Development Blog: Week 4

Week 4 marks the first milestone of this semester project: ¼ walkaround and ¼ sitdown. On Wednesday all the faculty members came to our team meeting and provided feedback on where they feel the project is at and where we should be headed. Besides the many specific questions raised by the faculty during ¼, we were left with one big meta question that came out of the amalgamation of them all: How should we approach this project when it comes to actually building things?

The feedback we received was in general a mixed bag of both positive and somewhat negative thoughts on this cozy delivery service platformer we landed upon. Out of all the feedback we received, nine out ten was on building the gameplay demo. Before, the team learnt from the faculty advisors that the point of this pre-production project is not to deliver a demo so that the rest of the faculty could judge how well the process was, but rather dig deep into the messy process of experimenting with all sorts of funny/weird/innovative gameplay ideas. The team should never burden itself on technicality, especially looking back at how this process went about during the last couple of projects of similar nature. Demographics is another popular question among the faculty. “Who is this game targeting? Is this game made for children only? Or is this game targeting both kids and adults like pixar animations?” It is useless to pitch/make a game for everybody because we could lose the opportunities to design towards a particular group as Brenda put it. The more specific the team could narrow down on the demographics, the more streamlined the process will be.

Here is a short list of the reasons the project is changed:

  1. The actual production team following the pre-production team is handed a design document which they don’t want to implement. The production team felt cheated on because they are not given a chance to create something original.
  1. The problem sometimes is in the original documentation. Documentation is really hard to write well and it is very hard for the faculty to give the team notes about the documentation to make it better.
  1. It is outright hard to grade a pre-production package.

After much discussion with the faculty advisors on Friday regarding the way we should approach this project, we came away with the conclusion that it is not in the best of our interest to make a 2-3 minute gameplay demo built with an existing game engine. Rather, and surprisingly, powerpoint and google slide is the tool we should consider when thinking about prototype. That is not to say though the other approach should be erased out of the equation entirely. What lies in the future is totally up to us.

Development Blog: Week 3

This week in a nutshell: Our faculty advisors picked the Cozy Delivery Service out of the three final pitches. The team then began to write the first draft for the world and story, brainstormed gameplay elements, and explored art directions. 

The Faculty advisors landed on the cozy delivery idea because it holds a lot of wonderful elements and potential for fun gameplay elements. On the other hand, the Dali – Lucid Dreaming presents a much harder design task as to how to transform Dali’s painting into puzzle platformer levels. The four-monkey survival game contains a very risky game design choice that the faculty advisors were not fully onboard with. 

Starting with the story, we started from the idea of a dodo porter. The first draft was a bittersweet story about the conflict between the dodo and the human during the 17th century. Some of us liked the direction while others didn’t as much. The team decided to ask Jesse and Chris for guidance. Jesse wanted us to take a look at the “Story Stack” and ask ourselves the the following questions:

  1. How to make each level increasingly harder?
  2. What makes delivering packages hard/harder?
  3. What constitutes increasing challenges?
  4. What does the mid-game & last level look like?

Essentially,  stories grow out of player progression. After much fumbling around, the team realized it is not in a good place for story just yet. We need to have a more detailed and finalized list of verbs for the game before fleshing out the story.

In terms of validating and testing out ideas, the team asked the question as to “What does gameplay testing look like in a pre production stage?” Answering this question is particularly important in that it determines where the team should focus on in a project that is not limited by the need to deliver playable demos. Our faculty advisor suggested that we put much of the effort into testing art and game mechanics. Chris’s reason for taking out the programmer out of the team makeup was to “lessen the expectations of what a demo would look like is to allow the team to not feel pressured to deliver something finalized and polished.”

On visual arts, we received positive feedback on the poster design. Faculty advisors loved the vibe of magic and mystery of the first iteration. They also loved the logo design, but would love to see a version with less vision clutter and noise. Here is the final version for the logo:

This week was about diving into early stages of all aspects of the project and testing out directions for each discipline. The upcoming quarter presentations in Week 4 will give us insight as to where we are and where we should be headed next.

Development Blog: Week 2

Keyword for week 2: think harder. 

Answering last week’s question: Should we think of an idea that nobody has done it before in the industry, or should we aim for something safer and easier to grasp? Jesse and Chris presented different opinions. Jesse advised the team to go for something new, wild and unique, while Chris suggested something safer. He had nothing against Jesse’s approach per se, but creating something drastically different and new in 14 weeks, is a high bar according to Chris. 

