the team, and contributing during design meetings.

The Macromancer
Assets keep falling in place little by little on this game. Our artist, Eric Rios, has been hard at work creating environments and other objects, while our engineers continue to iron out the controls and the AI of enemy units. Not a ton to discuss this week, but progress continues!

Elders of the RuneStone: War for Darkhan City
I've been having a lot of fun on this personal project this week. It's often been frustrating fun (ha!), but the prototype is definitely coming together. It's a 2D side-scrolling platformer that is controlled entirely with touches (mouse clicks on computers) on various elements of the screen--there are no virtual buttons or D-pad.

I'm building it in GameMaker, and so far I'm really happy with the engine. While it has its own hurdles, it has proven to get me a lot of simple playability very quickly. Right now, I'm refining basic movement and collisions with the environment, and I'm tuning all of my own player physics for the world (running, jumping, gravity, friction, momentum, etc.). Further, I've also implemented the ability for the player to--in real time--swap between the two different characters I've created. At the moment, the only difference between the two is their spritesheet, but all it will take to differentiate them is to adjust certain values in their movement actions. (Also note that the current spritesheets are ripped from the Nintendo DS game Thor, developed by WayForward. This is simply for testing with full spritesheets, since I do not have my own created yet.)

The next step is to get enemy units in that can be attacked when tapped or clicked while the player is in close enough proximity. It's all coming nicely along, though, so keep an eye out for more, and test out the current (and very buggy, especially with wall collisions) build **here**!

I love making video games! :)

- Troy

10 February 2013

Meetings Galore -- Week Ending 9 Feb

Though I've certainly noticed before, this week hit me particularly hard with the stark reality that being a designer and producer of video games involves a lot of meetings, especially in the early stages of planning development. Actually, in all stages. But that's the point right? Communication is imperative to team-based projects, and talking as a group face-to-face is often the best means of ensuring everyone's responses are timely, relevant, and universally understood. Of course, this is not to discount the value of email, chats, etc., but I hope you can see where I'm coming from (*from where I'm coming?).

Last March of the Dodos
Progress continues for Dodos. With every passing day of work we add better art, clean up bugs, and refine the usability and playability of our game. We've updated textures, implemented more attractive menu screens and navigation, and more.

Part of this week's time was spent in a meeting receiving feedback from Amy, our faculty/industry producer. She sees great potential and fun thus far in the experience, but she also certainly had plenty of suggestions for us to consider and work on. Luckily, many of her critiques are already being addressed in the tasks we're currently undertaking, but we'll be addressing her comments as we build our next few sprints. It's all great stuff, so we'd love to take care of as many of her points as possible as we head into about final few months of development.

As for what I've done with the team this week,  I have worked with Jesse and Derek to determine the coolest and most interesting set of achievements that we can implement. I've been play testing the levels to find cool new ways to experience them, and the achievements will be based on those emergent styles of play. I've also continued working closely with Chris (our UI artist) and Kamron to ensure that the menu system is as cool, clear, and streamlined as possible. It's all turning out great, so I'm excited to see where we'll be by this time next week!

The Leonardo Project
It was a great week of work for the Leo project. We met with Alex on Monday to present our new concept to him, and he really dug it. He then offered his suggestions for how to tailor the concept to a more museum-minded experience, and we've been able to incubate and develop those ideas into a design that we think will be really cool--and quite interesting.

We're going for an experience that invokes the old-school style of video games, wherein players still had to negotiate the rules and the play agreement, since only certain mechanics and procedures were actually programmed and dictated by the software (think of the Magnavox Odyssey). Combined with that, we give certain privileges to players with smart devices, such as being able to switch on the enforcement of rules and mechanics and swap the overlays/background images under/over which the games are played.

In addition to continued research on successful museum games and art games, we finally set up and began our first official development sprint. I determined the backlog based on our design notes earlier in the week, and then I led the charge in the team meeting in which we determined user story priority, estimated time to build those stories, and set up the tasks for our sprint.

Like the Leonardo game, our Reveal team organized our first official development sprint this week. Considering the feedback on our design doc from Ubisoft, I sat down with the engineers, and we prioritized, estimated, and assigned tasks to get our most critical user stories functioning this week.

