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Weekly Update: Starting to Address FA Feedback

This week we've been looking at feedback from Fantastic Arcade (and IndieCade feedback), and coming up with a plan of attack for our next milestone! 

To start the week off, I wrote up a big list of feedback, which is posted here. I'm starting off by redesigning the sections of the level that have issues. I also made some effects for when the chameleon is walking on surfaces without color (they're not hooked up yet though, so I will post a video later!)

Issam has been doing a lot of stuff! He fixed the prefab system and created a system that reimports perfab objects when they are changed.

After some issues...

...he fixed the sentinels, so that the new ones now import correctly and look at the player:

It's a little hard to tell from the Vine, so here's a screengrab as well: 

He also fixed the shadows and sunrays, which have been missing for a little while. The outdoor sections of the level look pretty now! He also made the colors brighter when they are fully saturated.

We also made the change from the feedback to try setting all object color sizes to one. We want to test it for awhile and see what players think. It was definitely causing confusion before have bigger objects require more color - this is simpler and speeds up the overall pace of the game. 

He also hooked up the ivy that I was working on last week, so it works in game now!

And it's hard to tell in this vine, but he worked on the camera controls too. 

Here's a photo of the 3 of us from this morning's team meeting:


Fantastic Arcade 2014 Recap!


Fantastic Arcade was last Thurs-Sun! It's a free event in Austin that takes place in a movie theater and adjoining bar, which a lot of indie devs from across the country attend. Even though it's free, I'd say it's much more of a developer-facing event, as opposed to fan-facing, and the talks are generally about development.

They have a selection of around 40 games: 8 spotlight games, which are shown in arcade cabinets, and 28 showcase games which are shown on a dozen or so laptops (the laptops have all of the games in a launcher -- this is where our game was!). Sony also had an area with some kiosks set up featuring indie games that are scheduled to release on PS4. There's a program of talks, given by the spotlight game developers (and some additional devs) and tournaments. The programmed events don't really overlap like at bigger gaming events, so it's pretty much a bunch of developers hanging out in the same area with each other all day. Overall it's a really chill event, and a good opportunity to meet other developers. :)

Here are some of the cool things we saw!



Donut County

This game is actually based on a prototype that the developer made for the Molyjam, which is pretty awesome! You control a hole in the ground which you move around with your mouse. Anything that fits in the hole falls into it, and as more and more things fall into it, it gets incrementally larger so you can eventually clear the stage. There are some puzzles that you have to solve in order to make more things appear (i.e., get the chicken into the henhouse so it can make some eggs for you to suck up), so that your hole can become big enough to clear the stage. The developer talked about the backstory, which is based on the idea of gentrification and erasing culture. I'm really excited to see where he goes with it.  


Gang Beasts

I'd played Gang Beasts before Fantastic Arcade, but this is a good chance to mention it. It's basically a crazy fighting game, that currently supports up to 8 players (I got the opportunity to play with 7 other people and it was AMAZING). I recommend checking out videos as the best way to understand it. It's currently available as an early access game on Steam.

Titan Souls

I didn't actually play Titan Souls, but Issam really liked it. It's a really difficult game where you face a bunch of different bosses - dying until you figure out how to fight each boss, and then dying until you actually manage to pull it off. 


This was my fist opportunity to play Nidhogg and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It was at the Sony Kiosks (as opposed to being a Festival game) It's sort of like... 2-man football if there was no ball and players constantly died and respawned. Your goal is to get to your respective end zone (the left-most screen for the player facing left, and the right-most screen for the player facing right), while your opponent does everything possible to get in your way and/or kill you. Again, this one might be better understood through video. My only criticism of the game was that it would really benefit from some sort of time limit (maybe there is one and it was just turned off?), because I played for like, 10min straight against someone I was evenly matched with and it was completely exhausting and got pretty not fun towards the end. It was completely exhausting. You can buy Nidhogg directly on their website, and the game will be coming out on Vita and PS4 at some point.


Starwhal: Just the Tip

Starwhal was another Sony kiosk game that I'd heard of but never played before. You fight other players as narwhals - damage is inflicted by touching the other players' hearts with your horn. Your control your head with the joystick and propel yourself forward with X (I think this also makes your body wiggle). It's intentionally difficult to control, which makes it really fun. 




