Senior Show

Our game is officially on the app store! It is a surreal feeling to see it available as an early access game. The semester is truly coming to a close! I would say most of our objectives were met, though of course I always see the places where we could have done better. I could have went harder with the marketing and app store optimization. We are also lacking in some animations and sound effects, but I am still incredibly proud of what we have accomplished! I’ve actually learned a lot from our game about Japanese, which is amazing because that shows that our concept worked! We are able to introduce English speakers to Japanese in a game setting that is both fun and educational.

Right now I’m in the Maker Lab at our college’s Emergent Media Center which has a 3d printer and various other tools to aid students in creative projects. Glynis suggested we create some sort of memorabilia to give out to the recruiters and others attending the Senior Show this Friday. Glynis chose 5 Kanji that we are engraving on small wooden sakura flowers with our website address on the back. I think these souvenirs will be a great way to help recruiters remember us! This just means I have to make sure our website is up to date and looks super awesome by this Friday!                                                                                                
Although on Friday we are presenting our games in front of recruiters, somehow I am less nervous than I was in November when we pitched our games formally to go forward into spring production. The stakes felt higher then, because our team may have been cut. This time, however, it feels more like a celebration of what we have accomplished together as a team! I’m excited to introduce our game briefly and then introduce my fellow team members. I must make time this week to research the recruiters who are going to be attending. I’m so happy my name is finally in the credits of a published game, which I know will be the first of many. 

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Reviewing Beta

Today our beta build was due, and we met all the requirements! Mostly. As predicted, art did fall short but I have been assured by the artists the final death animations and two sensei portraits will be implemented by tonight. Despite the art shortcomings, I am still very proud of the game my team has created! In the midnight hour our lead game designer assisted our animator in creating the last of our attack animations for the player. I think one of the problems was I wasn’t stern enough in expressing our need to keep on track with art. Often, art tasks would have to be carried from one sprint to another. Perhaps if I were more vigilant in pushing reminders on my team, we would have more of the art polished by now. I’m still working on finding that balance between being helpful and being a nag.

For me, the majority of this week has been quality assurance and ensuring we were on track to meet all the requirements for Beta. At quality assurance this week, I planned it out so each tester would test two of our ten levels. The purpose of testing now is purely bug fixing. I’ve been taking videos of all the bugs in the Kanji testers encounter. We are going to test again tomorrow using the same format, but this time instead of a google document I’m going to use a spreadsheet and have testers mark down each Kanji that didn’t recognize their input properly as well as taking the final survey at the end. This coming Tuesday is the official due date for our game! I just hope we can ensure our Kanji recognition is in tip top shape before then! 

Our game’s poster was also due today. Our lead artist put it together. Some minor edits are still to be made.KanjiPoster

Beta

As deadlines approach, we find ways to cut down on our tasks by altering certain aspects of the game. For instance, we’ve decided to axe one of the senseis and her corresponding environment and reuse the old lady sensei from our tutorial along with the player’s village. This frees up the artists to work on other, more pressing assets and forms a nice narrative circle. Time is running short so it’s imperative our backlog is prioritized properly so all disciplines are focusing on the tasks most imperative to our game’s core experience.

I’m worried about making the game “juicy” enough in time. That’s the word our professor used last week to describe what our game needed to really pop. We need more little animations and special effects to really sell the player experience. Our programmer has managed to do some fancy things with the grid. Now the flowers have a cool animation when they re-spawn, and the artists are working on new features to make the game more “juicy” such as subtle movement to the flowers. Design lock is this coming Wednesday, but we have two more weeks to implement all art and sound. I added more to the sound document and ensured our sound designer knows what his responsibilities are. If I could go back in time I would have nagged my team about getting their tasks down more regularly. Although I thought I had made it clear where to find his tasks, my sound designer expressed some uncertainty as to what he needed to do, so next time I’d devote my time to reaching out to each member individually more often to ensure everyone is reading the planning and asset documents I send them.

This Saturday was Accepted Students Day so before our meeting myself, Eric our lead programmer, and Connor, one of our artists, and Glynis, our lead designer attended to show off our game to the incoming freshmen. It was fun to meet the incoming students and get feedback for Kanji Samurai. It really took me back to when I was a freshmen. I was happy to see a lot of incoming production majors, some of which were women! One of the student’s feedback sparked an idea as to conveying stroke order for the Kanji. We are going to have a small sword depicting the direction players should go with their stroke in a compass like format on the top of the screen. We’ve been trying to figure out how to convey stroke order to players’ for ages, but I really think this new UI element may solve all our problems in player’s understanding stroke order. I love interacting with people and hearing their feedback. Feedback has been invaluable in designing Kanji Samurai.                                                                                                                                                   
A fellow senior played our game too, and he approached me about making our senior reel. I told him I didn’t have any compensation to offer him, but I would greatly appreciate it if he did make our reel because I know his video editing skills are superior to my own and will ensure our game is depicted in a better light. We re-recorded all the interviews this weekend as well so now the sound quality is on point! I met again with this fellow senior to discuss my ideas for the video and I sent him all the footage I’d organized. We’ll be meeting again soon in a couple weeks to see what he has come up with so far. I’m very excited to see what he comes up with.sprite_oldlady Old Lady Sensei character art by Connor Chapin. 