As reported by our awesome engineers, we've got the EmberWave (flashlight-esque beam, used for combat and some exploration) and the Pulse mechanics running, so we should be able to start playtesting and designing levels and challenges specifically tailored to what we've got.

As I manage the project and process, I'll also be helping with those level designs, building whitebox scenarios in UDK with Andrew and Jason. I hope to have some telling images or video to display next week!

The Macromancer
I'm sensing a pattern here, but this team also reconvened this week to organize our process in Hansoft and start developing from a newly determined backlog. It's cool to see how determined everyone is, even as a completely voluntary project that we are just building because we want to make this game. We still have a goal to release on the Ouya in mid-April, even if it's more of a concept demo/vertical slice than a full game.

Though I have not even had time to play the occasional video game for weeks because of everything that's going on (well, except for my daily round of social You Don't Know Jack), work has been incredibly fulfilling. I love being part of these teams that create awesome games day-in and day-out.

- Troy

04 February 2013

More Done, More to Do -- Week Ending 2 Feb

No exposition this time. Enjoy the updates!

Last March of the Dodos
We keep chipping away at our backlog, and it's really beginning to show. Bugs are being fixed, placeholder assets are being replaced with final art, and the team continues to gel well as we push for common goals. If there's anything that's not going as smoothly as it otherwise could, it is the fact that some of our engineers feel like they're floundering without enough specific tasks to work on. Once we get the greenlight from Steam, however, they'll all have plenty to do as we implement the Steam SDK and update the code to achieve all the technical requirements they set forth.

We had a meeting with Amy to discuss our individual goals for the project, what we hope to get out of the development process and the final product, and how we can make our game the best that we can in the next 3 months. We're committed, and we're confident that we can nail it.

As far as specific work for the week is concerned, our new main menu is in, and the transition from the splash screen to the main menu is looking great. The invitation to play is pretty killer now, and we're really excited about how the introductory screens finally set the tone for the ensuing gameplay. Christine did the graphic design work for the visuals, I designed the animations and motion, and Kamron implemented them in the engine.

I created the score multiplier art and icons that will appear as the player knocks Dodos around from trap to trap. I also designed the popup icon that will represent the various achievements as players reach/perform special goals. Based on their expected difficulty, different achievements award the player with different goodies, so their is a different-colored icon for each level of value (bronze to platinum, of course!).

The Leonardo Project
This project has been quite interesting in these pre-production stages. It seems like every meeting throws the game in a new direction, and sometimes it's difficult to perceive actual progress. However, in all of this brainstorming, altering course, and trying new things, we feel like we have finally reached our best design yet. Funny how that works, huh?

Our design process has revolved around a four-pillar approach, the four pillars being Audience, Art/Aesthetic, Tech, and Play. Once we have determined what must be part of those pillars, we can start to weed out excess details and distill the core design down to the bare requirements of each pillar. From there, we can formulate our razor and then begin to build all subsequent ideas and features on the narrowly designed box that is supported by those pillars. The result is a very tailored, precise approach to accomplishing the final goal. Pretty cool, huh? It was all Roger's idea.

As it stands, we are now focusing on a different conversation than we originally intended. Now the game is designed to invoke conversations about digital media "have"s and "have-not"s, and to make people consider what it means to be able to negotiate the rules of a system rather than to have every detail bound and enforced by the digital system itself. Consider traditional board and card games--house rules are commonplace in how these are played. Most modern video games have a handful of options, but the rules are always enforced by the code. If some form of play is not found in or allowed by the code itself, it is not possible. We want to design a game experience that allows the kind of emergent rules that analog games do, while still wrapping the experience up in digital packaging.

We present to our contact from The Leonardo on Monday, and we're excited to get his feedback. Before then, though, research the Magnavox Odyssey (from the 1970s) for an idea of how we played these kinds of games 40 years ago...

As for my personal contributions to the team, I took notes at all our team meetings and shared them with the team via our Google Drive. I also scheduled our meetings, contacted and scheduled next week's appointment with our Leonardo contact, researched art and museum games, and established our project development process using Hansoft (used to be on Kanbanpad.com, but Hansoft is big in the video game industry right now, so I wanted to give us all a chance to become proficient with the software).

