Comrade Quest Final Release

It’s finally reached the end of the semester, and Comrade Quest’s development is over. It makes me sad that everyone on my team is going their separate ways, but I’m glad that I got the chance to lead a group of talented artists, programmers and designers to realize my vision. Also, I’m quite proud that one of the designers on my team will have her own game in Game Production Lab next semester.

Now that my directing days in GPL have come to a close, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in the past five months. Developing Comrade Quest has taught me a lot about game development and managing a team, but the most important thing I’ve learned can be summed up in a single statement: have confidence in your original vision. There’s a reason why most successful games don’t change their mechanics mid-development, and that’s because most creative directors have the utmost confidence in their vision.

The biggest upset in Comrade Quest’s development came when we tried replacing the melee combat system with a turn based one, similar to Paper Mario’s turn-by-turn combat. Part of reasoning behind the mechanics change was based off feedback that we got from the alpha test. Many of our testers complained that Olaf’s attacks didn’t feel like “attacks”. As they were, Olaf’s attacks felt mechanical and lacked the rewarding visceral sensation featured in published games.

Comrade Quest Shot 6

By changing the fighting mechanics to turn based, we wouldn’t have to worry about achieving that visceral quality. However, while a turn-based approach would solve our current system’s problems, it would bring unanticipated problems of its own. How would turn order be calculated? How would current attacks translate into the new system? How would we make a turn-based system cooperative? We were not adequately prepared to answer these questions.

The decision to change the combat to a turn-based system was also influenced by my own worries. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to improve the physics and animation of the character’s attacks in time for beta release. Instead of being confident in my original plan and in my team’s capabilities, I chose what seemed like an easy way out.

Thankfully we changed back to the melee system, but we lost a week-and-a-half worth of production time. This cost us Olaf’s combo attack. If I had stuck with my original plan, the time the animators spent animating buttons for the turn-based user interface could have been used to animate Olaf’s combo. If I had stuck with my original plan, the time the programmers spent programming queues could have been appropriated to improve attacks physics. This is why it is so important to have confidence in your vision. If I had remained confident in my original plan, we would have used that week-and-a-half of production time to create a better product.

Comrade Quest Shot 5

The finished executable of Comrade Quest may not feature a combo, but overall I’m satisfied with how the game turned out. I’m glad that we were able to create an entire level and feature a boss fight at the end. I’m also very pleased with the audio and visual aesthetics of the game. Our sound designers really pulled out all the stops in creating great sound effects and an ambient track. Above all else though, I’m delighted that people find Comrade Quest fun. Almost everyone I’ve seen looks like they are enjoying their playthrough and interacting with their partner. I created Comrade Quest to foster this in-person interaction and camaraderie, and to see its players have such fun together confirms the game has achieved its original intent.

I would like to continue Comrade Quest’s productionin the future, but now that I no longer have a team, it will be difficult to do. I envision getting a team of talented individuals together to work on Comrade Quest and pitching the game to Kickstarter. I can also see going to one of the existing game companies and pitching the game directly to them. However, developing Comrade Quest further will have to wait for a while, as right now I have to build up my portfolio and find steady employment. To summarize, I haven’t given up on Comrade Quest, it will just have to float around in the “things I’d like to develop someday” pool for a while. So what will I do with this blog in the mean time? I have to build up my portfolio, so I’ll be posting concept art, UI designs, mini games made in Game Maker, and other game development portfolio pieces.

Cashtaroth Battle

Thank you all my dear readers for following Comrade Quest’s development. It’s been a pleasure blogging about its production, and I hope you all continue to read about my future projects. It’s been a fun and eye-opening journey so far, and I can’t wait to see all the places my passion for game development will take me.

If you want to play Comrade Quest, go to this link to download it. Comrade Quest Download

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Successful Beta!

Beta was a success!

