Getting to Tech Specs

During Wargantuan I had a clear goal for what I wanted the game to be. In order to get as much of the logic on paper as I could I wrote a form of pseudo coded logic about what I wanted the game to be able to ultimately do. You can see it here:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1iZEcJNM1LQtSR377UE9nZ_QT9DNY0PwWzGpT2EYHmK4

It was designed to explain all the pieces that I felt needed to be put in and was backed up by the connection diagram made earlier in the production.Paper1.jpg

I know that the next step of this information would be to place it in a proper tech spec document where the actual variables and functions would be broken down further into implementable elements within the scripts. One should be able to look at an element in it’s entirety in a tech spec rather than having to search through several scripts in order to see the effects of any particular element.

In the future I will try to get into this area earlier as I think it will help me visualise the actions and responses of the scripts and game elements when changes need to be introduces, as they are often. If I continue delving into the project management side of production, this will be invaluable in being able to effectively mitigate damages on other parts of the game. Also it will allow me to have meaningful input when crating at least the preliminary aspects of the games like with scene management and how new mechanics will affect interactions. I stated in another blog that I am effective when presented with a list, and a tech spec would be a way for me to run through a project, top to bottom, and follow the logic, which is not my strongest suit.

This is a matter of learning how to read for me, and will open a new section of input I can have on game projects.

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Meaningful Feedback and How to Get It

“No Production Plan Survives Contact With the Players” – a great man, if he’d been a game developer.

Through out the several projects I’ve been part of this term have had a moment where there needed to be a shift in some of the dynamics, usually with the intent to better create the ideal feeling of the game.

Milhazes Command
During Milhazes Command, I had worked out fairly early the mechanics and design intents that I would change between Missile Command and this. Because these changes were so thematic, The kinds of questions I asked play testers was, for the majority, to do with the player’s ability to pick up on these themes and whether or not it was a generally wanted feeling to have when playing a video game.

The questions that I asked after the play test were questions that could only act as a gauge of whether or not I had “done the thing” which was comforting when much of the feedback affirmed my intention for the game but wasn’t very useful as far as meaningful changes went.

I was trying to walk the line between leading the play tester in the question and not creating meaningless question but I think I may have fallen into that trap slightly.

Here is the survey itself:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfaiTMvKtPJgpgXleptubgmk6atO4zC5Cnskl0Vc4lBEYvPrA/viewform

Up Ship Creek
While trying to gain useful feedback for the Up Ship Creek expansion “Disco Fever,” My teammate and I had developed a series of questions to help us develop the scenarios and to find out where the walls were showing up in the player’s enjoyment. The questions made for previous projects were aimed at players that, as far as we knew, may have had no experience with games ever. This meant that most of the questions had to be only skin deep as far as the players experience with the game went, in order to get feedback that would not bee too scattered. This meant that we were more likely to find consistent feedback but limited the deep impact of the feedback’s use.

When designing questions for Disco Fever, we were aware that most of the play testers had experience with the game as players and observers and even designers as they were also working on their own expansions. This meant that we were able to really probe the subliminal elements of the game that can go unnoticed by people not looking for them. This was balanced by having at least a couple of games with players without experience in this game which was simpler but kept us on point about how our expansive elements were picked up by a player.

None of this was done online and the pages are currently hiding in a notepad somewhere.

Wargantuan
In retrospect, the feedback form for Wargantuan contained a lot of meaningless feedback. We knew how complete the game felt at eh time, we knew which visual elements of the game were easily identifiable (once a player knew the difference), going forward, these kinds of questions will fall off my feedback forms. However I may not have recognised this if we hadn’t tried it once.

One question that was suggested to be of minimum usefulness was “Which size map did you find drew your attention during the level selection?” This question came from an experience I had during the UI design of Milhazes Command where I decided to place the “controls” button above the play button as I noticed a trend for players of other games to “click the button at the top” rather than look at the controls, for instance. The question posed in the Wargantuan feedback form was to inform the team on how our placement of the maps in the map selection screen could circumvent players tendency to hove in on a particular type of map, or if we should embrace it, treating the exception to this style as “extra.”

