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. 

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!

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.

Half Moon Helix Market Analysis

Half Moon Helix was the final game developed in production 1. I managed a team of two designers, two artists, and two programmers. Winston Pemberton created the visual design documents pictured below, and the art assets featured were created by Thomas Harrison and Brent Edwards. Half Moon Helix was created for the mobile phone specifically to use it’s screen rotation feature. If players hold their phone horizontally, they are able to roll atop the walls (grey), but if players hold it vertically, they are able to roll up the ride -able walls (tan). Players must switch between these two modes to collect the moonstone and progress to the next level.

diagram2diagram1

The Team:                                                                                                                                              
Designer – Winston Pemberton
Designer – Levi Rohr
Artist – Brent Edwards
Artist – Thomas Harrison
Programmer – Drew Matthews
Programmer – Ryan Sobczak
Producer – Emily Harnedy

Concept

Half Moon Helix is a ball rolling puzzler for mobile devices. Players guide a mystical ball through an ancient Aztec inspired temple filled with obstacles in order to light up the moon. To overcome obstacles, players must change the perspective of the level by tapping the screen of their phones. The art aesthetic is a mixture of ancient stonework and bronze technology, creating a curious, mysterious feel for the game.

Target Market

Given the difficulty spikes in the game and the implementation of obstacles, the primary target market is young teens and young adults between the ages of 10 and 40. The flashy yet mysterious aesthetic will appeal to this audience who enjoys bright, exciting things. The game will appeal to a broad range of gamers; the ancient ruins reminiscent of the untouched ruins of Skyrim and the fast paced levels reminiscent of recent arcade hits on mobile devices, such as Candy Crush. The game combines the awe of an exploration game with the thrill of an arcade game.

Puzzlers and arcade games are common on the app store. Arcade games because they can be completed quickly, and puzzlers because the player can play them at their leisure. Half Moon Helix combines these genres for a thoughtful, exciting experience.

According to BusinessInsider.com, the mobile app revenue will reach $46 billion by 2016. This number proves that apps are not going anywhere anytime soon. Consumers seek new apps daily for convenience, efficiency, and fun. Half Moon Helix will offer a new game for users to play.

Half Moon Helix has a broad potential audience. Puzzles and ball rollers appeal to both genders. The mystical Aztec temple is a setting that both genders and multiple ages can enjoy.  The difficulty in Half Moon Helix increases at a steady rate as the player progresses, but it is difficult enough that young children will not grasp the controls and puzzles. Some dexterity is required in playing Half Moon Helix, because players will need to tilt their phone to accelerate and therefore move the player. Because of this, older members of the mobile gaming community are not part of our target market.

Ball rollers already have a target audience for them. Katamari Damacy and Super Monkey Ball are just a few of the numerous ball rollers already available on the app store, each one featuring a different aesthetic and slight changes in mechanics. The fact there are so many ball roller games available showcases that ball rollers are popular and they are not going anywhere. It also means we will have to make ours stand out from the crowd. Our game differs from most in granting the player the ability to jump and, more importantly, giving the player the power to change the perspective of the level in order to beat it. Half Moon Helix is both classic and innovative in this regard.

Like most app games, Half Moon Helix is designed to be played in short bursts. We encourage this style of play through providing a level select screen. Our target market age range encompasses both students and adults. This age range is full of busy people. Students have school and adults have work. Because of their lifestyles, it is imperative we design our game with a pick up and play style.

analytics

This graph shows how age and gender factor into the games people play. Unfortunately, it does not directly state puzzle games, but I’d say strategy and arcade are the closet genres to what our game is. As you can see, strategy games are popular among males in their mid-twenties. Arcade games are gender neutral, with a slight lean in the female direction. This graph simply reinforces the point that our game can appeal to a broad audience of both genders.

