Please enjoy this "behind the scenes" content from the development process of our summer prototypes. For eight weeks teams of students worked together to develop these games from scratch with only some research guidelines as a starting point. We hope that by exposing our process to the public we can encourage innovation in game development and game studies for industry and academia alike. Take a look at the developer interviews, concept art, sound, design documentation, essays, commentaries, and all other content we will make available in this series. But most importantly please take a chance to go play the games. We have made them, for you.
GOTW: Squeezicks More Concept Art
GOTW: Squeezicks Concept Art
Welcome back to the Game of the Week! Today we have some concept art fromt he early stages of development of Squeezicks. The project was one of two 3D games we produced last summer, along with Snowfield, and making a 3D game with a short development cycle introduces unique challenges to the team. I think you can see some of the early ideas for the game being worked out in these pieces.
We'll be back on Friday with some more looks at Squeezicks!
Welcome back to another Game of the Week. This week we take a look at the 3D Physics based game Squeezicks!
GOTW: Eksa Design Documents
Welcome back to the GOTW, featuring Eksa. Today we are sharing various design documents used in the creation of the game. First we have shots of an art asset list to give you a sense for how much art creation is involved in making a game like Eksa:
Next we want to show you some more concept art work from the game development:
We hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at Eksa. Come back on Monday for another Game of the Week
GOTW: Eksa Concept Art
Hi everyone, and happy Wednesday! Today we will be sharing some concept art from the development of Eksa. The team had a unique challenge with Eksa to design a Facebook game that could appeal to a broad audience, and I think you can see in the concept art how they tested out many different ideas before arriving at their final style.
Check back in with us on Friday for some more coverage of Eksa!
Hello everyone and welcome back to the GAMBIT blog. The Game of the Week this week is our Facebook puzzler, Eksa! First, enjoy a video interview with Sara Verilli, the game director.
GOTW: Stranded Design Documents
Welcome back to the Game of the Week series here at GAMBIT. Today with our last post for Stranded in Singapore we're going to show you some design documentation that will hopefully give you some insight into the character of the team behind the game.
First is a set of notes from a narrative brainstorming session:
Next we have a series of images from the "Secret Diary" of producer Nick Garza:
We hope you've liked this look behind the curtain at Stranded in Singapore. We'll be back with a new Game of the Week on Monday, so see you then!
GOTW: Stranded in Singapore Concept Art
Hello everyone, and welcome back! Today we have some concept art from various stages of development for Stranded in Singapore. These are posted in order by milestones (internal deadlines) so you can really see how the game progressed over the summer!
We'll be back on Friday with more from Stranded in Singapore. See you then.
GOTW: Stranded in Singapore
Hi friends of GAMBIT! We're back with another game of the week this Monday, and today we begin our coverage of Stranded in Singapore.
Stranded in Singapore is a classic point and click adventure game built on research developed by Clara Fernández-Vara on procedurally generated puzzles. It is a great, and hilarious game, and if you haven't played it yet head on over to our games page and try it out. In the mean time, here is a video with Clara and Rik talking about the project!
GOTW: Snowfield Music Video
Hey Everyone! Finishing up this week of coverage of The Snowfield we're going to share with you a special music video made by the members of the team, and featuring some special guests. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
GOTW: Snowfield Part 2 - Concept Art
GOTW: The Snowfield
Well hello everybody, we're back with another Game of the Week, and this week we are taking an in depth look at our IGF nominated The Snowfield. We're staring things off with another great video, this time featuring an interview with Matthew Weise, and Jason Beene.
We'll be back on Wednesday with more behind the scenes looks at The Snowfield!
GOTW: Robotany Thoughts
To close out our week of Robotany coverage, we're going to share some thoughts written by one of the programmers of the game, Daniel Ho. I think it is important to let the words of the developers of the game, our interns, be read to paint a clearer portrait of our processes here at the lab in the summer, and to get a more focused understanding of the dynamics of a specific team.
Thanks for checking in this week, and come back on Monday for another Game of the Week!
GOTW: Robotany Concept Art
Welcome back everyone. In this post we are highlighting a large collection of Robotany concept art. The nature theme persisted throughout development, but I think you can see some very interesting early ideas in these pieces.
Well, that's all for today. See you all on Friday with a final installment of Robotany features!
Welcome back everyone! This weeks Game of the Week is Robotany. Here is a video looking at the design and research behind the game, with an interview of Andrew Grant and Jason Begy:
Check back in with us on Wednesday for some more behind the scenes looks at the making of Robotany.
GOTW: A Closed World Screens/Reflections
We're going to star this final post of the A Closed World coverage with some screenshots of early versions of the game. I think looking through them you can see some of the path that was taken to get to the final version.
Next are some images of maps that were designed for the game. I think this shows how the world developed over the weeks working on the game.
Finally, I'd like to finish this little retrospective of A Closed World with some reflections written by the team's game designer. See you on Monday with our next Game of the Week!