As a matter of fact, out of the previous three GPL’s that I’ve been in, I’m pleased to say that this has been the most successful beta. I’m also happy to say that the playtesters congregated around Comrade Quest’s test space first thing when the beta started! It’s great to know that Comrade Quest is so highly anticipated!

money lava
Scene from the game, minus the Olafs. We use money for our lava!

Now with beta out of the way, there’s roughly two-and-a-half weeks left till final release. By final release I hope to have one very polished level ready, with polished mechanics, visuals and audio. By final release I hope to get in:

  • Cleaned up animations for characters
  • Better physics and collision detection for platforming and combat
  • A combo attack for Olaf, our current protagonist
  • Sound for the menus, characters, and attacks
  • An upgrade menu at the end of the level, for players to upgrade their attacks, buy outfit changes, etc.
  • Cleaned up Communist summon (no more Marx clipping between layers)
  • Ambient background track
  • Background and foreground that moves with along with the camera. Think how objects moved around in DrinkBox Studio’s Guacamelee. This will probably be the most time intensive, since it deals with parallax.
  • Animated menus and improved HUD
  • And a special little surprise for everyone on the team!

Since this is the “polish” period, I want to make sure my animators and environment artists are spending as much time revising assets and creating new animations. I’ll be stepping in a bit to help with the UI side of things, since that’s a specialty of mine, and something I don’t mind doing on the side. This list isn’t all that large and I’m quite confident we’ll get most, if not all of it done in time for the final release.

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Night of Beta

Less than eleven hours remain before beta release. I’m nervous, happy, excited, stressed and sleepless all at the same time. It’s an odd mix of feelings, but I like it. Guess I picked the right industry to get into, because from what I heard, this atmosphere of high tension is pretty common in the world of video game development.

Last weekend, Team Comrade had its all-night beta crunch/work-in party. From 9 PM on Saturday to roughly 9 AM the next day, we did nothing but work on Comrade Quest. Okay, so that’s a little bit of a lie- some whiteboard shenanigans were had, and a few brusque Russian phone calls to the local pizza company were made. Even still, a lot of work got done.

The game designers worked with the level designer and programmers to firm up combat. Players and enemies alike have better physics, improved attacks, and combat feels more inclusive to the game experience. Much progress was made on the layout of the level as well. Our alpha release was criticized because it contained a lot of empty spaces. We addressed this problem by compressing certain areas of the level that were too long, and adding challenges and collectible beets to empty areas.

screenshot beta
The smashers that gave us problems. In this photo, they have been fixed.

A lot of interesting bugs were found, like Olaf being able to moonwalk in certain areas, and an insane amount of enemies spawning in the arenas. The game designers also sorted out a collision problem with the metal smashers. When the new art asset for the smashers was imported, it messed up the smasher’s collision. Rather than killing players caught underneath it, it only pushed them into the ground. The problem was rooted in the shape of the smasher’s collision- the edges at the bottom were slightly beveled. This was to match the art asset, which featured beveled edges. By changing the beveled corners of the smasher’s collision box to 90 degree corners, we were able to get around some of the smasher’s collision problems with player.

Now, we’re half a day away from beta release and Comrade Quest is looking really good. We’ve come across more bugs since our work party, but most of them have been resolved. One of the funniest involved Olaf getting absorbed into the smashers. We also have most of the main menu working, which is great. You can see what it should look like once it’s finished here.

My biggest concern lies with the camera transitions and the way players trigger them when moving from area to area. Earlier, one player was able to move into a new area without the other player. Once in the new area, the slower player would remain off-screen, ruining the gameplay experience. This transition issue was largely fixed by adjusting the camera and implementing invisible barriers. However, there’s some camera popping and I don’t know how much it will affect player feedback in the beta.

Camera popping aside, I feel very confident about Comrade Quest’s beta release. It amazes me that six months ago, Comrade Quest was just an idea in my head. Now, that idea has materialized into a playable level with working mechanics, animation, menus and most importantly, gameplay. I’m grateful to have such a dedicated, hardworking team to bring Comrade Quest this far.

