Game Design. Yeah, Digital Design Students Can Do That!

Screenshot of A Brother's Tale


First of all, “Hi!”

I’m Levi. Originally from Hungary. A gaming fanatic. And in the process of creating an awesome side-scrolling game for my graduate project.

Some background. I completed a four year CompSci degree but wanted to deepen my creative skills so I could pursue a career in the gaming industry. I was torn between Game Design and Digital Design. Both programs are great. But, in the end, I took Digital Design because I could learn more about user interface design and have skills that would allow me to work in console, PC or social gaming.

Enough about that. Let’s talk about the game I’m building — A Brother’s Tale.

Where to start? Well, some of the key ingredients you need to build a game are:

  • Programming knowledge (I have a bit: C++, C#, .NET, PHP, JAVA, JavaScript, AS3, Python.) Most of those programs, though, I haven’t touched in years.
  • An Idea! (You know, that sparkly thing floating in your mind.)
  • Determination. (Do IT!)
  • Sweat and blood.
  • A love of games. (If you’re a hardcore player like myself, that helps a lot.)

So equipped with these in term 3, I still had no clue what I wanted to do for my grad project. My first idea was to dust off and polish up one of my old projects. Guess what? It’s a game! Back in the day, I made a tower defense AS3 Flash game. Never finished it. It’s one of my many unfinished projects that I’ve done just for fun. But this seemed like the easy way out. Then, I came up with a really good game idea. I started to concept it further and sketch it out and… Turned out it’s too close to angry birds. So I ditched it. No problem, let’s see what else it out there!

I started my so called “research”. I put research in apostrophes, because I don’t consider playing games and reading game articles to be “research”. It’s fun! I found Monkey Quest. When I started to play it, I got a pop-up window prompting me to install Unity player. I asked myself “Unity player???” That’s how I found this amazing game development engine/environment. It has its limitations and it can be unstable (just yesterday, I got mad at Unity again!). But the learning curve is fairly easy and I was up for mastering a new engine/environment.

Busójárás Festival

Wait! Whoa! At this point, I still don’t have a game concept! Not even a little piece of a story… So, I Skyped with my girlfriend back home in Hungary every night. She’s awesome. Has never played games. Never programmed. Actually she always messes up all of electrical devices she’s around! :D But, I love bouncing ideas off of her or just talking to her (in addition to the many other things I love to do with her). :P :P So we brainstormed a LOT every day. We came up with a really sweet story that features a young man as the hero. His 4 older brothers perished when they temporarily saved humanity from total destruction. When the game begins, our hero is trying to avenge his brothers and he’ll have to battle with Death itself to bring balance and order back to the world. The story is loosely based on a Hungarian festival called Busójárás that we celebrate at the end of every winter. It involves people wearing masks and sheep skins. Okay, good. The story is done!

But I still need a visual approach! From my research, I found that there aren’t many games that have a really unique, dark, spooky atmosphere. I loved Limbo and Feist. Other games that I found interesting, new or just grabbed me are Monkey Quest and Trine. And films, such as Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, felt stylistically appropriate.

Moodboards

At this point, all of my instructors told me I was crazy to attempt to concept, design, and develop a game on my own in 12 weeks using software applications I’d never used before. Amber and Tom even talked to me two-on-one to dissuade me (now, how imbalanced is that fight?!!!! :D ) But I asked them to believe in me and help me realize my dream of finally making my own game. And I did a detailed proof of concept in Unity to prove to them I could master the applications quickly enough to achieve my goal. They let me proceed with the project, and God knows if they trusted me at that time. :) Probably not. But they were willing to believe in me. Anyway, I felt confident, pumped and ready to kill it.

I then prepared my pitch to the mentor panel (industry experts who are paired with us for our grad projects). I started sketching out visual concepts and approaches — the masks, our hero, how each level should look, level details, background elements, etc. As well, I started modelling the platforms. And I created fall-back strategies in case things went wrong — ways I could scale back certain aspects of the project while still delivering a finished working game that looks great.

Work Breakdown Structure

So what was my workflow? It went something like this:

  1. Research
  2. Ideate
  3. Concept
  4. Develop/design
  5. Test
  6. Steps 4 to 5 (later, rinse, repeat)

 

And even in the development/testing phase, there were many things to tackle:

  1. Modelling
  2. Texturing
  3. Rigging
  4. Weight painting
  5. Animating
  6. Coding

 

I have to mention that, in addition to never having worked with Unity, I had also never modeled, rigged animated or done uw texturing in Cinema 4D before.

 

Pros and cons of this process…

Pros:

  • I did a project I was super passionate about. When I felt like modelling, I modeled. When I felt like texturing, I textured. Etc.
  • When I got stuck somewhere, I could proceed to other areas! This was really helpful! For example, if I got stuck on modelling, I could still code. So I didn’t waste time being stuck.
  • It was hard to keep track of all of the details, especially since I was massively learning as I went. But through solid project management (Basecamp and multiple ‘to do’ lists), I got through it.

Cons:

  • It was hard for my instructors to ensure I was making progress and would deliver my full scope on time. I drove Amber crazy, I know. :)

I’m really grateful Miles was my mentor. He helped me think through the general game design, the levels and how I should lay out my game in terms of enemies, abilities, fights, logic, time, hardness, etc. So, basically, how to make the game fun!

 

So to wrap up, my “secrets” are to think ahead about what can go wrong and have a plan for it. If you are doing a project that involves an incredible amount of learning, build enough time in your project plan and always work on multiple aspects of the project simultaneously!

I deliver A Brother’s Tale on November 2nd. Only a few more weeks left to finish it up. But I’m on track and even more excited about this project than when I began it. I can’t wait to share it when it’s done!

Best wishes,
Levi

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