GOTW: A Closed World Prototyping/Concept Art
Welcome back to part two of our first week of coverage of last Summer's prototypes. We are continuing our look at A Closed World with some images from our early development stages creating paper prototypes before starting work on a digital game. I think these images nicely illustrate how creative our teams can get in developing playable paper prototypes to iron out ideas and to troubleshoot difficult design challenges before even a single line of code is written.Next are some concept art pieces done from early in development. We emphasize extensive concept work for our artists, audio designers and for our game designers. It is valuable to experiment and explore before settling on artistic directions. That's it for today. We'll be back on Friday morning with more stuff from development of A Closed World so check back in then!
Game of the Week: A Closed World
Well hello everyone! We're back with another Game of the Week series showcasing our summer prototypes from 2011. For those of you new to this series, we spend an entire week posting behind the scenes looks at how our games are produced. We have video interviews, concept art, design documents, blog posts and myriad other artifacts from our production process.
This year we'll be posting three items a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. The posts will be chock full of unique and interesting insights, so be sure to check in and see what we've posted.
This week we are starting with A Closed World! If you haven't played the game yet, head on over here and check it out. Then, come back and watch this video with Todd Harper, the Product Owner, and yours truly.
The Incredibly Silly Trailer for Game Of The Week 2012 Is Up!
Just uploaded for your viewing pleasure is trailer promoting the 2012 edition of Game Of The Week! Beginning February 20th, 2012...On the Monday of each week, a new video exploring the origins and processes of developing each Summer 2011 game project will be posted. GAMBIT Audio Director Abe Stein will post blogs during the week, featuring concept art, design documents, and analysis of the highlighted game will be offered for your viewing pleasure! Video Produced by Generoso Fierro, edited by James Barrile, music by Abe Stein. Check out the series beginning February 20th, 2012 at http://gambit.mit.edu/gotw
Improviso Product Backlog
With all the beautiful sketches and concept art we show with the Game of the Week, I wanted to take a moment to show you another side of the game development process, the organization and planning done by producers and designers. Here are some shots of the product backlog for Improviso at an early stage of development. Product backlogs are how you keep track of features that you want to implement in the game, and they really help in maintaining appropriate scope for the development cycle of a project. These documents are always changing and adapting to the newest state of the game, but they help provide a roadmap for what developers can expect.
Improviso Alien Sketches
The fiction used in Improviso was important to creating an atmosphere for players to feel comfortable engaging one another. A big part of that is the "alien" character that you find in the game. Here are some alien sketches:
I also promised you a surprise yesterday. I am excited to announce that you can now go download and PLAY Improviso right from this website. Click here to get your acting on. See you tomorrow.
Improviso Concept Art
Improviso was unique this last summer in that it was the only game we were developing that was using full 3D art. This presented some new challenges to the art team in how to create a style that would be flexible enough to fit the fiction of improvisation and would still be engaging to the player. Check out some of the concept work done early on below:
See you tomorrow with an extra special Game of the Week post!
I'd like to introduce our final Game of the Week in this 2011 edition of the series, Improviso! The game expands on AI research started with The Restaurant Game. Check out the video below.
GOTW: Seer and Yet One Word First Playtest Screenshots
Hey everyone! Halfway through the development of Seer and Yet One Word the artists decided to change the art style of the game to the paper cutout theme you see in the final version of the games. Here are some screenshots from early builds that we showed at a large open playtest halfway through the summer program:
GOTW: Concept Art from The Sophocles Project
One slightly different thing about The Sophocles Project games was that there were three artists on the team. This was done to ensure there were no jams in the art pipeline since the team was going to be making two games in one summer.
What is really great is that I think you can see the styles and ideas of all three artists in the final games. Check out a few pieces of concept art below, and see if you can find traces of ideas that made it into the final game!
See you all tomorrow for some more GOTW!
GOTW: Early Screen Shots
It is always useful to look back at early screenshots of first prototypes of games. I think looking at these screens you can see that even in the first digital prototypes of the games some of the core mechanics of the games are being worked out. Check them out:
Yet One Word
Come back tomorrow for some more GOTW footage!
GOTW: Seer/Yet One Word
Greetings from GDC! Sorry we are a little late today with our post for this week's GOTW video, I hope you are still with us. This week we are actually highlighting two games, Seer and Yet One Word from the ongoing Sophocles Project. Check out the video describing the origins of the project:
See you tomorrow for more!
GOTW: Afterland Concept Art
For our final installation for Afterland we are showing some of the concept art developed early in the process. Balancing a game between conventional design choices and unexpected consequences can be very difficult, and I think you can see some of the ideas being worked out in these concept pieces.
See you next week, from San Francisco and GDC, with a brand new Game of The Week!
GOTW: Afterland Programmer Reflections
Here is a blog post written by one of the Afterland programmers, and current MIT and GAMBIT grad student, Mark Sullivan!
Here at GAMBIT, the members of a team each have a certain role. It might be one in production, quality assurance, game design, sound, art, or programming. The function of a programmer is one of a facilitator. The ideas and creations of all these disciplines are synthesized into a game by its coding team.