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Beta crunch madness

Tonight we’re having our beta crunch weekend night! Craziness abounds! We’re working hard on just about every aspect of the game, in time for Game Lab beta on April 8th. Updates will come shortly.

Image
Beta crunch craziness! Photo courtesy of our talented level designer, Carrie.

 

Comrade Quest Checkpoint Animations

I’ve been working more on the menus, and animations for the different objects in the level. Here are the assets for the checkpoints- the banner says контрольная точка (kontrol’naya tochka), or checkpoint. I’m going off of what one of my Russian-speaking friends said, hopefully it doesn’t mean “capitalism for life” or “Donald Trump is awesome”

This one is just the “floating” checkpoint, used for when players haven’t yet reached a location.

Comrade Quest Checkpoint
Floating checkpoint for Comrade Quest’s levels.

This is the animation for the activated checkpoint, for when a player dies and respawns. Both animations are much higher quality in the game, these are just pixelated because GIFs are lossy.

activated checkpoint
Triggers when a player respawns.

A Lesson in Leadership

Whew.

Yesterday was crazy stressful. We had a huge meeting with the professors, and we’re back to the original melee system. Essentially the whole group got called in to discuss why we shouldn’t go forward with the turn based system. I thought the turn based system would solve the problems reported in alpha, but it implementing an entirely new system just creates new problems.

The lesson learned?

Stick with your original plan. Especially when you’re a leader, have confidence in what you set out to do in the beginning. Be confident even when you receive negative feedback- it’s better to fix or improve a current feature than to plaster over a problem with a revolutionary, game-changing solution. Generally, your original idea is the best idea, because you’ve thought it out the longest.

In other Comrade Quest related news, beta is little under two weeks away, and we’re starting to crunch. I’m excited about our group all-nighter we’re going to pull on Saturday. I’m thinking about preparing dinner and some baked goods for the team.

Also, I’ve been working on menus. Here’s the pause menu, which is underway right now.

Comrade quest pause menu WIP
Pause menu in progress for Comrade Quest

Comrade Quest Alpha and Feedback

The Tuesday before spring break, we had alpha playtests in GPL. We received valuable feedback from developers from the Fissure, Shroud, Solar Rim and Cross Stone teams, as well as some of the ATEC professors.

From the anonymous polls we gathered from the playtests

• The co-op element and co-op puzzles are the strongest features of the game
• Art style is likeable, player character animations look great
• Combat is not satisfying and feels out of place
• Most of the level’s layout is good, but there are a lot of empty spaces

Points made by professors participating in the playtests

• Strongest elements of the game are the co-op puzzles and co-op element
• Combat is very disjointed: unsure of combat’s place within the level
• Combat is not a co-op experience- too isolated between players
• The game is a puzzle game, creative director just isn’t aware of it yet
• The level design has improved significantly since the first milestone playthrough, but there are still empty areas where player interest lags
• Attack animations are designed the wrong way. Currently, physics feel like they are designed for the animations. It needs to be the other way around, with the animations being designed for the physics.

One of the professors suggested that combat should be de-emphasized, polished in time for beta, or taken out entirely. I’ve never realized before just how difficult it is to get real time combat feeling right. Not only do the characters attack animations have to reflect the velocity and movement of their attacks, but the collision and feedback of the attack have to match as well.

Furthermore, our entire approach to coding and creating attack animations is wrong. Animations need to be designed for physics, not the other way around. Currently, we design physics for animations, which is the wrong approach. While the animations themselves look great, the physics behind them don’t quite match up- keeping combat from obtaining that visceral element it needs to be satisfying.

Over spring break, I came up with a plan of action to improve on our alpha shortcomings, most notably the combat physics, the cooperative elements of combat, and empty spaces within the level. The plan of action involved setting up mini-playtest dates to test enhanced physics and achieve the right amount of realism in combat, as well as making modifications to the existing animations to match the physics.

