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In Limbo

27 May

It’s that time again.

I’m stuck in limbo between two game design projects: one that’s just closed a chapter of itself, and another that’s only beginning to sort out its ingredients. As I’m slipping into yet another undetermined space between significant points in my life, mixed feelings emerge. Feelings of reprieve — from escaping another crunch period, while retaining some of my sanity. Feelings of liberation — to play with ideas I haven’t had the time to think about. Feelings of fear — that I don’t know when the next good idea will make an appearance, and when or how it might manifest.

There’s a lot of things to be concerned with even in the lull’s of productivity. After talking with a number of people, I found that not only do few people talk about this creative hibernation between projects, but also from personal research have I rarely come across much in the field of game design journalism.

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Spring Cleaning, Check

11 Mar

There’s been a lot of list-making going around lately. I have one of my own for all the things I’m personally attending to this spring break – checking things off on a dime as soon as they’re accomplished. With as much micro-managing as we might perform on our weekly tasks, it’s easy to let our long-term endeavors slip by unnoticed when we’re neck-deep in them. For the first time in months, it’s above thirty or more degrees in Cleveland, and I can’t help but take a few minutes to reflect on things before moving forward from the frying pan and into the fire of BFA thesis projects.

It’s closing in on a year since we opened The Escape Route last April. Since then, a lot has passed, hit a dead end, completed, and most of all begun from scratch. Admitedly, we haven’t done the best job of logging all of that here. There’s a lot to do before we achieve any sense of closure on our experiences attempting to pioneer game design at CIA this coming May, so I thought this might be the time to make a list of all the things we’ve taken on these past few years – where they’re at now, and why.

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The Bane of our Adolescence

4 Mar

A few photographs of a night’s work/play in the TIME studios.

Foreground to background: Matthew, Andrew, Cory, Jim - Another Powerpoint Marathon.

Cory & Jim embed warnings around our studio lair - newly painted walls for chalk-drawing. At this point in the night, cabin fever has already set in.

They have all too much in common – college: the abominable snowman of growing up.

More Orange Leaves, Less Orange Walls

9 Sep
Arena Harvest, a cutsom Team Fortress 2 map by TF2maps.net user, heyo

Arena Harvest, a custom Team Fortress 2 map by TF2maps.net member, Sean "Heyo" Cutino.

It’s been an interesting semester so far for the crew. Two weeks in, and already we’re getting acquainted to being in the studio late, iterating thesis projects, and working on another collaborative effort with CWRU for our Game Production course. Episode 3 of The Modcast is in the works. Thank you to everyone who tuned into episode 2 and subscribed through iTunes. I’ve seen a significant growth in the listenership from Episode 1, and while we’ve got ways to go in the echelons of podcasting we’re looking at ways to better carve ourselves out a space in the medium, and at the least I’m pleased with its progress. Expect to hear about more process oriented talk, and a further refined format and fidelity in the audio.

As the harvest season kicks in, Oktoberfests taking place and the neighborhood Starbucks offering the Pumpkin Spice Latte, we’re seeing more orange leaves, but less orange walls. “Orange walls” are in reference to a popular texture (a strong-colored orange grid) used in Source Engine maps when prototyping level designs. What I mean by all this is that we’ve put the L4D Zoo Campaign on an indefinite hold – I’m speaking on the group’s behalf here, though we’ve vocalized this concern with each other as the semester began. Finding the time to even test the maps, let alone get the AI working ideally in each one, is becoming slimmer each month and rather unrealistic with every other project coming into our semester. This doesn’t stop us though from posting and podcasting by any means on numerous other projects that pertain to game design, Source Engine, and artwork relevant to the medium. Currently, I’m trying to finds ways to convert this space into something that more accurately represents our collaborative efforts, which really extend far beyond the L4D campaign quite frankly.

The topic for this month’s Modcast is being deliberated on, but I’ll be sure we chose something interesting and more specific.
-Andrew

Serious Business

18 Jun

A bit more specific, and fun, news to share:

Here, Jim Wiser can be seen explaining the rate at which infected spawn in the new Survival Mode.

Jim Wiser explains the rate at which Infected spawn in Survival Mode. Moments later, the entire board rage-quit.

So after a good two-to-three weeks off from our usual game-design gatherings back in Studio E, the Pumamen have assembled once, or twice if you count grill-outs, again to discuss, discern, and…*drum roll*…podcast! The first episode of our ensemble podcast (names are being tossed around) is currently in being edited and remixed for a bit of a spin on the usual “A bunch of of guys, a bunch of games” banter-cast. It’s going to take a bit of practice to get use to all the audio-hardware and fidelity control, but expect anyways to hear about our first gaming experiences, and how that’s matured with us over the years into modding and game design.