The programming team for Afterland consisted of three members. I, Mark Sullivan III, am a recent MIT graduate and GAMBIT veteran. Su Qin is a Computer Science student who has just graduated from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Last but not least, Melvyn Qwek who is doing his final year Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore with a specialization in Games Programming.
While we all had prior experience developing games, none of us had done so in Flash before. The mood, however, was definitely one of excitement, and not intimidation. We were all very excited to learn the skills needed to develop for this very portable and accessible platform. Early on, at the recommendation of GAMBIT's technical director Andrew Grant, we decided to use Flixel as our game engine. We did not regret our decision; Flixel does a great job at establishing the basic game framework so that it's very easy to get a simple game up and running very fast. The tools Flixel provided were sufficient to accomplish nearly everything we wanted, and it was easy to patch in the things it did not.
For the first stretch of the project, we did not code at all. Our research objective specified a lofty concept, so the whole team participated in brainstorming before a more concrete specification of the game could be created. While a lot of the design was iterated upon and modified after this point, we had a starting point and could begin implementation. We implemented much of the framework which persisted for the duration of the project. We created a basic platformer with collection elements, and after that the game charged full speed ahead.
One unintended feature of this partitioning was that it matched the artists' partitioning. Yoshi did the level art, Sophia did the character art, and Kelvin did the user interface. This ended up working quite well for us, each having a primary contact on the other discipline's team. There are several things we learned to fear from the art team, however. A high pitched voice accompanying flattering words without a doubt signaled the onset of some absurd feature request. "You're the best programmer ever! I'm sure it would be no trouble for you to..." A particular favorite was "Wow, what a great job on the ending scene! Although...wouldn't it be great if there was confetti as well?" That one lead to our game being stuck at 1 fps for a while. Or the completely urgent "NO! What happened? The items in the house are off by a couple pixels!" I can't pretend I can tell the difference, but perhaps that's why I'm not an artist. In any case, the bantering between the teams was done in good spirit.
The design pipeline was pretty smooth. We kept an up to date backlog with the features we planned to implement, so it was always easy to tell what the plan was. Additionally, we found Flan, a level editor designed for use with Flixel. While the editor was restrictive at times, and closed source so we couldn't modify it, it provided a lot of functionality which we would not have been able to match on a timeline like ours. It allowed our designer, Aaron, to create and test levels on his own, though we wound up fitting in things like the parallaxing backgrounds in code.
Sound integration also went pretty well. There were plenty of iterations on the way sound worked which required programmer intervention, such as certain crossfades and other transitions, but the sound designer, Iqbal, was given access to our sound manager, so that he could swap assets and adjust volume levels on his own. Due to some file size problems, we unfortunately cut a lot of audio in the end, but I feel we managed to tie together what we had quite well.
While most things worked out quite well, there was one thing in particular we could have done better. Our file size is much larger than it needs to be. A lot of the art is in bitmap when it could have been done with vector. This is not the fault of the artists, just a lack of foresight on all of our parts. We managed to save about 6 megabytes converting many of the parallaxing backgrounds to vector art (with blur - we cached them at runtime to prevent a huge performance hit). We could have avoided the need to redo some of the artwork had we anticipated this.
In the end, all of the parts converged to the whole, and we wound up with, what I believe, is a great game which accomplishes the research objective. If you haven't tried it, play it now!
GOTW: Afterland Storyboard Sketches
GOTW: Afterland 1st Playable
Hey everyone. Today we are sharing screenshots from the first playable digital prototype of Afterland. I think you can see from these shots the drastic change that the art style of the game underwent during the process. At the same time you can see how the core gameplay existed early on. Check these out:
See you tomorrow with more Afterland content!
GOTW: Introducing Afterland
Hello everyone, and happy Monday! I'd like to introduce our next Game of the Week, Afterland! Enjoy the following video:
See you tomorrow for more Afterland features.
GOTW: Elude Materials
Pouring over materials from from the development of Elude I ran into some interesting things I'd like to share.
Next I'd like to show you some concept art for "inspiration objects" in the game. These objects, which became birds in the final build, are important to the metaphor driving the games design and you can see from the sketches a lot of thought was put into how these objects should look.
Hope you've enjoyed the Elude content this week. See you on Monday with a new Game of the Week!
GOTW: More Elude Concept Art
GOTW: Screenshots from Early Builds
Here are some screenshots from early builds of the game Elude. I think in looking at these you can see how the game progressed.
Finally, here is a little bit of concept art humor!
See you tomorrow for some more Elude content!
GOTW: Elude Concept Art
Hey everyone. Here is some concept art from Elude. One of the really nice things about Elude is the coherence of the art style. All the elements really contribute to the feel of the game. This was not arrived at by accident. The team spent lots of time testing out concepts and iterating on the ideas. As you may have noticed by now, at GAMBIT we really emphasize iterative design!
See you folks tomorrow morning with some more Elude content!
GOTW: Introducing Elude
Welcome back, and happy Valentine's Day! This week, we will be highlighting Elude, a game about clinical depression. Check out this video below, and if you haven't yet, play the game here at the GAMBIT website!