Despite this plan of action, I worried that it wouldn’t be enough to get Comrade Quest to the level it needed to be at for beta. With a little over three weeks till beta, I feared that we wouldn’t get the physics honed in time. There was also the matter of getting the sounds properly synced with the attacks, and having enough time to modify the old animations, as well as create new ones.

After spring break, the Comrade Quest team met for GPL on Tuesday. I asked my team mates if they had read the action plan at all over the break. They had, and mirroring the gut feeling I had in my stomach, they didn’t believe that the action plan would be enough to get the game at a polished enough level for beta.

However CQ’s level designer had the brilliant idea of replacing real time combat with a turn-based RPG system, similar to the one utilized in the Paper Mario games. She proposed a simple system, with just attack, defend, and Communist summon commands. I thought the idea was brilliant- it sidestepped all the problems aimed at making the combat visceral. She also proposed that each player would select commands for their own character, but players would have to select the same commands if they wanted to summon a Communist leader- this would make the combat a cooperative experience.

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Comrade Quest History Part 4

Continued from previous post

I got up on stage, calmly pulled up the PowerPoint presentation for Comrade Quest, and began my pitch. In the first two slides, I knew the audience was at least listening. The next four slides I introduced the four playable characters of the game. With each new character, the audience became increasingly intrigued and attached. By the time I introduced Yuri the Bearserker, the entire audience roared with laughter. I can’t remember who said it, but someone once said that if you’ve made people feel something, you’ve won. I knew I had done a good job.

Concept art for the Gluttony Crapitalist demon.
Concept art for the Gluttony Crapitalist demon.

After the live pitches were over, I was swarmed by people asking me about Comrade Quest and if they could be on my team if I made it into GPL. I received many comments that my presentation was the only one that made the audience laugh. I was very thankful that I garnered so much interest my game, but a little dismayed that I had to explain to some people that Comrade Quest was strictly 2D (I had a lot of modelers ask if they could model for me). As the crowds faded and everybody made their way home, all I had to do now was wait until next Tuesday for the Spring 2014 games for GPL to be announced.

The weekend quickly passed, followed by Monday, and then Tuesday. At the time, I was in GPL as a 2D artist on my friend Josh Miller’s game, Control Room. Instead of sitting down to work immediately that day, I was called over to room 3.910 for Spring 2014 GPL announcements, along with all the other current GPL members and live pitch presenters. A little bit of anxiety swelled up in my stomach, but it quickly released when Comrade Quest was the first game announced for Spring 2014 GPL. Dr. Evans even added that it was an automatic shoe-in for GPL, and that the real difficulty was deciding what other four games would make it in for the upcoming semester.

Concept art for one the Crapitalist demon minibosses, Derek the Micro-Manager
Concept art for one the Crapitalist demon minibosses, Derek the Micro-ManagerAs odd as it may sound, I was happy that Comrade Quest was accepted, but not surprised. Ever since the semester started, I sensed I was on the precipice of something great. I didn’t know what form the greatness would come in, but I once found it, I knew it would be unstoppable.

Now it is spring and Comrade Quest is in development in GPL. My hope for Comrade Quest is for it to continue in development outside of class and become available on Playstation Network and Xbox Live. I wish for Comrade Quest to be successful, but most of all, I want it to be downloaded by people all across the world, to play with their friends, or to make some new ones.  To this day, I still believe in the power behind Comrade Quest, and with perseverance, dedication, and hard work, I will use Comrade Quest to make this world more fun.

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Comrade Quest History Part 3

Continued from previous post

To become a better speaker, I spent the rest of Wednesday pitching Comrade Quest to as many friends, classmates, and willing strangers as I could. Most of the people who I pitched the game to really liked the idea, but it was criticism from a 3D modeling friend that really helped me out.  While he understood the idea of the game, he emphasized the importance of selling the game’s humor. He stated that the use of humor would better showcase the game’s zany tone, rather than a stiff, straight-faced presentation.