The largest step forward with Reveal this week was the engineers' grasp of UDK. They made great strides in understanding how to use and manipulate the engine, and their ability to actually get work done increased dramatically. Thank goodness, because that has been the largest hurdle in getting our game where it needs to be for the upcoming competition.

I have been asked to lead the Agile development process, so I set up our project using Hansoft. Again, as per Amy Adkins's advice, I think it will be helpful for all of us to understand how to use these developments process software tools. Next week we'll be constructing our feature backlog and breaking tasks down so we can begin our first official development sprint as well.

Also, we expect to receive feedback from Ubisoft about our design document, so we'll be taking their suggestions into account as we move forward with full production of our prototype.

The Macromancer
Though little has happened over the past couple weeks, we have arranged a team meeting for early next week where we will regroup as a team and evaluate what we can each do with the time we have available over the next few months. We are so close to getting everything playing smoothly on the Ouya, and then we can push on into level design prototypes and fleshing out the core mechanics. With a bit of art, we might just have something cool in the next few weeks...

Though I've been developing the rules for this analog game for a few years now (on and off), I've recently gotten to laying out the character profile sheets, which double as ability and stat tracking sheets during gameplay. Take a look!

P.S. In the 10 or so rounds of playtesting I've held, there has been a super positive response from the players. Get in touch with me if you would like to try it out!

Elders of the RuneStone: War for Darkhan City
Using GameMaker, I started working on a bare-bones prototype of the core mechanics for this side-scrolling action-platformer...for touch devices! The goal is to make an awesome action game that has precise, intuitive controls via touch interface--something I have rarely found. Did I mention that it's going to be awesome?

Lots going on, but I love it! As long as I can keep these projects balanced, I expect great results from the next few months. Come back soon!

- Troy

27 January 2013

Steady as She Goes -- Week Ending 26 Jan

Things have settled into a nice groove for the semester, it seems. I have been able to organize my time and tasks well, and I've been keeping up with all the different projects I have a stake in. Let's hope it runs smoothly through the whole semester and that fantastic results come of my work!

Last March of the Dodos
It was another productive week for Dodos. We've added some minor new features to round out the experience more, though they're still not totally polished. First, there's now a countdown at the beginning of every level to give the player just a bit of extra time to scope out the layout before the Dodos begin their march. This allows for more intentional strategy, but it does not kill the frantic experience of having to adjust and manage the birds in real time--best of both worlds! I designed the look, transitions, and timing of the countdown and worked with Kamron as he implemented the feature. Also, I created the art assets (the numbers and text art) for this--sometimes the best help I can give is to just do whatever needs doing, even if it's not necessarily my particular focus.

Second, there is now an achievement system in place! As we've come to learn for ourselves (as well as from our new production and publishing faculty member, Amy Adkins), achievements are necessary for this type of game (if not every type). The system is still quite early in development, but the framework is there. Things will really start moving once we've finalized all the levels and can determine all the unique things we'd like to challenge the player to accomplish. I helped design where the visual elements would appear as achievements are earned, as well as what types of achievements will be in the game, while Derek created the framework and engineered how the system will work.

We also continued work on the UI and menu design. Christine is doing a great job with the art, and I've been designing where the various elements should be located and how the functionality works. Even with the relatively simple changes we've made so far, the game already feels quicker and more streamlined to enjoy.

Further, we've constructed our new splash screen, and the invitation to play is far more appealing because of it. I guided I Kamron in what to do with the level model, rotating camera, and title logo. We're happy with how all these additions are bumping our game to the next level.

Finally, I've started figuring out how to use HanSoft, a common software tool in the industry for managing the game development process. Amy has been helping me understand the ins and outs of the software, and I've started transferring our dev process for Dodos to it. The real trick will be getting the team on board if we decide that it will be official. Either way, it'll be a great skill to have under my belt for the industry.

The Leonardo Project
Our pre-production phase is moving ahead and nearing its close. We've had several meetings to discuss our individual research and determine what the necessary pieces of the game will be. Roger has been guiding these design meetings based on a new approach that he's devised: a figurative box made of four walls--the tech wall, the audience/theme wall, the aesthetic wall, and the gameplay wall.