To draw attention to our game, we will contact prominent app reviewers and ask them to write up a review for our game. In addition, we will create social media pages for our game on Facebook and Twitter. We will actively post on these accounts and post links on other pages related to gaming in order to get more players interested in our game.

Hypothetical Player

Amy is a single mother in her mid-twenties who has been addicted to Candy Crush for the past few months. Her daily life consists of going to work, meeting with friends, and tending to her son. She is a casual gamer who likes to play app games in the line at the grocery store, at the waiting room of doctor’s, and sometimes before bed. Amy has been frustrated with Candy Crush lately and wants to try something new. She scans the app store for something similar, and stumbles upon Half Moon Helix, a ball rolling puzzler with a bright, whimsical aesthetic. Amy has not played a game like this before, but the mystical, glowing art appeals to her.

Amy begins playing the game immediately. She is fine with paying the $1.99 the game costs, because it is worth it for 10 exciting levels. Amy gets stuck on a few levels, but without having to pay to continue she is able to beat them within a couple weeks. Amy is so satisfied with her purchase she decides to buy an additional level pack which contains 10 more levels for her to master.

Marketing

Because the app market is so bloated, it may prove difficult to garner popularity for our game. However, there are numerous resources and strategies available to help developers connect with the right kind of gamers for their game. One of those is App Store Optimization, which helps developers’ apps get high visibility (BusinessInsider). App Store Optimization is simply a strategy to optimize the content of your app so the search engine positions it higher on users’ search results page. It means including keywords in your app’s description that your target market will most likely use to look up games they are interested in (Kissmetrics). We will sign up for MobilDevHQ, which is an App Store Optimization resource that helps developers explore the trends in the market and develop keywords for our app that users will most likely search for.

In addition to optimizing our app for the search function of the app store, we can advertise inside other apps as well. Many apps feature in app advertising for other games. We can pay to have our game advertised inside of similar games that appeal to the same target market. It helps to have game sites review your game so in the description on the app store you can include these reviews. We will actively post about our game on social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter etc., to get the word out there.

Monetization

We will price our game at $1.99 to $2.99. In the future, we may create a level pack and charge an additional fee. Players may also choose to donate an amount of their choosing to the developers in support and as encouragement to make future games.

Source Links:

“App Store Optimization – A Crucial Piece of the Mobile App Marketing Puzzle.” App Store Optimization – A Crucial Piece of the Mobile App Marketing Puzzle. N.p., n.d. Web.  <https://blog.kissmetrics.com/app-store-optimization/&gt;.

Danova, Tony. “The Science Of App Marketing: How To Make Your App Stand Out In The Super-Crowded App Stores.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 04 Jan. 2014. Web.  <http://www.businessinsider.com/top-app-store-marketing-tips-2013-10&gt;.

LeMonds, Kami. “Marketing Your Windows Phone App 101 – Q&A with Resident Windows Phone Developer Bernardo Zamora.” Building Apps for Windows. N.p., 07 Nov. 2014. Web. <http://blogs.windows.com/buildingapps/2013/03/01/marketing-your-windows-phone-app-101-qa-with-resident-windows-phone-developer-bernardo-zamora/&gt;.

 

 

 

Beat of the Flames Market Analysis

Beat of the Flames was a rhythm-based educational game I created with four other classmates during my sophomore year at Champlain College. This was my second project as a game producer after having switched my major from game design. I was instructed to write up the market analysis as if we were actually going to publish the game, even though it was just hypothetical. All the art featured in this post can be accredited to my talented teammates Maria Crawford and Scott Delong.

The Team:

Designer – Jake Pierce
Artist – Maria Crawford
Artist – Scott DeLong
Programmer – Ryan Sobczak
Producer – Emily Harnedy

conceptfirebeatofflamehow

Concept

Our project is a timing and rhythm game designed to stimulate interest in Native American culture (specifically the Potawatomi tribe) among school children aged six to nine. The art style is a friendly, illustrative paper cut intended to appeal to kids. The player controls a group of dancers trying to keep the fire alive in order to ward off the Wendigo and ensure their safety. Players click on pieces of firewood that the dancers will then dance to, their movement controlled by the player’s accurate input of a rhythm that is reflected in game.