I met Jason Roberts briefly during SXSW and checked out the demo of Gorogoa afterwards (you can play the full demo online for free! Do it!). It's a beautiful game where you move panels to solve puzzles. Jason spoke a bit about his inspiration and how the project started, but he mostly talked about how he was having some difficulty deciding how much the gameplay should involve 'traditional' puzzles (where you learn a system and use it), vs. having the player progress using exploration and more dream-like connections. This really hit home for me, since I spend a lot of time wondering where to be traditional about gameplay and where to try to move in a different direction, towards my own 'vision.'


Astro Duel Tournament

I'm part of a playtesting group with Rusty Moyer so I've gotten to play Astro Duel a number of times. I'm disappointed I didn't do better in the tournament! >:( Astro Duel is a 4 player competitive multiplayer game for iPad. It's fast-paced, simple to learn and really fun! I recommend checking it out! I took some Vines of the tournament here, here and here

Super Game Jam

Super Game Jam is a documentary mini-series where developers have 48 hours to make a game. It's not competition-style - each episode simply focuses on a pair of developers that are given a theme and work together on a game. We only saw episode 4, but I felt like it was shot very honestly and was wonderful to watch. You can buy the episodes on Steam.



Barfcade was one of the closing events of the weekend. It was a gameshow where hosts Thu Tran (filmmaker, gamemaker), and Wiley Wiggins, led the contestants through a series of trivia questions, Barfcade games (games made during a 2 week game jam before the event), and gross food challenges (eating mayo-filled donuts, durian popsicles and bologna, sriracha, anchovy tacos). You can play all of the submitted Barfcade games at the bottom of this page

And I will leave you all with this video of the contestants eating sticks of butter.


Current Game Feedback

There was no weekly update last week because Issam and I spent Thursday-Sunday at Fantastic Arcade, where our game was featured as one of the Bonus Games! I was able to use the occasion to watch people play our demo without them realizing I was watching. It was a great opportunity to see common areas where people were getting stuck or having difficulty. A lot of the issues came up in spots we thought we had addressed previously, but it was apparent that there are still a number of outstanding issues. We also recently received feedback from our submission to IndieCade. Here are my notes:

- I noticed one player that was unable to figure out the color stealing mechanic. This also seemed to be the case in the IndieCade submission feedback we received - "I had to glitch through walls to get a different interaction other than "jump" on the very first room. Is that intended?" - so clearly for some players, the HUD with button prompts isn't working. We're trying to avoid having any text in the game, but we're thinking a bit more about the possibility. I still want to try some other options first.

- The camera still needs a lot of work - but we've known this for awhile and just haven't gotten the chance to address it yet. It's still very helpful to see players struggling with the camera though, because we're just so used to it that we forget it's an outstanding issue sometimes... :)

- Because of the stair-step layout of the big rooms, there are a lot of small hallways that are kind of weird and don't work that well with the camera. In general, the tight spaces don't work well with the current camera. We received this feedback from the IndieCade submission: "A game with a floating third person camera needs wide open spaces--in the narrow hallways of Color Thief, I frequently was bumping the camera into things, being wedged in so tight I couldn't see anything, or running the camera right through geometry.  It's very frustrating, and makes it hard to focus on solving anything." Either we really need to open the level up more, or try to find a better solution for the camera. 

- Players are still getting stuck on the first sentinel. In the playthrough I saw where this happened, the player tried to take all of the color away from the sentinel, which is something a lot of people have tried. We had added an animation of the sentinels "locking" to try to prevent this, but it's still confusing to players.

- I saw one player get a bit confused when they reached the second half of the big room -- and honestly, I wonder if it's a bit of a bummer to solve that first half only to be greeted by a nearly identical room. A friend had mentioned something similar a long time ago, but I think I had misunderstood the thrust of his feedback. I think the second area needs to be redesigned, or the players need to get a bit more of a reward in terms of narrative elements or visuals. 

- The large purple door which serves as the goal of the 2nd half of the big room isn't immediately identifiable, so your goal isn't clear right away.

- Players definitely keep missing the blue door on the lower level. You can see it when you first enter the area (like in the above picture), but after solving all of the other puzzles in the area, they're not in a good position to see it. Actually if you solve puzzles in the order I intended, this is the view you get when you come back out into the main area... and you can't see the door at all from there (pic below).

- The first room where you take color from water is a little confusing in that you can just exit from the door you came in through and miss the purple. Also I think most players don't even notice that the water has become a solid surface. I should probably clear up the multiple doors thing, and put you in a position where you actually need to stand on the water (so you realize that you're doing it). That way, the final puzzle will also make a lot more sense. Also maybe I don't need to give players so many choices for where to get the final blue from.

