Game Prototyping Article 1

This is the first post for my Game Prototyping module (DES304). I have admittedly slacked off and now only have two months until the project deadline. The aim is to have documentation and a working prototype for a game in Unity. To achieve this I will be aiming to do tutorials and an associated blog article every Friday until 2 weeks before submission. Thankfully, I have had experience with programming and have done some small prototypes in Unity as well as some scripting, so hopefully coming to grips with Unity 5.x and creating stuff in it won’t be too difficult. However, it must be mentioned that my last prototype was done almost 2 years ago and I have also had no programming practice since then. This, combined with the limited time frame, along with other courseworks, a job and personal ¬†projects/jams/competitions means that I will have to work double time.

On to the prototype itself. In the first week we got taught the basics of the Unity editor as well as some simple scripting to move a cube around. What I liked about it that it showed an alternate clever way to implement recognizing inputs that lets Unity handle figuring out what kind of input device it is. If this really works as efficiently as it seems, it really is a clever way of coding your game to be (as close as it can be to) input device independent. For now, all the cube does is move left and right according to user input. I do like that it was immediately pointed out to use Delta Time in order to make actions framerate independent. This gives me a lot of faith in the tutor and the course, especially considering that some games made in 2017 still haven’t figured this out… (Hell, even the Dark Souls/Demon’s Souls games suffered from this).

Wk1_Cube

Week 1 tutorial – moving a cube left and right using a Vector3 and Input device- independent controls. Not a bad start.

In terms of ideas for what my game will be… Hmm… I did always want to expand on an idea for a Vlambeer-inspired space invaders action game. However, that is 2D and while it is very focused on delivering a satisfying experience I am somewhat afraid that it will be slammed for being iterative, as the description notes that games should ideally do something “different”. I have a feeling that some weird hipster janky mess of a game would still score higher based on creativity alone. There is still a high likelihood of me sticking to my idea and simply thinking of how to expand it in creative ways… Especially since I love the concept of game feel and making something very satisfying and tactile to play.

Alternate game ideas that I’ve had include making a 2.5D combat platformer with waves of enemies coming in and a very simple rock-paper-scissors combat style mechanic using shields, swords etc.

My other idea is to simply make a mobile game where you are the god of wind and you need to maneuver a little woodland spirit by blowing gusts of wind with your fingers and going through different paths with obstacles.

Which one I stick with in the end will entirely depend on which one inspires me to work the most and also how much time I have. because some of these a re far more feasible than others, given my limited artistic proficiency and all my other side projects.

VS_2015

My VS2015 setup – sleek, dark and efficient

The good thing is that I have updated my setup so I have the latest Unity version, two monitors working (for optimal tutorial viewing) and have setup VS2015 (I don’t fancy MonoDevelop as much) with the uIntellisense plugin, which gives me the full scripting reference built-in.

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Global Game Jam 2017 – SubEscape

The Jam

The first dev entry of my revived 2017 website will be nothing less than our team submission for Global Game Jam 2017. It’s supposed to be the world’s biggest game jam event with over 36,000 jammers in 702 sites this year, so a pretty suitable choice for a first-ever game jam experience. The location I picked was Dundee Makerspace which overall provided a fairly convenient place with plenty of space for our VIVE¬†setup, though the internet left something to be desired. Next year I’m probably going to stick with the Abertay University location. The jam itself lasted from Friday 18 till Sunday 18:00, with games revolving around a single word – in 2017’s case “Waves”. There are also some “optional modifiers” that people can aim for that are supposed to make it harder and more interesting for veteran jammers but we (thankfully) chose to avoid them.


The Team

My team consisted of Michael Greenard, who handled pretty much all the code and had to work two sleepless nights. His heroic efforts will be remembered. Matthew Aitchison who was responsible for the vast majority of the 3D assets in our not-so-intelligently chosen realistic VR art style. Paul Drauz-Brown, who did all of the game’s audio and also had a sleepless streak fighting against UE4 and wwise integration. George Rankin who helped a lot with the design of the game and levels, along with me, Michael and the rest of us (no space for a dedicated designer in these small teams) and also spent the better part of a day obsessing over making a nice door. It did end up a pretty nice door, though. And, lastly, me helping out wherever I could, mainly with design and 3D assets, with some particle work.