During our first pitch, we presented 2 game ideas to our faculty advisors. First an arctic survival action adventure game, second an game, genre undecided, on lucid dreaming. Chris had some serious concerns about the arctic survival pitch, asking the question “Why does it have to be in the arctic? Why did you choose these options? What is the dramatic context?” Besides the lack of rationalization and reasoning on the setting, the arctic survival pitch also presented a daunting task to the art team: how do you create eye-catching concept art if the world is covered in white snow throughout? The monochromatic color palette is not a good place for the art team to show off. Josh also reluctantly admitted that the gameplay for this pitch is nothing more than a love letter to Death Stranding that lacks originality.

On the other hand, the lucid dreaming pitch was received quite positively. It holds more potential, visually speaking. But the positive response to this idea was due primarily to the fact that the team has not figured out the verbs yet. It is safe to say that the under-developed nature of the idea lent itself well to the response. Ricardo suggested we take a look at an old puzzle game called Riven and Myst for inspirations if we want to make a puzzle game. Our faculty advisors also wanted us to come up with a third idea so that we don’t hold on to the previous two ideas too tightly. Having a broad range of ideas is beneficial at this stage.

In general, the team need to use the first 10 minutes to effectively communicate to the players what the experience and the core mechanics are. One line summary for the first pitch presentation: “These are not bad tries”

The team went back to the drawing board. The arctic survival game was not in a good state. The team decided to kill it so that more time and energy could go to ideas that showed more potential. In the meantime, two more ideas came up: one a 4-player team apocalypse survival game; the other a cozy delivery service platformer. The two new ideas were put into a second pitch deck, and received generally good feedback. According to Richardo, the second pitch had a nice range of ideas, all seemed strong, but clouded with overcomplexity and lack of clarity. Chris encouraged the team to think harder about the core verbs of each of the ideas. This would greatly help us and them see the same picture. To put it simply, the team needed to resolve the gameplay verbs in a way that the gameplay could not happen anywhere else.

On Sunday, the team landed on the final 4 ideas from which the faculty advisors will pick one next week to go into full pre-production:

Cozy Delivery Service, Dalí-Lucid Dream Puzzle-Platformer, Team Monkey Apocalypse


See you next week:)


Development Blog: Week 1

Week 1 mainly consisted of high concept brainstorming and logistical planning. This semester’s game pre-production project is quite a bit different from previous ones since our team does not need to deliver a playable prototype of the game like before. What happened in previous versions was that the game concepts that were generated quickly became limited by technical viability and production halfway through the semester. The teams turned into an actual production team and ended up not spending enough time exploring cool game concepts and ideas. In addition, our team decided to use Google Drive for organizing project documents, and Discord and Zoom for Team communication. For weekly meeting with faculty advisors on Monday, we will create a slide deck to present progress from the previous week and our plans for next week.

We met with our faculty advisors and were presented with two options: 1. Have as much creative freedom as possible and come up with an original idea. 2. Have a prompt / constraint from them to start off with. Our team was quite aware of the potential danger of either option, but decided to pursue the former nevertheless, just to see if we can land on something solid ourselves. Faculty advisors also encouraged us to have a range of ideas and let those ideas evolve, rather than getting stuck on a big idea in the beginning. Having a rougher start is beneficial to the team in the long run.

We began brainstorming by first writing down a list of games we each love playing. We discovered some overlaps between the lists we wrote, which did not, however, translate into a shared vision of a game we want to make as a team. We then asked the following two questions to help the process: “What if you wipe out your memory and play a game from the beginning from the list. What draws us to these games?”, “What is the oldest game you have played from this list? How will do you remember the game? Do you think it would hold up like a good game now that you have played every other game on the list?” Nothing substantial regarding theme or core game concepts came out of the answers, but we did in the end notice that out of the 63 games we listed, the genre with the highest count was “RPG” (12 votes). “Open World” came second (6 votes).

On Thursday Josh met with Jesse Schell for advice on this chaotic process. Jesse suggested that the most effective approach is to start off thinking of a fantasy that a game could fulfill, instead of a genre. Quoting Jesse: “A genre is an already fleshed out thing, and the old games that came before, in that genre, were all very good…How do you plan to make something new that’s even better? Think of fantasy not simply as flying a dragon, or commanding an army, but as some kind of challenge people want to take up? Think of it as a challenge that people don’t get to do in their daily lives.” Jesse also suggested our team go their separate ways during brainstorming, and then reconvene with radically different ideas. In the end, we started a game concept brainstorm doc listing “fantasies” we each would love to experience.

Oh yes, one last thing. We landed on a team name: Pepperbox Productions. This name fits well with the theory of an “empty vessel”, something that means nothing. Chris pointed out all the big names in tech are essentially “empty vessels”: Amazon, Zynga and Apple… The advantage of this naming methodology is that it does not limit the kind of product the company makes. “Pepperbox Productions” is the best according to Chris. It does not connect to a particular type of game. It is beautifully neutral.