Alpha

A lot of preparation went into Alpha, but no matter how much I prepare I always think we could have done better. On my end, my video animatic was okay, but I could have been more detailed with it. I’m disappointed because the footage my friend filmed of us had poor sound quality for our lead designer because the microphone was rubbing against the fabric of her shirt. I’ve asked my sound designer to rent a camera and sound equipment from Champlain so we’ll be able to do another recording as soon as possible. Luckily the final video isn’t due until about a month from now, but I don’t want to delay on it because I know I’ll have to put in the gameplay footage last minute. If I can get the interviews polished early it’ll give me a lot of time to weave the interviews and gameplay footage to make Kanji Samurai an exciting Senior Team reel. For the Alpha stage I had to layout the format of the video. I’m going to start with gameplay footage to provide context, then get into some interviews about the inspirations behind the game and it’s art. I also plan to overlay some relevant images of the artwork, and footage of the gameplay and maybe our team working. I have some footage I included in the animatic of me asking my team “When’s the last time you looked at the project plan” and them all pausing and then some laughing in response. It’s pretty humourous and the class laughed but I haven’t decided if I really want to include it or not.

Our game didn’t have to be feature complete for Alpha stage, but it did have to be able to be played from start to finish. We have planned 10 levels for our game and currently have implemented 4 of them. We have all the Kanji planned out for the levels, but failed to implement them in time for Alpha. My team has reassured me that the remaining levels will be implemented by Wednesday. In our Alpha review, Professor Manly said we need to instill more “juiciness” into our game. He said it felt too static. I knew what he meant. It wasn’t rewarding the player enough for their successes. We had a lot of nice art, but we need more particle effects and small animations to really sell the experience. I’m currently talking to my team about implementing the slash motion for selecting buttons like in Fruit Ninja as Prof. Manly suggested, rather than simply tapping the buttons.

This weekend we are meeting in the labs to discuss how to make our game more juicy. Then the rest of the meeting will be a work session. I hope that by all working in the same location we will be greater motivated to get things done. Last weekend we had a low key meeting at my apartment to make team t-shirts for the Senior Show and reaffirm our goals for Alpha. I think my mistake was not scheduling a meeting between that Saturday and Wednesday’s Alpha milestone. I’m looking forward to working in the game industry full time so I can focus all my energy on game development. It can be challenging to manage our game development capstone alongside our other classes and responsibilities. Working in the same room more frequently will make us more efficient I think. We’ll have instant access to each other for discussion and can collaborate work more effectively. Beta is in two weeks and I intend to lead my team to meeting all our milestones!

Mobile Games Roundtable at GDC

This week at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco has been a whirlwind. I’ve collected about 100 business cards and gave out even more. I’ve met amazing fellow students studying to get into the game industry, as well as industry professionals who hopefully can aid me in my journey. It was great to meet up with Champlain Alumni at two of my top companies. Even if I do not get a job immediately even with their help, all the connections I’ve made are still extremely worthwhile as you never know who will turn out to be a great friend, co-worker, or both in the future!

I think my favorite talk at GDC was the roundtable discussion I attended about making mobile games for kids. Although Kanji Samurai’s target audience isn’t children specifically, children 8 and up are part of our demographic and ensuring our game is easy enough for kids to learn Japanese basically guarantees adults should have an easy time learning as well. This session was very enlightening and it was exhilarating to speak in front of professionals in the game industry. The woman leading the discussion, Carla Fisher, asked us to generate 10 topics to discuss. I was the third person she called on! My voice shook slightly as I introduced myself and explained Kanji Samurai’s premise. I said I would like to discuss language learning games so we can improve our own. Like most people I’ve encountered at the conference, the fifty or more people in the room smiled at me and seemed genuinely interested in my game and our mission to teach Japanese!

I got some great resources that I have to look into about other language learning games, and after the discussion several people stuck around to play Kanji Samurai! I got some extremely useful feedback that I am going to organize tonight or tomorrow so I’ll be ready to share it with my team on Wednesday. I’ve got to prioritize it since we may not have time to address all of it. I think the most important feedback we received is we need to convey where the player went wrong when they make errors in the Kanji. We also have to add directional arrows because players had a lot of trouble with the square that is present in a few of the Kanji.                                                                             
Overall, GDC was an amazing experience and to anyone reading this and hoping to break into the games industry, all I can say is GO. It’s a great opportunity to learn a ton about game development and make connections with real professionals in the game industry as well as fellow students who I may work with in the future.

Off to San Francisco!

Kanji Samurai will have both a revitalized tutorial and the grading system implemented in time for the Game Developer’s Conference! In prioritizing our list of features for GDC, I told Eric that I understood if he would only have the time to implement one of them, so we told him to focus on the scoring system since our designer Luca had to rework the narrative of the tutorial a bit before it could be implemented.

