About Rakethopp

This is my personal site about interaction design in general and game design in particular.

However, it's terribly out of date! Expect a revamp very soon (as of the fall of 2014).

Jacob Michelsen

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Entries in XNA (2)

No Arms in Space for SGA - Lessons Learned

Last week we made the hard decision to put our SGA entry, I Lost my Arms in Space, on ice. With just over a month left before the deadline and team members needing to dedicate time for studies and applying for jobs it was clear that we wouldn't have enough time to make a competitive game. The game idea needs a great deal of attention to detail and tweaking through testing to really be compelling and that is not something we can do right now. Construct has also become more and more of a headache, which certainly wasn't helping our work either.

There are some good lessons to be learned for my future game projects. This is what I will be doing different in future projects.

  • Construct is a great tool for making quick prototypes, but is far from mature enough for larger projects. There are many bugs and strange behaviours to watch out for, and it's just unforgivable that it's not possible to merge files or even copy-paste between them. Collaborating on the coding and scripting is nearly impossible. This certainly wasn't obvious and I had gotten quite far into my work in Construct before realizing this. Another drawback is that games can only be exported as .exe files. The developers of Construct recently acknowledged these drawbacks in an open letter to the community, and announced a complete re-write, Construct 2. It promises to fix these flaws but will likely not be ready for general use until the end of the year. Until then I will stick to XNA and maybe try Unity or UDK.
  • It's very important to establish one general communication channel within the team and make sure everyone uses it. Since we all lived in the same town and see each other often I thought this could be handled through meetings, Google Docs, phone calls and IM but there is a definite need to have easy-to-access, lasting communication in writing that everyone can see. Something as simple as a Skype conference chat can work. Through this, team members can post little status messages, ask questions, and raise warnings about unexpected snags, ideally making everything run smoother.
  • Under a tight deadline planned work needs to be divided up into single tasks and time requirements estimated. Seems obvious, but with GanttProject this was too much of a hassle, so I only had blocks of tasks. This made it hard to create milestones with clear, tangible goals and follow up on the plan. In restrospect it would probably have been preferable to just use an Excel-list of tasks, such as I'm using for GunFlyer. Ideally though, a plan should be easily available without the need for specialized software. I hope to find a good cloud-based planning tool.
  • Try to always have the player's perspective in mind when designing gameplay and levels. Do the gameplay elements and level design elements really provide a new kind of challenge to the player or are they just a new interesting task for the developers to implement? Again this seems very obvious but it's easy to grow too attached to any original ideas your may have thought up. I realized too late that some of my gameplay ideas probably wouldn't do much to vary the experience for the player and that we would require more level elements than what we had already planned in. Earlier testing would certainly have helped here.
  • Related to the above, I think one problem in working with I Lost my Arms in Space was that, while logistics-puzzle games are interesting to design levels for, I just don't enjoy playing them very much. This did of course affect my motivation and made it harder to judge the mechanics from a player perspective. Of course this doesn't mean that you shouldn't challenge yourself and try new kinds of games, but in this case we should have started testing earlier or gone for a simple gameplay idea that we all really enjoy from the start. Hearing hopefully positive feedback from testing players would have helped us push forward a lot, I'm sure.

I still want to hear feedback on our gameplay ideas, so I'll see if I can finish the two areas that were almost fully planned out and let people who are interested try them. Maybe I'm being overly critical at this stage and the gameplay ideas really have a lot going for them, but at any rate we need to switch to a different development platform before picking this project up again.

So what now? For the coming month I want to focus on GunFlyer, the final project in the XNA course, and learn to make games using the tried-and-tested method of object-oriented programming. I will probably also check back with some of the nice people I met at Nordic Game Jam and see if they want to pursue some of the ideas we made up in an inebriated state there. I need a good reason to check out Unity and UDK! :)

Blog downtime and some gamedev courses I'm taking

There was some trouble with the communication between Squarespace and my bank resulting in this blog being temporarily suspended. It took several days of trying before the payment finally went through, but here I am! Yay!

Apart from working on the SGA game and working part-time at the electronics warehouse I'm also taking two distance courses, one in game development and one in XNA programming using C#. The former, at Luleå Tekniska Universitet, is really interesting and gives lots of good advice regarding the development process, publisher relations, and scheduling and budgeting. I especially like the course book, which feels very accessable and has plenty of developer interviews.

The XNA course, at Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, provides a good opportunity to get to grips with another development environment and above all MAKE MORE GAMES!

For the final project in that course I'm making a twin-stick shooter with visuals inspired by the ZX Spectrum. It's called GunFlyer and it's all about flying around using the recoil from two guns, aiming them individually with the two control sticks. And killing enemies with said guns! The course project will just be singleplayer but I think the basic premise would also work great as a very skill-based deathmatch game.

Many of the updates lately have been in English. From here on posts relating to my various game dev projects will be in English, while more everyday posts will usually be in Swedish as I feel I can write more personally in my native language.