Chroma Studios Pictures
To close out the Poikilia week we're gonna post some pictures of the Chroma Studios team during the summer. I think these give you a good sense for how our lab is set up and a little bit of a feeling for how our summer program operates! Thanks for checking out our Poikilia coverage. Come back next week for some more GOTW!
Poikila Storyboard Concepts
An essential component of the research behind Poikilia is examining the effect of structured narrative on the ability of players to decode and unpack the meaning behind a game. In the instance of Poikilia, storyboard cutscenes are used for telling the story behind the game. Below are some of the concept boards for the narrative scenes:
Come back tomorrow for some more Poikilia features.
Poikilia Character Concepts
Welcome back folks! Today we're gonna show you some early character sketches from the development of Poikilia. Because narrative and fiction are a large part of the research behind Poikilia, tremendous thought and iteration was put into how characters would be depicted in the game to supports a fully fleshed out narrative and the absence of one. Check out the sketches below.
Check back tomorrow for some more Poikilia behind the scenes features!
Poikilia Paper Prototypes
An often overlooked important part of the development process is paper prototyping. At GAMBIT, before a single line of code is written, teams will build physical prototypes of various ideas to quickly and simply test out mechanics and systems. Paper prototypes help to mitigate some of the risk during later stages of the development process because ideas have already been tested and, in most instances, tweaked. Here are some shots of physical prototypes for Poikilia:
What is not shown in these shots is that most of these prototypes were played with flashlights and colored gels of the kind used in theater productions. With that in mind, I think you can see how these maps relate to the final mechanics of the game. If you haven't played Poikilia yet, what are you waiting for?
GOTW: Introducing Poikilia
Hey everybody, hope you had a great weekend. Welcome back to our Game of The Week series here at GAMBIT. This week we will be highlighting Poikilia, a difficult to pronounce game about color theory! Check out this short form documentary video about the game featuring our very own Sergeant@Arms Marleigh Norton!
Check back tomorrow for more Poikilia stuff!
GOTW: Symon Art Dump!
Hey folks! To close out this week of Symon coverage we're posting a whole bunch of images and pics from the development weeks last summer. We've got character sketches, background sketches, screenshot concepts, and even pics from the team room of the intrepid developers! Check it out:
So that wraps up our GOTW coverage of Symon. If you haven't played it yet, definitely check it out and give it a try. Also, come back next week for some more Game of The Week behind the scenes features!
Symon Design Documents
Here are some sketches and a spreadsheet from the design process of Symon. While the premise and play of Symon is fairly straightforward, the complex design involved in creating a procedural point-and-click adventure game was anything but simple.
While these sketches do not demonstrate the depth of the game's design, they do show how complicated the process can be when trying to innovate on an established genre, even in small form. I think in looking at the early flowcharts and some of the early object relationships you can get a sense for the hard work the team did over the summer.
Stop by tomorrow for an even deeper look at the design of Symon!
Symon Character Sketches
Hello again folks! Here are some character sketches for both the main character of the game and for some of the NPC you encounter. What I like about this set of design sketches from the early production stage is seeing how a character design might be iterated on. Seeing alternate versions of characters shows some of what the designers worked through on their way to finalizing the game.
See you all tomorrow for some more stuff from Symon!
Here are some early sketches from one of the first milestones in the development for Symon. There is some interesting stuff in there, and I think you can see that, even early on, the developers of the game had some pretty clear ideas for how it could look and play.
I especially like the notes written on the first sketch. It nicely illustrates the dynamic nature of game design. Nothing comes out right immediately, there is always some difficult questioning and plenty of trial and error.
Thanks for reading. Please come back tomorrow for some more exclusive behind the scenes materials from the development of Symon.
Symon Behind the Scenes
Here, kicking off the GAMBIT Game of the Week, is a Symon behind the scenes video. Meet Jason and Clara and hear about the ideas behind our game of this week, Symon.
See you tomorrow for some more Game of the Week features.
That Was the Game of the Week!
Well folks, that wraps up this summer edition of Game of the Week. We certainly hope that is was informative, or interesting, or insightful, or intriguing, or any other nice adjective that starts with the letter "I".
If you have any questions about our games, about our lab, or about anything we do really, please don't hesitate to contact us. We want to thank you for reading, and we want to encourage you to check back to our website often!
Finally, we will leave you with this great poster. This is a game I would love to see!
Some Concept Team Logos
The Many Kirbies of GAMBIT
The Truth about Game Development
Camaquen Dev Team Blog
Hello and welcome to the release of Camaquen, a colorful reflection on different ways for games to treat conversation as a game mechanic. We on Team ChatterBoxers are very proud of our work and hope that you find something worth listening to in it. Please run here and give it a shot!
We'd like to talk a little bit about the experience of making this game, and provide some food for thought. We'll address something that went very right for us, but also a pitfall or two that we learned about.