(Still getting stuck here since they're not really understanding the water from the above puzzle.)

- Players were playing an old build, and while I didn't necessarily see anyone get stuck, it reminded me that the first big yellow door isn't easily identifiable as a "goal" (like, that you need to be collecting yellow from each room). Maybe I should have the door require 4 "units" of yellow and give you one right away, so you can identify yellow collecting as a goal. In a more recent build I have a large door appear sooner, but thinking about it now, I like this new solution better, since it's more immediate to what the player is doing)

- In general, we're thinking about changing the color rules so that every object just holds one "unit" of color. Initially the idea was that it would use the surface area of an object vs. the surface area of the chameleon to determine how much color something would hold, but we found out quickly that everything is so much bigger than the chameleon that this make the game really tedious. Our solution had been to approximate the feel of relative sizes by still using surface area to determine if something held one, two or three "chameleons" worth of color - but thinking about it now, it kind of seems like a weird half-solution. A lot of players have asked "why don't I just take all of the color?" and we're going to try it like this for awhile and see how it changes the feel of the game. I think it will speed up the overall pace of the game, which would be really good.

- Overall, we're also still considering the option of adding text to create more of a "traditional" tutorial. Or maybe we could do it with icons and not text... I'd still prefer to totally handle it with gameplay, but it seems that this currently isn't working!

- We also need to figure out what we can do for players that just get completely stuck. So far I've tried to design the levels so that you can tackle them a little less linearly if you get stuck (the big rooms are set up this way), but maybe we can add a "help" button or... something? Not sure. We need to spend some time looking into how other puzzle games handle this issue. 

- We need to start adding some effects, like dust when the character is walking on colorless grass! This isn't really feedback, it's just something we were talking about this morning that I don't want to forget!

Also here's a picture of Miles since I didn't post a weekly update! Miles' feedback is that we should be petting him more often.


Weekly Update: Ivy & Sentinels


Issam is coming back this weekend! Hooray!

This week I've been working a bit on the ivy and how I want it to look. Here's a mockup I made in Max of how I'd like it to work (unforunately the Vine drops a lot of frames):


I want the uncolored ivy to crumble when the chameleon touches it. I think we can do this by buiding the ivy in little clusters with their own trigger boxes.

Also this is what the leaves look like with normals (although they're a bit too light right now):

I've also been working on the sentinel redesign, which is pretty much done, I just need to export it with the correct hierarchy:

Miles has been trying to figure out how to get water out of this glass:



Weekly Update: Tree Root Level

Issam is still in New York working on a contract!

I started off the week looking into a different sort of level layout, to see how the camera handled it. I think it worked pretty well, so I definitely want to try to create more spaces like this that have more verticality to them:

Most of the rest of the week I was working on this new puzzle. It's pretty much working now: 

Miles may or may not have destroyed this roll of toilet paper:


Weekly Update: Level Design Problems

So this week I've mostly been working on level design ideas! Ever since we decided to try to build puzzles out as separate rooms during this phase of the project, I've been trying to figure out a good workflow for coming up with puzzles. 

I'm finding that this top-down map style of design doesn't really work that well for our project. I want this game to have a lot of exploration, but in forming levels this way, I usually end up with something really simplified and boxy, and it's hard to really visualize the space. I've found that a more effective way of making the puzzles is to start to block something out and get it into game as soon as possible - then I can walk around in it and figure out what makes the most sense. In fact, my most recent puzzle came from me realizing that I'd built the level in such a way that the player could easily get stuck.

That said, after brainstorming a bit on the Frog Temple, I started thinking about stacking structures and playing with different heights, which is something top-down design really doesn't allow for - so now I want to see what I can do to start thinking about them more dimensionally. I think the best way to design might be to just start in Max, and see what happens.

Some (probably) Chameleon Temple level brainstorming: 

Thinking about trees and how they can mix things up. Starting to get into some Frog Temple stuff at the bottom (lily pads).

Some Octopus and Arctic Fox Temple ideas.

Frog Temple ideas, thinking about stacking.

Here are the new puzzles I blocked out this week. Only the middle one is currently "complete" as a puzzle. The other 2 are in a place where I want to start playing with them.

Here's what Miles has been doing!:


Color Thief at Fantastic Arcade!

