Conformity vs. experience in the game development process
By Abdelaziz Ben Yahia, WPI ’18, Fulbright
Game design is heavily dependent on players’ feedback. A team of game developers is pretty tied to their own ideas and creations. Often, developers won’t conform to the rest and will not miss a chance to debate if something doesn’t go along with their beliefs or way of thinking.
However, we will make edits if 1 in 3 testers don’t like our product, even though it does hurt to see your hard work not liked but everyone that tried it.
Now imagine if a tester with 5 + years of experience, gives you negative feedback that contradicts with all the information you collected from all the other players.
Well, what you do, is apply the tips and tricks of the experienced tester.
Playtesting Leap A Head
They are the one that created so many games, tested hundreds for other developers and faced tough challenges doing so. Their advice is trustworthy and worth the risk.
After going through all these steps, you feel that you are totally in a state of “cognitive dissonance” with inconsistent thoughts.
But you should rest assured, if you listen to Bill Gardner from The Deep End Games talk. You must remember “You are going to be wrong … and it’s okay!” The man is the creative director on Perception!
Writing guidelines for our next fellows of MassDigi’s Live Studio is a responsibility.
They will learn from our mistakes and pass on the legacy. Our team’s game Leap A Head is the fruit of 3 months of hard work and teamwork too! Every member contributed with their skills and excellent mindset and we believe the MassDigi’s next generation will make the product even better.
Ultimately, I would say that feedback gave us that confidence and feeling of having people saying Go ahead we got your back! it helped us aim all our effort in the right path, as I once heard a producer from Harmonix say “velocity doesn’t mean closure,” since then, every game or project proved it again .
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Drop by WHM on Free Fun Friday and play our games! Free and open to the public. Info here.
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By Ellen Chen, RIT ’18
“When you start the production process, you should be ready to throw everything away and start fresh,” Walt Yarbrough, SIP’s producer, told us as we we worked towards the end of pre-production sometime in early June. Over the first few weeks of SIP, we interns worked as quickly as we could to come up with the core designs for our games and create a working prototype. My team – Emmanuel Mallea and Tung Thanh Vu from Becker College, Dean Faulkner from LYIT (in Ireland), Jenny Sun from RISD, Emily Ramirez from MIT, Lisa Jeong from Berklee, and me – went through a very tense and stressful production. Our game, Little Grimm, is a cute and spooky take on Snake. However, it went through many iterations and design changes before we settled on its current iteration. Although we kept its core concept as a Snake game, many ideas were thrown out in the process, and it wasn’t easy as one might think.
One of the early prototypes of Little Grimm
Looking back, we have deviated greatly from our original ideas. Our game originally would’ve been a Snake game with a colorful twist. The snake would’ve had a multicolored body, and the player would be able to pass over a part of their tail if its color matches the head’s. We all thought it was a great idea and everyone made exciting concepts and prototypes, but none of us could really decide on what was more appealing. We had so many game mechanics flying around that it was hard not to add new ideas into the half-finished prototype. A few of them were almost hard to let go, even though they were impossible to implement and we didn’t have much time.
It wasn’t until we began playtesting that we realize the real issue: our game wasn’t fun. The feedback we received pointed out the flaws in the gameplay and the mechanics and how boring and confusing they respectively were to the playtesters. We were so caught up with our conflicting ideas that we’d ignored the importance of making our game fun. After Monty Sharma, SIP’s manager director, told us to stop adding more content and focus on what we had now, we got together to sort out everything. Using the feedback from playtesters and other interns, we threw out mechanics and ideas that were too confusing or vague or were sitting on the backburner for a long time. We discussed every issue that was holding us back from getting work done and how to resolve them. We then immediately focused on improving and changing what we didn’t threw out from the game. We were then finally able to produce a working prototype (just in time for production!).
Gameplay of Little Grimm
Once we were greenlit for production, we axed everything without difficulty and rebuilt the game in a much clearer direction. Once again, we ran into the same issue of falling in love with new mechanics, but this time we focused more on making fun instead of making content. We made changes to our current mechanics and improved gameplay based on feedback from more playtesting. We also held team meetings more frequently, making it easier to talk about which mechanic or idea to keep or cut out. As a result, we were able to work faster and more productively than we were in pre-production. With 2 weeks left, we’ve come a long way from where we started 2 months ago.
