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About this blog

Keep up with me on my most recent project, as I try to gather creative confidence and start my life already.

Entries in this blog

Learning Between Points | Forgoing the Shadows #4

Lots of work this last month for me.  I started studying data visualization and working hard on my own visual designs. I'm settling in a bit with a new life in Montreal, finally working in the game industry and getting plenty of hours at Keywords Studios; and I'm finding stronger ways to professionally develop on my own time. After my last blog entry, I was in limbo, project-wise, at Keywords. Apparently, I graded above expectations during evaluations, and I was assigned to an exciting, upcoming project; however, in the last year, the company had switched to a new, more automated scheduling system, one to which they still seem to be adjusting. From my understanding, I was in a grey zone within this system for the first few weeks, as I was primarily assigned to the aforementioned upcoming project -- a project that, as being 'Upcoming,' had no hours yet. In the meantime, I was secondarily assigned to another project where, as an auxiliary member, I was given hours only after the primary members. I was getting 3, sometimes 4, shifts per week, which allowed me to dedicate more time to the Forgoing the Shadows project. I began designs of a control scheme that mimicked Resident Evil 6's -- this included a visual-design layout meant to display, for all viewers, broadly the scope of what actions are possible for the player character and how to input such acts; and, for designers, specifically what contexts these actions were possible and what to code. Basically, I was creating something that could be informative to both the consumers and the developers of the project, doing so as an exercise. Then, a friend of mine -- an incredibly-competent programmer -- asked for help with the visual aspects of a game he’s working on. I said “Yes!” but soon after, as if triggered, Keywords started giving me plenty of hours: 10 shifts in a row, in fact. It seemed the project I was assigned to upon the conclusion of my training fell through, and I was primarily assigned to something else, and a complete full-time schedule came soon after. I was forced to find time for my side projects during in-transit moments and weekends. (“In-transit” might become a common phrase on this blog, by the way. If I use it, I am referring to times like riding the bus, walking to destinations, breaking between work periods, or grocery shopping.) Anyway, I have experimented, researched, and reflected on a few modes of action in the next few months, and after a few weekends of either overtime FQA testing, food poisoning, or personal progress assessment, I am at this point... For roughly the next 30 days, I will be experimenting with Assassin's Creed Odyssey's new Story Creator Mode. My love for video games has always been story-based. Many of my most meaningful experiences with games involved undergoing an emotional journey held up by well-designed narratives. As I strive to be a better game developer, I can’t help but feel like I also strive to be a better storyteller. So, this Story Creator tool is hard to pass up -- at least during its height of popularity -- as it looks to be a great opportunity to develop key skills and draw helpful feedback. Below outlines more reasons why this is something for me to jump on: - Associated with Assassin’s Creed: I have played through every major Assassin's Creed title (still working on Odyssey at the time of this writing, though), and although I wish they did some things differently, I adore the series as a whole -- I am eager to contribute - Revolves around dialogue and quest design: the former of which is a focus of mine at the moment. - New: In accordance with Price's Law, the first creations of a toolkit are likely to get the most attention and, thus, the most feedback. - Quick Iteration Cycle: The tool appears simple. I already created my first rough draft Story, and it only took an hour.   With all the above in consideration, this will likely be an informative, timely detour of which to take advantage. Plus, experimenting with this Story Creator tool is a great excuse to learn something into which I’ve always wanted to dive deeply: ancient Greece studies. I plan to study ancient Greek history, mythology, and philosophy while in-transit, and at home, I will be either finishing AC Odyssey's DLC or working with Story Creator Mode. A lot has happened, so I wanted to write a blog entry to update current my progress. Thanks for reading despite my not having something more concrete to share. I could show something like the aforementioned WIP control scheme, but I have a personal guideline that I only show work that I feel is near complete, and the work this last month related to this blog has been too experimental for me to feel like any of it deserves sharing quite yet. Next blog, I will write about my adventures in creating stories in AC Odyssey.