Part of my duties has been to take pictures of our whiteboard notes, then interpret them and share them with the team via our Google Drive. It's helped to keep everyone aware of any different directions we take from meeting to meeting, especially for those members who haven't been able to attend every time.

This week, I was tasked with researching public art and museum exhibits to determine what exactly was the draw--the hook--for each one. Based on the dozens of pieces I investigated, we determined a number of things that help these types of experiences stand out:
- Touch and/or physical movement involved in the interactivity
- Scale is important, even if the size is inconvenient for some
- Interactivity results in immediate feedback, so users know just what they've done to the exhibit
- If it's a game, the goal(s) should be made evident to the players, even if they still have the option not to contribute to that goal
- It should aim to generate some conversation, if not outright controversy
- It should be an experience that is situated and unique, something they can't get anywhere else
- Finally, within the limited time that people spend at such exhibits, they need to be able to 1) prepare for the game, 2) learn and understand how to play it, 3) play it sufficiently, and then 4) reflect on the experience and contribute to the conversation.

To begin the week, we had a meeting to get our development process started. We broke down the game design into user stories and tasks, and we then began our first sprint. As part of the meeting, I helped explain the newly adjusted design details (as of last week's completed design document) to all members of the team so that we are all on the same page and can determine a clear direction for developing those features.

For my responsibility this week, I was assigned the task of designing and documenting the various user stories relating to enemy AI (including the AI for Void, the boss enemy), plant and environmental interactions, and what the upgrade Elements do for the player and the gameplay.

The engineers are hard at work learning how to use UDK and have started developing features based on the user stories. As long as we keep to our schedule, we should be able to reach our goal!

The Macromancer
Little has happened since last week, other than keeping up with all the team members to track any progress that's been made. As expected, once classes started, it has proven difficult to keep steady progress on volunteer projects. However, it's still definitely alive, and this weekend's Global Game Jam should provide some great advice, experience, and understanding of developing on Ouya.

I hope to have a bit of news on my side design projects by next week, so keep checking back!

- Troy

21 January 2013

Putting Rubber to Road -- Week Ending 19 Jan

This week I don't have any particular musings about being a designer-producer nor any other general thoughts to share, so I'll just jump right into discussing my four primary game projects. Enjoy!

Last March of the Dodos
This was an excellent week for nailing down distinct plans. Our team lead (Jesse) and I walked through every step of the game together to determine the specifics of what needed to be updated, changed, fixed, or added to make the game feel like it is really supposed to. This list has become or newest backlog, and we are prioritizing it as we speak so that we hit the most important pieces early on. Some of those prioritized tasks and features include the implementation of a countdown at the beginning of every level ("10 seconds till the Dodos march!") to give the player time to scope out the stage; a redesign of several pieces of the UI and certain menu screens (making elements that appear on multiple screens fall in the same place on each different screen, balancing spatial relationships, adding placeholders for necessary points of information, etc.); making the stages visible behind the buttons and mini-map; and much more that will really help the game flow.

As part of fulfilling my own tasks from the backlog, I helped with the UI redesign, designed the countdown feature and exactly how it will behave, spear-headed effort to correct the level visibility and camera-control issues, and designed some new aspects of the title screens and menu contents.

Also noteworthy was that this week we were introduced to our new production consultant, Amy Adkins. I'm not entirely sure of her official faculty status, but she was a producer at EA for years, and she has been hired to help us all polish and publish our games. She has jumped right in with great advice, insight, and expectations. She asked us to compile and send her a group of documents for our project, including our backlog, design document, schedule, publishing plans, etc. This request proved quite helpful to us, as it forced us to really sit down and hammer out details to a degree that we simply had not done previously. I ended  up compiling the package for her (and creating whatever documents that did not previously exist), and it helped me visualize and understand the process we'll be driving through much better. We now have a much clearer vision of what we must do--and what we will do--over the next three months.

Amy played our game and said that she definitely felt like she could get people to play it. She projected a target audience of children based on the aesthetics and feel of the game as it stands (slightly younger than we originally intended due to the complexity of the game and the issue of killing/extinction), so we're now figuring out the best way to shape the rest of our development based on these reactions and our original goals. She opted to withhold any further feedback until she speaks with Mark and Craig to better understand their expectations of our game from the academic side, but she seemed genuinely excited by what our game can be and what we can do with it over the next three months.

