Quick Prototyping

I have been having some trouble finding a shape to start making my level from. Unfortunately I am really inept when it comes to 3D modeling, and I also had quite a hard time putting my ideas into drawings.

I finally managed to find a solution with clay. I bought a big block of it and spent the next few hours making, destroying and changing it around until I managed to come up with a general shape that I liked .

It looks pretty simple, I know, but as I have started building this level out in the game itself I realize how much making it out of clay first was.

Looking into level design

While talking to my interviewees about their experiences with 3D platformers to try and understand the essence that made these games so special, one of the most interesting observations I collected was about how the level design helps the flow of the game.

In case you are unaware, the objective of most 3D platformers is to get from point A to point B in a 3D space, while having to “beat” challenges related to controlling your character (jumping, beating an enemy, dodging an obstacle). Once you get to your objective, you collect an object and you’re then booted back into some kind of overworld where another level can be chosen.

In my interviews I collected to key insights regarding levels:

  1. Players liked that the levels were not one and done. In many games in the genre they levels were used again and again with the starting point remaining the same, but the final destination changing. This meant that as the players progressed through the game and played levels, they would become more and more familiar with the levels itself, being able to complete it better and faster.
  2. Quick gratification and instantly quantifiable progress made the players feel accomplished. By finishing a level and collecting whatever object the game tasked them to collect, they game would make it clear that they had done verifiable progress. By keeping challenges original and interesting and without making them particularly long to complete, players would become addicted to making small increments of constant progress. This keeps the game fun and interesting.

These are the main insights I’ll be bringing forwards while building a level.

Final designs for the characters

Here are some interesting final renders for the main characters. There was a lot of discussion about how we wanted Drill Boy (the player character) to look, there was a lot of study into how famous mascots from similar games looked (Mario, Crash, Banjo & Kazooie). The player character is by far the most important part of visual design in the whole game, this is what the player will be looking at for most of the time as they’re playing.

I identified a few key points that our character should’ve followed from some user interviews:

  1. Needs to be cartoony, this not only helps in the range of movements that he can perform, but also how expressive the character can be.
  2. The shape and color of the character needs to be easily and quickly recognisable. This helps the player not loose sight of the character on the screen.
  3. Visual Design needs to be simple but effective.

After a bunch of tests and scrapped designs this is what we came up with

 

Week 21: The basics 2

The first steps of making this are not particularly hard, they are however fundamental to everything else. During this first week I implemented simple animation and simple movement. When the player moves one of the joysticks on the controller, the character moves in that direction.

Week 20: The basics 1

(Edit: I should probably warn that from here on out a lot of these blogposts are very technical. These contain a fair amount of trigonometry, programming and explanations)

While movement and controls are extremely important in a platformer, neither can exist without a good camera that allows the player to see where they are going and what their character is doing.

This camera took me quite a long time to make but it should be mostly futureproof, meaning that I won’t have to go back and change it in the future. The camera, controlled with the right stick of a controller, can move in closer or farther away and rotate around the character at different speeds depending on how far the joystick is held.

It also allows the user to go into a first person perspective to get a better look at their surroundings.

Week 19: Trouble

I have encountered some problems. About a week ago my HDD died, and with it all the data I had, including what had been done of the game.

I had been waiting to have done enough to separate a lot of different things in many blogposts but it looks like that is not going to happen. I do remember how most of the code used to work so I’ll try to reconstruct it and post about it as I make it.

This is a pretty big setback but there’s not much I can do about it.

I am however able to present the character’s 3D model that I’ll be using.

Luckily, model and animations were not lost as they were hosted online. This is also the second iteration of the model, the first one was replaced because of a few problems with its design and animations.

Week 12: Learning to make a game

I’m very glad I started working on this early. I might have underestimated how hard it would be to actually code a game from the ground up.

I chose Unity, a very popular free game engine, as a development platform. The choice was mostly done out of ease of access and because of the large amount of tutorials and support available online. I’d like to be sure I’m not going to get stuck halfway through working on this and not knowing how to progress.

For those unaware, a game engine contains a few pre-made mathematical functions that cut some time off development. While the game still needs to be built from nothing, a lot of the more tedious work has been already done, which makes the process slightly easier.

I’ll try to post updates as the game progresses.

Week 11: Ideating and Concepts

Following the insights I received, I finally felt comfortable actually moving into the ideating stage. After many discarded concepts and quick ideas, I finally settled on choosing a theme for the game.

After observing that many games in the genre seem to have their own “gimmick” as far as movement of the character goes, I ended up settling on a character that can dig underground at will. This allows him to climb up vertical walls and to go extremely fast.

The main character’s design was also worked on:

I’m happy to present Drill Boy. His design was derived from many similar mascottes from games my users talked about. There’s a lot here to talk about so I might just leave all the explanations for his design until I collate everything about the project together.

Week 9: Insights

I’ve spent the past week playing games, trying to put into perspective what my users liked and disliked about each of them. It’s been very eye opening.

The most interesting thing is most likely that each one of them seems to shine in different aspects. Many praised the Mario franchise for its controls, some praised the Crash Bandicoot franchise for its art direction. There’s a lot to learn from each one of them.

