So, uh, I won

the Greenlight pitch. And immediately failed in my self-made promise that I was going to decline even if I won. Medical Necessity had great reception, I had seven full minutes of questions, way more than anyone else got. I couldn’t have asked for that pitch to go any better.

So what next? Well, during the two-week winter break I’m going to write a design document. I’ve already chosen my technical director: Tyler, my old partner for the two-person project ZoneOut. He had a strong work ethic and a great grasp on programming. I also got to pick one teammate before the prof started assigning people, and went with Will, the only student who’d approached me about joining the team before I’d already won. Will got into the master’s program on his art portfolio, but his real dream is to be a programmer, and he’s made some great Unity games since then. His hybrid skillset will be extremely useful on a team this small, especially when we need to communicate with the designated art people at San Jose University. To round the team out, the professor assigned us Simon, a programmer from China and the only person on the team who actually specialized in programming. Since the bot AI is our biggest issue, I couldn’t have asked for a better final teammate.

Not much more to say. Normally I’m more talkative, but I’m just tired and really need these two weeks off. Onward and upward.

Ford project conclusion

In an NDA-friendly nutshell, Ford Motor Company showed up and invited everyone to pitch games that fulfilled very specific criteria. The three winners got three thousand dollars each, and my game was one of the three winners. I’m not gonna lie, it feels weird thinking that I just won three-thousand dollars for making a game.

I’ve been thinking about why I won. There were some great games up against me. Honestly, I think it was my presentation. I printed my cards out on cardstock, the Heroes and Weapons were light blue decks, the Culprits and Catastrophes were pink, and The President was yellow. The font was professional and the text was properly spaced. and I brought a sheet full of 40 card artworks I paid $120 for, just to hammer home that I was serious about my game looking spick and span. Most of my competitors were using hand-drawn cards or, even worse, scraps of papers.

Update: I talked to the prof, and he says the reason I won was because of how flexible I demonstrated the concept was. How you could basically delete the entire game’s content and replace it with an entirely original frame narrative with all-new keywords. Considering I added that in last-minute, it’s nice to hear that helped. 

The other reason I won, IMO, was that my opponents forgot a few of the requirements. Ford said they needed a game playable by 2-5 players, and several of the other games were not two-player compatible (granted, neither was mine, but that’s why I added a 2-player variant in the ‘alternate rulesets’ section). Ford said the game needed to stimulate natural conversation, so half of my opponents made codeword-based games. This was the wrong call on their part, codewords are the exact opposite of natural conversation.

The real question is what happens next. I’ve spoken to the other two winners, they’re buying iPhones with their winnings. I want to invest it into this game, because everyone is telling me this game is amazing. Most people seem to think I should start a Kickstarter, and I’m not against the idea in theory. So I guess let’s cover that option first.

Option 1: Self-publish. In this day and age, self-published board games are downright commonplace. More than any other creative industry, the board game industry has loads of support for the developer who wants to skip the rat race and market to consumers directly. My battle strategy would probably look like “create a public domain prototype (not a normal step, but mandatory in this case because the 66 cards in my Ford prototype are required to be public domain) –> market it through the Daily SPUF, reddit, twitter etc –> people fall in love with the free version hopefully as hard as all my playtesters do –> create kickstarter and make money –> use money to pay artists and, uh, I guess that’s it until –> use an online card-printing company so people can order decks printed on demand and sent to their house.

Pros: I make way more money than option 2. I retain full creative control. I have many different groups who can market for me, from Mom and her businesspeople to my internet circles and UCSC. Also, I can technically skip the part where I earn startup money because the costs are extremely minimal for this particular project.

Cons: Fuckton of work. High chance of failure due to the nature of the industry. Will never reach as many customers as option 2.

Option 2: Pitch game to a publisher. Use the extremely positive reception from my playtesters to sell the game to Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers. Far as I can tell, I basically hand them the game, they do whatever they like and I just get a slice of the sales forever.

Pros: It’ll be in Targets and Wal*Marts and shit for free. They’ll do marketing and other stuff for me.

Cons: I’ll have to explain the public domain thing. I will lose a bunch of creative control. I’ll make less money in the end of the day (unless it takes off beyond my wildest dreams. But even then I’m not sure how much money I’d get after corporate takes their cuts)

Other issues: Not sure The Just Us League title is going to pass legal, but I’m having a lot of trouble thinking of a name with the same punch. Heroes of Just Us is best but has the “Begging To If you Seek Amy” problem. As previously mentioned, the core cards are mandatory public domain since they won the contest. (I retain no rights to them, but Ford doesn’t either). My only option for selling is to make a bunch more cards and sell those as like “expansion packs” to the free-to-play base game, or to make dapper glossy artwork’ed versions and justify a price on those extra bits. Ford’s gotta be okay with that, right?

This is all something to worry about after the Greenlight pitches. Luckily I’m not even fussed about whether I win or not. Gimme a choice and I’ll take $3K and working on someone else’s game for the rest of the year.

dev diary #9

The practise Greenlight pitch went poorly. A good carpenter never blames his tools, but I do think it would have gone slightly better if I’d known that pointing at a slide would cause it to click to the next one, and that “swiping left” would not return it to the slide it was on previously. I must have skipped seven of my slides trying desperately to return it to the place it was on, which ultimately led to my pitch finishing far faster than expected and with most of my content skipped. I guess it’s a good thing that everybody understood my premise despite this problem. Several students have asked me questions about the concept since the pitch, but they’re the probing sort that means they get the core concept and want to know more. I was seriously considering scrapping Medical Necessity and choosing a last-minute replacement idea, but for now I think it’s performed better than I expected under the circumstances and I should be able to make a decent pitch out of it.