This week, we recorded Glynis’s Japanese sensei pronouncing all the Kanji in our game. We are so glad to have her as a connection so we can have an authentic Japanese pronunciation for our game! On that same day, Eric and I ran quality assurance for the game and I checked in with him to see what assets the artists still needed to give him. By telling Julia to focus on the sakura flower slashing effect rather than the character animations, we’ll have a visually pleasing grid for players to interact with, which I think it more important at this time, considering the majority of the time players spend playing is on the grid. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many participants at quality assurance, but those who were there did provide us with quality feedback. They seemed to really like how reactive our grid has become because of the sakura blooming effect, and with the slashing effect now implemented, our grid is even more reactive!    

kanji_samurai_cutgif Note: Refresh the page to see the gif again.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Tomorrow I’m driving home to New Hampshire to catch an early morning flight Sunday morning from Boston to San Francisco.I’m feeling optimistic about the trip, but at the same time I don’t want to get my hopes up. I’ve heard students have gotten jobs at GDC in previous years, but I don’t want to get dejected if I don’t get one. Any connections I can make with game companies now could lead to opportunities in the future. I am going to do my best to make a good impression on recruiters and introduce myself to those around me.

Mobile Market Analysis & Competitors

Although the mobile market is oversaturated, our game concept is unique enough to stand out in this cluttered market. Kanji Samurai’s main mechanic has the player draw directly on their mobile device’s screen in order to replicate Kanji to fight powerful samurai. Our game has both a narrative and an educational component, and generally feels more game like than the other titles on the app store that aim to teach player’s Kanji. Kanji Samurai will stand out beside the other Japanese learning titles because it is not purely educational–it is also about fighting enemies to become the most powerful samurai. Our narrative component, traditionally inspired Japanese art, and cultural accuracy will make Kanji Samurai stand out among the other Japanese language learning apps on the android play store. Kanji Samurai is not targeted towards a Japanese or hardcore educational audience, rather, it is targeted towards a younger audience who have a general interest in the Japanese language and culture.

According to Nielsons.com, a leader in market research of consumers across the globe, mobile games are most likely to achieve success by “producing visibility through promotions, by generating social buzz through word of mouth recommendations, [and] by retaining owners through higher levels of engagement.” In promoting Kanji Samurai, we will have to produce buzz at least a few weeks in advance of its release–doing so causes hype which will make people more likely to download our game when it comes out on the app store. The target audience for Kanji Samurai is relevantly young and therefore active on social media. Traditional advertising methods on television and websites will likely not work to get our target market’s attention. Neilsons notes that teens and females typically find out about new apps either through the recommendations of friends and family or on a social network. In the weeks leading up to Kanji Samurai’s release, we will advertise on Facebook and spread the buzz about our upcoming game by encouraging our friends, family, and supporters to post about the game on social media. In this new world where everyone seems to be interconnected, social media is key in appealing to our primarily millennial audience.

No matter how much we advertise, our game will not be a success if it does not have substance, which is why Neilsons points out that mobile apps remain successful past their initial release only by keeping those who downloaded the game interested and engaged. Kanji Samurai is far more engaging than the alternative Japanese language learning apps on the google play store, which primarily focus on study rather than story, art, and fun. Japanese Kanji Study and Kanji Senpai are two examples of the Kanji study apps available on the app store. While they do offer the player a wide variety of Japanese characters to learn, they are less fun because it is purely a study tool; it is not a game. Likewise, Japanese Katakana Handwriting aims to educate the player in the Japanese language of Katakana, but players simply trace the character; they never have to write it out for themselves. These games and others like them are purely education-based. While there are a select few apps on the play store that combine learning with compelling gameplay, such as Kanji no Owari-Learn Japanese! which is a basic role playing game, these games do not task the player with writing the Kanji themselves, but rather pick it from a list, which is not as effective for players to learn. By combining learning with compelling gameplay, traditional Japanese art, and a light narrative, Kanji Samurai will stand out among the more lackluster titles on the google play store.

Works Consulted

“Success in the Mobile Gaming Market Can Be Explainable and Predictable.” Success in the Mobile Gaming Market Can Be Explainable and Predictable. N.p., 3 May 2016. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

“Attention! That’s the Secret to Mobile Game Success.” Attention! That’s the Secret to Mobile Game Success. N.p., 6 June 2016. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Competitors Mentioned

Kanji no Owari-Learn Japanese!                                       https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.SekaiProject.OwariNoKanji&hl=en

comp1

Japanese Katakana Handwriting                                       https://play.google.com/store/apps/detailsid=com.teachersparadise.japanesealphabetkatakanahandwriting&hl=en

comp2

Japanese Kanji Study                                                       https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mindtwisted.kanjistudy&hl=en
comp3

Kanji Senpai             https://play.google.com/store/apps/detailsid=jp.rodriguez.kanjisenpai.android&hl=en

comp4