Sunday, October 21, 2012

ETC Semester Project - Stempower

Now halfway through my third semester at the Entertainment Technology Center, it's about time I post an update about my current semester project.  Stempower is part of the DARPA Engage project, and we are working to make an educational game for the web using Unity3D based on the research of Stella Vosniadou.  Our goal is to educate third grade aged children about our Earth's day/night cycle.  We're creating a puzzle game called Sleepy Busy Planet that has players rotating the Earth to wake up different characters scattered around the globe who are all working together to build secret projects.  As the game is a web game you can try it now.  Feel free to check back as the semester goes on, we update the public build every Friday when our newsletter goes out.

This semester I am serving as the group's producer and am also still contributing as a programmer.  The lessons I learned about Scrum and Agile Development while an intern this past summer at Schell Games are currently serving me and my team very well as I handle production duties for the group.  I have two teammates who are also programmers, and this is their first semester-long project.  I am taking more of a leadership role on this project and am letting them take point on writing most of the code, while I architect the higher level layout of the code and help them debug as needed. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

SFPC - Summer 2012 Update

It's been far too long since I've written up any updates for SFPC, so here's a double update to try and make up for that!  I may have stayed quiet this summer, but that doesn't mean I wasn't busy!  Originally I didn't think I would have an internship this summer so the plan became "Work on SFPC Full Time", but an offer finally came through in early June to work as a Programming Intern at Schell Games.  I spent a couple months there this summer working with some wonderful people making some very cool stuff that I unfortunately can't talk about, such is life in the land of NDAs and unannounced projects.  While I had less time to spend on SFPC because of the internship, I did end up learning a lot of new stuff and making several new friends in that time, so I'm pretty happy with how my summer went.  I got back into my old groove of working an hour or two a day on SFPC before work each weekday so that I'd still get some stuff done, just not as much as I was planning on.

The first part of the update is in regards to SFPC itself:

I spent a little over 2 solid weeks working on implementing A* pathfinding in the engine so that enemies can move in combat.  There's no AI yet to control how they choose what target to move to or have them inch up when there are no targets in range or anything like that, but this is an important first step.

The second part of the update is the unveiling of a new companion project which will be developed alongside SFPC:

SHEd is my GUI based editor for SFPC.  Built with C# and .NET 4.0, SHEd will eventually be the main content creation and editing application used for building games with the SFPC engine.  For now it supports editing characters, items, and battle animations, but I plan on expanding it to support map editing and scripting as well.

That's it for now, feel free to email me any questions or comments you may have about SFPC and SHEd! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

ETC Semester Project - Spring Entertainment - Complete!

My first year at the ETC and my first client project are now complete!  I was the gameplay programmer on the Spring Entertainment project this spring.  Our client was Seven Springs Mountain Resort, a four seasons resort here in Western Pennsylvania.  We built an iPhone and Android game called Seven's Wild Ride.  It's an advergame that shows Seven Springs ads at the start and is lightly themed to advertise activities available to guests at the resort.  You can check it out in our thirty second teaser and three minute trailer below.

Thirty Second Teaser:

Three Minute Trailer:

It was a lot of work, but I had a blast every step of the way.  The Spring Entertainment team was a great group, everyone was easy to get along with and we all worked well together.  The finished build has been handed off to the client who is in charge of getting it submitted to Apple and Google to be published.  When the game gets released on the app store and Google Play I'll be sure to post about it again so everyone can download it and give it a try.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Shuffle Dungeon - A Hybrid Board/Card Game

For the Freestyle assignment for Jesse Schell's Game Design course at the ETC, we had full freedom to make whatever game our hearts desired and one month to make it happen.  We were free to form groups or fly solo, I opted to work alone on this project.  I designed a hybrid board/card game called Shuffle Dungeon which uses decks of cards to randomly generate a game board for a dungeon crawling experience for 2 to 4 players.  The idea is to have a Dungeons and Dragons like experience that does not require a dungeon master.