The Concept

We took the word waves and… well, to be perfectly honest, I feel like we lost our way a bit with regards to integrating it into our game. We had a lot of ideas about how it could fit in. The concept was simple – a VR Escape The Room style game in a submarine. We had ideas of going deeper into the submarine leading to madness, with waves of distortion. We had ideas of mysterious entities zip[ping by outside the sub. We had ideas of having a “pulse” mechanic – similar to scanning waves in sci-fi games. Sonar. Brain waves. Etc. etc.


The Execution

In the end, as it usually happens, we had to drastically scope down and ended up with having blinking alert lights, creating waves of red light that briefly illuminate your environment as you try and move from room to room before the water gets to you. The puzzles were mostly authored by George, me and Michael, though it was in general a collaborative effort in terms of design. We kept it fairly simply, eliminating a lot of our more extravagant ideas outright (like mine and George’s wacky torpedo-launching puzzle), mostly due to time constraints, programming complexity and the fact that we stupidly chose to go with a very realistic art style, meaning that asset creation was very slow.

Personally, the most I got out of the project was working within such small time constraints, which relally helped me learn how to optimize my workflow. Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar enough with using UE4 in a VR environment to meaningfully help with coding and seeing as design was shared between multiple people, I chose to focus on 3D assets and particles. The 3D assets in particular were very interesting to me as our artist was using Quixel Suite 2. One quick glance at its smart material system and I was hooked. Even though I am very far from a 3D artists, I quickly dusted off Maya and went back into it after a 1yr+ hiatus. Though it took me a while to get back to speed and I essentially impulse bought and learned Quixel Suite 2 in several hours, by the end I got into a decent groove and made some pretty decent assets. I’m definitely very eager to use it more and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested, it is an incredible piece of software and simply works within Photoshop.

You can find it here

My biggest struggles were working with a brand new team, comprised of people I didn’t know/barely knew, working within such tight time constraints and with minimal sleep and also making sure I had something to contribute to the team. I definitely felt quite bad at the beginning as, after my design contributions, I was tasked with some assets. They took me an insanely long amount of time, most of which was spent remembering the proper pipeline for importing UE4 assets (curse the damn legacy FBX exporter and Maya 2017 defaulting to some completely incompatible version – as well as the in-built “send to xxx” functionality being broken.) and also how to properly combine, unwrap and generally triangulate. Worse still, my very first asset (which was horrendously broken in its first iterations) was a crucial component of the first puzzle – namely the valve that the player needs to find and attach to the first door, in order to proceed. Inefficient modelling, improper mesh combination, bad UV’s, wonky pivot, scaling and orientation – it had it all. Overcoming the shame of it, fixing it and then getting into it more did help me create some semi-decent stuff by the end.

In my desire to help further I also made the game logo and splash (featured at the top of the page), wrote the game submission and made the game trailer. Will definitely work on my After Effects/Vegas skills more in the future, as it is incredibly useful to have in this day and age. I also spent a decent chunk of time looking into Cascade – UE4’s particle system. It’s an archaic mess at first glance, but works very well within its own dated logic. It was admittedly a bit of a shock the first time I saw it – I felt like I was warped back into UDK. Decent documentation and some excellent tutorials helped me somewhat begin to understand it. In the end I made some pretty nice particle effects that sadly couldn’t make it into the final project as we ran out of time. That was mostly since Git completely failed on us as soon as the file sizes got bloated and for the latter half of the project we essentially had only one PC with an up-to-date game version.

Overall, it was an invaluable learning experience and one that I am eager to repeat, though for my next jam I will look more into my own skill set, so that I am better prepared as remembering and figuring out stuff all over again is simply time wasted. Time that the team doesn’t have.


The Result

It’s not the best game in the world and it won’t win any awards but for my first game jam I am quite proud. A VR game with a realistic art style and bloated scope is far from the easiest thing to pull off in such a short time with an amateur team but we gave it our best shot. In the words of one of our team members – it’s better than a lot of VR stuff actually out there on Steam right now. Though that might speak more about the state of the industry and valve’s standards that it does of our aptitude. A special shout out to Michael, our programmer and Matthew, our 3D artist for doing the majority of the work.


