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