Final Presentation and Demo Night

The Radiant Ronin formally presented Kanji Samurai to our professors and peers last Monday evening. It was a long series of presentations–they started at 5:30pm and ended around 9:00pm. Each team was given 10 minutes to present. After their 10 minutes were up, they would have to leave the stage no matter how close they were to finishing their presentation. Running out of time was my greatest fear. I worried I would ramble on for too long and run out of time, but thankfully my fears proved unfounded.

We finished within the 10 minute mark and people seemed to enjoy it. I received many supportive high fives on my way back to my seat. Our success is mostly in part to the amount of practice and time that went into making the presentation itself. My team and I attended a student-run practice presentation and practiced our presentation amongst ourselves multiple times. Even Maddie and Eric, who didn’t speak during the presentation, attended our practices. It was a good thing too, because at the student-run practice presentations some feedback we received was that Eric was too fidgety while Glynis and I were talking.

When it came to the format of the presentation itself, I opened it with a joke. Traditionally, producers introduce each of their team members and their disciplines. I followed this tradition, but also tried to incorporate a little humor. After our title slide bearing the name of our team and our game, the following slide featured a picture of me facing off with my teammates, samurai sword in hand. I introduced myself as “Emily Harnedy, the producer” and then as I clicked to the slide with our team picture (I’m the one on the left), I noted, “This is how I motivate my team!” Then I got into introducing each of my teammates one by one: Eric, our reliable programmer, Maddie, our talented artist, and Glynis, our visionary designer. I agonized over that picture for a while. I couldn’t tell if I just thought it was funny or if it actually was, but I’m glad I went for it because we got a lot of laughs. Glynis made the crowd laugh too; she is a natural presenter. She and I took turns going over the information in the presentation. I introduced the team, our target audience, and spoke about our requested resources. Glynis spoke about the intent behind our game, our iterative process, and what features we plan to add next semester if permitted to go forward. The gameplay trailer I wrote about in my last blog post also debuted off in the middle of our presentation.

samurai

The Radiant Ronin, from left to right: Emily, Maddie, Glynis, Eric

After the Monday night presentations, the stress wasn’t over yet as Tuesday was demo night! Each of the 16 teams who presented were divided into 3 groups that showed off their games at designated times. Glynis and I were in the 6:15pm group. Even though the future of our game was uncertain, I still took notes on the professor’s feedback about our game in the hopes of implementing their suggestions if we were given the green light for next semester.

After demos on this Tuesday night before Thanksgiving break, most of the game majors attended a party to let off steam after the past stressful two days. I attended with my team, and we all drank and played games until the fateful email from our professors arrived. One of my classmates quieted everyone down and said that we’d gotten an email from Professor Bemis entitled “Senior Production Projects.” The results were in. We insisted on knowing the number of teams that made it before he announced those who’d passed. My classmate told us that 10 out the 16 teams that presented had made it through to next semester. Lots of people started frantically checking their phones, myself included, too impatient to wait for their game to be called. My boyfriend’s email loaded faster than mine and he said “We made it.” I wasn’t sure if he meant just his team or mine as well. I leaned in and quickly scanned the list until I saw it:

Kanji Samurai

We had made it! Deep down I genuinely believed we would, but I tried not to speculate because I did not want to be disappointed. I am so glad I reached out to Glynis last spring and asked to work with her. I think we Radiant Ronin made it through because our game is unique. It is the only educational game and I think the professors’ respected us for that. The Core faculty who worked with us told us during our demo that it would be nice to see a quality  educational game come out of Champlain College. The Radiant Ronin, with our talented members and incoming teammates, are dedicated to doing just that with Kanji Samurai.

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Crafting Our Gameplay Trailer

In order for our game, Kanji Samurai, to pass forward into production in the spring semester, we had to present our game to our professors and fellow classmates in a ten minute presentation and demo the game to the professors the next day. Of the 24 game development teams that were formed in the beginning of Fall semester, 16 qualified to present their video game.