Color Thief is going to be a Bonus Game at this year's Fantastic Arcade! 

You can read the details and see the other games here!: http://fantasticfest.com/news/entry/fantastic-arcade-2014-showcase-and-frenzy


Weekly Update: Art & Puzzles

I've been skipping around working on a bunch of different things this week, so as a result I didn't really close anything out. ;) Issam is still contracting in upstate NY. 

Early in the week I did this really quick test when I was thinking about how the ivy could "open up" when given color. I tried both vertex animation and bone animation. I like that the vertex animated version can start small and grow, but I like the motion better on the one animated with bones. 

I worked on laying out the demo level a little more, and put some markers for spawn points so you can go from one room to another. 

I also started working on one of the new puzzles and found that it wasn't working as expected, so I spent a solid day trying to turn it into something. It's still not really a puzzle! >:(

Also I've been working on some art for the outdoor section:

Here's Miles looking peaceful:


Weekly Update: Refocusing & Contract Work

A couple of big things happened this week!

The first is that Issam was asked to do a contract in upstate New York, so he'll be away for 3 weeks! I'm sure progress will be a bit slower, since he'll be working long hours and won't have a lot of free time to work on our project.

The second is that we refocused and changed our short-term plan a bit. Because we needed to build the tutorial section first so that playtesters could understand what to do, we'd been assuming we would just build the game linearly. I did a pass on the second section of the temple and had started designing the third area, but we started to notice some issues with working this way. It felt too much like we had moved into a 'production phase' even though there are a ton of ideas we haven't prototyped yet, and we're still not sure how much game we'll really have once we sort through all of our ideas. Our new plan is to keep the tutorial section, and then build a bunch of separate puzzle rooms from there, not worrying as much about how they fit together. After we know what works, we can pay more attention to the structure of the temple.

So far this week I've been deciding which puzzles we already had that I wanted to keep for this new demo setup, as well as designing some new puzzles on paper. I've got about a dozen rooms that we'd like to try (although so far a lot of them are repeats from before). 

I also started chunking up the existing rooms so that they were easier to work with individually. 

And here's Miles shamelessly napping at work:


Weekly Update: Housekeeping & Fire System

This week, Issam did some housekeeping/workflow stuff for us (I'll go into more detail below) and started rebuilding the fire system so we can start digging into the fun stuff

Here's some fire with basic functionality:  

And here he started playing with how it works: 

Issam also started work on a system for the chameleon to carry objects, and made it so that the sentinels can handle closing on a block.  

I was mostly dealing with the boring housekeeping stuff this week. First, I've been ignoring missing texture errors for like, a year, so I started doing some work to get rid of those, and getting our file structure straight.

Next, because we're placing everything in Max and exporting directly into Unity, we haven't been using Unity's prefab system. This way I can see everything that I need to in Max at all times - but unfortunately means if we want to change the way something like doors or sentinels are structured of look, I have to manually replace them all in all of my Max files, which is really bad. Issam made a system where I can export a main 'prefab' and then export it from my Max file using dummies and naming conventions: 

The issue with this is that I can't see how the sentinels fit into the level itself, which makes it harder to work on the art. After some messing around with settings, we found that we can use XRef Scene in Max (XRef Object seems to have some issues), and bind the reference to the same dummy I use to export in order to place it in the scene exactly as it will appear in game:

I've replaced all of the sentinels in the first section of the level and it seems to be working as expected so far, which is good! Next I will do a pass on the doors. 

Also at the end of last week I had started looking into a way to design the sentinels a little better, (I did these sketches). On Sunday I tried to model the one that has just a gigantic eye on it and it was horrible. Fortunately, after poking around in Sri Lankan temple reference some more, I found Kelaniya Temple, which has some beautiful columns in the front.

I had already seen some examples of similar columns,

and tried to incorporate them into my design:

But after seeing the elephants on the bottoms of Kelaniya's columns in particular, I thought I'd see if I could work that sort of design into the sentinels. 

This is what I have at the moment. Mostly just starting to block it out. I plan on still having the chameleon statues heads rotate, to show that they are looking at you.

This was also cool because I started thinking about how the relief sculptures can work (it's something I've been worrying about), and I realized I can just position the chameleon model, take an animation snapshot, and then flatten him out. I think it looks pretty neat: 

Anyway, forward progress!

Here's Miles considering an alternate career as a male model: