Chambara Developer Diary #3

We’re closing out on Week 7, and I’m somewhat comfortable calling what we have here as “Alpha”. Next week will be the last week we have to finish the game, then its on to exhibition at the Protoplay Festival. The result of our presentation there will determine whether or not we will be nominated for the BAFTA’s Ones to Watch Award or any of the other prizes.

We ran a playtest on our game late last week on a number of kids from a local summer program. We learned a lot about our game’s new player experience and how learning navigation of first-person space works for young people. A lot of that probably comes how a lot of these kids grew up playing games like Minecraft and how they attained their initial literacy in games through it. We’ve made a number of changes to our game because of it. I hope we’ll have time to complete all of the changes we need to make in the next week and a half.

We ended up being featured in VICE Magazine’s The Creators Project, and that interview got us quite a bit of buzz over the last week. I just finished up an interview with Develop Online which should go up in the next few days. Hopefully, we can sustain that momentum to Protoplay, as the judges seem to factor our behavior and outside interest into account when interacting with our games.

Clash
Clash

This week, the team has been mostly focusing on gearing the game towards a festival context. We have removed stages inappropriate for new players and gave players a pre-game sandbox to run around in and get accustomed to controls and space. Alec has been working on a new UI system that would be more usable than what we currently have now. The number of stages, which used to stand at around nine, has shrunk down to five, allowing us to focus on adding representational elements to levels to give them a sense of context, place, and fun. I’ve been implementing sound effects as they arrive and cutting together a trailer for the game, focusing on communicating the mechanical and aesthetic uniqueness of our game. I’ll post that once we’re happy with it.

We’re in charge of handling a budget of 200p at Dare to be Digital, roughly $350. We’ve allocated almost all of that money towards our booth for Protoplay. I’ve been to Indiecade and Glitch City parties before, and there’s a unique social context in that kind of event/festival setting that I really want to leverage. Killer Queen does this really well, as does Sportsfriends, and Spin the Bottle. Only at a festival can you play with complete strangers and bond with them over games in a social atmosphere that’s both celebratory and community-building.

Whoosh
Whoosh

So we want to construct an inviting booth that meshes well with the dichromatic aesthetic of the game. A “living-room-in-a-expo-hall” where people can drop by, have a great time, make some friends, and chill out in a social context that many find exhausting. I saw a lot of that come out of the Mild Rumpus at GDC, and with our limited budget, I hope we can achieve something unique there.

Chambara Dev Diary #2 – Let’s talk a little bit about values.

In The Art of Game Design, Jesse Schell writes,

We aren’t [only] designing games, we are designing experiences, and experiences are the only things that can change people, sometimes in unexpected ways. (451)

If you aren’t willing to take responsibility for the games you make, you shouldn’t be making them. (455)

is it possible you could find a way for
your game to do good? To somehow make people’s li ves better? If you know this is possible, and you choose not to do
it, isn’t that,in a way, just as bad as making a game that harms people? (456)

Chambara has begun to grow legs and get attention outside of the tiny circle of people following our journey in Scotland. After an imgur album of gifs hit the top page of reddit’s indiegaming board, AlphaBetaGamer got a hold of the images and shared them on their site. Soon afterward, a tumblr post featuring those images hit 250 notes, and I received a message from Vice asking if they could do a story on the game. Soon, we will have to be accountable as to what our game represents to the outside world.

I look at the above lenses that Jesse proposes about the game designer’s responsibility to the world and wonder if our game can really offer a sound response to those questions.

Civilization 5

I’ve been playing a lot of Civilization recently, a game that I immensely enjoy and find to be an immaculately designed story machine, spewing out amazing emergent narratives. Yet, I am uncomfortable about how much I enjoy it. Civilization‘s winstates and mechanical progression prioritizes disagreeable values about imperialism, cultural hegemony, and state-centric nationalism. Yet, it is these uncomfortable values that create an incredible game.

Our game is a fighting game, where the conflict is violent and resolved by the elimination of the other. Thus, we start off with some uncomfortable themes such as the resolution of interpersonal conflict through fighting, redemptive violence, and the need to “right” the world by killing the human beings which make it “wrong”.

I don’t think those values are representative of what I believe.

I found one of the recent projects I was involved with disagreeable because the mechanics and metaphor came together to create something indicative of imperialism and the subjugation of native people for resources. It was an RTS where competing players farmed resources to fight each other by attacking a peaceful, NPC faction at the center of the map, with the overarching goal of using these resources to wipe out the other players. While the game was incredibly polished and impressive, I wasn’t sure if being involved with that project was right for me and my purpose in the world. Even if I admired the design aspects of the game, I wasn’t certain the values it communicated were what I wanted to give to the world.

Even then, our game does not have to be that game. We can rise beyond redemptive violence, binary judgement, and the dehumanization of the opponent. There are a large number of positive values that can be communicated through games about oppositional conflict. Elements like sportsmanship, respect for the opponent, self-improvement, and graceful defeat. In being a split-screen game, where positioning in space is important to victory, players can literally understand their opponents by viewing the world through their eyes. By drawing close and comprehending their opponent’s differing perspective, players can succeed.

Yet, that does not resolve all of the game’s issues, how players treat and understand the act of lunging forward to stab an enemy is the crux of the matter, even if spatial understanding is a matter of empathy.

When the end result of that empathy is the defeat and subjugation of your opponent, those semantics get compromised. Granted, the contextualization and semantics behind the kill don’t have to be grounded in destruction and violence, if represented in the right way, the act of attacking your opponent can be imbued with positive values.

Maybe I’m getting worked up about nothing. After all, the theory of the magic circle and its associated metacommunication dictates that in entering the mental space of a game, players perceive things differently, and confrontational actions are understood to be playful. Yet, I can’t help but feel that my involvement with games criticism and writing obligates me to be cognizant of what the elements of my game mean and how they influence/are influenced by the world they exist in.

Chambara Developer Diary #1

WEEK 3, DAY 4

Things have been going at a good pace for Chambara right now, I bought us a website recently, which you can find at http://www.chambaragame.com. Our second set of deliverables, marketing materials for programs for the ProtoPlay festival, is due early next week. We have a good prototype done and recently finished up our very first public play test, and are planning on doing a public, internet play test within the next few days. Very soon, you’ll be able to download and play the current version of Chambara on any Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, provided you have a supported USB controller and a friend to play with.

I want to do something like a standard games postmortem for this project, but write it during active development, rather than doing so after the project is done. I believe acknowledging our mistakes and successes will let us learn from our issues faster, allowing us to course-correct better during the process of development.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT

1. Thunderingly Rapid Prototyping

The first week of development was the most intensive. Having been accustomed to crunch time while juggling classes and development on The Pilgrim, we hit the ground running at a thundering, breakneck speed, arriving earlier and leaving later than most other teams at Dare to be Digital. We had a prototype up and running by the second day, which allowed us to see our ideas in action very quickly and better understand what does and does not work for this kind of game. We revamped movement and created our own custom character controller and a large number of test levels to learn how to design interesting, exciting action.

2. Experimentation

Much of the existing knowledge about level and game design is not applicable to the kind of game we’re making. We can’t guide our players with lighting, paths, and textures, and weapon balance is not a matter of balancing numbers on a spreadsheet. The Counter-Strike “Figure-8” loop is totally inapplicable for what we’re trying to create, rendering a lot of existing design writing and talks in a state of limited usefulness. This leaves us to discover what works and what doesn’t through our own experimentation. Exciting.

3. Fast Development & Testing

The best part about our workflow is that texturing and UV-mapping objects is totally unnecessary, making our asset pipeline extremely fast. By constructing our levels out of primitives, we are able to construct testable levels in hours rather than days. The benefits of this agile workflow are innumerable, and has allowed us to reach a polishing phase in a matter of weeks. The development plan that we established during the Spring has been totally burned through, leaving us tens of hours ahead of schedule. I expect that the game will be in a state where we will be comfortable showing it to the public by late next week, and I’ll move forward on creating a web presence for this game on indie games communities and submitting to festivals like Fantastic Arcade.

 

WHAT’S GOING WRONG

1. Unified Artistic/Ethical/Thematic Vision 

During preproduction, we didn’t see the value in establishing guidelines for the kind of game we were trying to make. We didn’t write any design documentation, we didn’t establish an Art Bible, nor a vision statement. As a result, we’ve spent the last several days in conflict about the thematic direction of the game. There are some who want Chambara to be an edgy-cool game inspired by the best elements of Batman Beyond and Samurai Jack (our original inspiration), while others want to create something cute, goofy, and playful, while others want to create something subversive of the oppressive heteronormativity inherent to the form.

These disagreements have slowed down production, and nailing down a character design was a process that took more than twice as long that I hoped it would. Retrospectively, establishing that vision prior to development and agreeing that the project is a shared effort between all of us would have saved us much time and frustration.

2. The Doldrums

I see the job of producer as an ultimately personal one, assuring that the participation of each team member fulfills their own personal needs and that they’re always working on something interesting to them. A disproportionate distribution of participation in a project is harmful, and being tasked with nothing to do while other team members are heavily involved isn’t fair.

Granted, this issue comes from the fact that some of our time was spent puttering around waiting for certain tasks like character design and controls to be finalized by another team member to be completed, removing blockades on progress. So I expect things with move much more smoothly later on, though I want this to be something that we are very cognizant of.

3. Unclear Milestones

Because we burned through our development plan, we find ourselves far ahead of schedule. Our core feature list is more or less complete and the prototype has been proven to be fun and accessible. So the path onwards is unclear. Features are envisioned and implemented on the spot as we wander around, trying to figure out what we can do to take this game further. We’ve been considering new maps and game modes, but we can only go so far before that extends the list of needed sound assets far beyond what can be created and implemented in time. I’ve worked with metrics and outreach to communities like reddit indiegaming, but I feel that such measures are unwelcome by my teammates. I am interested in working with cheat codes, game modifiers, or easter eggs, but will need finalized decisions about UI and design before I take that on.

 

tl;dr, Scotland is beautiful.
tl;dr, Scotland is beautiful.

Chambara is in Development

Day 4 of 2014’s Dare to be Digital  international game making competition has concluded, and we’ve been moving remarkably fast. We’re basically making this game with five strong designers, which means we’ve been in a lot of disagreement with a lot of the decisions to be made with aesthetics, functionality, and mechanics. We jammed out a prototype which allows us to test out all of our ideas very quickly, which helps us make decisions about what would be best for the project. We expect to finalize a character controller by tomorrow. Right now, much of this week has been experimental, trying out different map layouts and movement systems to figure out what works. I don’t know if anything like this has been done before, which means we’ll have to make a lot of discoveries on our own. We’ll be hitting UI stuff tomorrow, and I expect a build will be available by 9 PM UK time. I’ll have a website and public download link for our current prototype by then. Matches are entirely playable right now, but we should probably implement a win condition and end state for the prototype for player’s sake. The game will be exhibited at the Protoplay Festival in August, which is basically the UK’s Indiecade. Hopefully we can take this game far; we have a chance at a BAFTA or publication with Sony, which would both be nice things to have.

Dundee, Scotland
Dundee, Scotland

 

Indiegogo for my next project: Chambara!

Hey guys,

Some of you might know that I’m running a team for the 2014 Dare to be Digital competition, a nine-week international game design competition in Scotland. My team, Overly Kinetic, is comprised of the fantastic Esteban Fajardo, Catherine Fox, Alec Faulkner, and Tommy Hoffman, and our game is Chambara, a multiplayer first-person stealth-action game with too many adjectives in it. Check out the video pitch below to learn about it, because frankly, its actually really hard to describe it with words.

So in a nutshell

  • First-person stealth deathmatch game for PC
  • Dichomatic aesthetic: hide in plain sight
  • Local multiplayer
  • Pitching for the 2014 Dare to be Digital Competition

But Chambara can’t exist without your help! While Dare to be Digital will provide the tools, room, and board to allow us to produce the game for the Protoplay festival in August and compete for the coveted Ones to Watch BAFTA, competitors are still responsible for getting themselves to Scotland, which is a thing that we will need to turn to you to accomplish. We’re running an Indiegogo campaign to fund this journey, which you can access here. If we don’t get into the competition, the raised money will be donated to the Child’s Play Charity.

Here are the rewards that you can get for pledging:

  • $10 – Credit in the finished game
  • $30 – Credit, full digital game & personal thank-you card
  • $50 – Credit, Chambara Poster, full digital game, & personal thank-you card
  • $100 – Credit, Chambara T-shirt, full digital game, & personalized thank-you card
  • $300 – Credit, Chambara T-shirt, Chambara poster, full digital game & personalized thank-you card

So if you’re interested, head on over to the crowdfunding site and pledge to the project!