From the beginning our project, Ophidia, has been ambitious but now, approaching the halfway point, I’m beginning to worry about scope. Despite being warned from day one about biting off more than can be chewed in 11 weeks, we shot for the stars, and now the stars are shooting back.
It’s surprisingly easy to forget about the limited time frame when the team has a vision of the perfect game with all sorts of fun and interesting features. Since we locked down on design decisions it has become easier to see which wishlist items won’t make it into the game, but even still we’ve had to let go of some levels we were excited to build. It’s hard to kill your darlings, but as we’ve all learned it’s an essential part of game development, especially with a small team and short time period.
Still, the team is exceptionally dedicated, and I think we’ll get all out non-wishlist items in and still have time for polish. Learning what not to have faith in and what to definitely have faith in has been a large part of this experience, and I have the utmost faith in myself and my teammates.
There is one main difference between a group of people working together and a team. Any group can seek the same goal, but ultimately, their destinations differ. A common destination is a treasure only a team can lay claim to.
In two weeks, the group of developers working on MegaloMalady became “Team Awesome.” We dropped the unnecessaries of courtesy and convention. We unified our separate visions with compromises, votes and new ideas that were just plain better. We strove for clear communication. Our effort to designate a unified vision was what gave us combined ownership over the idea we devised. It is that combined ownership that allows us to work as a whole and professional unit.
Communication is the bread and butter of our workflow. Every morning, we stand to update each other on our current progress: what we did yesterday, what we plan to do today, what’s stopping us from progressing. We work close to each other, meaning questions between fields of expertise are only a table away. Multi-disciplinary tasks are easily collaborated upon between programmers, animators and illustrators. Above anything, we are never afraid to critique or be critiqued. Feedback is essential to success so there’s no sense in being shy about it.
Where one person is lacking, the next person is strong. Sometimes we like to think we turned a misfit rabble of talents into a capable party of developers, fit for a proper adventure. We all see a published, enjoyable game at the end of our 10-week-long journey and we are proud to dedicate ourselves to that collective cause.
Team Awesome consists of seven members, one designer, two programmers, three artists, and one audio ninja. We are creating MegaloMalady, an incremental game where you play as Germy the monster who seeks friendship and brings disease.
When we started, we were individuals. Most of us didn’t know each other’s names. By the end of orientation week, we could recite everyone’s names and schools, but we didn’t know much else about each other. We were placed in a team together to work on an idea we had nicknamed “Zen Leaves”, a game where you control the flow of raindrops on a car window in order to push around leaves and other items that stuck to the window.
The first days of development were difficult. We were excited to be working on a game, but we were struggling to find the “fun” within the abstract concept. By the end of the second day, we had made the bold decision to scrap “Zen Leaves” and start fresh. We each took five minutes to come up with a concept for a game that could be played with one finger then pitched the ideas to the rest of the team. We then voted on which ideas seemed the most fun, and decided that we would spend the rest of the day making small prototypes of our top three ideas.
Each of our programmers worked on a separate concept, choosing to work into the evening so that we could make our decision first thing in the morning. We ended up setting aside two of the concepts: a tower-defense game where you protect a turtle crossing a busy road and a game where you tap on flashing squares to set off chain reactions to claim every tile on the map. Our remaining concept was a game where you used a slingshot to defend baby turtles from incoming hungry seagulls. We liked the mechanics of the game, but it didn’t take long for us to decide that we weren’t in love with the story behind it, and so we took some time to brainstorm other ideas that incorporated the mechanics we had built. The suggestion to slingshot knives at food clicked with the team, and “Hibachi Hero” was born.
The idea to cook the cut food pieces on a grill at the bottom of the screen followed shortly after, and we ended up ditching the slingshot in favor of simply flinging knives at the food. By the end of the week we had a working prototype that we could bring to the Playcrafting Spring Expo at the Microsoft New England in Boston. We watched as various developers from the Boston area came by to try the game, and each of us noticed the same thing: people were fascinated with flinging knives. Even as they were giving us feedback on some of the weaker aspects of the prototype, they would continue to fling knives as if they were in a trance. We had found the fun.
Since then, the team has moved away from our prototype and begun work on our alpha stage of development. We’ve expanded some of our features and trimmed back others, and we’ve spent a considerable amount of time and effort to perfect the feeling of throwing the knife. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing – one of our biggest disagreements was deciding what types of food should be included in the game – but our struggles have built us into a stronger, closer team. We’re about halfway through this roller coaster of an experience, and we can’t wait to see where the rest of the summer takes us. Team Hibachi, signing out!
“The Open Gaming Alliance (OGA) is expanding its services and reaching out to indie game developers as it continues its mission to keep no one entity from dominating video games.” Read the entire GamesBeat story here.
Two weeks ago the folks who run SIP–Tim, Monty, and Walt–said that in two weeks we would be part of a team with working prototypes of our games. I didn’t think it could be done, and yet here we are, two weeks later, with a game, playtesters, and convention meetups. But it hasn’t all been fun and games–we’ve been learning some important lessons in getting to where we are today:
Be Ready For Change – For our team’s game, Crafting Life, we are working with researchers to use our game as an alternative to drug treatments. This means that we have to be on the lookout to see how we can change our game to suit the needs of the players, creating a game that is both fun and functional. We have to be careful not to become too attached to any one idea or style because a different path might end up being the better one to take.
Ask Around – We’ve been told that at all times we should be either working, teaching, or learning—and I’ve discovered that I have a lot to learn from my team. From just making sure that we are all on the same page to learning the ins and outs of certain programs, we have worked together learn all that we need to know about getting our game to work and all potential forms that our game could take.
Know Your Story – When Bill Gardner, a local developer at The Deep End Games, came to speak with us about our game, he said that while he liked it he couldn’t quite see a unified direction. It was then that we realized that we didn’t really have a direction—while we had a solid game, there wasn’t a story or experience we wanted to invoke. With his advice in hand we went to look at what we wanted to say and how our game could say it.
In short, my team and I have learned a lot over the last two weeks, and we’re certainly hoping to learn more both from each other and from experts in the field. What matters is that we’re continually pushing ahead, working together, and finding our way in order to make something great.
Other Crafting Life team members are: Ari Green, MIT; Shannon Mitchell, Champlain; Joseph Gillen, LYIT; Isaiah Mann, Hampshire, Matteo Lanteri, Becker; and Alex Ripple, Berklee.
After a reasonably lighthearted orientation week in which we all got a chance to meet the other interns and familiarise ourselves with each other’s experience levels, Tuesday the 26th saw things start to get serious. We were divided into four teams of six, with each team having three programmers, three artists, and a game concept to work with.
That morning started much the same way for all of the teams, scrapping the parts of their idea they didn’t like and building on the parts they did. However, the teams did take different approaches. For example, our team was reasonably happy with the core mechanics of our game, but we decided to re-theme it, which would involve more concepting work on the part of the artists. Another team started almost from scratch, pitching an entirely new batch on ideas amongst each other before settling on one to run with.
For me personally, it was refreshing to then dive right into development for the rest of the week and start working on code. Having just finished work on a year-long project for college that involved an entire semester of research and planning, getting the chance to implement systems and find issues later was a welcome change of pace. Additionally, coming from a program that teaches solely programming, I was really impressed with the work-rate of the artists! It’s great motivation to finish implementing a system due to the necessary sprites already being finished and ready to go.
Working as part of a tight-knit team and getting immediate feedback for every bit of work I do has been a great experience so far, and having industry veterans like Michael Carriere from Zapdot give us advice on the likes of playtesting is invaluable. In addition, the support and interaction between teams is great, with programmer lunches and coding jams outside of work hours helping everyone solve any problems that they may have. All in all, it’s a really fantastic workplace to develop a game in, and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner!
With final exams ending for college students across the US, we are looking forward to a whole summer of fun and games. The students of this year’s Summer Innovation Program (SIP) are no exception, but for aspiring entrepreneurs like us, “fun and games” takes on a whole new meaning.
There is no opportunity quite like SIP. From 214 applications to the program, 24 interns were chosen representing 15 institutions from California to Ireland, working to create games over the next 11 weeks. Every one of us has something that made the selection team say “wow,” and we now put our skills to the test.
Orientation got going at 9:30am sharp on the morning of May 20. MassDiGI managing director Monty Sharma took the podium and, assisted by executive director Timothy Loew and producer Walt Yarbrough, introduced us all to the ropes of the program. Concepting exercises began the very next day.
Students mixed and matched into random teams, combatting challenges with creativity, building problem-solving skills, and striving to harness the essence of “fun.” To cultivate fast decision-making skills, every prompt was a race against time. There was little time before the groups shuffled again and a new challenge became the focus.
Jake the Lion
Visiting SIP was guest speaker from the Worcester Bravehearts baseball team accompanied by team mascot Jake the Lion. The team presented a challenge to the us: make a game featuring Jake.
In addition, we also were challenged by Boston Children’s Hospital to come up with a game with engaging mechanics to help combat attention deficit disorder.
All in all we came up with a dozen great ideas for games. Which projects will we build? We narrowed it down to just a handful and by the end of week one, we’ll be solidly on our way and several of these great ideas will become the foundation for published games by the end of the summer.
You can follow our SIP15 journey all summer on Twitter @mass_digi or by liking MassDiGI’s Facebook page.