The Leonardo Project
This was a good week for pre-production. Roger appointed me to be the lead producer for the team, and I was immediately put to work. I scheduled two meetings with the team--one of which was our first meeting with Alex Johnstone, our contact from The Leonardo--and we have really gotten the juices flowing for coming up with our game design.

I created a Google Drive and Google Calendar so that we would have a common place to look for any and all assets and communication needs that might arise. Thus far, the tools have been quite helpful in keeping us all on track together and making sure everyone can access whatever he or she might need. Further, I set up a Kanbanpad.com project for us to track our backlog and scheduled development tasks; the service is free, and it's online so we can all see and edit it from any device. We may end up using Hansoft if we get licenses for our forthcoming workspace in The Leonardo, but we'll stick with Kanbanpad for the time being.

When we met with Alex at The Leonardo, he gave us a tour of the space, and we're excited to be associated with so many cool exhibits. The venue is perfect for a public game like the one we'll deliver, so we look forward to generating buzz with a transparent development process.

I'll hold off on delving into design details at the moment because we've simply thrown around too many to list, and it would be difficult to make much sense out of such a collection at the moment. However, feel free to investigate the image of the whiteboard and try to decipher what it might all mean... Suffice it to say, the experience is going to be awesome and thought-provoking. I promise.

You'll notice that the title of this game changed from last week; that was no accident. We spent several hours considering what our point with the game is, and in an attempt to come up with a suitable slogan for our pitch and design document, we finally hit upon it. After evaluating the focus of our gameplay and the hook of the experience, we determined that revealing the unknown (or the "difficult to interpret," at least) is what our intended experience hinges on. By using a couple abilities that can manipulate the existing bioluminescence in the world or generate light independently, the player can discover the secrets of the environment and determine how to eventually escape from the lurking dangers. Thus:

Title: Reveal
Slogan: Master the light

Based on this approach, Andrew Witts, Jason Thummel, and I spent about 30 total hours (between the three of us) creating the official design document that we had to submit to Ubisoft this week as part of the GameLab competition. We're pleased with how it turned out, and we're confident that we can develop an awesome game from the details outlined within it.

It feels like the whole team is definitely on board with this new interpretation of the original prototype and pitch, and we've started putting things in action. The engineers met with members of the first EAE:MGS cohort for some tutoring on using the UDK and getting the core features they had built using Unity into the new engine. In addition, our artist, Isaac Kellis, cranked out some awesome new concept art, which you'll be seeing in future posts.

Now that the document is written and submitted and we all have some idea of the tools and process we'll be using, we'll kick production into high gear starting this coming week. We can't wait to create a killer game that will win this competition!

The Macromancer
Progress continues with The Macromancer. The team had a meeting on Friday (which, sadly, I was unable to attend because of my meeting at the Leonardo) in which the engineers got handheld controllers to work with the game (no longer bound to mouse and keyboard controls). Getting the game to work with the Ouya is still proving to be a nuisance, even with all sorts of online investigation for a solution, but pieces are snapping into place and functioning properly bit by bit. In other words, it feels like the same process as every other time we are presented with new tech. We're confident that we'll have everything working with the Ouya Development Kit (ODK) by the end of the coming week.

Design-wise, the game is in the same place it was since our public pitch. We'll likely trim down the story and narrative plans we had, but the gameplay remains. With the positive response we received about our core mechanics from the presentation, we're happy with how the game feels, and we're stoked that the team is still dedicated to pushing forward with its development. Ouya officially releases in just a couple months, and we plan to release a solid game on day one! Wish us luck!

Have a good week, and keep tabs right here. I guarantee you'll be interested in what's to come!