Target Market

Our target market consists of two separate markets—children aged 6 to 9 and their parents/educators. We want to engage the children’s interest while also convincing parents and schools to open their pocket books.

The game targets young school children in the third to fifth grade. These are kids who grew up playing on tablets and ipods. They like to play simple video games on their parents’ phones and computers. In school their teachers try to incorporate technology into their learning to prepare them for our technologically advanced world. These kids are constantly looking for new games to play. Our game’s papery aesthetic and caricatured characters will appeal to kids because it is quirky and fun.

To market to parents and educators, we will stress the educational aspect of our game. Parents want to foster their children’s interest in technology, but they get tired of watching them play countless bubble poppers and Angry Bird inspired games. Instead, parents want their children to play something a little more meaningful. Our game fits parents’ expectations as it is both fun for their child and stimulates their interest in a culture different from their own.

Educators often incorporate technology into their classrooms, as well as educational games to spark children’s learning. By creating a game about Potawatomi culture, a topic not deeply explored in classrooms past the feast between Native Americans and pilgrims, our game can serve as an additional aid for educators in their teaching lessons.

Our game will suit the needs of both markets—child and parents/educators. Beat of the Flame is not a cliché rhythmic game; it is a game based on Native American cultural dances and beliefs that will open up a dialogue between parent/educators and children regarding America’s earliest inhabitants.

wendigodancer

Hypothetical Player

Chris is a 7-year old kid from Vermont who attends an average public school. Most of his classmates are from middle class, white families, so Chris hasn’t been exposed to much diversity in his life.

At school, Chris and his classmates use technology on a day to day basis. His teacher often uses internet resources to aid in her teaching practices. Every Wednesday, Chris and his class go to the school’s computer lab for their scheduled computer time, in which they play interactive games that reinforce the topics they are learning in class.

At home, Chris spends a lot of time with his friends outside. During the winter, his parents restrict the amount of time he can go outside because it is so cold. In addition to outdoor activities, Chris also enjoys computer games.

One day at school during computer time, his teacher introduces the class to Beat of the Flame, an interactive rhythm game based in Potawatomi culture. This is the first time Chris is exposed to the Potawatomi tribe. He has learned about Native Americans before, but he has never considered that there are different types of Native Americans. He tells his parents about the game when he comes home, and they decide to look up more about local Native American tribes in their area in addition to the Potawatomi.

Marketing

In order to get users for our game, we will reach out to schools. We can release our game during the fall season, when students are learning about Thanksgiving. Technology is a common sight in our modern day classrooms. Our game can be of use during a class activity as an educational aid. Children do not like to participate in one activity for long periods of time. Our game will offer an additional opportunity to spice up learning in the classroom.

In order for educators to trust our game, we can apply for awards that will earn us more credibility. There are a lot of options out there for educational games, such as Parent Tested Parent Approved, Family Choose, Kids At Play Interactive Awards, etc. Teachers and parents will be more likely to purchase our game if we can promote the fact that we won an award for being an exceptional kids’ game.

We will become an active member (or perhaps even a partner in the future) of Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/), an online website that features the most meaningful movies, books, games, and apps that kids should play. By doing so, we will have an instant connection with the target market we want—parents and teachers who wish to educate their children through fun and appropriate technology.

Source:

MacIntyre, Nancy. “Making and Marketing Kids Apps: Definitely Not Child’s Play.”Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games. N.p., 26 June 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. <http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/NancyMacIntyre/20130626/194650/Making_and_Marketing_Kids_Apps_Definitely_Not_Childs_Play.php&gt;.