First, a positive experience for us: our team had a number of people familiar with multiple disciplines. Our artists were capable of adapting to multiple styles and techniques, our producer had a substantial amount of coding experience, our writer was also a designer, and our QA had a surprising knowledge of animation techniques. Because of this, we weren't locked into tunnel vision about the demands of our individual tasks. It's important for teams, especially small ones, to be able to meet at the edges and understand, if not the details about each others' tasks, at least the constraints that everyone else is working under. Not only does it help you make placeholder assets or help come up with good solutions to shared problems, but it also pays off when one person has to hand off work to another person. Everyone's job on a game team is really interconnected, and knowing that changing one line of text here will mean an art asset over there has to be redone helps evaluate priorities and keep bugs free.
Being close keeps team members in contact and helps join the pieces together.
Of course, knowing other jobs and thinking about consequences doesn't take the place of good communications skills and procedures -- if you are willing to let tasks bleed across roles like this, it's even more important that we keep track of exactly's what being done and when. We made good use of task tracking software and daily reports in our SCRUM meetings to let each other know what was implemented when, and what pieces other team members needed to take care of. Because of this, people knew when they were being depended on, and our team ended up with a remarkably fast turn-around on most of our tasks. This in turn let us make lots of small adjustments very quickly, which helped a lot in tuning our interface and conversational models, which were key to the research goals of the project.
Disagreements happen, but are less disastrous when the team communicates often.
On behalf of Team ChatterBoxers, I'd like to say thank you to the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab staff and administration, to all of our co-workers who provided feedback, and most of all, to the players. Thanks and please enjoy Camaquen!
Concept artwork from one of our artists, Fabiola Garza
Early Background Art
Equally Meticulous Story Bible
Here is the Story Bible from Camaquen. It is important to note how thoroughly detailed it is, even with information you don't directly receive from the game.
More coming up soon!
Meticulous Art Asset List
Here is a very meticulously maintained art asset list for Camaquen. Never underestimate the value of thorough organization.
Do come back now, soon!
"The Sacred Grove" Concept Music
Here is a piece of music written for Camaquen that did not make it into the game. Hans Zimmer's scores for The Lion King movie and musical (namely "Shadowland" from the musical) were definitely an inspiration, and this piece actually fell a little too heavy on the side of dramatic flare to make the final cut for the game.
Come back soon for more great stuff!
Hard Times At The Sacred Grove
Emotion Icon Sketch
Word Bubble Tests
Here is the text of a document from the beginning of the summer titled "Research Goals." It is interesting to see where the teams often start with these projects.
July 8, 2009
Come back tomorrow for more!
Test Screen Layout
Early Version of The Two Chiefs
More Little Gods
Two More Characters
Another Character Sketch
A Different Story
Early Camaquen Sketch
Camaquen - GOTW
Well, here is our final summer installment in this little Game of the Week series we have been running. This last game is titled Camaquen. Check out the video podcast:
More stuff coming up soon.
Final Version GDD
More Menu Concept Art
Menu Concept Art
Character 3D Model
An Early Version of the GDD
Early Gameplay Screen
Protagonist Color Comparo
An Interesting Sketch
Early Logo Concept
Yet More Character Sketches
More Character Sketches
Our Intrepid Spaceman
One More Disco Storyboard
Disco Storyboard Sketch
Early Protagonist Sketch
Early Storyboard Concepts
Early Gameplay Sketch
This Time, A Spaceman
Early Character Sketch
GOTW - Abandon
So this weeks Game of the Week is a little different. For starters, it is in stunning 3D! Also, it has two full-time GAMBITeers on the team. Check out the video:
Come back soon for more!
One Happy Kitty
Full Color Pierre and "The Man"
A Thorough GDD
Here is the GDD for Pierre: Insanity Inspired. The team did a good job of keeping a fairly updated and thorough game design document for reference.
Come back for more!
Pierre and the Man
Pierre Character Sketch
Team Logo Concepts
Concept Menu Page
Stage Background Concepts
Pierre Storyboard Page
Final Cat Sketches
More Kitty Sketches
First Cat Sketches
Here is a survey developed by our QA lead for one of our playtests. If you would like, you can print it out, take the survey at home, and join in the fun!
Stay tuned for more stuff!
Character Silhouette Sketch 2
Character Sketch Silhouettes
Another Stage Concept
Early Stage Concept
One More Character Sketch
More Early Character Sketches
Another Early Sketch
Early Character Sketches
Game of the Week - Pierre: Insanity Inspired
Final Dearth Concept Painting
Here is a final, beautiful piece of art from Dearth! It is from very early in production, but it is fun to imagine what other directions the game could have gone in. Such creative teams!
If you have not played Dearth yet, go do so now! Check it out, it is lots of fun!
Usability Milestone Screenshot
First Runnable Screenshot
Screenshot from First Playable
Another Set of Sketches
Rain God Silhouette Sketch
Main Menu Sketch
Art Style Guide
This is very interesting. Before you is an art style guide for Dearth. You may find it surprising that a team with an 8 week development cycle would take the time to create an art style guide, but in our experience, taking the time to be clear and to create useful documentation to help the team communicate is always a good idea!
See you in a few.