I agreed with him- games that were humorous in tone had a better chance at getting into GPL. The semester before, three of the five games that made it into GPL had a good sense of humor- Body Shop, The Fast and the Fjorious, and Control Room. Taking his advice, I revised my pitch to match the humor featured in the game.

Gregori the Spudmaster.
Gregori the Spudmaster.

By the end of the day I felt better about my public speaking skills, but I still felt that I wasn’t where I needed to be.  If there was anything that my college experience taught me, it was that in order to succeed, you had to get outside your comfort zone. I could pitch Comrade Quest, but to be successful I had to sell it. To push the idea, I spent the night preparing flyers for people to see me pitch Comrade Quest for GPL at the live pitches.

Creating the flyers was a mental exercise in two parts- getting to the right mental frequency and preparing to speak in front of a large audience. After class on Thursday, I went around campus passing out the flyers and pitching Comrade Quest. Most people who I approached were very genial and interested in Comrade Quest. Of all the people I pitched and handed out flyers to, only two were uninterested.

Finally, Friday arrived. The pitches started at 6:00 that evening in the Clark Center. Despite Friday being the day of pitches, I wasn’t nervous. Unlike the hectic four days before, I went about my day peacefully, even serenely.  I woke up, ate breakfast, checked my emails, and worked in the ATEC labs for a little while, before going back to my apartment to get dressed up for pitches.

I got to the Clark Center thirty minutes early, to get comfortable with room designated for the live pitches. The room itself was a mid-sized auditorium, with seating for about 200 to 300 people. After about twenty minutes elapsed, the GPL professors and fellow game lab presenters filtered in. Panel members, followed by spectators filled the room. Presenters for Game Lab were ordered to sit in the front row together, in the order that they were assigned to present. I would be the eighth to present.

The Comrade Quest advertisement I distributed on campus.
The Comrade Quest advertisement I distributed on campus.

Dr. Evans, the head professor of GPL, kicked off the live pitches with the standard Game Lab introduction. As she was explaining GPL and the purpose of the live pitches to the audience, I started getting anxious. I ran the Comrade Quest pitch through my head furiously, making sure I remembered each point. I also ran through all the questions that the panel might ask about Comrade Quest, and formulated answers.

When the first pitch began, I found myself dividing my mental processes between paying attention to the pitches at hand and trying to tame my nervousness. A horrible quivering sensation manifested in the back of my throat, no doubt from the anxiety. My composure was quickly slipping.  I knew that if I didn’t start actively filtering my thoughts, I would end up on stage a blubbering mess. I concentrated hard on the pitches my colleagues presented, shifting my mental allowance between concentration and worry from 50-50 to 75-25.

 The shift worked a little, but it also sped up my perception of time. The pitches flew by one after another, until the seventh pitch ended, then Comrade Quest was announced. Suddenly, the nervousness subsided. As I rose out of my seat the music began to play in my head, The Hymn to the Red October.

Tiy pliyvee, pliyvee bestrashna, gordest say viernykh marieye.

Revoluytziye nadezhdah sgoostk vierif sekh luydeye.

Conclusion in next post!

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Comrade Quest History Part 2

continued from previous post

Immediately I chose to go with the Soviet theme. I decided on the name Comrade Quest, to evoke nostalgia for old analog games and to give it that goofy, campy feel. I immediately went to work fixing up my pitch document and adapting the character sketches I had made in my notebooks into viable concept art.  I had friends and classmates proofread the pitch document once it was done, and went to practice pitch sessions held by the Student Game Development Alliance. My heart sunk a little when I was told at the practice pitches that Comrade Quest didn’t have unique enough mechanics to make it into GPL. However, I was not defeated.