Monetization

There are many grants available to fund educational tools, including video games. It is just a matter of finding the grants we qualify for. One grant in particular is known for funding educational video games. The U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research grant provides funding for projects geared towards teachers and students. Our project falls within this category.

Additional grants to consider are the Teacher Development Grant, which funds K-12 learning programs. There is also Mini-Grants from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which seek educators designing programs that “foster creative expression, working together, and interaction with a diverse community” (that last one being key in our claim to this grant). The Ezra grant is only available to public schools and public libraries, but we could discuss our game idea with a public library or school and still apply with their backing of us.Lastly, the Kellogg Foundation offers a multitude of grants to support educational resources.

We can also put our game on the app store for private purchases in addition to school use. Our game will cost $1.99 on the Apple store. It will also be available for download on the computer for the same amount.

Sources:

“The Big List of Educational Grants and Resources.” Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation, 15 Feb. 2017. Web. <https://www.edutopia.org/grants-and-resources&gt;

“U.S. Department of Education Program Offers Grants to Game Developers.” Games and Learning. N.p., 26 Feb. 2014. Web. <http://www.gamesandlearning.org/2014/02/26/u-s-department-of-education-program-offers-grants-to-game-developers/&gt;

“What We Do.” W.K. Kellogg Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.wkkf.org/what-we-do/overview&gt;

 

Managing a Team of Ten

Managing a team of ten people is definitely a new challenge-I’ve never dealt with teams this large before! It’s pretty exciting and daunting at the same time. Mostly exciting though. I find myself getting excited during meetings frequently when I see what my team has accomplished and when we solve impediments together. We have nine official member and then one outsourced Creative Media major to help us out with art. 

As the producer I remain upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic in my leadership style. I think I have a pretty good emotional intelligence as well so I am able to sense certain vibes from my team members. For example, during our last class meeting our lead artist, Maddie, was explaining some of her art concepts for the button design. I noticed that our programmer, Mary, looked like she wanted to say something, but was refraining in order not to interrupt. Well, before Maddie moved on to show off her next concept for the UI, I politely interrupted and prompted Mary to speak. She ended up sharing a really great idea for the button interaction in that when players swipe across a button to activate it, the button (shaped like a scroll) actually rolls up! This will be a nice touch to make our game feel more responsive to player input.

One of my biggest concerns is making sure all my team members feel valued and respected. I want them to know that I genuinely care about them, not only in the sense that I want them to finish their tasks, but that I genuinely care about them individually as people. I have to say I think the Radiant Ronin did really did well in the draft! We picked up new Ronin who are invested in our project just as much as the original four members are! I love hearing the new ideas my team comes up with and helping them figure out how to implement them. Overseeing all of a project’s elements and facilitating the interweaving of those elements to create a meaningful video game is something I am extremely passionate about!  

Every other week the six producers who have class on Wednesdays meet with the three faculty members who teach those three classes (there are two teams per class so therefore two producers from each class) to discuss our teams and our projects. We’ve only had one meeting so far, but I look forward to the next one because a marketing professor will be joining us to give up pointers into social media marketing. I have started to create a Website on Wix but have not published it yet. I want to ensure it looks polished before I publish it. I’d like to include pictures and bios of my team as well.

Post-Mortem: If you don’t believe in it, why should I?

On the first day of class when our Professor spoke to us about past senior production classes and how inevitably some teams end up choosing not to even challenge to move on to next semester because they won’t make it that far in the development process, I turned to my team and whispered that failure was not an option for us and that we were going forward into spring semester no question. I said it in a joking manner, but I also believed it. I had to believe it in order to get this far. To be honest, sometimes I don’t have a lot of confidence and often second guess myself, but this past semester I think I’ve really grown and gained more confidence. I had to believe in myself and in my team or else we may not have made it. Thankfully my team is pretty amazing so it wasn’t hard to believe in them! My presentations would have fallen flat if I didn’t showcase how excited I was about our game and why it is a worthwhile project. My team would not have been as organized or motivated without me. Positive thinking is imperative to being a producer. My belief in our project and vision, coupled with detailed project plans and the commitment of my team will lead to our success next semester as well.