- Troy

15 January 2013

Polishing to Publish -- Week Ending 12 Jan

Happy New Year! With the beginning of my final semester in the EAE:MGS, I've decided to alter the format of my blog posts ever so slightly. Instead of my typical flood of information about everything that may or may not be going on, I'll break my thoughts down into discreet sections for each individual project that I'm involved in. With this approach, I hope to motivate myself to actually do something on each project each week, even if it's no more than a tweak to a design document or an evaluation of a sprint. That way, I hope to ensure that none of the games slip through the cracks into development Limbo.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Last March of the Dodos
This week has been a matter of evaluating the game as it stands and determining our plans for getting it published by the end of the semester. There has been little actual work on the game, but I've done a hefty bit of research into our publishing options and what we will have to do to set the processes in motion.

Presented with the information I gathered, the team has decided that we do, in fact, want to push for a release on Steam, and we're willing to do what it takes to get the greenlight--"Steam Greenlight," that is! Ha! Beyond that, since Steam does not require exclusivity, we are also shooting to release on Desura shortly after our projected Steam launch to increase our exposure by whatever degree possible. I've been talking with our tech lead, Kamron Egan, about what it will take to meet all of the technical requirements outlined by these services, and he thinks we can achieve them, but we'll need to hit the task hard and fast. So that's the plan!

The Leonardo Project
For my internship this semester, I am a producer on a game that the Utah Game Forge is developing as a joint venture with The Leonardo, a local art-meets-technology museum/exhibitor. We're still in the early design process, so my work this week has been researching location-based games and the interesting styles of play that they can offer.

So far, the standout games I've discovered are Life is Magic, TapCity, FourSquare, Shadow Cities, Ingress, Nintendo's "StreetPass" features and activities on the 3DS, and geocaching. Though they're not necessarily all games by strictest definition, each has a unique way of giving people a fun and interesting reason to get out and explore the world around them (or at least travel about a bit).

I'm incredibly excited about this particular opportunity, so I can't wait to see what we come up with as a team over the next week.

Cleanse (working title)
Pitched and prototyped by members of Cohort 3 (current first-year Master's students in the EAE:MGS), this game was selected by our faculty to represent us in the Ubisoft Gamelab competition (we're the only American school invited to participate in the competition this year!). With an extra open spot on their team, I was asked to join them to assist and consult in the production and design of this "promise of a promise" prototype. We'll be evaluating and fleshing out the prototype over the next three months in preparation for the competition in April. If we win, our whole team will be interning at Ubisoft Montreal over the summer to build a full version of the game! Needless to say, we're stoked about the prospect. :)

So far, my work with this team has been attending meetings and helping formulate stronger mechanics and overall design details. I'm pleased that some of my suggestions inspired great discussion about the future of the game, and some features that I came up with are now a part of the core experience, including what we have termed the "pulse" mechanic. Because the world on which the player finds himself is completely dark except for bio-luminescent nodes on plants and creatures, the player must use this pulse ability to enhance the brightness of those nodes as the pulse wave passes around and through them. This acts like a sort of sonar or "Daredevil vision," but it can also stimulate specific reactions from the player's surroundings. One common use for the pulse is the final blow to light up weakened enemies, thus transforming them into friendly, useful critters.

The design document that we must submit to Ubisoft is due next week, so I imagine that I'll be directly involved with constructing that document.

The Macromancer
This is the game and team that I was originally a part of in our bid to enter the Ubisoft competition. Although we did not get chosen, we were informed that the faculty thought our core mechanic of shrinking and growing objects to manipulate their uses and abilities was likely stronger than the other games' mechanics (there was just something more unique about Cleanse that pushed it to the top). Because we felt the same (and we had great confidence in our core play from our early design meetings), we knew that we wanted to continue development, with a goal of releasing the game on Ouya. Spencer, our team lead, recently received his early Ouya development kit, so we have already begun working on making sure our Unity project plays nice with the new platform and controllers.

We're in a great place so far, with our hook firmly present and playable, so we're happy that the team is still committed to developing the game on our own time.

Other than that, I'm still hard at work designing a few other independent games that will also receive some face time in this blog. Having also started on the companion document to our thesis game (heretofore known as my thesis paper), I'm keeping plenty busy. Which reminds me, we took the first part of our comprehensive exams on Thursday, and I feel like it went very well. Part 2 (the essay portion) was postponed until Monday due the the University calling a snow day on Friday, but I feel confident that I'll do very well on that portion as well. Either way, wish me luck in all of this!

- Troy