Additionally, in light of L4D2 and the recent beta for authoring tools, we have a more concrete perspective to thrust off of. Last semester felt more like pioneering because of how new the game still was when we started. We now recognize that that land is being surveyed, and pretty seriously at that.

For one, we’re seeing slices of the innovations Valve themselves have made with level design for L4D, which mirror some of our own ideas and realizations about the relationship the community has with the game’s nuts & bolts. For instance, to be ultra brief, our finale has a familiar approach in design as the one  [finale] Valve revealed at last week’s E3…but not quite. Additionally, David Ellis from 1Up.com mentioned on last week’s ListenUp! podcast that Valve might rely on the community to deliver content and populate L4D once 2 is launched…and while it’s just an assumption, I can see where he’s derived that thought and it’s not that far-fetched. To be honest, I hope this is partially the case because it’s quite a healthy situation for modders to be in.

So far we’ve each taken claim over individual chapters, but after assessing the situation and our availability, we’re going to shift gears and compile resources on one map at a time. We think this is a detour from our original process (large passes on the whole project) that we need to make if we want to realize this project. If we can get a chapter or two truly playtestable and visually focused throughout the summer we’d have somewhat of a preview to share, as well as the benefit of carrying more digestible playtest data throughout the rest of the project.

-Andrew

“Why’d He Bite Me!?”

7 May

career-choice-2Any fan of the Resident Evil series (#2, specifically) ought to be familiar with the title-reference. As entertaining as any zombie-adventure can pan out to be, it’s really quite a logical question: Why did he bite me? Why are these infected beating us senseless, slowing and knocking us down? Better yet, what are we going to do to stop them?

Taking on the Ideation role required answering those sorts of things as creatively as possible, looking into the game theory of Left4Dead in a rather critical, and sometimes cynical, mindset, without going over the deep-end to the point where an idea becomes a mere carrot-on-a-stick. It was beneficial though because it gave us some insight towards how to dissect a game based on choices, and furthermore discern how and why they could be innovated upon to push an already very concrete idea rather than just solely added onto – such as one like L4D presents.

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Survival of the friendliest.

12 Apr

1A week from now, we will either celebrate our victory (and returned trophy), or wallow in our shameful defeat in the annual gaming tournament between the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University. As obvious as I could make it last time, Left4Dead is the game of choice this year. Although our project is a campaign for Cooperative play and not Versus Mode, Left4Dead makes for a really interesting game in this specific competition and provides some insight into its inner workings we still take into account as we design and create for it.

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Experimentation : This will sting a little…

7 Apr

I’d like to introduce myself to the blog! I’m the English guy…

Experimentation was the best term we could come up with that suited the role of figuring out the Source SDK and it’s capabilities when creating a new Left 4 Dead campaign. I have accepted this role despite having the least experience in mapping for source games, the idea being that I can get up to speed and move ahead into the ‘backdoor’ territory of mapping for L4Din a pre-official L4D SDK world, for the projects sake and my own. So far this process has been successful and I’ve really got the tools under control.

As a result of these investigations I’m creating a simple text document with details on how to work with L4D specific controls in the SDK, such as appropriate names for entities and how they work.

My most recent How To is available right here for all to see, and in the end, I hope it provides simple enough access to the information not only for the team, but also for the source modding community as a whole.

-Matt

Work4Four

6 Apr

rolesWe’ll each write at greater length about our roles within the group more specifically, but here’s an outline of it for starters:

Optimization: Jim Wiser

Organization: Cory Hughart

Ideation: Andrew Kuhar

Experimentation: Matthew Barton

These roles are not exclusive jobs, however. We’re all participating in the construction of our own levels, for instance, as well as aiding in the help of another’s – anything in the above list can encompass that. What the roles do provide is some much needed special-attention to those things that make for a successful game-project in our eyes. It’s invaluable to have someone specifically keeping check and spear-heading a component of a project that adds up to sum of its parts. This way, we can each construct our own levels, and have someone close-by to reference for a specific issue or concern.

In my case, that happens to be Ideation:

  • Theoretical game research and application.
  • Lead analysis of playtest results to solve design-based faults.
  • Propose and document initial solutions based on playtesting data.

As you might notice, some of these responsibilities are intended to have some synergy with the other roles. When problems should be solved in a creative means then, rather than a tehcnical/numeric complication for instance, I’m the one to first address it and work on it initially. In addition there are many groups and individuals that know more about this process than us, so reading relevant material often is important; while I’ll check up on community forums, I’m also invested in writings on game theory from McKenzie Wark to Ian Bogost.

We’re not establishing any “Lead’s” considering the scope of the project and because there is plenty of familiar labor to go around anyways. It’s only to our benefit we’re each working in the same vein, in the hopes that the campaign will look and feel cohesive.

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