As it was, Comrade Quest was just a standard brawler with puzzle elements. It didn’t yet have the special mechanics to make it shine. When working in the labs one night, I was looking through my notes and I noticed an idea I had wrote down in class about Faberge eggs. It was an idea for a mechanic that casted random effects on the players when activated, similar to the party ball item in Super Smash Brothers. The eggs would be scattered throughout levels, and could be picked up and activated when needed.

Olaf the Beard Bender
Colored concept art for Olaf the Beard Bender

I decided to include the idea of Faberge eggs in my initial pitch document, however I wasn’t completely sold on the concept. The idea of using magical eggs just seemed too childish- like an Easter egg hunt. I played around with the concept in my head for a while, but suddenly had a revelation. Instead of featuring the random, grab-bag power eggs as items found throughout the level, what if players had the ability to activate the random power whenever they had enough of a certain resource? And thus the Communist Summon mechanic was born.

With Communist Summon, all players would have a communal “Communist Bar”, which they would build up as they fought enemies. Once the players built up the bar completely, they would be able to activate a Communist Summon. A Communist Summon would summon a random Communist or Capitalist leader. Each leader would have different effects, with Communist leaders providing beneficial effects for the party, and deleterious ones if a Capitalist leader was summoned. With this mechanic, I wanted to give players the opportunity to turn the tide of battle if a fight was getting too difficult for them, or to fail horribly and hilariously. Some may regard including random negative effects as pointless or even contradictory to giving the player a good experience, but from watching others play games and playing them myself, sometimes a good laugh can be had from a bizarre or uncanny death.

yuri the bearserker colored
Colored concept for Yuri the Bearserker

As I continued to revise my pitch document for submission, the weekend approached and with it an unexpected rough patch. The entire weekend was awful, but I knew that I had to keep polishing the pitch document. I also had to polish promotional art for Comrade Quest’s playable characters, which I knew would be quintessential to a live pitch. By Monday I was feeling better, and turned in the finalized pitch document. On Wednesday that same week I would find out what games made it to the live pitch sessions.

Now when I submitted Comrade Quest for GPL that semester, the selection process was in tiers. Any student could submit their idea to be reviewed for GPL, and they could submit as many different original game pitches as they wanted. However, of all the game pitch submissions submitted, only twelve game pitches would go on to the live pitch sessions. A panel of judges, comprised of UTD professors and industry professionals, would secretly decide which twelve pitches would go on to the live pitch sessions.

zhanna the kosmonaut
Colored concept for Zhanna the Kosmonaut

In the live pitch sessions, the creators of the twelve selected pitches present their idea to a live audience and another panel of judges, also made of UTD professors, industry professionals, and alumni. Presenters are given five minutes to present their idea for a game to the room, and are asked questions about their game by the panel. For the live pitches, it is best to have visuals for the game, or even better, a functional prototype of the game. Even if a game idea makes it to the live pitch sessions however, it does not guarantee its acceptance into GPL. Of twelve game pitches accepted to live pitch sessions, only five are accepted into GPL per semester. This process of elimination makes getting into GPL extremely competitive.

After I submitted my pitch for Comrade Quest on Monday, the GPL professors announced they would let students know which 12 pitches would go on to live pitches. Not wanting to be unprepared, I continued to work on visuals for my presentation, and started practicing how I would present the pitch for Comrade Quest in under five minutes. To get myself in the right frame of mind, I listened to traditional Russian folk music and the Hunt for Red October soundtrack as I worked. To this day I still attribute the song Hymn to the Red October to giving me the extra boost needed for presenting.

Wednesday quickly rolled around and with it, live pitch announcements. I was elated when I read the email announcing Comrade Quest’s acceptance, but I knew that meant I would have to get in front of a live audience and present. I had presented a different game, Red Shift, at live pitches the semester before. However, it was unsuccessful at getting picked for GPL, and I remained unsure of my public speaking ability. On top of my insecurities, live pitches were in two days- on Friday. I had to buckle down and practice my speaking abilities if I wanted to succeed this time.

Part three continued in next post!

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