Arachnotron Development Blog #1

The second semester of production on the game has begun. As I find myself in the position of lead designer, this week will be mostly getting the other designers acquainted with the game, and getting them up to speed on the design I’ve figured out so far. With the other leads, I’ve collected the team’s ideas from our planning meeting last semester and organized them into a plan for three more levels. Especially after meeting with the other designers to discuss these plans and work out a few more details, I think the plans we have will be a great starting point.

We’ve tried to make sure each level is an interesting variation on the base experience. The first one, to be an expanded version of the level that’s already in place, will be the introduction and tutorial. We’ve decided to re-design that one last, so that we can take we learned from the other levels to make a great first impression, and a well-designed tutorial. The second level will be a train-heist of sorts, starting off in the station the player will solve a puzzle to get the train moving, and then realize the train itself is the boss they have to fight after riding the train for a little while. The third level will play with sound and lighting to create a more suspenseful experience, where the player has to get in and out of a compound based on an anthill. And the final level will be a test of the player’s mastery of the wall-climbing movement as they race to catch the vehicle the final boss is trying to escape in. Once they succeed, that vehicle will be the arena for the final fight.

Everyone seems excited to start work on the game, and I am too! This week will be a matter of adapting to my new role on the team, doing more management-related tasks in place of the gameplay programming that took up a lot of my time last semester. I think my programming help will still be of use though, so I don’t intend to abandon that entirely. I don’t yet know what exactly I’ll have as my balance of work on the game, but I’ll figure that out over the next couple of weeks.

Capstone Blog #11 – Capstone Semester Post-Mortem

Final Week: Over & Done… For now.

It’s been about a month since my last blog post, since I didn’t keep it going for the last two weeks of production or the two weeks since. In that time we finished up the vertical slice of the game, put together the presentation, presented it (pretty well, I think), and we were chosen as one of the 7 (now 6) teams to go forward to next semester! I’m proud of my team, and very glad the whole project went as well as it did.

There’s a lot to talk about in this final reflection, so I’ll start by reflecting on how my team handled the presentations, demo night, and the decision that followed. We’d been hearing from our peers throughout those last few weeks that they thought our game was the best, or one of the best in our year. This was tremendously encouraging, since we’re all quite invested in the project at this point, and I was glad to see that if anything, that motivated us to work harder instead of getting complacent. We all did great work over those final weeks, and it came together well. By the time we got to that final push of work, we were working together better than ever.

Having this project go so well was a welcome confidence boost, because though we all contributed amazing work to the project, I feel like I really got to do what I’m good at and design something awesome. I was chatting with a professor the other day who said the controls & movement–the feel of the game–were particularly good as Champlain capstone projects go. The feel of the controls & gameplay is something I always try to focus on, because I feel it’s too often neglected especially in the early stages of a project, so especially after receiving that comment I think I was quite successful in the main things I wanted to achieve this semester.

SlideStart

The team re-formation after other games were cut was interesting. There was a bit of drama, as I’ve come to expect at this point, but it seems like when it actually came down to the meeting to decide who’d go on which teams, things went pretty smoothly. The week leading up to that made me realize I ought to get to know my peers a little better. I’ve always been relatively introverted, and happy with a small but close group of friends. When figuring out who I wanted to make an agreement with to take on as our first new designer, I realized I didn’t really know most of the designers in my year well enough to have a good idea of who’d be a good fit for the team.

When it came down to it, the team and I decided to recruit people primarily based on who was excited to work on the game, of course tanking into account whether their skills and what they wanted to do next semester fit with our project. Looking back on the semester, a large part of what helped us work so well together was a shared enthusiasm for what the game could be, so we wanted to get people who’d share that enthusiasm too. In particular, when the team behind Change Please dissolved, I wanted to offer Billy Beanland a spot on the team. He’d poured so much work into that project that I think we were all sad to see it end, especially after his team made it through to next semester. He and I had talked many times throughout the semester, and he’d never seemed optimistic that his team would go forward. He hadn’t garnered a reputation for impressive work before this semester like some of the people in each year seem to do, so it was great to see him be so successful on his project this year. Anyway, that’s all to say I was enthusiastic about getting him on the team when he decided to leave his old team, since he’d expressed interest many times if his team were to be cut. I think we’ve ended up with an excellent design team for next semester, and an excellent team overall.

I do have some reservations though. I don’t think any one of us has ever worked so closely on a team as big as ours is going to become. Barring perhaps Producer Nick, I don’t think any of us are particularly drawn to the leadership role most of the time. Now that we’re in the lead positions, we’ll have to adapt; I’m optimistic we’ll adapt to it well though. We didn’t face many interpersonal or communication challenges during our work this semester, but I think with the experience we’ve had working together here and with other teams in the past, we’re well equipped to handle the challenges a larger team will bring.

