Senior Capstone Game Beginnings

Hello again! It’s been a little while since my last post, but I’ve just finished my second week of senior year and I’ve got some senior game updates!

First off, the procedure had us begin in our teams, mine being comprised of myself, the lead designer, Stefan Larsen and Nicholas Fiegel, the two programmers, and George Sutherland-Howard, our artist. I’m also going to be playing the role of producer since our section doesn’t have a single producer in it. In our teams, we were told to come up with at least 50 different ideas for games as part of a brainstorming session. Seems a bit daunting, I know, but we did very well with this exercise, coming up with a whopping 55 ideas instead of just 50. Many of these ideas were joke ideas or throwaway ideas, yes, but a few handfuls of them were serious and rather solid game concepts or even mechanics that we’d like to see made into games at some point. Alongside this exercise, we (as a team) debated between two different engines of choice to use for development, CryENGINE 5 or Unreal Engine 4. There were a few pros and cons for each engine in terms of using them for our senior games that we all discussed:

CryENGINE 5

  • Pros
    • Learning a new engine can be fun.
    • CryENGINE uses C#, which can make some operations a bit easier on our programmers.
    • CryENGINE has a higher starting framerate for VR games, which would come especially in handy for the Knight on a Bridge (and any other VR titles), were we to choose it them.
    • There is a lot of fairly comprehensive documentation for the engine for each aspect of development.
  • Cons
    • Learning a new engine requires a lot of time and takes away from the time that we could be spending actually working on our games.
    • Learning as development progresses can be dangerous.
    • Some of the documentation was fairly out-of-date, meaning that some things may be done differently now and are undocumented.

Unreal Engine 4

  • Pros
    • We have all worked somewhat extensively with Unreal Engine, be it for school or for personal projects.
    • C++ is the language that the programmers are best at, even if it can sometimes be more complicated than C#.
    • Unreal’s documentation is very frequently updated, and was actually just updated with the newest version engine to include better VR support in-engine as well as updated documentation on the topic.
    • People around campus, especially professors, know how to use Unreal Engine rather well, which means there is a larger safety and support net for it.
  • Cons
    • C++ can sometimes be more complicated.
    • VR starting framerate isn’t quite as good as CryENGINE 5.
    • Unreal can be rather unfriendly on occasion.

Despite the weighing of pros and cons for each engine, we still were undecided on which engine to ultimately decide on, so we decided to discuss it in our upcoming meeting. This is where we ended our first capstone class, but instead of just going home, we scheduled a meeting for that Wednesday to get a jump start on the work.
When we met on Wednesday, we all had a list of our top 10 ideas that we liked the most out of the original 55 and we went around from team member to team member listing our favorites and giving reasons why we thought they should be chosen as one of our three prototype concepts. As it turns out, we all had a few in common, and we ended up narrowing our 55 ideas down to a final 3 that we decided would be the concepts we’d like to prototype. These three ideas were as follows:

Knight in a Bridge (VR) – We decided to tackle a VR game where the player takes control of a knight whose job it is to stand guard at a bridge and defeat massive hordes of enemies that try to make their way past them. While we’ve never tackled VR development before, we figured this was a great and a unique idea and that it could be a lot of fun to both play and to watch. It also presented the opportunity for some humor a la the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Caravan Adventure Game – This game, at the time, was to be a caravan kind of game where the player takes control of an entire caravan driving across a designated landscape. Along the way, they could hire mercenaries to fight off enemies that attack them and control different people aboard the caravan. While it isn’t super fleshed out, or wasn’t from this first meeting, we all thought that it lent itself well to prototyping and a bit of fun narrative-driven arcade-style play.

Satan Tower – This game idea was of a FPS game where the player enters a massive tower infested with demons and other monsters and must kill them all to advance to each floor of the tower. It’s basically the same kind of game as Devil Daggers, with enemies coming at you from all angles while you try to survive in a confined space. While it still needed a tiny bit more fleshing out, we found that this could be a fairly engaging game while still remaining simple mechanics-wise and simple to prototype. It also lent itself well to level design, since rather than designing an entire world, I would just be building out different floors of a tower, which would allow for at least some repetition in the environment.

Those three were the top ideas that the team as a whole decided to move forward with for prototyping. The following Monday, meaning this past Monday, we actually pitched all 55 of our ideas to the class and received feedback on them, which was incredibly helpful. What’s more, the professor listed the Knight on a Bridge VR game as his number one favorite, which meant it was a definite that we would be prototyping it. As for the other two, the caravan idea was well received, but the professor warned us that the Satan Tower game may be a bit over-scoped and we should think about other possibilities for our third prototype. Because of this, we chose to have a second meeting, which was yesterday morning, to discuss the prototypes in detail and to decide once and for all which engine we were going to use.

The engine was actually the first thing we discussed, and after only about two minutes, it was decided that we would use Unreal Engine 4 for the development of our prototypes. There were a few reasons for this final decision. First, we all knew how to use the engine already and that meant not as much learning on the go was required. Second, the new engine version and VR-specific documentation release was a big bonus, and there is even a presentation happening on campus about VR development in Unreal Engine 4, which we will all be attending. At this point, it was just kind of a no-brainer. For the rest of the meeting, we spoke about what we wanted the prototypes to be in greater detail so that we knew what we were getting into.

Knight on a Bridge (VR) Updated – Not a whole lot changed with this idea. Since George already had a few viking-style assets, we decided to start the preliminary development by making the player a viking, but this will most likely change later. We also decided to include kill-streak spells, allowing the player to cast different spells after killing certain numbers of enemies. Environments were discussed but not necessarily finalized. Overall, we know everything we need to move forward into prototyping this concept.

Caravan Adventure Game Updated – This game is the one that we fleshed out a bit more. We decided on a 2D art style, to minimize the workload on George, at least for now. We also decided that we would use the Cocos engine for this specific prototype and that we would be developing it for a mobile platform. Just as well, we decided to have the game take place in a Mad Max-esque environment. The gameplay has stayed relatively the same, but we want to add a text-based aspect to the original gameplay to make the game more interesting and narrative-based. Dangerous encounters while traveling in the caravan will take place in real-time, but other scripted encounters will not.

Satan Tower Updated – We decided to tone it down on the environment and level design aspect of the Satan Tower game for the beginning of the process, since that makes it easier for George to focus on the different enemies that we need modeled and animated. Otherwise, we have kept the concept as one of our three prototypes and kept the rest of it pretty much the same.

That’s been pretty much it in terms of senior capstone and games for these first two weeks! I’m already getting buried in work, so let’s hope I can keep up. Stay tuned for more updates on our senior game! Thanks for reading!

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