A story about communication and game theme vs mechanics
Learning how to tell when you don't have a game idea
I've spent most of my time in previous Production classes learning about being a good teammate. I've learned that during the concepting phase, everyone should have equal say. So when the artist on the team said that they had an idea for a game, myself and the other designer were all ears. The original concept is this:
You play as a forester/wood worker in a cabin where some evil magical object keeps animating wooden totems.
If you have questions about how the
game works or what the win lose state is, those are good questions. They are also questions that I wish anyone would have asked. unfortunately we all assumed different things about how the game would actually work. I realized that fact when me and the other designer sat down to write documentation for the game. After about 5mins, we realized that our game was not a game. We spent the next hour going back and forth with our artist about what the game was. What took the designer and I far longer than it should of to figure out was that our artist never actually said they had an idea for a game. They just thought that wood carving were cool and wanted a game that involved them.
We then spent the next hour thinking
of different mechanics and and systems for the game. We eventually came to a Match 3 style of game below.
Here are the elements in the game. I'll explain what they do in a second.
How to make things go well the first time.
Shared vision is step 0
Our third prototype week was definitely our strongest week before cuts. This had everything to do with the fact that our concept was something we were all excited about and understood. Throughout the previous 2 weeks, we had been work shopping this idea of using momentum to move around a map. The idea morphed and changed over those weeks as we were working on other games. There were eventually 5 versions of this concept. The important thing about this concept was that everyone was part of it. Everyone on the team was able to voice their concerns with its problems and respectfully offer solutions.
The other important thing we did for the third prototyping week was we communicated better.
During the first week, we had trouble talking because everyone besides the artist already knew and worked with each other so we were just trying to feel each other out. Once we understood the nuances of each other's communication styles, things went a lot smoother.
The final factor that gave us an edge this week was that, because we already had a concept worked out
by the top of the week, we could start documentation, art, and programming much sooner. This freed me up to do more programming and tech related task in addition to documentation.
Every week, in our team's post sprint reflection, the 2 things we always mentioned were: we need better
time management (we didn't have a producer) and we need to communicate more. This week we finally did those 2 things.
Our first week was really rough. There were many issues of toxicity and unhealthy expectations/behavior in the game studio. This, at first went over my head as I had only heard people complaining about it but had never seen any particular instance of it or its effects. This changed towards the end of the week when we were building our presentation. One of our designers couldn't get any work done due to a dip in his mental health.
This all started from another designer in our grade basing much his self worth off of the quality of his
games. Unfortunately, this started a trend of other, particularly design students, feeling personally put down if the games they were working on we poorly received.
Being passionate and invested in a game you're working on is crucial. When you're working on a game
you love, the end product is much better than it would have been otherwise. However, devs need to create some distance between themselves and their work. They need to be able to look at what they've been working on objectively and take criticism. Something that I've seen people struggling with, and I had problems with this when I started too so I'm just as guilty, is people get attached to their work and see any criticism of their work, as criticism of them as devs and people. This greatly clouds their judgment and makes them defensive during critique sessions. Along with making them harder to work with, this behavior also greatly taxes a person's mental health. We have critique sessions once informally among peers in the work labs and then again in class. That can be a lot for a person.
Our other designer's stress grew over the course of the week until they had a panic attack right before
our presentation. After I gave both of our design sections of the presentation, he and I had a talk about what was bothering him. We have since made progress in the studio about the way people react to critique but at the time things were pretty bad. Because we only had our design team running at half capacity, much of the work was rushed. This is also on top of poor team communication and poor time management as we were running a team with no producer. All in all it was a rough week.
Health and sanity
The time nothing went well.
The time everything kinda went right.
In our final prototype development week, we had our pipelines figured our, we know our communication channels, things went relatively smoothly. There were 2 late nights where a programmer and I were hooking up some modular code I had written but things got done. We gave our presentation and showed off our game and the crowd seemed into it. There were many games being presented that night and it showed how much time and effort people put into them. Directly after presentations, one of the studios did their deliberations as to what teams were getting cut and how the members of the cut teams were being distributed among the remaining teams. The rest of us went out to miniature golf to have a fun and be social with each other and not competitive for the first time in a month.
2 days later, on Sunday, It was my studios time to go into team deliberations. The other designer and I were
were sent to represent our game for the rest of the team. In the room were 4 other games being represented. 3 of the other games chose to be represented by their producers. The 1 of the biggest factors in what games went through was whether or not the team could handle more people being added on to it and remain a healthy work environment. Our team scored points there as we had made it clear after the first week that we all need to communicate and people need to listen when others are talking. Our team also scored points because of our level of polish for a prototype.