The entire project has been a stressful and bumpy ride, but there was much to get out of it. For instance, not every idea will make it into the game, and getting too attached to them or trying to cram them in at the last minute will cause more conflicts than progress. Teamwork is very important in the game design process, and conflicts of interests can erupt and break it apart if left unchecked. Furthermore, I can’t stress enough how very helpful playtesting can be; it helps give insight on what you’re doing wrong and what needs fixing and, most importantly, if the game is fun. Last but not least, be sure to have fun with your work! It’ll definitely help you and your team go a long way with game design.
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By Amanda Stockman, Becker College ’18
Perspective is a huge part of game development that many developers never speak enough of. Experienced industry veterans always harp on playtesting for the sake of learning the player behavior, studying how they play, and what decisions encourage them to spend money or continue playing. However, playtesting can give you honest feedback on how to operate in your own team and which tasks you should take. Receiving feedback is crucial in the way of ensuring which tasks get pushed to a higher priority to ensure you are on route to finishing your game.
My role on the endless runner project, Hyper Thunder Run: 198X, is a mash of 3D art and UI/UX. As our game is difficult to balance for polycount and optimization, I’ve had times where I’d have large tasks set aside just to tackle large goals such as “creating consistent fake lighting”, “rebalance spacing between when the skyscrapers respawn”, or “reduce all textures to less than 512 px” in the entire project. Unlike my time spent in academia, I finally understand the point of stepping away from a project to gain perspective.
Playtesting HTR 198X
Juggling two vastly different art roles, I needed to learn how to step back and worry less about the nitty gritty on a project. When I was worried about the framerate being a “future problem”, I was neglecting my UI/UX tasks, believing that they were a lesser priority. When several summer camps of students stopped by this past Tuesday, their brutal honesty on the neglect in the UI was an eye-opening experience that helped me realize how much of a higher priority task they were. Almost immediately after the event, I walked up to the Kanban board for my team and created a series of tasks to develop several menus for the game. The screen flow was already created and defined nearly a month ago but, since then, I was swamped with 3D tasks that I only made small, minute tasks for UI. With those two art positions in juxtaposition to each other, I’ve started to learn the fine balance between the two while working in an indie setting.
With only about three more weeks of SIP, I’m happy that I finally started to balance multiple roles in a team. The situation I faced can apply to almost every individual in the Summer Innovation Program: stepping back can provide the insight needed to learn what you truly need to work on in your game.
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So close, yet so far away
By Veneta Cholakova, Mt. Holyoke College ’19
MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program may be approaching the finish line but the participants still have a long way to go before they accomplish their main goal…to release a fun, well-polished game. Meanwhile all five teams are simultaneously excited to present our games, we are nervous about the last few weeks of development.
Even though the games we have been developing during the last two months went through dozens of changes, we had to make difficult decisions, unforeseen outcomes were achieved and fabulous art was created. All five games are finally beginning to look polished and are moving closer to being shipped!
It would be a lie if we say that the process of development was easy and always pleasant. Each team had its ups and downs but at the end of the day we are all happy with what we have accomplished. Every single new feature, new art asset and decision made changed the game my team is developing drastically. Each new version of the game revealed something new for our playtesters (but I won’t say more, so that I don’t spoil it for you). We also named our game – from now on it is RAISE THE BASS! Our cartoonish character – Tyley – jumps, runs and makes the screen so vivid. Our team is super excited to introduce her to the general public and let her become the famous DJ she always wanted to be!
During this last month of development our team – Amber Skarjune from Wellesley, Ty Enos from Tufts, Paul DeSimone from RIT, Emily Ryan from Becker, Wenley Shen from RISD and me – will focus more on the polishing of the game and making sure we achieve the best possible user experience. Of course, Raise the Bass wouldn’t be the same without the amazing music that Berklee’s Lisa Jeong has contributed! Pretty soon we will have the trailer as well. Our two artists are working hard to deliver all the excitement, hard work and love we put in this game via this short video.
