Production

This blog details my thought processes and operating system as a producer. 

In all my projects so far, I've used my interdisciplinary background as a strength. 

Marketing work experience focuses my approach on practical deliverables and big-picture perspective

Educational background in hard science allows me to understand technical needs

Study of art and history informs my aesthetic

Slime Lord - Apple ARKit (Augmented Reality)

Production and Game Design

Building Virtual Worlds, Round 3

Development Duration: 1 Week

Developed in Unity for Apple ARKit

Programmers: Danke (Douglas) Luo, Guanghao Yang

Artists: Fangda Luo, Euna Park

Sound: Daniel Wolpow

Producer: Euna Park

Special thanks to Yujin Ariza for the translucency shader

  • Communication tools: Slack 
  • Daily update meetings
    • Longer meetings scheduled separately on an as-needed basis
    • Regular check-ins with team members at their desks, given the 1 week crunch

When we were considering which platform we wanted to use for the 1 week round, it was more difficult than previous rounds because this team was more diverse and did not all speak fluent English. Regardless, as a team, we were quite excited about the novelty of trying Apple's ARKit rather than initially having an idea that we wanted to bring to life. We just knew that we wanted to make it as fun as we possibly could. 

RESEARCH AND BRAINSTORMING

After being assigned the platform, we had a meeting in which we threw around ideas. In preparation for this meeting, I studied arcade-style and handheld games (Mario Party, Gamecube, N64, SNES, and more). Through watching these clips, I gauged my own emotional reactions to what I was seeing while analyzing the visuals and mechanics, and did further research into ones that particularly caught my eye. ARKit sits in an odd space between mobile apps and sit-down gaming, and I wanted to understand how these simple mechanics were packaged to make them such successes. Through my study, I learned that:

  • The world and its rules needed to be understood at a glance. If too much explanation was necessary, the guest would lose interest. 
  • Aesthetically, many of the games were lighthearted.
  • Mechanically, the games were largely able to be played in bite-size pieces. 
    • For simpler mechanics, adding a multiplayer competitive angle provided an instant spike in interest.

Deciding the actual mechanic proved to be more difficult for our team. We eventually landed on a traditional stacking game, which raised some eyebrows among our peers. 

The features we decided to implement out of this meeting were the following:

  • 2-player, competitive gameplay
  • Swaying towers would provide additional challenge as towers got higher
  • Each player would defend one tower
  • The sway of one player's tower could disrupt their opponent's tower

CHALLENGE: FINDING THE THEME

We ran into problems pretty quickly. While programmers got to work navigating work between PC and Mac to build and test properly on iPads, the rest of the team tried to come up with a feasible context for a stacking game. We knew that without a good aesthetic to drive the game, such a simple mechanic would quickly become boring and feel pointless. We came up with a few ideas, but nothing really resonated with the team as 'fun'. We studied other stacking games to find inspiration, but it seemed to be informing themes that we didn't want to work with in the attempt to come up with something original that would embrace ARKit's capabilities. (Skyscrapers games, Jenga, etc) 

People were starting to feel discouraged, as thus far, no ideas had come easily and communication flow was somewhat erratic. 

It wasn't until our programmers started running into their own development issues that we found our theme. I noticed that the simple cubes they were testing in an initial prototype seemed to be wobbling and deforming in order to create the swaying motion of the towers. When they confirmed this to be true, and a problem they were trying to work around, I suggested that we use it instead. We could embrace this 'problem' as a feature, and create the entire world out of jelly. 

This idea largely proved to be the boost that our team needed. Pitching this idea to each member of the team produced something between chuckles and laughter from everyone, which convinced me this was the right direction for the remainder of the week.  

GAMEPLAY DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT

While considering the aesthetic of a jelly world, it was important to make sure the gameplay and rules felt like they fit that aesthetic. Putting the two-player turn-based element was key to making the gameplay fun, but it was hard to balance out so the last person to go didn't have an overwhelming advantage. We ran into a lot of problems trying to keep the rules simple and intuitive around that constraint. A few features we rapidly pushed and tested included:

  • The ability for guests to drop multiple blocks per turn
  • Allowing multiple towers to be built per guest
    • Allowing the guests to be strategic about building many small towers, or building fewer but taller towers 
  • Deciding whether guests could only build on top of their own towers or if they could hijack each other's towers 
    • Winning game either by the calculation net height of blocks, versus 'claiming' towers by putting your color on top
 Brainstorming how to introduce the rules to the guest

Brainstorming how to introduce the rules to the guest

 Iteration 4.6-ish of the game flow...

Iteration 4.6-ish of the game flow...

We also realized the look of the world also had to fit our theme, and the world layout needed to be conducted in a way which would encourage the guests to move around during the gameplay. We also added a "Too Low" warning to avoid cubes being generated inside other cubes, and to encourage guests to try different methods of holding the iPad to facilitate stacking the cubes.

 Rough sketch of early world layout

Rough sketch of early world layout

One of the last minute aesthetic challenges we had was when playtesters started commenting that our world felt fun, but didn't seem like augmented reality. After some struggle, our solution to this was to make only a certain part of the floor would be available for guests to build blocks on. We also limited the number of blocks per turn that each guest was allowed, and did lots of tweaking and playtesting to make sure that the pacing of the game wouldn't get stale. 

 The shape of the game planning close to the final submission.

The shape of the game planning close to the final submission.

While we were balancing out the 2-player gameplay, our sound designer Daniel Wolpow approached me with a special song he had written.

While we had nailed the look and aesthetic, the music he wrote (the credits song and the background music) cemented the silly personality of the game and gave the team a boost of motivation. 

FINAL PRESENTATION

Our final presentation was well received, in the end. Because the game we'd developed was relatively quick to play, team members provided a demo first before inviting our instructors to face off against each other. In his quest to become the Slime Lord, one of our instructors grabbed a chair and stood on it to make himself physically taller and give himself an advantage to the delight of both the audience and our team. The resulting feedback was not unexpected:

Pros:

  • Good use of augmented reality, both angling the tablet and manipulating the physical space were necessary to play the game
    • The spontaneous and surprising use of a chair ended up being a legitimate strategy
  • Simple idea that was well presented with good aesthetic, and the actual experience is deeper and more engaging than at first glance
  • The audience was engaged by the competitive element and the tension of the swaying towers
  • Mixing the ability to "claim" towers and height-based scoring was a strong choice for balancing gameplay

Cons:

  • Misleading shadows made it more difficult to drop the blocks than necessary
  • The feedback from the height meter felt somewhat unrealistic and unsatisfying
  • UI elements showing the number of turns left was not clear enough, obscuring the end point of the game
  • More rule tweaks necessary to make the game feel even more balanced, as the advantage is still with the guest with the last turn
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ETC FESTIVAL THEMING AND PRESENTATION

This video is a clip from the ETC Facebook Live Stream of the 2017 Fall Festival. 

We submitted this world for consideration in the ETC Festival, a showcase of student work from the Building Virtual Worlds course, semester-long projects, and student films. When it passed the jury, we were assigned with a room and tasked with theming it to fit our game's personality and aesthetic. 

 Image Credit:  Ricardo Tucker

Image Credit: Ricardo Tucker

 Image Credit:  Ricardo Tucker

Image Credit: Ricardo Tucker

All of the decorations were made out of hand-cut painted cardboard. This includes the boxes, which we made and measured to be slightly lopsided

Euna Park