Dungeons and Dragons
I run a game of dungeons and dragons at my house on a weekly basic. To the surprise of no on that knows me, I am the dungeon master and wrangle 6 players (higher than average). As I have not had a huge amount of experience playing until about a year ago, I have been curious about my ability to fulfill my role as DM and wanted to get some feedback from my players, including the negative aspects without making them feel uncomfortable. I took on board the lesson of my course and created a feedback form.

My biggest concern was whether I was creating an experience that was in line with the player’s expectations of consistency throughout the campaign, and how the game would need to be changed to best accommodate the fantasy that the players have joined the game for. In order to get responses that I could best empathise with I first broke down the different elements the game makes use of, such as combat, puzzles, role playing, etc. and then finding out which aspect were the most and least popular. easy.

The next was to try and find examples of the fantasy genre that had specific flavors and styles that I could use as reference for how I should build the game, like warcraft, the hobbit, game of thrones, etc. All example that I would expect the players to have some experience with. (inside knowledge such as with the Disco Fever players).

It appears the the majority of negative feedback was to do with the other players. Most of the players are new to this form of game play, so the feedback has shown me the I need to step in as game master more and inform the players that they need to talk more as players for the sake of the other players enjoyment. I will try to find more blunt methods of directing the  flow of information between players at the table.

Some Simple Particles

I decided to play around with crating some different kinds of particle effect in unity and being that I only have the 1 super fast paced game from this term I applied them to an older version of Milhazes Command.

I looked through this tutorial https://www.raywenderlich.com/113049/introduction-unity-particle-systems but found that I was still being confused by certain naming conventions used in unity. This was dealt with by asking people to point at what I was looking for. which they did. With ease.

I only wanted to test out 2 particle effects but wanted to make sure they were different styles. I only wanted the basics and on a 2d plane it was pretty easy to accomplish. I wanted to implement a burst of coloured particles that would look something like a puff of magic smoke, and some kind of triangle sprite based effect like the fire example my class was shown in the first couple of weeks of this term.

Using a particle system, the explosion uses simple spheres with a low life span and high speed and high count or particles over a short period. the colour of the particles used are tinted with a highly saturated colour but has a fade effect taking it to white with 0% opacity. This results in the effect it’s cool fade as the particles turn white as they shrink from view. This effect was created in the scene and then applied to each “fractal” prefab separately and in different colors depending on the prefab used.

MillCommParticles.gif

The missile prefab was given a particle system that generates a png that was modified in Photoshop to be a white triangle by making half of the square image have an alpha level of 100%. ie. Half of the rectangle image was erased. Particles were given a range of size which each particle would be generated between. The direction was assigned to be between 0 and 360 degrees on generation and the particles are assigned to the world rather than locally which makes them follow their course despite whether the missile is moving or if it still exists. The colour was given a set of primary, saturated colour in a gradient of which a value would be taken on the particle’s generation. This is what gave the missile particle it’s randomised colours. The alpha level does not change over the lifespan of the particle, coupled with the non refreshing background of the game scene, this creates coloured lines on the game screen which isn’t what I was really going for but it got the point across to me about how I might use it later. If I were to try and use this method for flames later, I would use a cone shaped particle spawn pattern on slightly modified angles so as not to face the same direction at all times, the sprite would be yellow/orange and would change colour to red and get smaller, they would spawn upwards only and would diminish as they rose. I could use this for torch fire, jet engines, fire traps etc.

Voxel Models in Unity and Post Processing

I made a simple model in MagicaVoxel in the style of the image used in the Wargantuan pitch video. this is the high impact visual style that would have been the ideal, next gen creation of epicness. The kind that totally wouldn’t go into  phone or tablet game due to processing (the other kind).

MVSkele.png

The default save file from MagicaVoxel of .vox which contains the data on the voxel relative sizes which allows it to be further edited by the program and would effect spacing if used ina game built for it. As it happens, .vox files are not recognised as stage objects in Unity.I figured there was a way to export the model in some way otherwise what would be the purpose of the program after all? Sure enough there is an export button that hides at the bottom of the view port.

You can export it as an obj file which can be imported into unity easily. The scale of the model is massive by default but can be scaled easily in the library window. The model is brought onto the stage without any colour on it but that is due to the material file, not because it has no colour information in the model. A .png of the palette used is exported as well. I was shown y a fellow student how to use the .png and drop it into the albedo(normal, by any other name) in Unity in order to give the model (that is complete with colour coordinates) a reference image for the colours it uses.

