I would like to recap on the last few weeks as I feel I’ve stepped into a new mind space of design looking at how to design and create games for fun and entertainment or to convey a message has been some of the focus up until this point. Coming into my third studio unit for my course thinking I would be making games, only to find that wasn’t the case. Two words “serious games” and not the why you may think either.
Ken Levine – Video Game Designer, Creative Director, Author, Screenwriter
Know for – System Shock, Thief: The Dark Project, Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite.
After listening to a podcast on Idle Thumbs from Steve Gaynor call Tone Control. He speaks with his former boss Ken Levine about his career and creative process. This is a look at how this speaks to me as the beginner in the world of designing.
This post mortem will take a look at my final project for Studio 2, A Place to Call, looking at how it succeeded and where it missed the mark.
A Place to Call is a game that I made to evoke a sense of home. I wanted to do this in a different form and have some try to make home in another past home, I felt this was a different way of layering “sense of home“ in ways that people might not think of as a norm. Players take control of a player character displayed to the players as a set of footsteps walking around a darkened house trying to make a sense of home by collecting comfort and warmth to see out a night.
I will discuss same parts of this game so please put a couple of hours aside and play this game before you read on.
I sat down to play this game with an open mind and didn’t take any of the good and bad press surrounding the game when it was released to judge it for myself.
With Project 1 coming to a close and Project 2 about to get under way. The first few weeks of this trimester have been trying to say the least. Have not only need to combat back to back illness i took on the challenge of making a twine game solo.
Here is a link to my Itch.io page for the game. Here
Meaningful design is something that Im wanting to achieve in my designs and also how Im perceived game designer, but I’m sure that every designer before me has said the same, but that easier said then done. Being asked the question of what do we feel is meaningful design means to as is tricky, but i believe i understand what this means.
Based on what i have learnt up until this point things that I learnt throughout studio 1, one really important aspects of game design is that everything should be designed with a design intent, from the smallest clutter to the central game mechanic should be intentional, otherwise there is probably a ready why it shouldn’t be there. Designing something with intent as many different form or reasons, but this comes down to one question for me. “What are you trying to say with your game” games that have made up to this point have been for a reason or a brief and i have come at a game design before with this question being the drive or goal.
My second studio looks like it opens the door into this area of design and I am greatly excited and curious to structure and maybe shift my thinking in design in this way. Out of what this trimester progress Im thinking about my outlook of becoming an indie game designer and also looking at post effect elements. Im looking to challenge myself in area that i can improve and also into areas that will help me “design” better. I think that making games meaningful will help cement designs in coherent fashions.
The follow up question to “How will expressive game design help you become a better game designer?” . This is something that I’m still learn and forming though my studies. For me, designing something that poeple walk away from having experienced something that has them thing afterwards and just games that leave there mark on player even if it was in a small way then that will be a win for me. Im try to make games that might not be the normal or be what you might think of, with a core focus on a single central element, some thing different or having it focused on a theme that is a different experience of a pre existing idea.
On the post effects side of things, I have only recently seen this as a strong area in the design of a game that can have big pay offs. It wasn’t until the end of studio one that i saw its benefits and how it can be effective to a games impact. I want to focus on small simple project and have the time to learn more of the post process, be it visual, camera or lighting effects. At this stage I feel expressive game design could be made and be effective with a focus on the post effect as a way to make people feel and experience different scenarios. A side project that i have discuss with a fell designer is that of a “Lighting gun” which will allow users to shoot in first person, light sources within a game scene where they see fit and adjust them accordingly, granting more control and innovative input for creating, this is a different and less conventional form of a gaming experience.
Look forward for whats to come.
I have learnt about the way i work and a lot more on topics that know but didn’t know as much as i do know. Before this assessment, I had never attempted any sort of story creation, let alone game story creation, and was therefore a little bit anxious as to how the quality of the product would be at the end of the project’s timeline. but I believe the quality achieved was of a very high standard, if not overall, as there are many things that i cut to meet the time frame we had and to schedule with all the other projects we had on the go.
The project idea was first conceptualized as an interactive website, much like a game, but would require a lot more work than one could possibly do in just a few weeks. This concept would have probably been feasible in the time given if the both of us were able to code at the level in which I could achieve it at, but that wasn’t the case.
I did a lot of research into a way to achieve such a project, I have previously experimented with UI components and button-driven menus and dialogue before with manual creation of such menus, great for title screens and introduction monologue. We came across a potential solution in the form of a Unity add on called Fungus. Fungus had simplistic programming concepts. Luckily once you know the ins and outs of what makes a programming language, you can pretty much pick up another language within a day or so as many concepts are translated transferable.
Overall, I have learnt so much whilst doing this project. I have learnt how to handle and fix the few issues I encountered along the way, and have taught myself very thoroughly, the ins and outs of Fungus, so that they are able to use such a powerful narrative solution in other games from here on.
I’ve had lots of fun across this project, as I love problem solving, hence why I think I do so well in the design discipline. In the process of creating this project, I have also learnt a ton of facts in field of current and future technologies in prosthesis and the processes that are carried out in the process of receiving a prosthetic, but also more generally in the subject of trans-humanism. Prosthesis may be given as standard stock or may be custom-made cosmetic looking silicone versions, with the latter obviously costing more. I did not realise how well customized prosthesis could get for an individual, down to the exact skin colour most of the time, and how similar the prosthesis dimensions are to their counterpart. I’ve learn that once you begin to look into a topic or a situation of human lives and interaction you start to find all of these greater connections to other topic that can help you explain or rationalise or better inform you about what you want to know or give a bigger question then the one you were looking to answer.
The overall product of the submitted project, I believe, is an immersive experience, with a good story line, above the expectations anyone could have asked of me. I have many plans to improve on the game in the future, by adding more materials such as background music and audio effects, as well as polishing the visual effect to game experience for players.
Making this project and this trimester was a great creative experience for me and has changed the way i approach my creative works in the future, thinking more on a premise and how it relates to this premise , to how people will interact with a work instead the nut and bolts of the work it self. Making something work on different level first and then making it work physically.
Final project another project has reached a close and now it is time to reflect about the processes and things we did to make Sommeliers. Oh where to start.
Game Audio achievements
From a very early stage we wanted to create game audio that would engage players and also complement our intent behind the type of game we wanted to make. Sommeliers is made up of audio created by our designer and programmers , which was both fun and unique and proved to be a much easier method of audio generation for our development time line, which plays into the reason how this help adjusting scope. This was a big learn experience for me, as has a lot on this project.
Doing this helped us all learn a new skill and a new area of developing a game. This also have us gain time by having to only communicate with a small set of collaborators, as I only need to keep tabs on a couple of people as the collaborator coordinator. This allowed me to focus on the other areas that I needed to work on and learn.
Not having to deal with extra collaborators and the back and forth communication that this would bring when a problem arose, we were able to fix the issue our self’s which gave as experience in the new area we were contributing to. This meant we could focus more on the work we were producing and working to make that of a higher quality.
Iteration on our scope
It’s key to point out the number of times we made iterations that our game core over the course of our five week of development window on this project. We went through a bunch of differing game concepts and I think it’s important to say that with each new concept that we come up with, we cut down on our games scope which have out team thankfully for the rework on our ideas.
Game Idea 1: Moonshined! (Wave-Defence production management game)
Game Idea 2: Gardelegan (Tactical Turn-based game based on a true event)
Game Idea 3: Motion_Exitus (Third person puzzle plat former)
Game Idea Final: Sommeliers (Third person wine drinking robots)
By going through constant iterations, we were able to cut out components and features that would be ultimately “un-achievable” in the time frame we had, and we could then focus on our core game play mechanic and game play loop to ensure we would create a working playable prototype by week 13 and create something that we would be happy with and proud of.
Role in the team
Our team was off to a great start by determining roles and responsibilities to each of the member of the team, we were started on the right foot and come at it with a creative attitude from the start. There was a moment of realisation “So this is what I was doing wrong before and this is what it feels like to have made the right choice this time. This project has several moment where I had felt that I was doing things better this time round.
When we were handed project 3 briefs, we determined roles for all of the different avenues of the project that we could think of at the time and most of all we talked amongst ourselves on “what” and “how” we were going to do in our assigned roles to ensure the greatest outcome for this project. Without tackling those housekeeping tasks during that initial stage of the project, we wouldn’t have had the experience that we did on the development of this game, and feel this gave us less issue then we had down the track.
Team communication and scheduling was key to the success we have had with this project and it was instrumental in our team completing work by set deadlines and working through difficult tasks that we faced during development. If it was talking and chasing up with collaborators, sorting our documentation hiccups, developing plans and schedules for when work was going to be complete. Whatever the task was, everybody had a role to play and the fact that everybody played that role to the best of their ability meant that we were able to have a playable prototype by the end of our time frame, and it’s something that the whole team should be proud of.
Play testings constant rush.
We could never get things ready by our play tests and I don’t think it was caused by a lack of effort of our team, but that we just underestimated the amount of elements that we needed or where crucial to the game came time to play test. Learning from this, having a working build come play test should a paramount milestone from the beginning and should behave been the aim for all our tasks up to this point.
Having workable build on standby that you are happy with and maybe adding last minute elements is the plan, not have a bunch of elements your putting in a scene your building on the day. This way you receive useful feedback from it that you can immediately use to improve of fix something that come from play testing not that was broken beforehand. It means that if you are able to implement further functionality to your game before play testing you are just adding onto a working build that you are already happy with, so everything extra is just that… extra! Which is great news if that’s you, but unfortunately for us that wasn’t the case but it’s something that we will all work on improving in the future.
Our documentation Short falls
Documentation was our big letdown and it caused us the more issues and headaches in the long run than it should. It was good at the start and I think that our High Concept Document was the high point, we did a thorough job at determining our game concept early on after the first few iterations.
Our Technical Design Document is where we should’ve put more focus and effort. Fleshing out and getting to a workable state early so that it would actually be a useful document for us to reference out systems we had to create in order to have Sommeliers become what we had intended. Likewise with our art bible, if we had worked in more, that would’ve meant that our Animation collaborators would had a better understanding for the type of character models that we were hoping to have within our game by week 13 and could’ve spent more time designing them based of our specifications.
By not doing so we had received numerous iterations on our character model which had us constantly updating and importing a new asset in and set it up like the last and they were never quiet look like what we had intended. The same goes for the character animations, if we had broken down and written out the types of animations we needed and wanted and how they needed to work through a TDD and art bible would have meant we could receiving more workable animations and rigs that could have more iteration before final playtest.
These elements of documentation I know see are so paramount to a successful flow of a game process and having these experiences with these issues it is making me want to achieve these better out comes so as I’m able to work on a project in a fun and creative way instead of a rushed mess.