Monday, April 8, 2013

Magnetic By Nature Post #16: GDC

GDC came and went, and our game was a hit!  We had a variety of people play it on the expo floor, ranging from students to industry professionals, and they all had great things to say about it.  A few people even wanted to be notified when the game came out so that they could buy it.  It was an amazing experience to have a game that was loved by so many people.

Aside from our game, GDC was an event that I'm extremely glad I went to.  From new indie titles, to innovative technology, to networking with other individuals, GDC was an experience like no other.  I also found that networking at after-parties was far more rewarding than trying to network within the career pavilion.  Because of this, our team went to many after parties, and tried to socialize with as many professionals there as possible.  In fact, we ran into the Director of the games Age of Conan and The Longest Journey and he was kind enough to sit down with three of our team members and talk to us about his experience.  He then introduced us to the creators of Dreamfall, the sequel to The Longest Journey, and we talked with them for a while about Kickstarters.  This was an opportunity that nobody could have predicted, and we all had a great time talking to these and other industry professionals.

When we weren't at our booth or at an after party, we were checking out the other indie games on the expo floor.  Many games stood out of the crowd, but I think my favorite was a music game called 140.  It's a platformer where the level changes based on the music playing, and each time you complete an objective the music grows in conjunction with the level.  The techno-hiphop instrumental music kept the playtester feeling excited, and the level design was clever and concise.  It was a game that blew me away, and I will definitely be playing as soon as it's released.

Not only was GDC a great experience for games and networking, but our team got even tighter than it was previously.  We all went down to GDC with great hopes, and left feeling energized about our game and our future.  In short, it was an event that changed the lives of our whole team for the better, and made us even more determined to release the greatest game we can produce.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Magnetic By Nature Post #15 - What a Week

So, Spring Break is over, and what a week it was.  Not much to say except that I did a ton of work, and it was all worth it.  Before the break, our team split off with separate assignments, albeit smaller assignments.  The artists were taked to make more levels and smaller assets for the upcoming GDC week, and the programmers were tasked to clean up our code as well as help create levels of their own.  This break was one of the most productive ones I've had, and I'm excited about all the new things I created to throw into the game.  2 things I can visually share on this blog is the all new protagonist texture and a brand new game trailer.  Enjoy!

Protagonist Texture:

Beta Gameplay Trailer:

What I accomplished this week:
  • Created 10 new animation cycles
  • Textured the main character
  • Created a new gameplay trailer, (beta gameplay footage)
  • Packed and shipped game assets to Rachel Leiker for GDC
  • Worked on our Kickstarter Video
  • Helped Andrew and Dave out with submitting our game to Rachel

Monday, March 4, 2013

Vignettes of an Indie Game Dev: Super "Addicting" Meat Boy

I was playing Super Meat Boy last night, (while also increasing my chances of getting carpal tunnel), and I am proud to say that I am ranked number 124 out of over 94 thousand people on level 14 in stage “Hell”.  I stayed up all night replaying the same level over and over again just to better my previous time by just fractions of a second.  But then it struck me, what sort of thing promotes my mind into actually trying to beat each level of this game with as low of a time as possible?  Why do I continue to progress through a game that makes me want to slam my head into a wall just so I can enjoy the experience of going into a coma and wake up without any recollection of what Super Meat Boy actually is?  Is it because every time I die in the game I undergo a better understanding of what to do with certain elements of each level, thus continuing to learn while failing?  Or is it because, to me, the game is a fight and, as a nerd, I have never won, albeit never been in a fight before, and that this game makes me feel a small inkling of what being beat down by a flurry of punches then rising to overcome an opponent must feel like, similar to what Rocky Balboa underwent?  I think it’s both, but the former statement is where I want this conversation to head, so we’re going to run with that.  This game is so cruel, so bitter, that it makes me want to throw my controller at the TV so hard for the small hope that it would come out the other end of the developer’s PC and smack him into the same world of pain and agony that I am currently imprisoned in while playing.  However, I keep playing because I know that the puzzle I am locked in is, in fact, POSSIBLE.  It hits that perfect sweet spot of being both frustrating and addicting because you know exactly what to do and how to do it, it’s just a matter of implementing your thumbs to move at the right second, or in this game’s case, millisecond.  This is exactly what all games need to implement into their design; a feeling of hope that there is a way, without the metaphorical bars of cheap frustration that may cause a player to rage-quit too soon.  This is what our game needs to be successful, and what it needs to keep a loyal, enraged fan-base.  If we hit the same sweet spot Super Meat Boy did with our game, I’ll be expecting to see numerous controllers eject out of my computer screen targeting my head.  Let’s try to make it happen; I’m ready for the barrage.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Magnetic By Nature Post #14: Zone's of Enders