In addition to working in the studio, SIP participants had the opportunity to attend a Boston Unity Group meetup in Cambridge hosted by Akamai. It was a panel of various local game industry professionals which focused on breaking into the industry and advice for aspiring developers. They shared varying personal experiences applying for jobs and progressing in their careers. It was especially nice to see artists involved with games in the local area. There were also a number of familiar faces in the audience such as Ryan Canuel and Michael Carriere, as well as students from Brown University and Northeastern University. There was some time after the panel to talk with everyone at the event and connect with other professionals in the field. The panelists were very willing to give advice to the many job-hungry students attending! Overall informative as a panel and useful as a networking opportunity.
The following week we attended another Women in Games Boston event. The panel pertained to non-traditional uses of video games. Various companies discussed how they use games outside of consoles and PCs. Green Door Labs, Incantrix and a few others discussed how they create games for non-traditional uses. Everything from interactive museum exhibits to interactive theater with puzzles. Ben Chicka, a philosopher, presented his thoughts on how video games can help us better understand “the other”, a concept regarding empathy and how we should respect others regardless of who or what they are. We were excited to hear about all the wonderful thing games is doing for the Boston area, and what is to come next.
To sum up, all 28 game developers are working hard, already focusing on the small details of our games. We mix the fun of attending off-work events with the rush to finish as much work as possible, so that we deliver industry quality games in August.
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Join us on August 10 at 1:30pm for our annual SIP Open House! For more information and to RSVP, please click here.
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Enjoy a great day with the Boston game dev community at the annual summer potluck. RSVP and information here.
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Stop by The Learning HUb’s STEAM Fair at noon in the Barnes & Noble at The Shoopes at Blackstone Valley and play our games! Information here.
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*Due to weather, this event has been postponed to July 16.*
Join us for SIP game demos and baseball on July 13 at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field for Team USA vs. Team Japan. More info here.
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The mesa of misery
By Ryan Maloney ‘ 20, Northeastern University
Game development, like many types of projects, works in a progression of phases. You start off with nebulous concepts and ideas, you decide on one of them, you roll with it, you iterate upon it, and you get as many eyes on it as possible. Once you feel confident that you’ve picked a good idea, things start to feel much more tangible, more real, and sometimes more frightening. This is the stage we’ve recently entered at SIP17. Professionally, we’re in what’s known as the Template part of the Production phase (production being the last long trek to a completed product). Our manager Monty Sharma, however, likes to call this phase “The mesa of misery.”
Demoing our games for the MassDiGI
Advisory Board in Boston
This term may be new (and somewhat frightening) for many people, but the meaning behind it is something with which anybody who has ever worked on a long-term project should be quite familiar. In those earlier stages of development, every new idea and change seemed like a revolutionary one. Our game was in its most malleable form, and it seemed like every miniscule thing we added had an explosive impact on the game. Not all of these additions were great, but it kept the project exciting, it was a learning experience, it felt fresh and interesting. Now, however, is when everything stagnates. Fewer and fewer new ideas come in. The game, at its very core, has been well established, and anything we put on it now is essentially window dressing (useful window dressing, but still, nothing ground-breaking). This isn’t to say that the rest of the work ahead of us isn’t important; we have a good base, now this is the time to flesh it out, to make it pretty and exciting to everyone else who’s going to experience it in its final form. However, while these changes may be important, they feel less and less impactful to us, the people who have been building this from scratch, with each new iteration.
This is why this part of production is “The mesa of misery.” It’s not that the project has suddenly become bad or unworthy of effort, it’s just become much less exciting to improve. This is the beginning of the slog, the part where every iteration feels less like a giant leap forward, and more like an inching crawl. Now every small change is just that, a small change, no more massive enhancements from the smallest improvements. And while this part of the project may not be as exciting or fast-paced as the earlier development was, that doesn’t mean it’s less rewarding.
At Boston TechJam
This part of production is incredibly important, not just because it’s when final production-worthy assets and code are created, but because it teaches us to stick with our work. In the earlier development phases, everything was exciting and fresh, but now the most important work is being done when without that same excitement. Does it feel like a drag sometimes? Definitely (don’t ask me how many cups of coffee I drink daily). But does it still feel good to get something new into the game that we know will ultimately help? Absolutely. This doesn’t just teach us how production phases work and when to start the finalized work on a project, it teaches us to stick with a project even after it’s stopped being new and exciting. It’s teaching us not to abandon a project just because it’s not as fresh anymore. It’s teaching us that every part of production is important, and great things can always be forged and accomplished, even in “The mesa of misery.”
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