Some More Concept Art
Team Work Photos
Team Blog Post
Water is disappearing from the land of Dearth, and no one has the answers why. The only clue is the sightings of strange creatures, roaming through the stricken fields and forests. In desperation the people turn to Dearth's two greatest shamans, who must jointly confront the beasts and solve the crisis of the land.
The Development of Dearth
'Bad AI, BAD!'
The Design of Dearth
Here is a picture of our self motivated and inspired team.
King of Soda, Alec (Lead Programmer)
King of Pop (tribute), Nick (Designer)
Birds of a Different Feather
A Very Interesting Early Sketch
Here is a GDD for Dearth. It is nice to see how detailed of a document the team maintained given only an 8 week development cycle.
More later today.
More Concept Paintings
Another Concept Painting
Early Concept Art
Early Dearth Sketch
Game of the Week - Dearth
Here is the video podcast interview with Andrew Grant, Gambit's Technical Director and the embedded staff member for Dearth:
More great Dearth stuff coming up soon.
Here are some final audio outtakes from Shadow Shoppe. More failure communication.
This is the last post for this week. We hope you enjoyed looking at the behind-the-scenes content from Shadow Shoppe. If you haven't done so already, please go play the game, and we'll see you bright and early Monday, with a new video podcast, for a brand spanking new, fancy, shiny, Game of the Week!
More Audio Outtakes
Here is some more audio from the recording of the failure communication in the game. We had a good time recording this stuff...
Please come back for more soon.
Here is an audio outtake from the recording of the narration for the intro cinematic to Shadow Shoppe. Great voice-acting!
Shadow Shoppe - Postmortem
Hello and welcome to the Shadow Shoppe!
A major mishap has occurred in a small town: the people of that town, including the player, have somehow lost their shadows. The player is 'assigned' to be the shadow maker's assistant to help create and return the shadows to the townspeople.
Initially, we wanted a multiplayer game that friends could play together but due to time constraints, we had to rule it out.
In the end, the idea we liked and adhered to for Shadow Shoppe was to judge players based on their own decisions.
The process of finding an art style for the project was a matter of assessing our own strengths, styles, and desires, as well as drawing on inspiration from a variety of sources. Our artists set out to establish the mysterious, Victorian-era fairy-tale feeling by drawing on ideas from movies like Howl's Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service, The Triplets of Belleville, and the Nintendo DS game Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Though it was important to us that the game feel wholly it's own. In the end, it was vitally important that the art and story elements of the game come together to draw the player in to the world of Shadow Shoppe. It was clear that a large amount of our game's strength and interest originated from the pure concept itself, and so it was important to do our part to live up to the interest and mystery of that first sentence: "Once upon a time, the people of a small town lost their shadows..."
Furthermore, the art style greatly influenced the music. It was our aim to evoke mixed feelings of mystery and playfulness to some extent through our game's music. The theme of Shadow Shoppe is rather specific, therefore choosing the proper genre of music for the game was very important. Our sound engineer drew inspiration from composers like, Joe Hisaishi, Michael Giacchino, Django Reinhardt, Dean Martin, Klezmatics, Nicolo Paganini and a couple more. The music also had to draw the player's attention and feeling to the concept of the game.
Some More Interesting Photos
Daily Stand-Up Meeting
Here is a video of a stand-up meeting from near the end of the production cycle. Though it is a little tough to hear, I think it shows nicely how our "scrum-like process" works with our different teams.
See you soon for some more.
Happy Shadow Box
Focus Testing Results
Here are anonymous numerical results from a Shadow Shoppe survey from a mid-project focus test. I think from looking at it you can see what some of the early concerns were for the developers.
More stuff soon!
More Fan Art
Menu Screen Concept Art
Shop Keeper Sketches
Shadowbox Logo Concepts
Scrum Board Photos
Shoppe Keeper Color Study
Hard at Work
Some Funny Shadow Shoppe Fan Art
Shadow Shoppe High Level GDD
Here is a high level GDD for Shadow Shoppe that outlines the proposed innovation and potential risks with the project.
Come back soon!
Shadow Shoppe Game Logo Designs
Shadow Shoppe Character Sketches
Shadow Shoppe Docs
Here is a game design document from Shadow Shoppe outlining proposed gameplay features:
And here is a look at some departmental file size budgets for the game:
Not the flashiest stuff, but all a part of the process. Come back in a little bit for some more.
Some Shadow Shoppe Concept Art
Shadow Shoppe Podcast
Jason Beene talking about the making of Shadow Shoppe:
Okay, here is a bunch of cool stuff for the last post of the week.
First, here is a Storyboard pdf. Storyboard v2.pdf
Thanks for reading this week, and see you next Monday, bright and early for a new GAME OF THE WEEK!