Though I think what I did on this project was some of the best work I’ve ever done, there are certainly some ways I plant to try and improve next semester. I think with the bigger team, I’ll have to work more on keeping the vision for the game focused, and be sure to stay motivated to ensure I’m never the limiting reagent when something needs to get done. I think there’s a lot I can do to help others’ work go smoothly, both by helping them understand how their work fits into the project and how they can use the tech we’ve developed so far. While it is the producers’ job to make sure everyone’s able to get their work done as smoothly as possible, I think my unique perspective of having learned so much about other disciplines’ work on the project will give me the opportunity to help out in that area a lot. Especially in the intersection of design, art, and programming that’s sometimes hard to figure out, I feel like I understand that overlap particularly well. I want to help get others there too, and get everyone working really well together.

Like many of the people who’s teams went forward, I’d assume, I’m optimistic and enthusiastic about taking this project into Senior Production next semester. With what we have so far and the people we’ll be working with, I think we’ll have something excellent to show recruiters when we graduate. All my life I’ve had a good idea of what’s coming next. From grade school to middle school and high school, from high school to college. But beyond college my future is far less defined, so I’m very glad to have something that I think demonstrates the skills I’m focused on so well.

Edgy S.W.A.R.M. Animated

Capstone Blog #10

Week 10: The Game is Amazing Now

Motivated by the progress made last week (and the impending deadline), I decided to try even harder this week, and I got so much done. It feels like the team as a whole managed to get 2 or 3 weeks of work done in just one week, the vertical slice is almost complete, and I think it’ll come together before this Saturday. The week started with me spending a lot of time on a re-designed level, and Nick R. completing his work on the inverse kinematics, so we had the spider roller-skating around a new level with its feet tracking the ground by Friday. I thought this was just the coolest thing yet, so I put together the crawling animation system that night. It was to be Nick’s job, but I was inspired, and he said he was fine with me tackling the problem. I’m quite proud of how it turned out, it was a real collaboration between Sean, Nick R. and myself:

Our QA build on Saturday was quite successful, with the new level being a lot more interesting for people to play through, and highlighting a few changes I ought to make to certain areas to make it less confusing for players to figure out where to go. I didn’t finish the third room I’d wanted to build, but I think the two that are in there now demonstrate the game well enough that if I don’t have time to finish a third, it’ll work well enough with the two.

Finally, for the last three days, I’ve been working on the boss battle. Sean finished modeling the boss, and adding most of the animations we’ll need, so I’ve spent a lot of time getting his stuff to work in-game and putting together the boss’ attacks and behaviors. Nick R. created a system to organize AI behaviors, but it’s a little more complex than I had time to learn this week, so we’re building the boss without it for now. I know it’ll be extremely valuable later on though, because our enemies behavior logic is a little disorganized, so Nick’s system will be a big help. I spent more time than was really necessary on sound and visual effects for the boss, but seeing how excited Sean was to see his creation moving and interacting with the player. As seen in the first picture in this week’s post, the boss has big intimidating eye lights, and makes angry robotic growl sounds before it sends a barrage of lasers at the player. It’s awesome!!

Next week is the week I go to MIGS, so I’ll only have up until Saturday to work on the game, but I think the team will be able to have the vertical slice done–minus some polish–by Saturday, especially if I can keep up this week’s pace until then. I’m feeling pretty confident my team will go forward at this point; I think the game is a lot of fun to play, and I think what we’ll have will demonstrate potential beyond what we’ve made so far. I just hope our presentation goes smoothly. Presenting in front of a large group has never been inside my comfort zone, but I’m excited enough about this game that I think it’ll be fun showing it off to so many people.

Capstone Blog #9

Week 9: So much to do, so little time, so much fun

This week saw some impressive progress in the game overall, if you ask me. I finally got around to adding some much-needed sound effects to the player’s abilities. Alongside some UI improvements, camera shake and zoom, the added audio feedback has made the weapons systems feel really good to play. There’re already a few changes I want to make, but the combat changes this week make a big difference. On top of that, I finally put together a detailed plan for the boss fight, so I’m feeling a lot more confident about that part of the game with a detailed plan to work from. It even has working seeker missiles!

I surprised myself by how much I was able to get done. I was expecting to get the audio done, but I didn’t think I’d have a solid design together for the boss until next week. I still worry about getting everything we have planned done on time, but I’m pretty confident we can do it!