Well this has been a fun week.  This past Thursday professionals from prestigious gaming companies such as EA, Eat Sleep Play, and others, came to demo our game's Beta.  We had our first zone, (which consisted of 5 levels), all completed and ready for them to play, and the response was very positive.  Each level has a "Roger" moment in it, (a term we coined after our professor Roger Altizer who initially suggested we have certain moments throughout the game that will be extremely impactful on the player while on his or her journey), and each zone will have its own theme.  Zone 1 is set in an underground, cave-like environment with areas that are generally claustrophobic.

We also had a new control scheme implemented for them to try out called the "Bubble."  In short, it gets rid of the need for using the right analog stick to aim the magnetic beam, and instead attracts or repels the player from the nearest magnet from them.  This by far was the biggest change we had made to our game since our alpha, and it has been praised by almost everyone who has demoed our game.

After the Beta demo, we chatted with the professionals on what we could scrap, what we could tweak, and what they liked.  They said that it might look better if the robot were cell-shaded and that the "bubble" control could be tweaked in that, wherever you point the left analog stick, the magnets in that direction would have preference over the other magnets effecting you.  We took their feedback and are working on implementing it into the final version of the game.  Overall, though, they all loved the game and had a really enjoyable experience with it.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title of this post, it's in honor of Hideo Kojima's games and the release of the spinoff Metal Gear Solid Rising: Revengeance this past Tuesday, (and the name also ties nicely to our Beta's zones that we are pumping out in these final weeks of production).

What I accomplished this week:
  • Created 2 death animations and exported sprites for a 3rd programmatic death animation
  • Designed and constructed a level for Zone 1
  • Created and updated a Youtube account for Tripleslash Studios 
  • Reviewed a game and contacted the developers
  • Created concept art, (poster), for Magnetic By Nature

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Magnetic By Nature Post #13: Not A Fine Time To Be An Indie Game

So this past week Microsoft decided to stop supporting XNA.  It's been a good run, and many great games have come form the Xbox Live Indie Arcade Market, but Microsoft decided to step away and stop releasing future versions of the XNA dev toolsets.  This being said, our game is still planned to be released around May on the Xbox Live Indie Market.

This past week we demoed our game to the master game's studio graduate students here at the University of Utah.  We created a demo tutorial level that had all of our features in it, including all of the magnets and the removing the head function.  However, during the playtesting we discovered that many people found our tutorial level to be extremely boring.  We quickly switched all the demo stations to play a different level than our tutorial, and the grad students had a much better reaction to it than we did the tutorial level.  Just as we did at the EAE Open House, we passed around surveys to all the participants who played our game and asked them questions about how hard our game was, how fun it was, what they liked and didn't like, ect.  About 50% of the playtesters said they enjoyed the head mechanic and 50% said they hated it.  The half that said they hated it mentioned how it was a confusing function, that the situations that required the head were boring, and that the function itself seemed to distract from the core gameplay of our game.  Also, they said that the controls were confusing to maneuver the head around the level.  We quickly had a group meeting after hearing the responses, and decided to switch the function of the head mechanic.  The head will now act as a sticky magnet, able to stick on some surfaces but will bounce off others.  This way it will be used in unique ways throughout each level while adding to the core gameplay of the game.  We spoke to some grad students about the idea of this new function and they agreed it would help the gameplay tremendously.

This weekend we all sat down and created on paper the first "Act" of the game.  The game will consist of 5 Acts in total, and the first Act is set to be located in an underground cave.  The benefit of doing the levels on graph paper is that we have a hard draft of the level just in case something in our level editor breaks.  We then can simply go into the level editor, match each unit on our graph paper to a unit in our editor, and create the level within just a few minutes!  Our art team is also tasked to finalize all the foreground assets this week, and have set the color schemes for all the backgrounds for each Act.  Moreover, we have created our Kickstarter page, and are getting ready to make it live within within the next couple weeks, (we decided to delay our launch because we want feedback from friends and family about if the page looks good, and so that we can get more finalized art assets onto the page).  All in all, it's been a very informative and productive week.