I came up with the board generation mechanic very early and liked it enough to build the rest of the game around it, but had some trouble along the way with some of the other mechanics.  I needed to design a system for resolving combat and other encounters that ran very quickly and I threw out a lot of early versions until I got to the system that ended up in the final game: roll a d6, add any temporary or permanent modifiers, then consult the chart on the card.  As Shuffle Dungeon is a card game, I borrowed one of the design themes of Magic the Gathering where the rules of the game itself are simple, but rules that may emerge during play for specific cards are printed on the cards themselves.  This constraint forced me to make those rules as clear, simple, and most importantly, brief as possible so that they would fit on the cards at a legible size.

Since players take turns people sitting idle can get bored, so I wanted turns to go as fast as possible to keep people engaged.  I never quite achieved a level of player interaction that I was happy with, conflict between players is more indirect and subtle than anything.  I worried that open PvP did not suit the combat system well at all and shied away from permitting players to attack each other.  I think that with some further iteration I could come up with something better on that front.  However, I'm fairly happy with the end result.  I could see myself coming back to Shuffle Dungeon some day to polish it even further or perhaps develop an expansion set for it.  Its card game roots make it very modular, adding a deck building element to it could add another fun dimension of play to it.

Final Rules
Final Cards
Playtesting Writeup
Marketing Sheet

Shuffle Dungeon was built using Magic Set Editor

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Topple! - A Dice Game

For the Dice assignment in the Game Design class at the ETC we had to design our own dice game.  There were few constraints, the game had to include dice in some way while keeping in mind the balance between skill and luck.  I ended up making a game I called Topple! which is a territory control strategy game for three or four players.  Dice are used as much as a means of tracking board state as they are a tool for randomness.   Players fill the board with dice of their color, when opposing dice enter the same square the lower valued die is subtracted from the higher die.  Dice move one square at a time and they "roll" like a cube rolls.  This changes what value they have facing upwards which has interesting effects on both how players attack and defend.  The titular mechanic, toppling, happens when a player moves a large stack of dice; the entire stack falls over (carefully) and each individual die then engages in battle with any other dice it may land on, or restacks with friendly dice.  The game was well received by all of my playtesters in a very early state and I got to spend a lot of time iterating on the smaller details to get it into a fun, polished state before submitting it.

Here's a slideshow of photos with an audio recording I took at one of my earlier playtests:

Here's another video, this time an actual video not a slideshow, but focused on the board not the players:

You can download the rules and playtest writeup here.  If you have enough d6's lying around, you can even try it out yourself.  If you do, send me an email and let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Game Design Elective

In addition to working on our semester-long projects here at the ETC, students also take at least one elective per semester.  This semester I am taking Jesse Schell's Game Design course which so far has been both entertaining and educational!  Our first project was to design a new and improved version of hopscotch, my version of which you can check out here.  It's funny, even such a simple game as hopscotch has a lot of rules to keep track of.  For my redesign, I put together a hybrid of hopscotch and sudoku called Hopsudoku to try and add a puzzle element and make the game more attractive to an adult audience.  One thing I underestimated was the physical component.  Hopping doesn't sound like a very strenuous activity but hopping for long enough during playtesting does get tiring!

Our second project was to write a list of at least 100 games we've played throughout our lives, listing at least three for each year we've been alive since we were five, and include comments about memorable parts of of each of their designs.  You can see my list here.  I did my best to avoid overusing sequels as long as I could, but had to break down and do so to fill in some problem years here and there.  It was a very interesting exercise to go back and try and remember what stuck out the most for me over my gaming career, it might be fun to go back to it again at some point and try to make the list as exhaustive as possible and see how high a number I can get.

ETC Semester Project - Spring Entertainment

So with the first semester and BVW behind me, I'm now moving forward as a member of the Spring Entertainment project team here at the Entertainment Technology Center.  Spring Entertainment is a client project working for Seven Springs Mountain Resort.  Our goal is to create an iPhone game that advertises the variety of experiences available to guests at the resort.  You can read more about the project and follow our progress in our weekly newsletters available here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

On Stage at the Fall 2011 BVW Show!

Great news!  Two of my teams' worlds from this semester's Building Virtual Worlds class were selected to be featured in the Fall 2011 BVW Show!  Each year BVW students are allowed to submit worlds from any round to the BVW Jury for review, who then assemble a show from the best worlds to be put on stage in front of a live audience.  This semester over 90 worlds were created, 60 were submitted to the jury, and fourteen of those were selected to be in the show!  Here are clips from the show of the two worlds I was a part of.  I was a performer on stage in both of them.

Mouse <3 Mouse (yes, that's me in the mouse costume)

Electro Techno Corps (playing the role of Captain Electro in the middle)

The entire show was a huge success!  You can watch the whole thing online here:

This marks the end of my first semester at the Entertainment Technology Center!  Next up is a short winter break, during which I might find a little time to get back to work on Shining Force PC!  After that the next semester starts in mid January which will be a whole new adventure working on a full semester long project as opposed to the short 2-3 week rapid prototyping rounds of BVW.  I have to say that this semester has been the most exciting three months I can remember in forever!  I've made so many great friends and had a wonderful time creating amazing things together with them!  I only hope that the rest of my time here at the ETC will be this rewarding!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Building Virtual Worlds - Round 5 - Electro Techno Corps

The theme of Round 5 of Building Virtual Worlds is Its Showtime!  Students are given one month and are tasked with building a world that is big on showmanship and spectacle with the goal of being featured in the Building Virtual Worlds Show at the end of the semester.  Unlike previous rounds, students are permitted to form their own teams and pitch a concept to the professors or take the luck of the draw and be assigned to a random team like in previous rounds.  I was placed on a random team and the world we came up with was a giant robot themed game called Electro Techno Corps (a pun on ETC.)  The world is in the vein of saturday morning cartoons and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Three performers share two Wiimotes and two nunchucks to pilot a giant robot against a mad scientist whose giant creations run amok in the city.  The current video only has the game aspect of the world on display, if and when a version that also includes the live performers becomes available I will update this post. Update: a version with live performers is now online, check it out in this post!

Despite the large time frame, one of the major challenges of the round is time management and proper scoping of the project.  Many teams reached too far and ended up having to scale way back or start over completely around the halfway point in the round.  My team just barely managed to finish our world based on our original plan, which was way too close for comfort.  I wish we would have cut one of the events early on and spent more time on polish, playtesting, and fine tuning, but thankfully everything worked out in the end.

One of the more interesting aspects of the project was using CityEngine to model the city rather than doing it by hand.  Our texture artist, Anisha Deshmane, spent a lot of time in undergrad working with CityEngine and we were able to get the city modeled, exported to 3DSMax, trimmed down, and imported into Unity in under 2 days!  It saved us a lot of time and effort and looked great in game, which let us spend more time and effort on other aspects of the project.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Building Virtual Worlds - Round 4 - Mouse Heart Mouse

Building Virtual Worlds Round 4 is the Storytelling round.  Groups are given three weeks to build a world that lasts 3 to 5 minutes that tells a complete story.  Students have two days to come up with and pitch two story ideas to the professors and the class and receive feedback from them.  They then choose one of these ideas to build storyboards for, which are presented at the end of the first week.  Over the next two weeks students build the world laid out in the storyboards.

My group’s story told the tale of a mouse who meets a computer mouse atop a desk in a messy dorm room while scavenging for food.  The two fall in love at first sight, but are separated when the owner of the room returns and sits down at his desk and reaches for his computer mouse but grabs the furry mouse instead.  Shocked, he flings the mouse away and runs from the room screaming.  Our hero must find a way back to the top of the desk to reunite with his love, and then the two must find a way to escape the room and enjoy their freedom and their new life together.

My team this round worked exceptionally well together!  We all really liked the idea we came up with and that lead to very good buy in from all the members of the team.  Everyone made strong creative contributions to the project and we all worked very hard to make Mouse <3 Mouse a big success!  One of the things that I believe greatly contributed to that success was our choice of platform, the Nintendo Wiimote.  Since this was a small, simple piece of hardware, we were free to use it at our desks and we could playtest and iterate constantly unlike the rounds where I worked with the Kinect.  Since the Kinects and televisions were in very short supply, teams had to schedule limited time slots to playtest and it was harder to get a feel on how the world plays and make adjustments when working with that platform.  The freedom to playtest regularly on the Wiimote made it easier to fine tune the controls and left more time to polish the room and make it as lively and interactive as possible.