I’ve got a long list of what to take from each of these titles. I haven’t really put it down into writing yet but I now have a pretty clear idea in my mind on where to start. I think it could probably be a good idea if, alongside the game, I presented an in-depth documentation of all my findings for each game and step I take during development.

Week 8: Making sense of the information

It’s been a little over three weeks since my last post. I didn’t feel like writing something new as, up until now at least, I still hadn’t finished my interviews and I wanted to wait until I had all the information I needed before updating this blog. It took quite a bit longer than expected to finish all the interviews, turns out it’s quite hard to agree on a time to meet with someone, who knew.

I do have good news however. My original plan seems to have been mostly on the right track as I have pretty much received all the information that I wanted. I was forced to make a few corrections regarding the people I talked to and what I talked to them about, which was the only thing I hadn’t planned for.

Changes

First of all I had to decide on a specific game genre to study. Very early it became clear that I would not have been able to just ask people about their generic experiences with games. While the information might have been generally useful, I need something more focused to be able to actually use it to design and build something. I decided to study 3D platforming in particular, as I am not only very passionate about it but it is also a relatively easy genre to build.

Of course deciding on a specific genre means other changes need to be made. For example, I can’t just talk to whoever I want no matter their age. 3D platformers were extremely popular in the late 90s and early 2000s, this means that the people that had experiences with these games during their childhood were born in the early 90s. This change in particular limited my pool of interviewees quite a bit, but I was luckily able to still find enough people to receive all the insights needed.

I also had to make sure that the titles the people I talked to liked were different. Luckily there were plenty of extremely successful games that defined the genre, so I received plenty of different opinions without really trying.

What did I learn?

First of all, the most interesting thing that came out of this is how these interviews quickly shifted from interviews to just talking about old games and childhood memories. I feel like this helped a lot making the user feel more comfortable, which in return helped with the insights they gave me.

What I basically received was a list of reasons as to why my users used to enjoy, and still enjoy in some cases, a variety of games in the genre. These range from how the game feels, the flow, the art, the sound everything about them.

I’ll be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with these insights but I think my next move will be to play some of the games my users mentioned to me. Maybe it’ll help put the data I have into a new perspective.

Week 5: Interview plan and finding people

I don’t have much information to add at the moment but I have outlined how my interviews are going to work. My main goal is to receive as much information as possible about how my interviewees have experienced games during their childhoods, hopefully each one of them will have different tastes which will allow me to receive as much information as possible from many different types of media. Whatever information I receive I will try to contextualise in my own project, hopefully mirroring many of the favorite things the people I interview enjoyed in the past but with a completely fresh spin.

I have also started looking for people locally and internationally. Bolin’s paper illustrates how different countries seem to have extremely different media experiences for both movies and music, I thought I might as well broaden my research scope by seeing if that is also true for games.

So far I’ve asked people from the Dundee Video Games Society, close friends in Dundee, close friends from Italy and on a few online communities.

Week 4: Foundation

At the moment I’m very convinced on following the course of action I explained in the last entry. It’s very unconventional, I’m completely aware of that, but I think I should work on something I’m passionate about and I really cannot spend another year working on designing apps that don’t actually work.

I’ve spent the past week rationalising if I should or not choose this as my final project but I’m completely set on it now. My main goal with this is to have something people can actually play with during the exhibition, I’ve been there the past years and while there’s always some incredible stuff in the Digital Interaction section, it really bothers me that most of it is never functional. I want something people can interact with that has some complexity, rather than being different interactive layout pages.

I think my first step now should be looking into how exactly I’m going to receive information from people, what to ask and how to use that information. Once that’s done I’ll try to find candidates to interview.

 

Week 3: Research

While looking through articles and papers on a subject I have become increasingly interested in, nostalgia, I found one wrote by Goran Bolin titled Passion and Nostalgia in generational Media Experiences. The paper explains in length how media (mostly movies and music, the article is fairly old) people experience during their formative years (late childhood/teens) is an incredibly important factor that will shape how they act and perceive the world as adult. In the paper Bolin interviews many people from different generations and all of them are able to recall very ancient memories about specific medias they consumed when they were children once presented with them.

This is particularly interesting for me because I’ve been very interested in looking into how old games could shape new ones but have not been able to find a way to bridge the gap between people and design in the context of creating a game. This is a very generic problem, game design really only follows its own rules and is largely disconnected from the people centric design we are taught at DJCAD, it could be interesting to find a way to finally have the two meet.

I’ll try to create some kind of plan to follow through with this.

Week 1: Exploring

This blog is going to contain a week by week (or close) progress for my work on my 4th year project for DJCAD. I’ll try to keep it as updated as possible as I go along.

It is a bit early at the time of writing this to start working on my fourth year project (it’s the 16th of April 2017) but I thought that since I don’t really have any other important projects I’m currently working on, I might as well get a head start on my final project.

I haven’t really looked into anything in particular so far, however I am very partial to try and make some kind of game. I’ve been wanting to break into the gaming industry for a while and it would seem like a waste to throw away a year I can fully dedicate to one project for something else. Only problem with this is that I don’t think any of the lecturers would really care that much about a game, people usually just make apps or interactive products for their fourth year.

We’ll see.