Tuesday, May 15, 2012

GameDevStories: TOJam 7: The Designer Post-Mortem

So, TOJam came and went, and it was definitely an interesting experience.  

About the game:

Let's get the obvious question out of the way first: Did we (Nick and Jeffrey, the artist and programmer that was on the team) finish our game?  Well, not quite.  We've ran into a few technical issues, and was just too pressed for time to get everything out (at one point, we couldn't render text, so all the text and numbers in game had to be converted to textures to be drawn out instead).  Here's a few things I can show you though:

Yes, that's not a typo. The game is called "No Money? NP Problems?"  Some of you may get it (the really nerdy pun) already, but read on if you don't.

A very half assed title screen.  Initially I had planned for this to show a bit more of what you're actually doing, but at the last minute as we're short for time, I just asked Nick for a quick screen cap of the world map with some minor adjustment and went with it.

For the lazy: this year's theme was "The world is NOT ending".  So the "pseudo story" that we ended up setting up was that you are a survivalist who spent all your life savings on goods and supplies, and suddenly it was announced that the crisis was averted, leaving you almost cashless but filled with supplies.  From that point, your goal was to take your supplies and make your money back.

(Fun fact about that screen, in my first draft Design Doc, I had suggested that we'd do a few slideshow animatics.  Then it was cut down to a 4 page comic book panel.  Then to one page.  Then I stole it away from his workload and made my loving tribute to Bad Dudes with existing assets that he had made...)

This was the first mockup of the map (I'd scan in my scribbled image of it, but I'm lazy).  At this point, I wasn't entirely sure how many nodes I had wanted, along with how the routes would work.  But as far as asset list and what was needed, this was pretty stable already (information you needed, how you'd interact with the game, etc.)

This is what's currently in the game as the main overworld map: the missing window on the right side would be the inventory screen, which would have been dynamically drawn via code.   The fun part about the "connection costs" between cities were never tested (I kinda just made them up on the spot), and would probably be revised once we've gotten the game working a tested to see what kind of loopholes and impossibility scenarios existed.

Not shown here is the events the happen when you enter a city: you would choose between one of two citizens, who had a "pseudo story" on why they're looking for/selling items.  With this kinda of variability, I was hoping the game would create enough "dynamic" choices for players to decide upon.

So, by now you'll realize that this game is actually just a more complex version of the "Traveling Purchaser Problem", but that wasn't actually my intention at the start.  My direct influences for this as far as mechanics goes were from games like Freelancer's trading economy (take a look with the graph below that shows their system network) and GTA Chinatown Wars' Drug Dealing mini game.

Aright, enough about the game (and I'll probably post about it again when we get a stable build running for release), but let's talk about the TOJam experience.

The Designer Workload:

For the bulk of my time there, I really felt like I wasn't doing enough.  I can see how the jam is still heavily dependent on programmers, artists, and even sound; but there's a certain level of redundancy as far as pure designer goes.  I think the bulk of my work came in before hand when I was ironing out a design doc, and the majority of the work during the jam was problem resolutions, and just assisting Nick and Jeffrey wherever possible.  There was a while where I was just staring at this for hours:

(It's basically a giant spreadsheet of all the items and routes in the game)

Was my time there well spent? Sort of.  I feel like if I were to do this again, I think I'd either need to step up my time for project management, or into programming.  At ~3 people, it was hard to justify a pure designer on a team.

Game Scope:

So, by not finishing, did that mean the game scope was bad?  Maybe.

Taking a look at the other entries, I think I finally understand the type of games that is doable in 3 days.  This game was "doable" in 3 days, but, when shit blew up, there wasn't a whole lot I could scale back to: reducing the city count to 3 would have worked (and be the bare minimum to still have interesting choice), but that still doesn't cut out the required tasks of navigation, buying and selling, etc.  I knew in advance that I needed checkpoints to cut early and cut often (and I did), but the cuts wasn't hard enough.

The Conclusioning:

In the end, it was still a fantastic experience (and crunching for 3 days? haven't done that in a while).  And more specifically for me, this is the nice shot in the arm that I was looking for.  While working at Koei, I was always looking for a way to explain to myself why I was still making games even though I had become disinterested in my job.  For a while, PAX served that purpose reminding me of the players that were sitting on the other side of the screen; GDC eventually replaced that, in the sense that it was people talking about their game-making experience; this, I guess, is the final missing piece of the puzzle: it's no longer just thinking about games, or talking about it, but rather doing and executing.  No other job would allow me to have a Sunday epiphany on the project direction, rapidly cutting and changing the course of what we're working on.  It's scary, it's get-wrenching, and it's absolutely exhilarating.

So yeah...

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