I am anxious and excited for next semester. We’ve essentially doubled the size of our team. We picked up 2 male designers, 1 female and 1 male artists, and 1 programmer at the draft. The draft is the process the passing teams go through to select new members for the team. As the producer, I felt it was primarily my responsibility to ensure we recruited new members who are compatible with our team. Going into the draft, we knew art was our top priority. We want to have corresponding art for each Kanji. For example, when players are prompted to write left, the flower petals on screen fly in the breeze to the left, or when players are prompted to write day, an image of the sun rises on screen. We also want additional animations and character sprites for each sensei the player learns from. One team competed with us for one of the artists we got, claiming they needed her more because our game is only 2d. The thing is, she is one of the only dedicated 2d artists. Thankfully, in the end the opposing team got another talented artist and we got to keep the artist we wanted. I’m really happy it worked out this way because Glynis and I almost gave in.

We got one more designer than intended, which may cause problems only in finding enough work for them all to do since our game is essentially already designed. One of the designers we got specializes in sound and will be working on sound effects and maybe some more musical tracks. We already have music from professionals who gave me permission to use their music, but if our designer makes something super sweet we’ll put it in instead or in addition to what we already have. The other designer will help with new game modes and assist Glynis in finding ways to make the game more accessible to casual gamers; right now the learning curve is insane. The last member we recruited is a female programmer who took Intro to Japanese this semester and is taking Japanese 2 next semester! She wanted to work with us and will truly be a boon because of her skills with Japanese. Her and our current programmer, Eric, seem to have a good dynamic together as well. I want all members on our team to feel valued, so I will definitely find work for them despite our overload of designers. As the producer I want to ensure we are utilizing our members to the best of their abilities.

Looking back over the semester, I think my interpersonal skills were stronger than my organizational skills. Sometimes I was late in filling out the logs for our meetings and keeping the wiki up to date. I was fairly involved in the design of the game, which I probably won’t be to the extent I was next semester because of the additional designers we’ve picked up. However, knowing me I’ll probably be at almost every QA session. I just love hearing player feedback and reviewing the survey with their responses afterwards is just not the same as watching them play the game and seeing their responses in real time. I’m excited to get to review everyone’s documents and proofread as dorky as that sounds. I like to go over everything and feel comforted knowing everything is in order.

Fun fact, we still have a majority of females on our team, the only team of the 10 that went forward to have a majority of females. We really don’t have that many girls in the game majors, but I believe in time that will change.  As a freshmen I doubted my capabilities because I wondered if Champlain had only admitted me into the game design major because I was a female and not because of my talent. Now, seeing as how I successfully led my team into second semester and they’ve all told me how much I help them stay on task with the game’s development, I can say with certainty that I do have talent. Sometimes I wonder if my self-doubt tore me down and was the sole reason I changed my major from game design to game production management. I thought I was incapable of learning all the technical skills required like programming. However, I am good at being a manager and in this position I do have some input into the game’s design as well which is all I really wanted in the end. 

As I said above, over Holiday break I’m going to create a project plan for next semester. After asking my team what they’d like to work on and discussing the future of our game during our final exam period, I will try and assign tasks accordingly, keeping in mind things may change as we come up with new design ideas and concepts as a team. I’m going to use the traditional Scrum period of two week sprints when I divide up the remaining weeks in the semester. I am enjoying the game development process and am proud of the game we have created and will continue to create! 

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.

