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...

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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.)

video

Reveal
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)!
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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):

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- 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. :)
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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!

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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.

Reveal
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**!
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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.

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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!

Reveal
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**.
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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