GrassGnoll2.png <– Yeah, THAT’S it

Then I started on the post effects with the help of lecturer Steve. He showed me the basic set up required in order to get the ball rolling on  post effects in unity. A new thing for me. This included making an effects profile which I was told I can make multiple and apply them as I wish, which scream to me that it would be simple enough to implement code that applies different profiles in different event which could be very cool if making a game of mini games or vastly different context environments like if you’re playing a game where you jump through different genres of movies etc.

My first creating was the insanely dramatic and stand-off-ish, some might say cowboy-esque skeleton on the plains. This was done by intensifying the hard lighting effects such as ambient occlusion and colour grading, then adding western movie visual tropes like a vignette and grain filter as well as a depth of field effect that gave some of the ground plane a bit of blur, for character’s sake.

DramaSkel.png

The second was a bloomed out angel image of dear skeleton. I changed the colour to resemble cold blues and whites. I removed the ambient occlusion, grain and brought up the exposure levels. This is a sort of effect I would apply when moving through spaces with high level lighting in a game. That type of transfer has it’s own properties in the post processing files that come with the package for unity but I not having tested it in a functioning game yet, this at least allows me to get an aim for the effects I would want to implement later and gives me some insight on how to set up lighting and angles of focal points etc.

Angel Skel.png

Sound FX in .6 Secs

For my game Milhazes Command, I required some sort of audio feedback for the players actions. In a project of this scale I only really needed a sound for the ripple launch, the ripple explosion, the incoming missiles and potentially the fractal occurrences throughout the game. It also needed some music just to keep it from feeling stagnant.

I happen to have a bunch of stock sound effects at home that I’ve used for various animations. I picked a few of the more appropriate ones to be placed into the game. I added them to the game so that I could test if they worked but due to an addition to the game i had to make where the game objects were destroyed after a set amount of time I ran into some minor issues.
Firstly is that the sound effects I ad implemented were up to 3 seconds in length, whole the asset they were attached to was being destroyed after 0.5 seconds. This meant that in some cases the sound file was being cut off before or during the part of the file that was intended for use, ie, the “boom”.
Because the speakers input was going from “some” to “none” it was creating what’s called “popping” at the beginning and end of the effect.

In order to remedy this, I imported the sound files into Adobe Premiere for editing. I found the part of the sound I wanted in the game and cut it to half a second, tending to leave the peak of the sound near the beginning of the time code and allowing for a longer fade out. Rarely in nature will a sound rise and fall at an even rate, especially for sources that occur quickly, such as explosions, gunshots, breaking things, etc.
Also to stop the popping I reduced the audio gain to zero at the beginning and ending of the clip which allowed it to ease in and out.

Th music I used was royalty free music I downloaded for free from freesound.org that has served me very well for a number of years.
I made sure to look up “loop” in the search to make sure that the music wouldn’t have the sound of resetting and I would be able to drop it into unity and change the setting with minimal effort and minimal editing.
The musical piece I decided to use in the game was a more relaxed melody that was designed to allow easy listening for the player to better reinforce the idea that the game was a safe space (as most creative spaces should be) better allowing them to indulge in the intended mood of Milhazes Command.

Personal Development: Production

As this course has progressed I have been learning a lot about game design, obviously, but probably more important are the things I’ve been learning about myself. Specifically I have been surprised at my intent and ability to manage. Recognise I’ve considered myself to be almost strictly an artist and actor when it comes to my creative input but have recently been getting more involved with the delegation and tracking of projects which I have always assumed I wasn’t cut out for. I have always dealt very well with have a set of specific, short orders; tasks that I need to carry out to serve the overall purpose. Because of this I have always assumed I was best suited to a soldier style role despite my ability to shape a project creatively.

Being at an upper level of the production line, I have found that I quite enjoy assigning the tasks and making sure that everyone is doing their bit. I feel that I have come along far enough that I can serve to fill in many of the gaps in the production line should they arise.

All of these factors together have given me a new sense of confidence in my abilities to lead and build concepts into products which is urging me to continue finding ways to put this into practice. I have a hundred potential projects available to me at any given time, that’s part of being highly creative, but to find that i might actually have the mental scope to be able to action a plan to create and finish these projects is a massive boon to both my productivity and sense of worth.