In Preparation for Proof of Concept

In order to pass through the Proof of Concept stage of Kanji Samurai’s development, we have to, well, prove our concept. To me, this means getting our core gameplay and mechanics established. Our game loop needs to be effectively showcased. The game loop for Kanji Samurai is as follows:

  1. Training: Players learn a set of 4 Kanji from their sensei. Players are given a traceable image and an animation of the order and direction of strokes. Once the player has written each Kanji correctly three times, these Kanji are considered mastered and players can use them in battle.
  2. Battle: Players test their new Kanji in battle mode against a rival samurai. Players deal damage by writing the Kanji correctly within 1 minute. Players are given an animation of the Kanji once before it disappears and they must replicate it. Players lose health by running out of time to write the correct Kanji. Once the enemy is defeated, players can move on to challenge their sensei in battle.
  3. Challenge: Players will battle their sensei in the same way they battled the rival samurai, except they will no longer see an animation of how to draw the Kanji at all, and their sensei’s health will be higher. Once the player has beaten their sensei, they will be prompted to travel to the next location to learn the next set of Kanji.

Players progress through this game loop by selecting different locations across Japan on a map interface. Each location will have 3 sub locations-one for training, one for battle, and one for challenge. Eventually, we will incorporate a narrative to accompany the gameplay at each location in order to enhance the user experience, but that is not necessary to prove our gameplay concept. To prove our concept, we must have this core gameplay adequately displayed within the prototype with some original art assets and mechanics essential to the game. I have also enlisted the help of my friend to say pronunciations of the Kanji to greater solidify the players’ learning of the Kanji.

The best way to ensure our game is conveying our game loop effectively is to run it through quality assurance testing. I really enjoy running quality assurance for Kanji Samurai because I truly value the feedback we receive from players. Often, testers provide great insight as to how to improve our player experience. After analyzing the results from QA, I came up with a list in order of importance as to what players’ need. It is as follows:

Ways to Improve Player Feedback:

  1. Fix the weird corner issue on Kanji such as middle. QA testers consistently get confused by this.
  2. Allow players to start drawing Kanji without having to wait for the animation to end in Battle mode
  3. Allow players to undo one stroke
  4. Additional player feedback in various places
    1. When the player first enters into the first training mode, have a pop up saying, “Replicate the Kanji on your screen. Be sure to follow the proper stroke order and direction!”
    2. Literally show them an example with middle because they still aren’t getting it. Have the game say, stroke 1, and show the first stroke. Then it says stroke 2, and shows that stroke, etc, etc until the Kanji character is complete. Then the player will draw over it
    3. When you click on the Boss Battle with Sensei, have a pop up appear saying, “Warning: When you challenge your sensei for Kanji mastery, you will no longer be presented with an image of the Kanji. You must replicate it from memory. Proceed?” answer with yes or no
    4. Put an arrow on the end of the line that draws each stroke indicating direction

I always prioritize the tasks I give my team by their importance as determined by what players’ need in order to prove our concept to them. My designer, Glynis, and I discuss the issues players have at quality assurance testing and write down some solutions, then when I write up the quality assurance analysis I create a list of priorities for improved gameplay based on those solutions. If our prototype is complete with our core game loop as described above with the changes implemented from QA, we should be all set from a technical standpoint. However, documents still need to be written, hours still need to be logged, and a presentation still has to be made.

Whenever it comes time to create a presentation to challenge a stage for capstone game development, I start with a basic outline of the slides. I look at what is required in our provided checklist and lay out the slides accordingly. I set it up to what I think is aesthetically pleasing, and then my artist, Maddie, goes in and provides the finishing touches. Preparing for the presentation isn’t all just in the powerpoint–it’s important to practice! We always make sure we know who is covering what slides and understand the general outline of the presentation. It’s important that our presentation showcases not only the strengths of our game, but also the strengths of our team and why we are excited to be working together on this concept. If we don’t showcase how excited we are about our concept, how can we expect to convince the audience our game is worthy? Glynis and I work well together when we give presentations. She is the expert in the Japanese language and loves Japan so her enthusiasm during presentations really shines through along with mine.  I still get nervous during presentations, but presentations for game development classes are always the easiest for me because I am extremely invested in the work and my team.