Week 8 for the team was focused on zoning in on the specifics for both art and design.
From an art perspective, we started honing in on the final look of our bird protagonist, what we wanted the player character to look like. The general shape and shape language for the character have already been decided, what remains is deciding the color palette, turf of feather on the body for extra character expression etc.
The team needs to make sure these characters support the feel of the game and what it is trying to give the player. Interestingly though, our faculty advisors expressed that they did not feel the sense of “gratitude” being felt through the other NPC characters. This means the team will need to, if time allows, unify the art style for all characters to nail down the comedic and light-hearted nature of the game.
In terms of design, the team has iterated on the details on gameplay mechanics and the world building even further and has created so far 3 level blockmeshes for gameplay testing as well as conveying the feeling of the world. The faculty loved the overall world building and the overall world map. However, the team should prioritize the districts and define more clearly what each the level is. Thinking about the game arch is very important. One caution to be aware of, they pointed out, was that, given your audience, the game world should not feel like a mixed puzzle. If the game becomes a puzzle game where we are trying to solve this cryptography that’s not where the team should land.
Furthermore, a lot of the discussion was on the style of presentation for the narrative and the story. One one hand, the team wants to depict the main character as the receiving end of NPC characters’ behaviors and actions, or in other words, a somewhat mute character like Mario who nevertheless conveys a strong personality; On the other hand, the faculty advisors would love to see a main character that front and center, which comes down to making a bold choice with what the main character is. “It is easier to create characters that are not consequential to the story. You are avoiding the tough question.” as how the faculty advisors put it. The faculty wished we were talking more about what the character itself is doing since the main plot points of the game is about this bird character. “Other characters can only be evaluated in comparison to what the main character sounds or looks like.”
Overall, it is a super charming story – but it needs a personality. If the character is mostly receiving action then it’s not the protagonist. Our protagonist should be working towards an objective. Our bird protagonist already has a personality from the drawings. So Peck will need to drive the story, otherwise we will just have a stupid ass bird. If he is not charming he will seem useless. If he is not specific no one is going to care. It’s important to be specific.
Week 7 is the time for halves presentation and taking in halves feedback while zoning in more specifically on all aspects of pre-production. The team was able to turn faculty’s previously lukewarm responses and expectations into something more positive. Overall, the faculties liked what we have done in the past 6 weeks. This greatly helped the team morale and validated a lot of art and design decisions the team has made. More specifically, the faculties loved the environment art and world building, as well as linking in-game character capabilities with real life animal analogies.
On the other hand, there are many smaller points and details that needed to be addressed. As of right now, the main bird character does not visually register as a flightless bird. Additionally, it looks like a specific kind of bird. This visual statement can be taken at face value. There is nothing wrong with it being a bit more vague so that the team doesn’t get tied down with any initial expectation from the audience. If we still want to go down this path, we need to make it clearer. The team discussed solutions that could address the issue.
While the game the team envisioned is not heavy on the story but rather filled with small bits of lore for the player to discover, the faculty somehow got the impression that the game is a narrative focused emotional experience that tells a serious story. There is a clear gap between what is expected and what is planned down the road. The faculty advised the team to use animatics/short animation or storyboard sequences that visually convince the audience of the tone and complexity of the game. As to how the team would love to take in this piece of advice on future direction is still unclear.
In terms of target demographic, 5-12 is a fairly wide target demographic. The bottom line of the range can’t really have text to read or navigate complex space as much as the high end of this range. Meanwhile what inspires an emotional reaction in x population is a question the team needs to answer.
Lastly, the team needs to decide what the actual platform on which the game will ship, otherwise there is no way to come up with a reasonable budget estimate. Having a delivery platform is a big red flag.
The team received a B+ on product and a B+ on presentation. That’s a great grade for halves. In short, this week was more focused on tweaking than major changes/breakthroughs as Our Halves presentation and feedback was the main focus of the week.