In my game production class, three of the four teams were officially confirmed to present the week before the presentations, but I have been preparing for the presentation since we passed into the final stage of our game’s development, Vertical Slice. Because of technical difficulties in the past, the professors required all teams that are presenting to produce a video to showcase our game rather than demo it live. I have previous experience creating promotional content; in my work for the Vermont Shakespeare Festival I created a video to promote the company and a video to promote the play, Julius Caesar. I was confident in my video editing skills, but I knew that creating these videos took time, which is why I created the gameplay trailer for Kanji Samurai two weeks in advance. That way, I had ample time to show off the video to my professor and my classmates to receive feedback. Below you can watch the official gameplay trailer for Kanji Samurai.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eKhmqTm4yo

The Professors told us the videos were an opportunity to cherry-pick our best gameplay moments to show off. I also saw the video as our only opportunity to showcase how our game is played. The video was the first impression of Kanji Samurai that many of our peers and professors would see, so I wanted it to be clear in explaining how Kanji Samurai is played. I prepared a script explaining the gameplay and reviewed it with my team, then I used a screen recording app on my cell phone to record my voice as well as the gameplay footage.

In formatting the video, I wanted to make sure it started exciting! Unlike the other teams, our video primarily served to explain our gameplay rather than make people hype about our game. It would be hard to make the entire video appear super exciting because of its educational tone, but I at least wanted to draw viewers in with an enticing opening so they would pay attention when I got to explaining the gameplay. I started the video with some fast paced music from our game and some brief cuts of gameplay, then I got into explaining the game loop of Kanji Samurai. Ours was one of the few gameplay videos that had voice over–most of my peers relied on text overlay–which made it stand out and made it so viewers got a clear picture of what our game is. 

After I stayed up most of the night making the video, I showed it to my class and my professor in my senior game development class. I also showed it off during my final CORE review meeting where members from various game development teams met with one of the Core faculty and their peers to receive feedback. The feedback I received was helpful in making sure the video depicted our game in the best light. From the feedback, I implemented a highlight to showcase the undo and pronunciation buttons, as well as added Glynis’s Kanji pronunciation to the video and sword slash sound effects. The video was well received, and I think I did a good job in showcasing what Kanji Samurai is all about.

Refining Our Gameplay

A few weeks ago I made a post about the value of quality assurance testing. Even more valuable than feedback from our peers is feedback from our professors, who are the ones who will determine which teams go forward into next semester. In my eyes, the game development professors are similar to the executive producers or product owners I will be reporting to in the industry. For the Radiant Ronin, our professors’ feedback is the most important because they hold our fate in their hands. If we don’t please the professors, our game will not be going forward into the spring.

Last Thursday our usual professor was absent, so we had another game design professor stand in for him. This gave us an opportunity to show our game to Professor Boyd for the first time since Glynis and I met with him during our initial concepts stage. Unlike our usual professor, Professor Boyd had us stand in front of the class to give our updates in order to get us used to presenting so we will be prepared for the final presentation at the end of November. We showed the class the progress we had made with Kanji Samurai and also sought feedback as to how our UI should be displayed.

The main point Professor Boyd made was that our game didn’t reward the player well enough. After the player enters the Kanji correctly, the game simply moves on to prompt them for the next Kanji. There is nothing rewarding the player for tracing the Kanji correctly. One suggestion we received is to have the Kanji change from the connect-the-dots version that the player drew to a traditionally inked and brush stroke style once they get it correct. Or, as our professor put it, “Show them the badass finished ink Kanji!”

The next bit of advice we received was that our current build is too text heavy. Professor Boyd and our classmates suggested we change the text menu buttons into symbols. For example, we would change our submit button to a check-mark icon and our pronunciation button to a speaker. By making these visual changes, we can save ample space on the screen so the player is not overwhelmed by text.