What I accomplished this week:
  • Finished editing our Kickstarter video
  • Created a title animation for the start of our Kickstarter video
  • Reviewed an Xbox Indie Game

Monday, February 4, 2013

Magnetic By Nature Post #12: Name Change and Other Things

Well, Tripleslash has been very busy for the past 10 days, but here are the details on what happened this past week.  One of the most important things that happened was that our title of the game was changed from "Attraction" to "Magnetic By Nature."  This was done because if you type Attraction into any search engine, the results that pop up will be a ton of sites about dating, romance, and other topics that have no relevance to our game.  Our team chose five names from a list of potentials, and then we put the names on Facebook for our followers to vote on.  Magnetic By Nature was voted for almost twice as much as any other name, so we stuck with that.

In other news, we took our game to Utah Indie Game Nights this past Thursday and had people from across the valley come and demo it!  There was a variety of people who tried it out, including the owner of Ninjabee Studios and a developer from Smartbomb Interactive.  This was a great opportunity for us to test the new levels we are creating, and to expose our game to more people.
Furthermore, after the game night, one of our developers was contacted by and organizer from Salt Fest, (a gaming expo located here in Salt Lake City), and they asked if we would like to showcase our game at their event!  Needless to say, we said yes.

Our team is continuing to push our game further than ever before.  The artists are currently focused on level design, and the programmers are focused on both the particle system and loading new assets into the level editor.  As for myself, I've been busy editing our Kickstarter video, helping create levels, and helping Andrew get animations working in XNA, (we ran into more problems since last week but we sat down together and worked through them with the help of some Scott Torgeson, a programmer from Heroes of Rock).  Our Kickstarter should be up by this Saturday.  In the next blog post I'll paste the link for everyone to check it out!

What I accomplished this week:
  • Continued editing the footage for the Kickstarter
  • Worked with the programmers on getting animations to work in XNA
  • Converted the jump animation to the new model
  • Created a "throw head" animation
  • Built a level for the game in our level editor

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Attraction Post #11: The Change, the Fix, and the Kickstarter

So this week has been a busy one.  I have been working steadily with the programmers in getting our model into XNA with its animations.  Before, we were importing sprite sheets and using them for our animations, but now we deciding to convert our model to FBX and use the 3D version instead.  This change took place because the 3D model will use less of the Xbox's memory than our sprite sheets.  However, getting this to work was tough.  We had multiple problems throughout the holiday break trying to bake the animations correctly.  Everything would show up fine in Maya, but in XNA the model would look like this:

This week Andrew and I sat down for a few hours troubleshooting and finally got the vertices to quit stretching to some random point in front of the character.  Ultimately, I fixed the problem by deleting the top 3 right leg joints and the IK handles associated with them, mirrored and oriented the left leg joints over, and reworked the IK handles.  After that, wahla, the model worked.

As far as the team goes, we have been doing a lot of work in various areas.  Our programmers are working on multiple new magnet ideas such as electro-magnets, (Magnets you charge up), and dynamic-magnets, (Magnets that can be moved and will move the player as well).  They have also been working hard on creating a particle system, updating the level editor, and getting our 3D model to work in XNA.  Our artists have been studying and creating concept sketches of a new form of shape design because we switched our game from being dark and somber to light and uplifting.  We are going for more of an art-deco look now, and the results will show in the game later in the year. 

Not to mention, we shot footage for our Kickstarter video this past Saturday!  We should have the Kickstarter page up and running within a couple of weeks.  We are creating a Kickstarter to help gain more exposure for our game, and we will be using the money to:
  • Pay for the fees trying to get our game greenlit on steam so that people who do not have an Xbox can play our game.  If we can't get it on Steam, it will pay for the bandwidth for making it accessible/downloadable from another site on a computer
  • Assist in the finances associated with taking our game to indie festivals so that we can show it to a broader audience and get more feedback on the game
This week we are working on creating multiple levels for our game so that we can bring our game to Utah Indie Games Night and have at least 3 levels to show off to participants.  If you can make it to the event, it's on January 31st, 7pm, at NinjaBee offices in Orem.  Maybe we will see you there!