Relevant Files

SubEscape Video Demonstration

Game File Repository

Global Game Jam 2017 – Sub Escape Page

DOOM : Oh, how delightfully wrong I was.

It is easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding game’s announcement. In fact, seeing as how E3 is right around the corner, it seems quite apt to talk a bit about it. Often times people are left stunned by pre-rendered trailers and proof of concept demo’s running on NASA hardware and scripted to the millimeter. Then, inevitably, the actual release comes around and the end product is severely underwhelming. Whether it is a minor visual downgrade (something almost entirely unavoidable when you’re presenting your game in front of the whole world at E3 and the release is a whole year away) or, even worse, cut content or entirely different gameplay. We’ve seen it time and time again with recent broken releases. From Watch Dogs, through Unity and even games like Far Cry: Primal, a lot of things were missing, not as advertised or simply did not work. Let’s not even mention the larger fiasco’s like Colonial Marines or the latest Batman game…

That, however, isn’t the topic of today’s post. Instead, it is the complete opposite. Once in a blue moon, when the stars align and god smiles upon the just we do get a miracle. A game that had looked so bad, so utterly devoid of what made the previous titles in the series tick, so generic and bland – turns out to be amazing. That’s right, we’re talking about the new DOOM.

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I was very skeptical towards DOOM ever since the initial trailer. As the first trailer finished, I could see how hyped everyone was, meanwhile all that was in my head were a myriad of different concerns – why are there so many QTE’s, why is the character so slow, why is it all so clunky, why is it so colourless. Then more and more gameplay videos popped up and that further cemented ym stance – this was not a true DOOM game. It was neither fast nor fun enough and seemed to be completely missing the point of the series. I was disappointed beyond belief. After the different but serviceable DOOM 3, id had killed the series. With the sour taste of RAGE still in my mouth, I just decided to accept the worst and carry on with my life. Then came the open beta and I hated it. At this point there was little to no doubt in my mind that DOOM would be terrible. Silly taunts? Ugly skins? QTE’s? What is this game? What have you done to one of the grandfather’s of the genre?! Once again, I held my opinion that Shadow Warrior 2 would be more of a DOOM game than the new DOOM. After all, it was fast, silly, violent and undeniably fun – everything that old shooters stood for.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Then, the release date came. And the reviews. At the time of this rambling rant DOOM has a very respectable Metacritic of 85 on PC with a user score of 8.2 (!). Naturally, I was highly skeptical. However, as time passed more and more respected reviewers and critics that I followed were heaping praise after praise upon the game. Everyone who played it, loved it. Sure, the multiplayer was lackluster and not everyone’s cup of tea but apparently the campaign was stellar. I couldn’t believe it. So I played the game. Oh my god. What. Have. They. Done.

Everything was so perfect. The game skipped boring tutorials and exposition and thrust you straight into the action. The lore and story were there if you cared for it, but doomguy certainly didn’t and neither did most people. The game was brutal, fast and visceral. The gunplay was sublime. The movement speed had been nearly doubled since initial demonstrations. The QTE’s were faster and (almost) entirely bearable. The health system actually made sense. Weapons didn’t have to reload. The levels were sprawling, multi-level mazes that brought back memories of a time when a level wasn’t just a straight line with several side paths for collectables.

I don’t know if it was the negative press, the bad consumer reactions or what but id turned around the game. Everything that was criticized int he original showing had been removed, revamped or improved. The game was a joy to play. I hadn’t felt such unbridled joy at the realization that a game is actually good since the last Wolfenstein (which is actually frighteningly similar in terms of expected quality vs end result). In fact, I might go as far as to say that this game is better than the last Wolfenstein. The gameplay surely is. And this is coming from someone who hated the game down to its core. I think every developer should take note, since this game is one of the best examples in recent times of altering a product in accordance to palter feedback and delivering an amazing end result. Well done, id software, you proved me wrong.

As it stands, 2016’s DOOM went from one of my least anticipated and almost hated titles to one of my favourite shooters of the last 5 years. To anyone who has doubts about this game, don’t. Id have done it and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next. DOOM is back, baby.

PS: Now with Wolfenstein, Shadow Warrior and DOOM back in full force, what’s next. Hexen? A proper Duke Nukem game? Please, please, please may this bring back a revival of old-school shooters.