Khaya – A Breathless Journey Post Mortem
- Red Hood Studios, GD45, VFS
At the end of term 1 at VFS, the six chosen project managers walked into a closed room and sat with the instructors to form six teams. We became team Red Hood, chosen to create a game together over the next four months. The game we created was Khaya, a platformer based on artist Maren’s term 1 cinematic and inspired by ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’.
Khaya is a spirit who freezes time to prevent losing her mentor and realizes she’s the only one who can get the world back to normal. She has an aura that increases in size the faster she goes and shrinks when she stops, killing her if it becomes too small. Khaya’s aura unfreezes frozen objects within its radius and she must balance her aura to escape hazards or activate objects to use them.
People have enjoyed playing our game and killing Khaya dozens of times in their attempt to complete the five levels. We are happy with what we’ve made but there were lessons just as there were triumphs along the way:
Things That Went Right:
1. Paper Planning – We wanted the levels to leave the player breathless and excited. We had four mechanics to work with – jump, wall jump, double jump and dash. Each level needed to have its own flavour and challenge yet maintain consistency. There were two level designers and both needed to be on the same page for this. They brainstormed the levels on paper together before executing them in engine which gave both starting points and guidelines for their work.
2. Ferr2D & Anima2D – Thanks to Ferr2D, level designers could shape the terrain however they wanted by clicking and dragging the ends of the terrain. This made the initial level design fun and easy and even helped speed up the iteration process.
The programmer used Anima2D to churn out all the animations we needed for the game. Initially we tried frame-by-frame animations but they proved to be tedious. Once it was set up, the bone animations were quicker to create and felt better. Play the game to see how much fun we had with Khaya’s ragdoll and all the different deaths she encounters!
3. Rapid Prototyping – Our programmer executed any idea as we had it in engine to prove whether it worked or not. We had multiple prototypes which helped us proceed from the initial movement mechanics to the functioning of the aura and then the unfreezing of objects.
4. Scoping – We decided not to include enemies and focus on Khaya’s movement. This allowed us to fine tune controls and concentrate on essentials for level design, resulting in heightened experience of movement and freedom for players.
Things That Went Wrong:
1. Off the Engine – Not everyone in the team started working in engine immediately so they produced ideas and assets that did not always work as expected. The process would have been more efficient if the artist had been able to integrate and test their assets themselves. Everyone on the team should have gotten into the engine from the beginning. This would have allowed everyone the ability to test out their own ideas and most importantly make sure their content worked before submitting it.
2. Time Management- Balancing the coursework of a calm term 2 and a killer term 3 along with working on the 2D project was quite challenging. Also, there were extended periods of time when team members had nothing to do on the 2D project. Time could have been spent more productively by not waiting for everything to be in place. The moment the jump mechanic was in place, level designers could have started making challenges. Later, teammates experienced crunches between assignments and expected contributions. We would have liked to playtest the game more but found no time towards the last few weeks when we worked overtime polishing it and making sure everything worked.
3. Communication – Our project manager was new to the role and maybe some more processes could have been set up for better communication, which would have sped up the game design process. Often, there would be gaps in communication between the artist and level designers. Whenever something was needed from, or had to be communicated to another department, we should have done it right away or at least left a sticky note that team members could have attended to when they had a chance to see it and were free.
Learnings / Outcome:
We had a lot of fun making Khaya and experimenting with the mechanics we decided upon. We all stepped up to manage tasks out of our comfort zone when called to do them but maybe we could have taken a more active interest in what each department was doing from the start. Persevering and pushing ourselves when it was most required helped us create the game as it is today. Making Khaya was an amazing experience for all of us and something we’ll draw a lot from when creating games in the future.