I am bummed I didn’t get to test my method for showcasing the gameplay. The two ways I’ve seen people explain their core loop is through parallelisms to other games and with screenshots of other games, or through gameplay demos displayed as videos or GIFs. Neither really worked for what I was designing (a puzzle game with a bit of a learning curve, but fast rounds and infinite tries) so I wanted to verbally walk through a sample level, describing the player’s actions and repercussions while clicking through screenshots that displayed the level in slideshow format. Unfortunately, these slides were the ones skipped during my projector issues, so I’ve only been able to test the format on tiny groups of 1-2 watchers. So far it seems to work well enough. Akshay liked the format so much he said he’s gonna use it to showcase how his game works too, so it can’t be a completely wrong direction.

0586bcba35600309525b13283ceb08d9.png

Joey asked if I planned on having icons like this in the final game. Honestly, I originally was, but maybe I should switch to top-down humans, like Hotline Miami. I also should add a gif of Hotline Miami gameplay in case someone hasn’t played it in the audience

I’m also working on whatever changes I might need to make to The Just Us League before pitching it to Ford on Friday. I’ve playtested the game with a group of people who have never played it, and I kept silent so they had only my instruction sheet to go off of, and they were having a rollicking good time by the end of it so I’m pretty convinced the game is ready for Ford’s perusal.

Speaking of playtesters (the focus of the ninth and final assigned chapter), the book helped me through a big problem I had (aka finding playtesters for running the mute playtest). Since everyone in the class knew about the game, I wasn’t sure where to turn after that. But then the book specifically mentioned roommates, and I realized I’d never playtested anything I’d ever made with my roommates! It’d also be nice to see them play it since they aren’t game designers. That playtest went great too, so I feel confident I’ve made the best possible product I could. Hopefully Ford likes it!

(no title)

This isn’t a dev diary, this is just me talking to me. Cause I’m not sure who else to tell this to.

The first quarter in my Game Design masters is wrapping up. The big thing on everyone’s mind is the Greenlight pitch. Every student needs to pitch their idea for an awesome game to a team of industry professionals, and five of those ideas will be selected and turned into next quarter’s projects. Everyone’s pretty excited with their ideas, and I’m…not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved every part of this program. I’ve learned all sorts of things, and while the workload has been steep, it’s reinforced that game design is my true passion and my calling at this stage of my life. But I’m drawing a complete blank on anything to pitch for the Greenlight, and there’s no real point lying to myself…I’m hoping I don’t get picked. I don’t want to be selected. I want to work on someone else’s project as a writer, do my job and keep my nose out of other people’s business.

I’m well aware that’s not the right attitude going into the most important pitch of the quarter, and I’m not sure how to break it. I’ve confessed this to my parents and the program director, and both reminded me of what I already know: this is an opportunity that won’t come around once I’m part of the greater games industry. I’ve got a whole career ahead of me where I’ll be making other people’s games, I need to seize this opportunity to make something I’ve always wanted to.

But I already make whatever I want. The internet is littered with hundreds of my games, articles, GIFs, scripts, and videos. There’s no secret dream project I’ve always been fantasizing about, because I just go ahead and make anything I’m thinking of. And the ones I haven’t made yet are all solo projects because that’s how I work best. Medical Necessity isn’t actually something I’m hoping wins; it’s my latest solo project framed as a ‘prototype’ because I can’t very well march up in front of the judges and go “Yeah, I got nothing.” I know it’s not stage fright; I love talking in front of a crowd. If only I could pitch for somebody else…

I guess in a way this is something of a comforting position. I can’t really lose if I’m hoping not to win. Part of me worries that I’m sabotaging myself, or lying to myself because I don’t want to face the prospect of losing, and I’ll regret this attitude after the Greenlight comes and goes, but we’ll just have to see. At the moment, I’m far more excited about the Ford pitch. The Just Us League is going to blow them out of the water.

Dev diary #8

I had a tough time coming up with my idea for this Greenlight. As I’ve mentioned in other dev diaries, none of my ideas felt right the correct scope. They were either too easy, designed for a single developer to create at his own pace, or they were ambitious multiplayer games that required teams far larger than the purview of this team.

I’m going to be honest, I’m not sure how great my idea even is. It was something I found in my Google Drive, where I’ve written design documents for various ideas over the years. I pitched a few of them to Eddie and Kelsey, and this was the only one they thought sounded interesting. My original plan was completely different; I was going to pitch Streaker Simulator, a humorous third-person parkour platformer where the player character ran around with no clothes on at public events like soccer matches or Macy’s Day Parades, and you scored points based on both how long you evaded the ever-increasing security measures and accomplished objectives (like tagging every player on the pitch). Program director said it wasn’t breaking any new ground, and the judges would be looking specifically for clever idealistic games hoping to make something new, not just another simulator. These are fair criticisms, so instead the game I’m pitching is Medical Necessity, a top-down 2D puzzle game framed as a healer in a CSGO-style shooter. You’re the healer on a 5-man team of bots, facing an identical team of 5 bots, and the two teams will try to kill each other. Your job is to figure out how you need to position yourself and heal the right people to keep your team in the fight long enough to win the match and move onto the next level.

medical necessity

This week’s reading was on Digital prototyping. I plan to prototype my game in Clickteam Fusion, since I know how to crank out quick playable prototypes. I can’t play a prototype during the Greenlight pitch, so I’m going to record my prototype as a long GIF and include that in my powerpoint presentation. I plan on having that prototype done quickly so I can playtest and refine it ASAP.