Hard at Work/Scrum Board
More Waker Concept Art
Some Waker/Woosh Press
Some More Abstract Concept Work From Woosh
Waker Woosh Postmortem
Here is a postmortem by Sara Verrilli about the challenges and successes of the "embedded staff" role in our project workflow:
Every summer, GAMBIT runs an eight week game development program for undergraduate students, primarily from Singaporean universities and polytechnics. This year about fifty interns joined us, forty of them from Singapore and the rest from local colleges and universities in the Boston area. This was the third summer for GAMBIT's program, but it changes a bit each year, and 2009 was no exception. For the first time, each team had its own audio designer, rather than sharing the efforts of a three person audio team. Secondly, three of the teams had a grad student from our CMS program join them. And, finally, each of the teams was given an embedded staff member from the GAMBIT staff.
What exactly is an "embedded staff member?" Well, according to our summer planning paperwork, the embedded staff member serves as a team mentor, role model for the producer, overall team advisor, and the primary channel of feedback and criticism from the GAMBIT staff and product owners to the team. The embedded staff's job (or ES, as GAMBIT abbreviated the title) is explicitly not to run the team, provide game design, or make decisions for the team. Unless, of course, one of those things became Necessary, and what conditions constituted Necessary were heavily theorized but never actually specified. And so, with a clear mandate but fuzzy responsibilities, the summer began.
What went right?
• Once the prototyping and initial game concept session started rolling, I got out of the way. I wanted to join in - playing around with new game ideas is fun. However, I didn't want to overshadow the team's ideas with my own; this was their game. Instead, I listened in on their prototypes, and tried to use my comments and questions to keep the team on track for their project goals. For example, how do you use a rhythm game to express displacement, velocity and acceleration? Graphically? When they couldn't answer that question, it was time to try an alternate approach.
• Demonstrating the development processes GAMBIT expected the team to use - and then giving the team time to use them, mis-use them, and finally get them working, in their own unique style. GAMBIT required the teams to use several agile development principles borrowed from Scrum - among them, the idea of a product owner, a task board, and daily stand ups. However, with only eight weeks of development and a group of inexperienced developers, GAMBIT also provided a schedule of development goals. So we were using elements of agile production on a waterfall schedule. I built the Scrum task board for them, and helped them define their tasks for the first milestone; I led the first couple of daily stand ups. By the middle of the program, it felt like the task board was useless, as team members frequently announced they'd worked on something completely different, and the task board stood unedited for days until the producer prompted the team to sort and re-arrange. Finally, for the last sprint, something clicked. The team members understood what needed to happen, divvied up the remaining tasks, prioritized them, and tasks flew across the board. I could actually tell where the team was on the project by looking at the board, and then looking at the game, as opposed to talking to each of the team members. It was also during those two weeks that the game really came together, as a good looking, fun to play game.
• Being there to channel the product owner, on the research goals and the specific tasks the product owner asked us to work on. Our product owner was very busy this summer, and while he met with us at the end of every milestone to review the game and give us feedback, he wasn't there for the day to day decisions. All too often, the team would be staring at two seemingly gargantuan tasks, both Necessary to the Well Being of the Project, and clearly both desired by our product owner. By checking our notes, and making sure that the producer and I got clearly prioritized requests during the review meetings, I was able to remind the team which task to tackle first - even if that meant the other task fell off the table, and rolled away. I was also able to reassure them that, yes, the team wasn't going to get everything done it had hoped for, and that was okay also. What we needed to do, instead, was insure that we got the most important tasks completed, and that those completed features worked together to make a good game. During any development period, especially a short one, there is only so much work that can get done. Experienced teams regularly over estimate their ability to accomplish tasks; inexperienced teams are even worse at it. Keeping priorities clear - and, more importantly, the product owner/client's priorities clear - means that at least the tasks that get dropped are the least important ones.
What could I have done better?
• Scoping the project - keeping it a manageable size. Before the students arrived, I knew what our research proposal was, and what our product owner wanted from the team. I was worried about the density of initial design challenges - three concept graphs, two alternate games, and a high quality narrative, but the team had an extra artist and a grad student to play utility infielder, so it seemed achievable. Then the product owner - after the team decided on a platform style game - asked for procedural levels. At the same time, thea bstract version of the game went from 'no story and no story specific art' to a version with a unique set of art and audio assets, including its own avatar. Alarm bells went off in my head, but the team wanted to do it all, so I let them try. I should have stepped up and said no procedural levels, and greatly minimized the abstract version's unique assets. Instead, we ended up chasing a procedural levels solution for about two weeks, while the artists did another round of concepting for abstract assets. Reality did set in, and the only remaining sign of procedural levels is the random placement of obstacles in medium and hard levels. The acceleration levels were also cut, because we just couldn't figure out how to accelerate the player on our small screen.
• Art asset scheduling - I waited too long to talk to the artists about getting art into game. The team of three artists developed elaborate plans for the visual look of the game... and then they kept developing them. With two full games to provide assets for, the team didn't have time to dally - but they did. They generated a set of placeholder assets for the game, so level creation and testing could go on, and then stalled on delivering production assets. Five weeks into the project, with three weeks to go and only one or two production assets in the game, the producer and I revised the art asset list, lined up estimates, and started counting hours. The artists, confronted with their list of desired assets and a very short time frame, buckled down and assets finally appeared. While we had three artists - generous for a summer project! - one of the artists ended up devoted almost entirely to Woosh, and another spent hours converting art from bitmap to vector to go into game. Final art didn't come into the game until the week before ship, and we were still adding new assets during gold certification. Because of that, there are several elements, especially in the story version, Waker, that are less polished than they could be. The team used polish time for final asset creation, rather than polish, and it shows in the level art, the game menus, avatar animations, and the player controls.