Professor Boyd’s last bit of advice was to sound more excited about our concept. He said the goal of our final presentation is not only to convince the professors our game deserves to move forward into development for second semester, but also to get the members of teams who have since dropped out of the running excited to join our development team second semester. It was hard to sound excited at our 8am class, but I’m confident Glynis and I can pump up our enthusiasm for our formal presentation.

After class, Glynis and I went to our final discipline review with the Assistant Dean of the game development division, Amanda Crispel. She is a very insightful woman who has previous experience working on educational games and also has a young daughter who fits into the target market for Kanji Samurai. Therefore, her advice is priceless to us. When we introduced our game to her, she said that she liked the sound of it already. When we showed her the gameplay however, she had a lot of suggestions to make, most of which we are planning to implement.

First, she skipped our tutorial. I was a little bit upset about this, especially considering how much work we’d put into making the tutorial crystal clear. However, her reasons for doing so were very valid; the typical gamer may not have enough patience for our current tutorial. Amanda said there was too much text and it was too small for her to read. She suggested we try to get our hands on a tablet in order to have more screen space. I am currently waiting for a reply from another professor in regards to getting one, but in the meantime we have to rework our tutorial so it is less text-heavy and more interactive. We are in the process of changing our tutorial so players will be prompted to write each stroke of the Kanji one at a time, rather than replicating the entirety of the Kanji all at once. Amanda also said the first Kanji we are tasking players to learn, middle, is too complicated. She asked if there were any Kanji that are just a simple straight line so we could introduce players to the concept more gradually. Glynis said that the numbers 1, 2, and 3, in Kanji are simply lines, and number 4 has the curved corner we continuously have trouble conveying to players. Our new tutorial will consist of the following 4 characters.

1

2

3

4

She wasn’t able to beat our game, which is concerning considering the professors will be playing our games in order to pass us into second semester. If she can’t get past the tutorial, how can we expect her to pass us? She said we need a larger tolerance for error, and that we should clearly indicate to the player when they get a stroke wrong. Our programmer, Eric, has since changed our game’s feedback so players will be informed as soon as one of their strokes is incorrect in training mode. The line will turn red, as opposed to green, which indicates to the player they have drawn the stroke incorrectly. We are hoping that with our more succinct tutorial, players will learn the importance of stroke order by adding one additional stroke for each of the numbers 1, 2, and 3. Then when it comes time to write the number 4, players will learn that strokes with right cornered edges are made in one continuous stroke, rather than two separate strokes.

Perhaps the most important criticism we received from Amanda is that we haven’t given the Kanji any significant meaning. Currently, the game prompts players for one of the 4 Kanji they have learned in training mode by showing the English word. Amanda commented that we were taking player agency away by doing this, and a better method for learning would be to have players select which Kanji they intend to draw in response to enemy attacks. For example, the enemy would attack with fire and the player would have to counter with the water Kanji. We have since chosen new Kanji for our game based on this feedback. The new Kanji will be as follows:

Write the opposite of what Sensei tells you!
Directions (Peasant Village):
Hidari left
Migi right
Ue up
Shita down
Sensei writes left, you write right
Sensei writes right, you write left
Sensei writes up, you write down
Sensei writes down, you write up
Level 2 Elements (Forest):
Hi fire
Mizu water
Tsuchi earth
Ten heaven
Sensei writes Heaven, you write Earth
Sensei writes Earth, you write Heaven
Sensei writes Fire, you write Water
Sensei writes Water, you write Fire
Level 3 Astrology (Temple):
Sun Nichi
Moon Tsuki
East Higashi
West Nishi
Sensei writes Sun, you write Moon
Sensei writes Moon, you write Sun
Sensei writes East, you write West
Sensei writes West, you write East

We are going to do our best to implement these changes for next week. Code freeze is November 17th, so we have about two weeks to implement these suggestions before our formal presentation. It’s getting down to it now and as my father would say, “It’s time to put your nose to the grindstone!” I am fairly confident in our game and my team, but our future is not certain. We must do everything we can not only in our actual game but also in our presentation and promotional video to indicate to the professors why we as a team deserve to go forward.