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

YOU HERD 'EM! - Jam-O-Drum (Arcade-ish Game)

Production and Game Design

Building Virtual Worlds, Round 5

Development Duration: 2 Weeks

Developed in Unity for Jam-O-Drum

Programmers: Yujin Ariza, Caleb Biasco

Artists: Srujani Kamineni , Euna Park

Sound: Wonjae Kim

Producer: Euna Park

BRAINSTORMING

The Jam-O-Drum is a custom made platform at the Entertainment Technology Center. It consists of a circular table, which has four evenly spaced wheels along the circumference. The wheels all have a responsive button in the middle. Guest interactions consist of spinning the wheel and hitting the button. 

In our initial meetings and brainstorming sessions, the team came up with ideas for other platforms in case we weren't assigned our first choice, but we were aiming for the Jam-O-Drum from the very start. The difficult part was landing an idea which everyone was excited about and which was within scope for a two week project.

 Our top three platform choices, with ideas for each platform.

Our top three platform choices, with ideas for each platform.

 Once assigned the Jam-O-Drum, we brainstormed a list of themes and features we wanted to incorporate into our game design.

Once assigned the Jam-O-Drum, we brainstormed a list of themes and features we wanted to incorporate into our game design.

Once assigned the Jam-O-Drum, we spent a good deal of time brainstorming the different sorts of experiences we could design for the platform. We knew that we wanted our game to be chaotic, competitive, and fun. We eventually landed on reworking an existing idea that Yujin Ariza had previously developed; a two-player competitive sheep herding game for a desktop. The challenge then became to adapt the gameplay and the design for a four-player experience on the Jam-O-Drum. 

DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION

In the spirit of creating a fun sheep herding game, the Jam-O-Drum opened up many possibilities for an entertaining arcade-style game. We took into account the Jam-O-Drum's unique physical design and spent our first brainstorming session going nuts. In an hour's time, we thought of as many fun and exciting and just plain weird features as we could (left image below). After brainstorming, we cherry-picked what was essential for implementation for the interim (one week's progress) presentation.  

 Documenting the "sky-is-the-limit" brainstorming session

Documenting the "sky-is-the-limit" brainstorming session

 Talking through and mapping the guest's game experience from a UI standpoint

Talking through and mapping the guest's game experience from a UI standpoint

The main goals were decided on as follows:

  • Four-player competitive gameplay
  • Drawing inspiration from 8-bit arcade games for aesthetic direction
  • Sheep would be herded into player zones, which would divide the table into quadrants 
    • The total number of sheep in the zone would constitute that player's score
    • The player who herded the most number of sheep into their zone would be the winner 
  • Players would be able to select their avatar from a variety of characters with different characteristics
    • Sheep dog would have small, quick barks with a small area of effect
    • Robot dog would have slow, powerful barks with a larger area of effect
  • Build a basic game to build various 'minigame' modes from, which would feature special kinds of sheep that would affect gameplay
    • Zombie sheep, fat sheep, bomb sheep were a few of the ideas we were playing with

During implementation, we ran into a few issues when finessing the gameplay. 

Our interim presentation (video below) had good crowd reaction, but the feedback was lackluster, especially once our instructors played the game themselves. 

The feedback we got from interim can be summed up as follows:

Pros:

  • Easy to understand, the theme of dogs herding sheep is familiar and the aesthetic is charming
  • A sheep herding game on the Jam-O-Drum fit well with the interactions and quad mechanic 

Cons:

  • Lots of effort to herd sheep into zones did not feel like it correlated to the chances of winning due to many random factors (other players, sheep wandering) made early successes feel meaningless
  • There were many small elements which made the gameplay frustrating 
    • Dog and sheep pileups in corners seemed to halt the game and kill the interest curve
    • There was no feedback on which player was in the lead, which added to frustration
    • Multiple rounds were necessary to feel a complete experience, one 30 second round was too short

After receiving this feedback, the team dove back into the design of the game and made some powerful adjustments throughout the week. 

 Brainstorming the kind of changes we wanted to make 

Brainstorming the kind of changes we wanted to make 

Some of the changes were very straightforward, and some were ones we discovered through iteration. We first addressed the sheep and dog pileup question by allowing the dogs to run through the sheep. This had an immediately noticeable effect on gameplay, making it faster and lighter and alleviating a huge portion of the frustration expressed by the interim feedback. 

There were some other major changes we implemented which we rapidly prototyped and tested throughout the week:

  • We based winning by score, collecting sheep versus herding sheep into zones
    • Problem: How do we make the sheep counter a plausible mechanic in the game? 
      • Solution: Rework the idea of zones into 'collection bins', where sheep that reached the zone would be claimed by that player.
    • Problem generated by that solution: How do we plausibly continue repopulating the board with sheep? 
      • Solution: Make the sheep fall from the sky. (Somewhere in our version control, there exists an entertaining bug where sheep float away into the stratosphere because we broke gravity trying to give the sheep an appealing hang time before they fell to the ground.)
    • We abandoned the idea of developing separate minigames
      • Instead, we used the "fat sheep bonus" idea from minigames to augment the interest curve and extend the time duration of each round. 
    • Upon implementing score based gameplay, we had to find a way to balance the gameplay
      • The "golden sheep bonus round" was a 4AM idea two days before the deadline to spike the interest curve at the end of the round and help balance out gameplay 
      • We abandoned the idea of different characters with different abilities, all of the selectable characters (sheep dog, man dog, cat, and K9) are all programmatically identical

    FINAL PRESENTATION

    Our final presentation was enjoyed by everyone. Showing the video during the presentation led to some laughs, especially with the appearance of the golden sheep. The feedback was much more positive after our instructors actually played the game as well. There was little to be said in ways of improvement, except that the rules of the game could be clarified a little at the beginning. However, even that became clear extremely quickly once the game started, and the game "is lots of fun to play and immediately demands a second playthrough." 

    FESTIVAL PREPARATION AND THEMING

    This world was voted by our peers to be shown to be shown to the ETC Festival jury. In preparation for doing so, we added a few tweaks as suggested from our final presentation feedback to clarify the goals of the game at the beginning of the round. (Shown in the video at the top of this post.)

    We decorated our room largely with cardboard, with a farm theme. A huge constraint we had to deal with was that we were not allowed to stick anything directly to the walls. 

    Overall though, the experience was chaotic and lots of fun. We had families and groups of friends who came back multiple times throughout the course of Festival to play the game and challenge one another repeatedly. It was a good experience with a wonderfully cohesive and talented team. 

    WhatsApp Image 2017-12-07 at 13.43.43.jpeg
    Euna Park