Dev diary #2

Prompt: – Write about the week’s lecture and readings as they relate to your project
– Write about this week’s industry guest speakers (if any)
-Write a description of your progress (both positive and negative) on your current project
– Must include at least one piece of media:
GIF, link to video, screenshot, sketch, etc.
+ Why you want to make games

This week’s lectures -and reading- talked about how much pre-planning you need to do before you start on the project, and how much playtesting after you’ve started, and they weren’t kidding! I’d have saved a lot of time if I’d planned out a few more things before plowing into the coding and development elements of my “Two Verbs” project. Every single person who playtested my game had similar issues with it; they had trouble figuring out the controls and the mechanics of the objective. I redesigned my UI multiple times from the ground-up to try and fix these problems, and while many sources of the confusion were alleviated, it never fully went away. Finally, on the eve of the final day, MJ told me that I needed to work on my First Time User Experience so that new players can painlessly learn the mechanics and play the game. We’d talked about how the best games slowly showcase the mechanics one at a time, and the only way I could think to get that at such short notice is a full-fledged tutorial, so I added it with a day to go. Works pretty darn well if you want my biased opinion, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to let anyone playtest it due to how late it was added. But the game is done, and playable here on my itch.io account!

 

Thought I could showcase the “shapeshift” verb in a few GIFs. Here’s the primary form of transformation, switching between Wolf and Human form. There’s a third form, recon mode, which you get when you eat a blue mushroom, and finally the player becomes a bird when they win the game just because it’s more exciting than a generic “You win” screen.

 

Also, in order to get a picture in this diary, I’ll talk a bit about my favorite moment from playtesting. At the time I was frustrated that playtesters blitzed through my Main Menu without noticing any of the explanatory content therein; they’d immediately click the Play button and proceed to just stumble around confused in the main game. I realized they were doing this because ‘Play’ was in the top-left corner of the menu, the first thing you read. I moved it down to the bottom-right and put the ‘Backstory’ button in the top-left because I wanted people to click on it first. The remaining two buttons, Credits and Controls, would occupy the remaining two spots, but which of those two spots (upper-right and bottom-left) were more ‘important’ in the eyes of my players? Controls was far more important than credits and I wanted to give it as much attraction as possible. So, in order to figure this out, I wrote this short paper-and-pencil exercize and walked it around to various people in the labs:

name game.png

I gave them no direction beyond asking them to circle each of the names. As I suspected, almost everybody circled Jeff first, and the remainder circled Will, likely because they were pondering my intentions and wanting to subvert expectations. But I was really testing to see which name was most frequently circled second. And Sam, in the top-right, was overwhelmingly the most popular second choice. So that’s where I put Controls in my main menu, leaving Credits in the less popular bottom-left.

 

John Salwitz was our guest speaker for the week, and he talked about how the industry has changed over the years. Honestly, that’s why I’m going into this industry. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly over the years, as trends come and go, and it’s amazing. Everyone’s trying to keep up with the times, the community grows tired of certain gimmicks and they die, and the industry is constantly evolving. Remember when every new shooter was a Modern Warfare-esque gray-and-brown drabfest? Or how about the “early access first-person wilderness survival game” craze? These cycles come and go, right now it looks like we’re in a feedback loop of “it’s either got to be a hero shooter or a Hunger Games ripoff”, and its great to know that things are gonna eventually shift another way. I also like the increased specialization of teams in the modern era; as Salwitz’ lecture clearly demonstrated, teams are getting larger, and I can focus on my piece of the puzzle (likely writing) and play a part in a larger team.

 

I’ve written novels, screenplays, articles, and stage scripts, but I’ve found that I most love the versatility of narrative that game designers need to incorporate into their work. Games are unique in their ability to craft a story that can change every single time the audience experiences it. So many other storytelling mediums are focused on the work itself, and while games are no exception, they have to always keep the player’s moment-to-moment experience in mind. This interactivity with the audience, even if I’m not present during their playthrough, is why I find myself writing games in my spare time over other genres of fiction.

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