Joining a New Team
This past sprint was my first week working on Vacuum Vault with No Scope Studios. We met as a team before but this was the official start of working together. As a large team of 16 developers, we split up into 2 sub teams, a concept team in charge of most of the driving design and brainstorming ideas and the systems team in charge of optimizing the current systems and soon implementing systems we send over to them. As a whole, this is the largest team I’ve worked on so I’m curious to see how team dynamics will work and how quickly progress will be made on the game.
Learning the Game
In sprint 1, one of my first major tasks was simply to learn the game--play it over and over again to become familiar with the current state as well as learning the systems and how to implement them. It is incredibly important to fully understand the project you are working, otherwise how else will you be able to design for it. To do this, I met with Jared and another new designer, Zach, and we went over all of the in’s and out’s of marching cubes including the very specific way they need to be placed and that they can only be built up when in the editor’s play mode. We also got introduced to repairable objects, seeing how they are parented and the organization of the arrays in order to be built in the game. This knowledge will also be useful for when Zach and I begin to make levels.
Next, Vacuum Vault’s most prevalent issue at the start of this semester was its lack of context. We focused a lot on clearing up the concept of the game. This included deciding on the new ice theme for the game, giving the player a reason to be on the planet, why they have a vacuum gun, and the collectibles. Right away, we met as a full design team (six designers total) and began the discussion. The artists preferred to do an ice theme so we discussed ways to recontextualize what is currently in the game as a desert theme. One topic that kept getting mentioned were vikings. While we don’t want to do a viking centered game since the game takes place on a random planet, we decided that it would be a cool concept to include viking motifs and symbols and use them as the base of our inspiration. It would give everything a concept to relate back to, creating visual coherency and unify the overall theme for the game.
With that settled, we moved onto the context. We talked about other games that have a similar treasure hunting aspect and why those characters are on the adventure. Discussing games like Tomb Raider, we dubbed it the “Lost Grandpa” in which a relative or someone the character is close to goes searching for a treasure and disappears. The main character then, taking the helm in their stead, sets out to finish the quest for the treasure and find the lost person. We thought that this narrative would be subtle enough for our game to not have to have it a strong driving force but would explain most if not all aspects of the game--Grandpa was an archaeologist/treasure hunter from a space civilization that uses vacuum guns. As a young treasure hunter who wanted to prove themselves, you found one of the old guns and decided to set off searching for Grandpa after a distress signal was sent out from his last known location. You reach the planet and find remnants of his camp, following in his footsteps to find him and the treasure on an ice planet. We pitched the concept to the full team who was on board with it.
Finally, this sprint, I worked on deciding on a direction for level design through research and discussion. This game features non-linear sandbox-like levels for a younger audience. Different from a lot of things I’ve worked on, I spent time researching so that I could understand the genre and how to design for it. I looked at games like Super Mario Odyssey, Spyro, Ratchet and Clank, and Star Wars, focusing mostly on how they contained the player, had simple yet interesting levels, and the challenges in the levels. Once I got an idea of how the games approached their designs--since research is never quite done--I sat down and started brainstorming. Player containment can be handled in a few ways and we want to switch it up so that the levels are unique. There can be cliffs and steep slopes containing some sides, invisible fences between magical pillars left by an advanced ancient civilization, or simply just an edge that the player can fall off of. From there, I found some environment inspiration pictures including from places like Antarctica, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and glaciers and ice in general. Seeing natural formation helped me to brainstorm so cool experiences that the player could have in a level, like finding a cave behind a frozen waterfall, knocking down icicles to use as platforms, getting the snow from a large crevasse and jumping down in to find some hidden reward. Finally, I began to brainstorm some ideas for the vacuum gun upgrades. Mostly just work spam, I wrote down interesting environmental things like the classic power-ups fire and ice but then also came up with sand, time, and clouds. From there, I thought of what each power up could possibly do in the level. While the gun upgrades still have a lot of work to go, I was able to get the basics started for level design, getting myself prepared for once we get the main mechanics nailed down and level design can officially begin.
Overall, it was a productive week. I really like my new team so far and I’m excited to see what we will make over the semester.