Week 6 is all about polishing all discipline and preparing for our halves presentation next week. The team narrowed down the most important aspects of our pre-production process so far into the Art, Story, Mechanism and Level Design.In our halves slide, we detailed the journey of our process through each of the disciplines, from brainstorming of the most basic core concepts to our current state. We finished off the slide with a brief section proposing future plans for the project.
Starting with the Art team, they will continue to iterate on all characters and environments in the game while working closely with the design team to ensure thematic consistency. For instance, the art team has begun to bring to life all the side characters we plan to include in the game. On the environment side, the art team has found the sweet spot/a certain style for the woodland creature village. This style was positively received by the faculty advisor. The team will then continue in that direction.
The art team is currently following an iteration process where the team sits down with the faculty advisors at the end of every other day to go over new character and environment concept arts for feedback.
Moving on to the Design team. The design team is split into the following 3 sub sections: Narrative, Mechanics and Level. In narrative design, the team has decided not to have an overarching storyline, which focuses on how a specific journey unfolds, for the protagonist. Rather, the game tells the story through lore and little snippets of character interactions here and there to build this rich world of woodland creatures. This approach to storytelling presents a much less daunting task, both in terms of the quantity of written text required as well as the creative freedom it offers.
In mechanics design, the team decided to keep only the most essential verbs for the sake of simplicity. The more verbose and crowded a system is, the more obtuse and cumbersome it becomes. The team, in other words, is following Nintendo’s approach of mechanics design: “simple, but versatile verbs”. Lastly, in level design, the team has built out an entire prototype level depicting the woodland creature village. The goal of the level is to test out how big we want each level to be, and how gameplay could unfold in that environment. The team wants to ground the forest setting by having actual platforms built out of trees, instead of simply putting out a platform that merely floats in the air. Additionally, the start and the finish of the level, namely where the player enters the level and where they should deliver the packages, are instantly obvious when they jump into the level. However it is up to the player to find their delivery path in this area. This design more effectively holds play interest.
Week 5 is about digesting faculty feedback from the previous week and delivering the first round of concept arts and prototypes. Addressing a lot of the shared confusions among the faculties, the team, in one way or another, has to make a prototype of the game. The catch is that the prototype should not be a polished gameplay demo (which simply takes too much time to build), but is able to convey the feeling and the tonality of the game right away so that everyone, with or without a background in game development, could understand.
Beginning with the art, we began to flesh out the role of the “delivery bird” character in terms of both look and characteristics. On the art side, our artists created multiple sketches of what a “flightless delivery bird” may look like, and what it may carry around utility wise to facilitate the job. Later we came together to discuss aspects we liked and liked less from each design. This helped the whole team arrive at a unified vision of the delivery bird character. Besides character art, the team presented several tentative sketches on what the environment could look like, each offering a different take on the forest village. The internal and external (with faculty advisor) art reviews proved to be quite helpful in narrowing down directions. The team will for sure have more sessions like this in the future. The next step for the art team will be to iterate on character designs and drawing more environment art.
Moving onto game mechanics and gameplay, we created 4 platformer level prototypes to explore the possibilities of fun platforming challenges set in a forest. Research on previous platformer games in a forest setting shows that a lot of them are not leveraging the forest setting enough that the gameplay feels new and fresh. Therefore the team decided to experiment with greyboxing in MAYA to hash out level design possibilities. One of the first level prototypes was a waterfall scene with protruding rocks and tree branches as platforms. Our faculty advisors did not advise against the idea per se, but suggested that we should focus more on creating a traversal situation in the forest, a typical level scenario that more convincingly conveys the theme of the game. Besides, the design team have made many specific design decisions that funnel into the level design process, such as what gliding looks and functions like, what combat encounters could play out, and how is the game world structured just to mention a few.
We wanted to have rather complete concepts and prototype on both level design and character & environment art to show by the end of next week to prepare for halves (midterms) presentation. Having work-in-progress that could convey and tone of the game to faculties is where our priorities lie.