We’re all clearly putting a lot of work into the project, especially now that Nick R. has more stuff from other classes out of the way, so he can focus on refining the enemy AI. Sean did the art for our current two enemy types all this week, and Nick O. has even gone beyond his producer duties to do some graphic design for our presentations! The team is continuing to work great together. With only a couple weeks left, I’m planning to give it my all and try to make the game as good as I can in the time remaining. I feel responsible for a large part of our success in building the game so far, having done most of the gameplay programming and design, and I want to take that as far as I can to try and make this project the best capstone game of this year! I’m very motivated by positive feedback, so the team’s success this week has gotten me excited to do my best.

Going Forward

Next week Nick & Sean are finally getting the inverse kinematics procedural animation in on the spiders legs, so this time next week it should be clambering over everything, looking more spider-like than ever. I’ll be working on getting the boss fight working. I have a well-defined list of mechanics for it, so I should be able to create each one of them independently, and then turn it over to Nick R. to program how it’ll decide what to do when. Aside from that I’ll be working on a re-done level design, with a place to show off the boss to the player before they have a chance to fight it, as well as making sure they understand all its mechanics from other parts of the level before the fight.

Capstone Blog #8

Week 8: Improving a bit of everything

This week the team was all continuing work on our own areas of the game. Sean’s produced some great animations for the spider-tank, and some beginning environmental art for the machine beehive refinery level we’re constructing for the vertical slice. Nick R’s been hard at work engineering a 3D-space pathfinding system for the flying enemies. Nick O’s been keeping everything organized and running smoothly for all of us, and I’ve been working on improving the gameplay mechanics, as well as putting together a first-draft blockout for the level. This week’s the first one where we took two entirely different builds to QA in one week, so it’s felt like a tremendously productive sprint.

Our original plan for the week had Nick R. and I collaborating on figuring out a system to get the camera working more smoothly when the spider tank is clambering over uneven terrain, and then me programming the jump mechanic while he got the ground and air enemy AI working well at a base level. After we’d finished that I’d put together a basic blockout for the level, and we’d test that on Monday. With a resulting boost to team morale — or at least my own, I’m feeling quite good about where the game is at as of this week — I managed to smooth out the camera and get the jump working early in the week. With these changes in place we decided to test on Saturday as well, to get feedback on the mechanics changes before focusing more on the level blockout for Monday.

With Nick R. still hard at work getting the flying enemies to work right, I took the pipes Sean had made for the level and made the blockout for the level. Nick managed to get the air pathing for the flying enemies working, but both of us were working right up until the deadline for Monday QA, so we didn’t quite manage to combine the level and the flying enemies in time. Despite scrambling a bit to get the build ready for QA on time on Monday, I’m still quite proud of how the first draft of the level came together:

BeehiveBlockout

(The spider-tank is about as wide as the pipes, to give a general sense of scale).

Testing a level like this, with working enemies, has really made the game start coming together gameplay-wise, for me at least. I think we’re on to something good. My only concern is that I’m wearing too many hats as the Lead Designer / Gameplay Programmer / SFX Designer. I’ll continue to do so as long as I can continue to keep up, since the project benefits from it, and I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

Going Forward:

Tomorrow we’ll be presenting our official Transition to Phase 2 presentation, going from establishing the concept to proving the concept. After that, it’ll be a busy week of doing sound effects and a rework to the weapons system. I’ve been a little worried about getting the boss battle done alongside adequate smaller enemies, but after discussing it at some length with Nick R. I’m still pretty sure we can pull it off ell enough.

Capstone Blog #7

I didn’t post for week 6, so this will cover both weeks.

Week 6 and 7: Filling in the Foundation

The past two weeks has seen us complete a lot of the groundwork for the systems the game will have. Here are the goals we set for the past 2 weeks:

  • Groundwork for enemy AI behavior
  • Refine movement to work on moving surfaces (for the massive boss battles)
  • Nail down a first version of the spider tank model

Because of the weekend holiday, we took this as more of a 2-week sprint, compared to our usual week-by-week organization. Unfortunately, since half of the team was away over the long weekend, we didn’t start to get much done until near the end of week 6, but week 7 was busy enough to make up for it.

I continued to take charge of the movement and combat mechanics, further improving the wall-climbing system to now work properly on moving surfaces, and more smoothly overall. I think this particular system is in a good place for the rest of this semester; it’s strong enough that we can build off of it to get the rest of the game ready for the presentation in November. However, focusing on the prototype so much, as fun as it’s been for me, has meant the design documentation is not as far along as I’d like it to be. I believe we’re about ready for phase 2 once we have the documentation together, but I still have a little more to do on that.