In the end, 2 of the teams elected to be cut, not because their games were bad or that they couldn't be
made, but because people were worried about the health of the members of those teams. Another game was cut because we weren't sure if we had the necessary skills and number of devs to make that game. The two games that went through did so because they had direction, passion behind them, we had the skills to compliment those games.
Though I was and still am very happy that our team's game went through, it was bitter sweet watching
the games that my friends worked on so hard be cut. The silver lining is that those friends of mine are now people I get to work with.
So far all the game's I have worked on have been game jam games or prototypes. This isn't to say that the work I have done was a waste or not valuable. In fact the games I've made that look the worst and will never see the light of day are the ones I learned the most from. The difference now is that I am on a team of 11 people with 10 weeks to make a game. The thing we make will now be something bigger that we all contribute to. Additionally, where before we could excuse the rough edges of our work by saying that our game is just a proof of concept, now we can't do that anymore. If people find something they don't like about our game, they will be right in saying it is our fault.
In a weird way, this is something I'm excited for. I've always felt like my games have been incomplete in
some way or that people were being generous in their feedback because they acknowledged that the work was meant to be quick and dirty. I'm excited that now people will look at my work and maybe find the little things I missed so I can improve.
I'm also excited to bring new people on to this project. There are elements of the game that we previously
lacked the expertise to make but now have the skill on our team to make them. We also have more programming muscle and artists than we did before. We also FINALLY have a producer to help organize the team and make sure things are running smoothly which is a huge weight taken off of the original core team. I'm excited to see what we're going to make
The future and on boarding
Now we get to make a game
Getting things moving
The importance of good book keeping
Our docs have been few and far between. The person assigned with doing them had been having trouble in their personal life which prevented them from doing them. I am also to blame as I should have noticed that wasn't getting done and stepped in and done something to help.
Because our docs were not as fleshed out as they needed to be, on boarding has kind of been an uphill
battle. We have assigned tasks kind of blindly. By this I mean people were given tasks at the top of our sprint to do things that we know need to get done but with out evaluating if they're the best thing to do right now. I was assigned to do some research on player movement.
below are the conclusions from my research:
Quick Look In Bold:
A player needs to feel like they have control over the character.
We do this by adding feedback. Lots of it. Any time the player touches a button, there should be some in game indication of it. The character can’t JUST move forward. There has to be sound that reflects there speed and what surface they’re moving over.
For us, this means the sound of the wheels has to get faster as the player goes faster. The character should also have some kind of animations for turning (like they lean into it or something). If the player moves through grass, the grass should shake a little to indicate that the player hit it.
The more focus a player has on the physical act of putting in inputs to make the player move, is less focus they have to make the player do complex maneuvers.
Doing crazy maneuvers in super meat boy is made a easier by the precise, responsive, simple, and intuitive controls.
Platforming in the recent Assassin’s Creed games is very easy. It’s done automatically and you have a grappling hook. This fits for the fantasy as you’re supposed to be a trained assassin who has been running on rooftops your entire life. Movement is supposed to be easy, very pretty to look at, and not require much attention.
It is also important to note that movement has become less important to that game after black flag. It’s still important but the game asks much less of the player when it comes to movement.
A game with strange and even intentionally unintuitive and difficult controls can still be fun.
QWOP is very fun and a great game but the movement that the game asks you to accomplish has to be very simple (move to the right) because the actual amount of attention needed to accomplish that is very high. It should be noted that the point of this game is that the controls are initially very hard and part of the fun is picking up the controls and improving.
I also made this cute particle systems with the new color pallet from the artists:
Our shared vision is far from 20/20
Bad docs strikes again
Today in class, our lead artist said our game was a family game (which it very much is not). The lead programmer and I stared at each other wide eyed in silence for a second. This silence was broken by me saying: "maybe we should have a meeting about our game's themeing".
Spring break happened at an unfortunate time as our next meeting would be a week from this incident.
The game, its vision, and its themes had changed since its original conception and the lead programmer, other designer, and I felt that we should involve the new team in the creative process. We agreed after class that everyone submit a list of 10ish words into our discord that they feel describe our game in it's current state and another 10 words that describe what they want the game to be. Then planned to have a meeting where I would lead the discussion to narrow down our themeing for the feel and art of the game.
Below is some mood boards and screen shots from our discussion in our discord server:
At the end of our discussion we decided on our 3 main words for our themeing to be: