Next stop, Gamescom
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Thanks to the Goethe-Institut Boston, I’ll be traveling to Gamescom, the giant European games show, in Cologne, Germany. The Goethe-Instituts make up the international cultural arm of the Federal Republic of Germany. There are 159 institutes in 98 countries – including the one in a handsome Back Bay brownstone.
In addition to their typical work, the GIB is beginning to explore the games space from multiple perspectives from cultural to economic. I’ll be supporting their efforts in helping to build relationships between the German game development community and ours here in Massachusetts.
Also joining the mission will be folks from the MIT Game Lab.
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to all the meetings and activities we have planned. It’s going to be awesome. Thanks again to the Goethe-Institut Boston for making it possible.
+ Check out our social media channels for regular updates from Cologne.
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By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Ophidia, a beautiful, free and fun artistic action game in which you play as a serpent encircling creatures to win is now available to download on the App Store, Google Play and Itch.io. The game was created during the 2015 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Glinda Chen from RISD, Gary Charlton from Becker, Rachel Burton from WPI, Liam O’Donnell-Carey from LYIT, Matt Williams from Becker and Alex (Ripple) Parrish from Berklee.
Working over that summer, the team produced a functional beta of the game – watch the trailer here. From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the 15/16 academic year. Through LiveStudio, more students across a range of disciplines had roles in the further development of the game and getting it ready to launch.
Then, over the course of this summer, a team made up of past students from SIP, LiveStudio and other efforts put the final touches on the game and it is now available to download for iOS, Android and PC/Mac.
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Fusion Galaxy blasts off
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Fusion Galaxy screenshot
Fusion Galaxy, a free, fun game which challenges players to gather elements through fast-paced sorting and craft new things is now available to download on both the App Store and Google Play. The game, originally titled Crafting Life, was created during the 2015 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Devi Acharya from Brandeis, Ari Green from MIT, Shannon Mitchell from Champlain, Joseph Gillen from LYIT, Isaiah Mann from Hampshire, Matteo Lanteri from Becker and Alex (Ripple) Parrish from Berklee.
Working over that summer, the team, using Unity, produced a solid game – watch the trailer here. From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the 15/16 academic year. Through LiveCode, more students across a range of disciplines had roles in the further development of the game and getting it ready to launch.
Then, over the course of this summer, a team made up of past students from SIP, LiveStudio and other efforts put the final touches on the game and it is now available to download for iOS and Android.
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The final countdown
By Joe Marchuk, junior, Berklee College of Music
Holy wow. So it’s come down to this; the final week of development. In these harsh and trying times, the words of MassDiGI’s managing director, Monty Sharma, echo…
“…it’s always the audio guys who get put off until the end and get screwed over…”
Wise words indeed, and as much as I knew it was coming, as much as I prepared myself and prepared each team, I still feel the pressure. Inevitably, there have been a multitude of last-minute requests to get some new sound effects in or provide a new mix on a track. On top of that, we’re trying to get trailers finished for each game ASAP. The pressure is on-like-Donkey Kong, but the good thing is, I don’t feel it alone.
As the sole resident “audio guy” (aka “Lord of the Dance”), I have the unique perspective of being on all four SIP teams at once. I’m responsible for the bleeps, bloops, bangs, whooshes, and sweet jiggity jams that get put on these games. Approaching the eleventh hour of development, my experience has been a roller coaster ride that has fluctuated between the relaxing high points of being pleasantly surprised with the amount of work left, to the sudden fast-paced drops towards the low points of realization upon playing a build that there is much, much more to be done. It’s a vicious cycle. While this may have its stressful moments, it’s also comforting to know that no matter how far into production-beta-omega-post-polish-whatever phase, and no matter how much progress is left to be done, big or small, every team and every team member is pushing their hardest to get as close to a finished product as possible by the end of the week. Last Friday, we had the pleasure of getting feedback from some of the folks at Intrepid, Harmonix, Demiurge, and the Indie Game Collective. As exciting as it was to be able to get more professional feedback, it was radically stressful making a mental list of every recommendation that we wouldn’t have time to consider. What I can safely say from having one limb in each game is that we are all feeling that same pressure on one level or another, and beyond any anxiety, stress, or fear that it induces, there’s a gung ho attitude among the teams that makes me feel motivated to contribute everything I can to get the best product we can by the end of the week.
After all, we’ve worked our butts off, even on our bad days. We’ve pushed to promote games that, a month ago, some thought wouldn’t be worth promoting by now. And yet, we’ve had a blast. I’ve spent this summer doing exactly what had I hoped my career would become back when I was a hopeful high school student, plus more.
Thinking back to when these games started as mere conceptual seeds of serendipitous aspiration back in orientation week, I’m absolutely amazed with how far the teams have been able to come and how much work has been done to get from then to now. Looking at myself, I’m extremely proud with how I’ve grown this summer as a composer and sound designer. All of it is thanks to the people who have grown next to me. I’ve met some incredibly talented, friendly, unique people in the program. I have watched them revel and improve in in their respective skills. I’ve watched them break out of the shell they bore when I first met them. I have watched them learn from each other and I have learned immensely from them. I’ve seen all four teams go through rough patches, smooth patches, and just plain old collective confusion and despair. I have watched a poorly translated version of Star Wars with them.
Every one of us is walking away this summer with a fat new set of killer skills for paying bills, a whole bunch of new contacts, some great stories to tell, and some fantastic new friends. These people are paragons of a pastime made more than a hobby, and I can’t wait to see where video games will take us all in the coming years.
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To throw a cat: The making of a tutorial
By Fury Sheron, junior, Tufts University
At this point in development, with only two or so weeks to go, it’s almost impossible to take any more feedback from anyone, especially playtesters. We’ve fixated our scopes, finalized UI designs, solidified a large percentage of art assets…if you name it, we’ve probably had six design meetings about it. Just about the only thing still up in the air, at least for the Comet Cats team, is the tutorial.
Comet Cats screenshot
This is terrifying because a huge dropoff point for mobile players is the tutorial. How many times have you downloaded a new game, waited irritably for the credits and loading screens to clear, been presented with a bible’s worth of textual instructions, and promptly deleted the game? More than once, I imagine. Now, we could be lazy and use the excuse that contemporary attention spans are dropping like flies and it’s out of our control, or we could be realistic and admit that the quality in media has skyrocketed in the past 5 years alone. Players are used to levels of user consideration and respect on par with Apple and Nintendo in all of their preferred media, and if your game doesn’t meet those standards, players will find another game out of the 800-something launched weekly that will.
So taking that into account, it’s been worrying that our team has struggled to teach people how to play our weird little game from day one. Once they get the hang of it, most folks seem to enjoy it, but we always have to explain how it works first. People don’t often figure it out on their own. Which is not their fault.
“Our tutorial shall fix this,” we said.
“It’ll be fine,” we said.
The major blocker keeping us from putting one in the game to test immediately was that we were told not to do so. Instead, we were strongly suggested to come up with a series of paper tutorials. These are written instructions (sometimes with pictures) on slips of paper that you physically hand people while they play your game.
Thing is, paper tutorials Never Work.
Testers would be handed an instruction in thick-tip black sharpie reading “Tap the screen to throw a cat” and then instantly ask us what to do. This was preposterous to our team, who had been staring at cats flying through the air for weeks. As if procuring a cat from one’s fingertips would never follow as a logical thought after reading the horrendously unclear and garbled jargon “TAP THE SCREEN TO THROW A CAT.” I didn’t understand how we could have done better. I always ended up verbally explaining how the game worked out of sheer annoyance and ruining the testing session (my bad, guys). This is because when we break down our pretty simple game, there are quite a few concepts that a player must intuit to fully understand the experience:
- Tap to throw a cat
- Drag to rotate camera
- Pinch to zoom
- Cats of the same color stick together
- ·Black cats stick to everything
- The rounds are timed
- The stars give you more time
- You must build your tower towards the stars to get them; you can’t just toss a cat through a star hanging in the air
- Also you get cool collectable skins, portraits, and items if you do well
- Also there are seven ways of doing well
That’s a lot of stuff.
When Pokemon GO came out this month, our scrupulous mentor Walt Yarbrough immediately leapt into action, pointing out how brilliant it was that the lack of straightforward tutorial in the game made people talk to each other and forced them to build a community. In response to this, jokingly, one of my teammates suggested this week, “Let’s just not include a tutorial and say that it ‘builds community.’” Frankly, it’s starting to sound like a pretty sweet option.
In all seriousness though, like P.J. Keenan said in his blog entry, the important thing seems to be keeping a level head and putting one Kanban sticky note in front of the other. Keep going at the pace you’ve been going and trust your team that Everything Will Be Okay. Our head programmer Ben Page has started assembling a tutorial in-engine – simple textless things like a pulsing icon in the center of the screen that you need to tap (TO THROW A CAT) in order to advance – and that’s started to make me, for one, feel a lot better.
No matter what kind of tutorial you make, it’ll work for some folks and anger others beyond redemption. When you were a kid were you someone that mashed A and skipped even the cleverest form of instruction? Did you stare at the screen, terrified to explore any controls on your own without textual prompting? We can’t control how people like to play games. It’s taken me this long to realize that. It’s also taken me this long to see that it’s not our fault, either. Some people just won’t get our game when it’s done and launched. That’s okay, because it is statistically impossible that our tutorial won’t work for some people. The rest can figure it out from “the community.”
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Getting through the grind
By P.J. Keenan, senior, Becker College
We all started our games this year with so much enthusiasm and vigor it was almost palpable. We were excited to make our games and had spent the time figuring out exactly where we wanted to go with the design. We all had a clear vision. So, what happens when the only consistent feedback about the game you envisioned is “This game stinks” or “I don’t get it?”
That’s what happened to the Gladiators team with our game Colosseum Coach. The even more disheartening thing was then when we asked all our testers what they wanted and we were either greeted with “Make it more like Minecraft” by the kids or a just a simple shrug from the adults. We didn’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves though. We got back on that horse very quickly by making 5 very different quick prototypes over 2 days and playtesting with anyone we could grab. We got our feedback and settled on our choice of game, an intro to RPGs. The problem is, we didn’t finalize anything. And I mean anything. We made systems, tools and art resources having no idea if they were going into the final game, with communication errors going so far as not even knowing how many gladiators were in the party. We ended up often saying “we’ll figure that out later”. This is a horrible phrase. If you catch yourself saying this, stop procrastinating and decide on something. Everything can always be changed later, you just need to try something. We didn’t and left everything hanging in the air for a bit. This killed team motivation for a while. We were in a tired rut. MassDiGI managing director Monty Sharma likes to call this part of the process the Mesa of Misery.
P.J. Keenan at TouchTomorrow.
The fix was pretty simple though. Set in stone as much as possible. This gives everyone obtainable goals to make the tasks ahead not look so daunting. Everyone can see the document and know the exact details the team has agreed on. It cleared up so many communication issues along with giving everyone that little ray of hope of a near objective. We now had the goals to get through each day instead of each week. Make little mini-celebrations out of them, remember that you just fixed something in the whole picture of the game. It seems like this mesa is starting to get a little less miserable.
The point I’m trying to get to here is that you need to set your own vision. Your vision, not somebody else’s. You can certainly take advice from others, but you need to be able to filter it. I don’t really feel that incurring a lawsuit from Mojang by ripping off Minecraft completely is that great of an idea. Vision is what motivates you through the long work days. It’s tough staring at an LED screen doing the same repetitive things for a game that needs several more sprites or scripts. Making a game on a professional level is a huge undertaking that is hard to really understand until you have to do it. There are so many steps that have to be completed to get the ideas from paper to the actual working device that’s it’s so easy to lose track of the little accomplishments you’ve done. You need to grasp all of them tightly to remember you are in fact making progress. You are doing fine. You will get it done. Maybe not tomorrow, but someday. You just have to be patient and focus on why the game is making giant gladiators for some reason right now.
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Teamwork makes the dream work
By Conor Canavan ’16, Letterkenny Institute of Technology (Ireland)
So, I’ll start by saying that my personal favourite game is football (soccer), which means that my week did not get off to the best of starts (hint: tell your bosses the bad news first!). I watched my country, the Republic of Ireland, crash out of the UEFA Euro 2016 cup. But I wasn’t too upset as they had done themselves and the country proud. You see, individually, we were among the least talented nations in the tournament, but the team had made history by getting as far as they had. This was accomplished because they fought tooth and nail for each other. They had proven to me once again that with teamwork you can accomplish huge achievements against the odds.
With all that in mind I want to talk about my team and by extension, our game which is for now named Takeover Trail, formerly Tap’n’Takeover, formerly Campaigious, formerly Infectiganda. The initial idea was to produce a cross between Plague Inc infection-style gameplay and politics. That has changed dramatically from then to where we are now. The changes have been made as a result of many playtesting sessions and events, which you can read about in past blogs. Our game tried to mix two very different mechanics together, which were just not mixing well when it was tested. So we had a meeting. We then devised a plan, but largely ignored it and continued development. After more playtesting it was apparent that we were not moving in the direction we had hoped. We were straying away from each other and not working together. Ideas were spoken about but never acted upon, or critiqued in a helpful way. So we had a meeting.
As a group we said enough was enough. Our core mechanic had become tapping, a feature we all hated, so we used this hatred to bring us together again. The tapping was removed, debates were removed, and even Jimmy Chonga our now infamous AI was left in the cold where it belonged. Plans were made and stuck to this time. We are where we are today because of a decision taken in week 3 by us as a group “let’s just make Plague!”, and so the drawing board was taken out of storage and we went back to it.
(This is where you tell your boss some positive things before they send you packing). So we took my fellow programmer’s aptly named project Ian’s Idea and built upon it with one core idea in mind. We now started making decisions together, all while keeping scope in mind. After further playtests the feedback we received was more and more positive while retention rose every time we demoed at events. So whisper it quietly, but team Campaigious seems to have finally left the valley of DOOM! Although, we still need a new name.
Team Tap’n’takeover with Walter Somol
This past week we had two more in-studio visits including Walter Somol, the VP of publishing at Harmonix, who came in to talk to us about things he liked and disliked about the industry. He gave us great insight into his past experiences in the world of games and game development, and where he thinks the future lies for the industry. It was a very interactive experience, in which Walter asked us as many questions as we asked him. On Thursday the tech director of RatDog Games, Aaron Horne, came in and spoke about overcoming setbacks. He offered insight into his team’s experiences spending 3 months developing a map that went out of scope and no longer fit the game they were making. They came together as a team to make the decision to remove it and work towards the new deadline they set. It was a decision that our team could relate to, and I’m sure the other 3 could as well.
Finally, I want to end this blog by reintroducing my team, which you may already know from our producer Sarah Spiers’ blog in week one. Sarah attends Emerson College and is currently working on the business side of the game which includes things like marketing the game, and how the game will make money. On Tuesday we welcomed back one of our artists Erica Lyons of Becker College, and are delighted to have her, along with our other artist Liz Lanahan of RISD, to help the team ease into the next phase of production and get the game looking as fancy as possible! Of course, we have our audio specialist Joe Marchuk of Berklee College of Music. And, lastly we have the programmers, myself, Ian Clinkenbeard of Becker and Fandi Charifa of NYU. They are extremely talented, experienced and a pleasure to work with. They also comment code, which is pretty frickin’ fantastic.
So, that’s got you all caught up as far as I know. You can follow us on our Twitter and Facebook, and find information about the other games Slime Break, Comet Cats and Colosseum Coach on their social sites too. Also Eid Mubarak to Fandi who breaks his last fast next week after Ramadan.
Slán go fóill!
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Breaking in, breaking out
By Sam Luangkhot, senior, Smith College
When our core team of five was first assembled, I thought we were doomed. Out of the four MaSIP teams this year, we had the fewest members and none of us had interacted with each other outside of work hours. We struggled for the first two days as we adjusted to each other’s work styles, and we were lagging behind the other teams in the demo phase. Now, just a month after we all met for the first time, we’ve learned to rely on each other to build Slime Break, our endless side-scrolling version of BreakOut.
Team Slime Break
Marc McCrevan from Becker College is our lead artist and the most relaxed member of the team. He puts all of his heart into painting the game’s backgrounds, and even after scrapping 4 entirely different versions of parallaxing sceneries, he still has the energy to laugh whenever something goes wrong. “J” Tuason from Rochester Institute of Technology is our “dad” of the team, and tackles programming and art tasks while being our lead designer. J is never afraid to tell us when we’re straying outside of the intended scope or if a feature seems unnecessary, which has proven to be an invaluable strength on our team. They also make the best food, but the rest of us aren’t even competing. Andrew Barrett from Northeastern University is one of our programmers, and when he isn’t singing, dancing or making jokes to cheer us up, he’s picking out game bugs and gathering crowds to playtest the game. Liam Doherty comes all the way from Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland and is our lead programmer. While he’s usually a silent worker, his playful personality shines through on his (rare) breaks. Joe Marchuk is everyone’s music man from Berklee College of Music, and we’re so thankful to have him as he puts up with all of our conflicting tastes in music. As for myself, I’m Sam from Smith College and I’m the team’s producer and final artist. I check on everyone else’s progress on the team while producing sprites, doing research, and keeping our social media up to date, which happen to be my favorite parts about making games!
Our team and game have gone through a few iterations ever since we settled on Slime Break’s direction four weeks ago. The game is currently an endless version of BreakOut, the classic brick-breaker arcade game, but with a fantasy-inspired art style and some cute slime creatures transformed into balls. The player controls a paddle that redirects the slime character (the ball) into oncoming bricks that scroll across the screen. As the slime character breaks bricks, the background changes to different phases which increase the game’s difficulty and different types of bricks are encountered in the various environments. The goal of our game is to get high scores and unlock new ways to play once your lifetime accumulation of points reaches certain thresholds. (Our initial pitch was a Portal-meets-BreakOut game; we’re all glad we ditched that early!)
The past two weeks in particular had been rough on us as we struggled with our biggest obstacle: BreakOut is already a well-established and fun game, but how do we make Slime Break stand out? We want to take advantage of our horizontal orientation and our unique characters, but it’s hard to come up with a new core mechanic. As we’ve gotten better about perfecting gameplay and nailing down an art style, it’s become more apparent that we need something special about our game to make it more than just a BreakOut clone. Our biggest day of feedback was last Thursday, when we visited several studios in Boston and then had a fantastic time at Boston TechJam. We first went to FableVision Studios, who applauded our story and encouraged us to pursue it. Next was Proletariat Inc., and the veterans prompted us to look into social integration so we could start thinking of ways to make the game a more social experience rather than as a single-player time-killer. Our harshest but most honest critique came from the incredibly experienced game developer Craig Alexander when we were visiting MassTech. He immediately challenged us to consider: “Why should I play your game? There’s a million other BreakOut games just like this one. The art isn’t enough.” Our art team (which also doubles as our design team) had been so focused on making our art style unique that we had overlooked making the gameplay distinct.
With this feedback in mind, we made some necessary changes to the scope of our gameplay. We cut out the different classes of characters that would have been unlockable ingame as different ball types and we are no longer working on a guild system, which would have worked as an ingame shop. With these endearing but distracting features removed, we now have time to further develop the core mechanics of our game and figure out a way to make it a “breakout” of its hybrid genre. Players (and the team) are attached to the cute slime characters, but the ball doesn’t do anything special yet. We’re currently trying to decide whether we should give the ball a slime-related ability or if we should improve the gameplay to give it better escalation and crazier payoffs, like ultra combos and unique drops. We’re leaning towards testing the second kind, since it sounds like more fun for players anyways.
As we brainstorm ways to implement these, we’ve realized our biggest challenge overall has been juggling “making this game fun” and “making this game work.” Now that we’ve finished making the basics of our game, we need to push it to an extreme so players aren’t bored with our working but predictable gameplay. We can finally focus on pushing the limits of our format and inspiring our players to keep coming back with timed reward systems and cute slime characters.
If you’re interested in seeing more of our slimes and our game, consider following our twitter and facebook! We love hearing feedback and interacting with other game developers, either online or at conventions. We just came back from Playcrafting Boston, and we’re planning on going to MassiveCon this weekend. We look forward to making this game the best we can, and we hope players enjoy playing it as much as we have enjoyed making it!
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Play, test, test again
By Abby Jackson, senior, Wheaton College (MA)
We have been in the swing of things here at MassDiGI SIP16 for a few weeks now. In this time our four teams have worked on many ideas trying to find the best ones to implement in our games. While my team had the core idea for our game within the first day or so we have been working hard to try new ways to make our game enjoyable. We want it to be as polished as possible. Of course, one of the best ways to do this and to try out ideas is playtesting. Even though we enjoy bouncing ideas off of each other and trying them for ourselves there is nothing that quite compares to the feedback you can get from people playing your game for the first time.
The team I have had the pleasure of working with is making a game about stacking cats on top of each other. The goal of this is to get the highest score you can and have a bit of quirky fun. The team is comprised of six other talented folks, the first being our star producer, Tyler Haddad, who attends Becker College. Another Becker College student on the team is Ben Page, our head programmer. Our head designer and one of our other programmers is Sienna Cornish from Hampshire College. Graham Held is our primary 3D artist from WPI along with helping the programmers. Fury Sheron from Tufts University does a bit of everything, while also being our primary UI designer. Joe Marchuk from Berklee College of Music does all our audio. My role consists of head artist, which has been an incredible experience so far.
Our first true round of playtesting (that did not just involve all the SIP teams playing each other’s games) came from the students at Worcester’s Elm Park Community School. They were a wonderful bunch of kids eager to play our games and give us feedback. Through watching them play, my team realized that there was a competitive aspect to our game that we had not even thought of. Many of the boys would compete against each other to try and get the highest score. One kid impressed us all by achieving the then highest score of stacking 126 cats. While the kids gave us a lot of positive feedback we also started to realize we had a few problems. Parts of our game seemed difficult to figure out. Even though the kids were smart enough to teach each other and ask questions, we did not have the intention of making our UI or gameplay mechanics confusing. We were able to ask the kids what they found difficult and resolved to come up with ways to fix the issues.
Our team: Back row – Joe, Graham & Ben – Front row – Sienna, me, Tyler & Fury
When it came to encouraging feedback the kids were not shy about letting us know what they liked about the game. While it seemed to be an even 50/50 split on people who loved cats versus people who disliked them, the theme did not seem to get in the way of people enjoying the game. Though, some of the kids did have the suggestion of making the cats into babies you could throw instead. They also told us about how they liked the shapes we had chosen to make the cats and that the gameplay was addictive. (Yes, a 12 year old used the proper form of “addictive”).
After our playtesting session with the Elm Park kids we got the opportunity to demo at Petricore Games. There, we received positive results. We were told that the core gameplay was fun but there seemed to be one little thing missing to really make the game great. We also realized another aspect we needed to make clearer. One important part of my team’s game is that there are sticky cats. These particular cats let you build your tower even higher. One could say they are a vital aspect to the game and yet, people didn’t realize they were sticky until after we told them. With this in mind we knew we would have to figure out some way to make sure people knew about the sticky cats so they could properly enjoy the game.
The next big play testing opportunity came from attending Touch Tomorrow at WPI. At this festival we took turns showing our game to kids and their (often, though not always,) reluctant parents.
We received a lot of similar positive feedback as our first playtest. Certain people found themselves unable to put the game down. Boys would play the game and then come back with their friends to make them compete. Through this we realized that while girls would play the game they did not seem as eager to continue to play it as the boys. This realization gave us something to consider with how we were going to try and get any kid to enjoy our game. Also through this test we were able to see if our improvements from all the previous feedback were working. We tried to make the sticky cats more apparent and had tweaked some of the UI to hopefully make it less confusing. Stars were also added around the cats as a collectible element to improve your score. In doing this we hoped that we had found a possible solution to that “one missing thing.”
While the stars received mixed reaction there were bits and pieces of feedback that we realized were really helpful. We even had a former SIP intern come and playtest our game while at Touch Tomorrow. He let us know what was working with the technical mechanics of our game and overall really liked it. However, even with the stars he agreed that the game was missing something. With all of this in mind we left Touch Tomorrow with a better understanding about what was working with our game and what we still needed to work on.
Overall, I have really enjoyed playtesting our cat game with my team. We have received exceptionally helpful advice (and some not so helpful advice). Through this experience we have learned to think critically about what people are saying and how to pick out the most important parts of what will possible improve our game. Meeting people and watching them have fun with something I have helped create has been incredibly rewarding. Thankfully, I will get to do this for a while longer with my wonderful team because there is always more playtesting to do!
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Strength and honor
By Grace Barrett-Snyder, senior, Smith College
Our team was two weeks into development when we were met with confused faces of playtesters. It was then we realized we had revisit the drawing board, as reluctant as were. You see, the game we were making here during MassDiGI’s SIP16 was too complex and lacked direction. Distracting visual elements overwhelmed our players, and the goal wasn’t simple enough to explain without a tutorial. Even worse, we didn’t have decent comps (comparables) or a target audience. Everything needed to change.
Our original concept was a rapid decision-based game about gladiators, where you play as the emperor and decide who wins or dies to please the audience. When we tested our prototype, players didn’t like the timed decisions, as the mechanic lacked real consequence and the “right” choice was not clearly communicated. With this feedback, we concluded that the premise we were tasked with was ultimately what held us back.
Before I tell you where we’re going next, let me tell you about us! While our title is still up in the air, we just call ourselves the Gladiator Team (you can identify us by who uses Ryver the most). There are 7 of us: 3 programmers, 3 artists, and 1 audio designer. The programmers are PJ Keenan and Anthony Popp, both from Becker College, and myself. Coding our prototypes coincided with turning to each other and saying “Guys, I promise I can write better code than this.” Mariel Rodriguez from RISD, Sofia Syjuco from Carnegie Mellon, and Catherine Litvaitis from RPI make up our art team. Their ability to deliver numerous high-quality assets is unreal (the gifs are a sweet bonus). Sofia, also our producer, rocks the Kanban board and has a real voice in leadership. And finally, Joe Marchuk (who you’ll probably hear about a lot on this blog) is our sound designer from Berklee College of Music. The compositions he writes blow everyone away, and somehow he does it without musical references from the rest of the team (whoops).
The Gladiator Team
The first couple days were easy for us, but the rosy glow began to fade (as MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma warned us). We needed to work together and faced some problems trying to do so. Growing pains, let’s call them. But we learned. In fact, we’re still learning. So by no means are we perfect, but we’ve developed better understanding of each other’s work-styles and methods of communicating in a respectful and honest way.
Now… where are we going from here? Well, we conducted thorough playtests yesterday and had a long design meeting this morning. We decided to center our new mechanics around a roster system, now approaching the project with a fantasy football perspective. Players seemed to really respond positively to the day-old prototype that explored this idea, instantly picking favorites among the new gladiators, who were each accompanied by combat stats, a name, and flavor text. We really want to encourage these relationships moving forward.
The Gladiator Team is heading back into the alpha stage stronger than ever. Now with clear direction, let’s keep up the momentum. Get excited for the next build!
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