With the addition of a moving boss structure to climb, simple enemy AI, a health/damage system, and a “scan view” system to make it easier to figure out where to go, the beginnings of most, if not all, of the core systems the game requires are in place in the prototype. We didn’t quite have it as ready for QA as we’d hoped, but the response was still quite positive overall, especially now that we have some of Sean’s art in the prototype.

Our discussion on the visual/narrative theme of the game has gone well, and we’re all pretty excited about how it’s coming together. The game will take place on a machine planet, where all these robot bugs live in different mechanical environments. The player character is getting revenge against the bee-inspired hive-bots, trying to blast their way through the fuel (honey) refinery. Having this idea of the bee-bots’ honey as fuel for most of these robot lifeforms has guided some of our plans for the visuals of enemy design, with ideas for fuel-tank weak points and other ways to tie the whole thing together. Because I haven’t felt our art style was particularly well-defined, I’ve been very glad to see these ideas coming together.

Team Dynamics

Our teamwork has continued to improve. The main area remaining for us to improve is in giving each other access to what’s been completed. I’ve been quite impressed by most of the art Sean has showed us, but I want to have access to it on our google drive folder or the repository. We’ve asked him about it and it sounds like he plans to upload his stuff more consistently, so I expect that’ll be resolved soon.

Going Forward

With the prototype in a good spot, the main thing we need are enemy and level design to start creating the demo level we have planned. With Nick R. working on enemy behaviors, this frees me up more to concentrate more on just design work, and making a more detailed plan for what we’ll try to have in the end.

Capstone Blog #5

Week 5: The Spider’s Triumphant Return

This week was kind of a weird one, because Nick R. was busy enough with other classwork that we couldn’t start splitting up the prototype for Arachnotron yet. It fell to me to make improvements to the base we had for testing this week. I was happy to take up that task, since I quite enjoy gameplay programming and Nick R. doesn’t so much. I put a lot of hours into the prototype early in the week to get it ready for QA on Saturday, and then again on Monday. I’m really glad to see testing went better than before, with even better ratings on the controls and wall-climbing than I’d expected. The first prototype assured me that the wall-climbing movement could work, but this week’s testing made me sure that we can do it well, even that I’ve done it well already. I look forward to building on this base for the two different prototypes starting next week.

Now that the team is decided on the spider-tank concept with a solid prototype, I think we’re transitioning into phase 2. As we’re fleshing out this concept more, I see balancing scope & depth to be an important challenge. I want to make sure anything we decide to plan for the game will contribute to making it a better game, so it’s more important than ever that we establish a well thought-out direction for the game, and that I define the design principles to guide all my future work on the project toward a focused plan for the experience.

The two prototypes we make in the coming weeks will help determine the direction I want to take the game in. At this point I’m fairly certain the room-by-room horde mode gameplay will work well, especially with the ideas I’ve come up with for an adaptive difficulty & scoring/rewards system. The climbable boss battle idea still sounds awesome, but I’m not sure it fits as well with the direction I think I want to take the game, so depending on how these prototypes go I may decide we should cut it. I’m feeling unsure of how much scope is manageable for our team, since my estimates of my own capabilities tend to be a little optimistic, and I’m already dedicated to putting in a lot of work into this project. I’ve been looking to past senior games for ideas on how much scope we might be able to handle, and I think we’re on the right track with my ideas for adaptive encounter design across a few levels. I want to make sure the game has enough to differentiate itself from existing shooter games.

Team Dynamics

Even though I feel like I put in much more work than anyone else on the team this week, the work is starting to feel more balanced. Because Sean’s been able to get to work on some 3D art, where he really shines, I’ve been more impressed by the stuff he’s gotten done. And with Nick R. starting on the AI programming for one of the two prototypes we’ll be really working on next week, I’ve felt like we’re each taking the reigns of our own section of the project, better than before. Nick O’s organization and communication still leaves some to be desired, though. I feel in the dark about how our meeting schedule changes each week, and despite him saying he’s had little to do overall, it’s fallen to me again to put together the start of our presentation for class this week. I don’t fault him for any of this… yet. I still appreciate the stuff he’s doing to help us stay organized and focused and I’m happy to make suggestions & constructive criticism on his work, but after having the very well organized David Merritt as the producer on my team last semester and working closely with the producer at HitPoint over the summer, I expect more from him.

Going Forward

After today’s class, it’ll be 2 weeks until the next, thanks to the long weekend. By the time we next show in-class after today, I expect we’ll have both prototypes for Arachnotron done well, and a clear plan of action for the rest of the time we have before Thanksgiving. I’m planning to spend less time on the prototype this coming week so I can catch up on documentation. As much as I like working in-engine, I tend to neglect putting enough time into the design documents if I focus on the prototype too much.

ebarretthowej@gmail.com