What I accomplished this week:
  • Reviewed game/got the developer's support for our game
  • Fixed our model and worked with the programmers on making it work with XNA
  • Converted the run and idle animations to the new model
  • Created a "taking off the head" animation
  • Sent out a stable version of the model to our artists for them to start animating it
  • Logged the Kickstarter footage and started editing the footage

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Attraction Post #10: Verbal-Walkthrough

Hey everyone!

      School is back in session, and we have had some major revisions to our game.  Our professors sat down with our team and took us through a verbal-walkthrough of our game.  In other words, they actually talk through each part of the game, from the start screen to options menu to the actual game itself, so that we are all on the same page as far as how the game will act in the end.  For example, Roger will say, "So I'm in the options menu.  What do I see and how do I navigate through it?"  We each initially have different opinions of what should be included in the options menu, but after we talk about it in the verbal-walkthrough, we all are on the same page.  The whole game becomes more structured, and many specific features and mechanics of the game are nailed down.
      After doing a complete verbal walkthrough, we had some major changes we wanted to implement into the game.  First of all, there will be no more robot head you carry around that will act as a magnet.  Instead, the protagonist's own head will be used as the portable magnet.  We decided to create the head as the "portable magnet" because, for one, it gives our game a huge thing that people will remember.  When people talk about our game, it'll be, "Hey remember that magnet puzzle game where you were a robot who could take off his head?"  It's very memorable and people will cling to the idea.  At first, I thought it was going to be incredibly creepy seeing a robot take off his own head, but after thinking about it for a while, it actually seemed more silly and more towards the liking of our game.  We had thought about using another inanimate object to replace the enemy head but there was no real motivation without adding more story toward why our robot was picking up such object and using it.  Second, with using an enemy head, there would be a lot of dialogue that comes with the interactions between it and the main character, (if not dialogue then animations).  Our group had a chat and discussed the use of dialogue for the game, and since none of us are amazing writers, we decided that any dialogue could be more harmful than helpful to our game, even if it happened to be a very small amount.  Third, this opens the doors to very comedic moments in the game.  For example, near the end of the game the robot will probably lose the head temporarily and will have to do puzzles without it.  He may miss having something on the top of his body, so while the robot searches for his head he could place an inanimate object on top of his shoulders to replace his head for the time being.  Imagine a robot with a lamp as a face, wearing that until he finds his real head.  Then a little later the robot may find his head being used as a shell for a crab, with a very frustrated look on the face of the robot's head.  We loved the idea of an enemy robot head babbling dialogue to your character as the two try to escape an underground mine, but we think we could make a tighter, more memorable, and easier to convey game with no dialogue, and with using his own head instead.  
      Our team also decided that the actual body of the robot can only be moved by the magnets placed in the environment and cannot be pushed around by his own magnetic head.   This was done because it may cause some cheap ways to get through puzzles.  For instance, say the player throws the head up to a ledge that goes across the map and swings across the entire map with the head, bypassing all the puzzles below.  If we have the head be controlled by the body, and the body be controlled by the environment, it makes more sense volume-wise as well.  It's like a pyramid, the head is smaller than the body, and the body is smaller than the environment.  If an object is bigger that the other, it should have the means to fully control its movement.  It also makes puzzles more unique in that your head is a specific object no other magnet can be: a portable magnet that your body can fully control.  You can direct it to hit buttons, shoot it to land on specific places, and use it to pull objects to you, (Say you throw it behind a small rock in the way of a beam that will open a door if the rock is moved.  Press the attract button and the head will drag the rock towards you, possibly dropping it down into a hole in the floor, and opening the door).  These are puzzles that will make the player think more about what he or she is doing, (presenting a slower but more thought out puzzle to the player), instead of always on the move platforming across levels.
      Phew!  That was a lengthy blog post, and if you made it to right here, bravo.  To recap, our game is going to be a lighthearted game where you use magnets to make your way through puzzles.  Our main character will be able to take off his own head and use it as a portable magnet, but only the head, (not the body), will be manipulated if the player uses repel or attract on it.  We have nailed down much of the game's mechanics, story, and structure, and now we are well on our way towards the second half of development.