So, evidently this is an area that I need to attempt more.

 

Through the process of Wargantuan’s production I was given access to a group of animators and modellers from a different class and to several audio engineers. I was given exclusive charge of the animators while the audio went first through One of my team mates, as the deadline for hand-over closed in though I began to make proper contact with the audio crew as well. I started finding out which methods of communication did and didn’t work in order for the best effects, sure I’ve done this sort of thing for group projects but being that these additional production members were in different classes, it was less likely for me to randomly run into them on a regular basis. Even though this was not handled perfectly for this production, I did learn what kinds of questions to ask and which aspects of the production were the important ones. For instance, though there may have been quite a lot of communicative back and forth, it could easily end with people not understanding their next task or team members being confused about who was in charge of what. I found the importance of being blunt “Do you understand what your next tasks are? What are they?”

People’s reasons for things were becoming less important to me as well, I didn’t care why the deliverable wasn’t delivered, I just wished I’d known sooner. i took to saying openly “If you are too busy or just not interested, tell me where your part of the project is up to and what needs to happen next. You won’t let me down, I just need to be able to account for it.”
I feel that having gained this new perspective has changed the way I will go about my own work in the future when I am in a soldier role. In the past I have felt guilty or embarrassed that I haven’t managed to get things done that were asked of me and so put things off until it hurt me to get them done on time, and they were often not to a standard I would have expected from myself. Having been on the other side I see the uselessness of guilt in a project, and I think that this will improve my performance and the meaningfulness of my contribution to new projects.

All in all, my attitude towards my role within projects has always been a limitation as i have suspected I could only fill a specific set of developmental roles and so felt that the project was reliant on other people. I am now eager to test myself in the field of directing people and their skills with the knowledge that I have the capacity to be the one that fills in the gaps myself. Having my lecturers present this as an option has changed the way i think about projects and production in regard to myself.

Wargantuan Dev Blog: Concept Changes

Wargantuan’s initial idea was to mimic a complex chess game between 2 players on separate sides of a single screen.

This was going to be a long form style game that would allow for a certain level of set up for the players as they move towards tactical manoeuvring on the battlefield to defeat their opponent.

Later in the project we realised that a lot of the flavor we intended to add to the game in the 3d models would be lost due to our top down view. The team considered moving to a 3/4 view like that of a game like card hunter, which is highly stylised and allows for creative visuals that can be shown off to the player.

The way the game had been programmed meant that this was simply a matter of shifting the camera to the desired view and leaving it in an orthographic mode. This would allow for a faster paced, more refined style of game as the board size could be brought down and the pace of the game would increase.

I had my hang-ups about this change but I assumed it was due to some artifact of the idea as I felt I had created quite a solid idea for the game, so I discounted this feeling and tried to move forward with the new style. I was concerned that some of the epic feeling of the game would be lost with the new cut-off map area look. The difference being that in the case of the board look, the player would feel like they held the entire game world in their hands and that the world ends at the edge of the digital map. This is weighed against the original idea where the map continued off the screen which was designed to impress the idea that this was one small portion of the world the the player was being shown.

I realised later the reason why i thought changing the style would go against the major design of the game and that was that the initial intent of the game was for 2 players to be able to sit across from each other like they were playing chess and place the screen between themselves. The 3/4 view would have forced the players to hold the screen in a particular direction in order to play and they would be on the same side of the tablet (the ideal platform). I considered the possibility of having the camera shift to remain 3/4 view but moving to the other perspective but when I discussed this with the team we decided that would diminish the opponents stress and focus, watching the enemy units being moved towards himself and so we pivoted back to our initial concept view.

Another concept shift that took place near the end of the project deadline was to scale down a lot. We had already discussed and planned limitations for the players to help the game to move forward and remain balanced and interesting, such as having only 3 units move on a player’s turn (which we did not manage to implement by hand-over) but it was suggested that we change the method by which players would set up their game. Selecting only a handful of warriors that would fill slots in order to force players to have to think about their battle before it had started was suggested.

Image result for heroes of might and magic select

We liked this and discussed it within the team but had decided we were not going to be able to deviate from the current plan of implementation in any meaningful way before hand-over. As we held an interest in finishing this game in the future, we noted all of the changes we would like and made preliminary plans for a final game version along the lines of this new concept.