My goal for the summer was twofold: one, make sure our client, the product owner, got a successful, useful project. (He did: he told us so!) Secondly, I wanted everyone on the team to learn as much as possible about working on a team, especially when working with people whose skills are different from their own. I wanted them to learn how to make a game by stretching their own skills, and if possible, learn from their teammates about the other disciplines on the team. Finally, I wanted them to make mistakes and recognize them, recover from them, and gain the confidence to make yet more mistakes, and find solutions to them as well. In the end I tried to serve the team as the voice of experience, demonstrating successful techniques, giving advice when asked (and, sometimes, before being asked) and warning them about potential complications they might not expect. What I really didn't want to do was stop them from making the mistakes they would learn from - and therefore learning from them. We - as a team - certainly made lots of mistakes, but the games - Waker and Woosh - speak for themselves. Overall, I think that by serving as ES I helped the students learn; I certainly learned more about how to teach, and next summer I intend to do a better job.
Check back today for more content on Waker and Woosh
Woosh Ball Concept Sheet
Beautiful Prototype Screen
Alternate Waker Main Menu Screens
Orientation Photos: Part Deux
As an orientation exercise, we had the teams go off with a still camera to make a live action storyboard recreation of any popular video game franchise. Here is the Poof teams offering.
I will post the photos in two installments, revealing the intended game franchise in the second post. See if you can guess which one they chose!
Come back soon!
Some Poof Team Photos
Beautiful Environment Concepts
This is Hilarious
I have not actually seen him protecting the lab, then again, he is a master of stealth.
Come back soon or we will karate chop you.
Waker Environment Concept Art
Poof Team Picture
A Few "Bad" Postmortem Slides
A Few "Good" Postmortem Slides
More Woosh Concept Art
Some thoughts from a Product Owner
Waker and Woosh had research provided by MIT's Education Arcade. The product owner's for the game were Scot Osterweil, Lan Xuan Le, Eric Klopfer, and Tim Marsh. Here is what Tim had to say after seeing the final version of the game:
Waker is a puzzle-based game wrapped in a narrative about a child's broken dream. Gameplay is thought-provoking, stimulating and fun but also creates a pleasant level of frustration that encourages the player - from beginner to experienced gamer - to continue playing to figure out how to build pathways and journey through levels of the dream world. Waker's artwork and music are equally compelling. The beautifully graded color and the simple, almost minimalist and somewhat stylized abstract background artwork is pleasing to the eye and peaceful to look at, and instead of competing for your attention, complements features and mechanics associated with gameplay and narrative. The subtle and uplifting music is reminiscent of contemporary art house film scores with repeating loops and rhythms creating another dimension that helps keep you in the game. In summary, the blend of the gameplay, artwork and music is a winning formula that draws the player in and encourages them to continue to play. But the ingenious twist is that Waker is a game for learning - to help learn about velocity and acceleration associated with topics in physics. The beauty of this game is that you wouldn't know it was a game for learning unless someone told you.
See you in a few.
Early Character Sketch
Someone Else's Thoughts
Mike Darga wrote a fantastic blog post about Waker, and we were very excited for his feedback and that he took the time to analyze our game.
We asked if Mike would be interested in writing a little paragraph about Waker for our "Game of the Week" spectacular and this is what he offered:
Game developers are constantly trying to convince ourselves that game design is an art, and so far this has done nothing but waste a lot of time and energy. It's refreshing to see a group of people treat game design as a science, and evaluating their games in such an objective manner. I hope Waker/Woosh inspire more people to analyze games, which will help us to better define which elements are and aren't important, successful, and fun.
Thanks for the words Mike, and please everyone hop over to his blog, Mike Darga's Game Design Blog, to read some more interesting stuff.
Also, check back soon for more awesomeness.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Waker, Woosh
Highlights for us included:
Abstract isn't that abstract. The ability for us to force our lives - our narratives - into inanimate objects, especially when we're in control, is an interesting facet about humanity (Cross-ref: The Companion Cube - though that has a lot of narativist tricks forced on it to tart it up).
In other words, as an experiment, conceptually flawed. As a game, both are pretty sweet.
It is a great article, followed by a nice (and funny) comment conversation.
Can't say we agree with everything, all the same, we are really excited that people are talking about these games.
Check it out. Then come back for more GOTW stuff tomorrow.
Woosh Concept Art
Waker Woosh GDD
Here is a game design document (GDD) for Waker and Woosh.
It is interesting to read through the document in between play sessions to see how it compares and contrasts to the final playable prototype.
Click the link to download the full .pdf.
Have you been checking in regularly to see all the exciting content?
Waker: Preliminary Sketches