Adventures in Portfolio Building & Learning

Hello my readers! I hope everyone’s doing well in their game development quests!

In my most recent adventures, I’ve attended several portfolio reviews and received valuable feedback. Of my current three portfolios, game design, concept art, and user interface design, I’ve learned that my game design portfolio is the strongest. Huzzah! However, I do need to beef up my skills in concept art and user interface design, so to do this I’ve started doing more work in those areas.

Currently I’m working on weapon concepts for an urbanpunk setting, either for a game or comic. Pictured left from right I have a drill axe, an electric sword, and a katar. The electric sword I’m most proud of, and if I were ever to face a horde of zombies, it’d be my go-to weapon of the three.

lewoczko_weapons Rough

Progress after importing the image to Photoshop. I’m a little odd in that I like to work right to left. I’m finished with the katar, but I’m still working on the electric sword and haven’t even started yet on the axe.

claire_weaponsWIP1

In addition to building up my concept art repertoire, I’ve been working on my user interface portfolio. Currently I primarily do just the art and design side of user interfaces, but I’m learning how to code and implement them using Scaleform. I love working in Unreal Development Kit (I find the node based system for materials to be extremely useful), and learning Scaleform will greatly increase my capabilities in the engine.

The menu below is a main menu screen for a fictional game called Dragoon Chronicles. I wanted to create a menu for a game with a dark fantasy setting, like Infinity Blade or Diablo. Currently I only have a static image, but I plan on importing individual buttons and states into Scaleform and see what all I can do with them.

ClaireLewoczko_DragoonChroniclesUI_1

It’s a bit daunting, having to learn software and languages, especially when it seems like a new one emerges every several months. It’s getting better though; I’m realizing that with both engines and programming, many concepts remain the same, despite the addition of new features and versions. In a way it keeps development from getting stale, as there’s always something new to be learned.

A couple of months ago Vinton Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, came to give a presentation at my college. After his presentation, he allowed students to come up, shake his hand, and ask him questions. I was a bit shy, and introduced myself as “just a student”. I will never forget his reply, in which he told me

  “You are never just a student. A student is one of the most important things you can be. You should never stop being a student. You should always be learning.”

Even when formal education ends, it’s always important to be learning: learning from experiences, learning from other people, learning new ways to do things. From my experience, I’ve seen that the happiest people are those who continue to learn and grow. Those who refuse to open to new ideas become stagnant and depressed.

It makes me incredibly happy to know that I am in a field that is constantly evolving. It’s been a journey so far and as far as I can see, adventure stretches into the horizon. I have a lot to learn, but I am excited about all the discoveries that lie ahead. Stay passionate comrades, and always be willing to learn.

Until next time, US Claire Force signing out.

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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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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.

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 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 Dev Blog Announcement

attention

US Claire Force reporting for duty! I am pleased to announce that my game, Comrade Quest, is currently in development in UTD’s Game Production Lab. Back in October I pitched my idea for Game Production Lab, and it got accepted! Now I am in charge of a team of nine people- programmers, level designers, animators, and sound designers, to turn that idea into a reality.

I feel that now is the perfect time to re-purpose this blog into a development diary for my game, so that in the future I can look back and see what worked, what didn’t, and what wisdom I can gain from the development experience. Comrade Quest’s been in production for little over a month, so to catch everyone up to speed I’ll give you the history of how Comrade Quest started.

To sum it up, Comrade Quest is a co-op, 2D brawler in which players work together, defeating hordes of enemies with attack combos, summoning Communist figures and navigating hazards to reach the end of each level. In the USSR a nuclear meltdown creates a dimensional rift, summoning demonic Crapitalists and their ruler, Uncle Sham. Four heroes must gather the Seven Blocks of Techtris scattered throughout Russia, to patch the dimensional rift and destroy the Crapitalists.

olaf rough head sketch
One of the first sketches of the magic beard man, who would later become Olaf the Beardbender

It all started last September after a game of Frisbee golf with a friend. I knew that submissions for Game Production Lab (for now on, I’ll just refer to it as GPL) were coming up mid-October, and I hadn’t formulated a strong idea in my head yet as to what I wanted to pitch. I did however, have an idea for a character with a magical beard. This nameless character had a prehensile beard, which he could shape and contort with his mind. He could use his beard as a whip, a helicopter blade, a grapple, and other things. I told my friend about the idea, and he really liked it, encouraging me to develop the idea further.

 Around the first week of October, I had two aesthetics competing for dominance in my all purpose note-taking spiral. Coming up with the muscle and bones of the game wasn’t that difficult. I knew that I definitely wanted to make a 2D brawler with puzzle elements, similar to Guacamelee and to some extent, Rayman Origins. To get into Game Lab however, you had to have something that was both mechanically sound and attention grabbing.

One aesthetic for the brawler was horror-themed, inspired by the brooding atmosphere of Kentucky Route Zero and the old season one episodes of Supernatural. The game would feature an ensemble of four characters, each with psychokinetic abilities over different aspects of their bodies. For example, one character would be able to grow out their muscles to pummel enemies and break down obstacles. Another character would use osteokinesis to grow out their bones and use them as weapons. The idea was transplanted from a previous game idea of mine called Isotope, which I had submitted to GPL two semesters earlier.

bearserker
Rough sketch of Yuri the Bearserker, and other Communist doodles.

Soviet Russia was the other aesthetic I had in mind. I’ve always made a point to examine current trends and see what hasn’t been done or explored yet. One thing that I noticed with video games, even the more cultural ones, there are very few that take place in Russia. There are many games that take place in the United States, Japan, the Middle East, and Western Europe, but very few that take place in Russia.

There are even fewer games set in Russia in which the player is a Russian protagonist. Most of the time in video games, Russians are the faceless mooks at the receiving end of a bayonet or gun barrel. I knew that if I could make a game where Russians were the good guys for once, it might have a good chance of standing out amongst the crowd.

The deadline for GPL submission was October 14th, and I knew I had to act quickly. I liked both aesthetics, but was having a difficult time deciding one over another. I had slight preference for the horror theme at the time, but I was unsure if the theme itself would be strong enough to stand out. I ran both ideas by the same colleague that I had talked to the previous month about the magical beard character. I pitched him the horror theme and its characters first, which he was completely uninterested in. When I pitched the Soviet theme however, he immediately became interested. Right then and there I knew exactly what to go with.

Part two continued in next post!

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