Design Lost Wisdom Across the 2010s | Forgoing the Shadows #3

I had decided to move forward with my game project by first writing one-page design documents, prototyping, then going from there. I questioned why, though. In school, I was taught to use regular multi-page design documents. The process of writing one helped me develop the abstract concepts of whatever was my current project.  However, few people read them, and at times when working in small teams, maintaining them felt unnecessary. I learned how to write one-page design documents as a type of brochure for a game dev convention. Then, I wrote one-page design docs to pitch game ideas to a BAFTA award winner; these documents were strong enough to win me an opportunity to work with him -- and I assume he had high standards. (Unfortunately, it was around this time that life's unexpected obstacles further surfaced for me in Calgary, and I had to select real paid work over working with him on a rev-share project.) Both design doc styles have their benefits, but I won't need to use a multi-page document -- not for a while at least -- as I'm going solo. Instead, I'd chosen one-page design documents to preface prototyping. To wit, I wrote one-page design docs to help develop the micro-abstractions behind my game ideas before I continue with pre-production experiments. I wrote two of these documents. Unfortunately, something felt off. The rationale made sense; creating a small document would answer a few big-picture questions and be helpful prioritizing where to start. However, the format I had for such documents asked for weird answers, namely Core Player Experience, Central Theme, and Anticipated Remarkability. Individually, these sections were illuminating, but they took an awful lot of room on a single page for being so similar. (Maybe someone can have a look at these docs, which follow this blog entry, and tell me otherwise?) Whatever the case, something felt off, so I ventured into the interwebs to research, and out of the caverns of doubt -- or rather the GDC Vault -- I unearthed a gem from 2010: a talk on visual one-page design documents, or "one-page designs" (https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1012356/One-Page). A candy shop of design doc ideas, this inspiring talk was delivered by Stone Librande, who worked on Diablo 3, Spore, SimCity, and The Simpsons Game (the most latter of which, apparently, is the one prize here best left undiscovered rather than unearthed, as I've personally never heard of it until now). Librande has a knack for crafting customized high-level one-page game design documents that pleasantly display a game's dynamics rather than every detail of such game's mechanics, and he explains his process in the video. I recommend watching it, but here are a few of my takeaways: Being both visual and on a single page, "one-page designs" are easy to share throughout the project's lifecycle. Fitting more high-level ideas on a single page, "one-page designs" springboard notes and discussions and can aid problem-solving. "One-page designs" require more understanding of the subject game than largely verbal; therefore, the writers develop more comprehensive internal abstractions. For the sake of "failing faster," I've added my two raw documents below -- one is for an over-the-shoulder, stylish action game and the other is for a "stealth dialogue" game -- I would love any feedback. Whatever the case, I will likely make at least a single "one-page design" for these game ideas, probably more. I get the feeling these visual design docs will be addicting. Stylish over-the-shoulder: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lzTr_Tpccgp1aquc2KBlz59xxmhnYxHRWeFXSmeGWQQ/edit?usp=sharing Stealth dialogue: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ukJDtuBjq8KIQgHE7A2VuJCveDg-qwWmaTGUfHCMyNo/edit?usp=sharing

Learning No Hiding in the Shadows Anymore | Forgoing the Shadows #2

A lot has happened in the last few weeks. I got a job at Keywords Studios as an FQA Game Tester. As I work there, I look forward to growing and learning a lot. As part of the NDA I signed, I can't say what games on which they work or even their workflow, but I can say the company is surprisingly large (worldwide, even) despite being relatively private. The interview process occurred over a few weeks. I took it pretty seriously, by researching QA methodologies, preparing for the next phases of the process, even writing practice bug reports & asking for feedback online. First of all, this was all fun, and secondly, it’s difficult to exaggerate how excited I am to have a full-time game job here in Montréal, especially considering I just moved here a few weeks ago. This and other recent adventures have helped me feel like things are meant to come together. I'm not spiritual, but of course, events can still happen for a reason. Take the following example (and I'm sorry ahead of time, the writing might be overly intricate, but I wanted to hammer home the causes and effects): I've been ecstatic to be here in Montréal; because I have been ecstatic to be here, I've gone out to explore more and experience what has been here; because I've gone out more and I've been ecstatic, I've been more open and friendly; because I've been more open and friendly -- a lot of things happened, frankly, one of which was more conversations. My communication skills appeared to be well-tuned throughout my time here, and obviously, openness, enthusiasm, and articulateness are great qualities to have throughout an interview process. Now that I have a relatively stable life in Montréal, I can work on my upcoming game. My blog continues; doing so is beneficial. To make it more official, though, I am giving this blog a name, which may already be visible at the top of this page: Forgoing the Shadows. The name is derived from a line in the DMC5 theme Devil Trigger: "No hiding in the shadows anymore." It's a good line, but why did I choose it over other good ones? A month ago, I listened to DMC5's soundtrack, as I prepared for my big move; something about both organizing my childhood home and experiencing the sequel of a game on which I've spent thousands of hours in high school made me nostalgic. Then I felt it, a vibration: a meeting point between nostalgia and anticipation as soon as I heard "No hiding from the shadows anymore." Since then, I've been able to reflect on what I'm currently doing and what I'm about to do -- and often get excited on the spot. I think, maybe, I may have been too depressed stranded in Calgary. Additionally, the phrase goes well with the blog's core theme: beginning the first big game dev commitment since graduation and after life's unexpected obstacles. I might write more about these vibrations in the future if anyone thinks it would be interesting. It would take up a whole entry, and it might be a good one. It has to do with Marie Kondo, cheese, and kind deeds. So wrap your heads around that. For now, however, my next few entries will actually talk more about game design, specifically one-page design documents that supplement prototyping.

Design Style Gauge Game - Developer Diary #1

A little about me before I start this. I’m Harlan. I’m a game designer. The game industry is relatively small where I’m from, so I’m developing games as a side-thing for the time being. One of my biggest goals as a game developer, in short, is, “To get the broad human population to appreciate artistically significant experiences in video games, even gamers who consider pieces like The Walking Dead: Season One or Life is Strange to be ‘not real games.’” I’m about to start a new game project! Below are my first reflections on what the game could be. I’ll go over my main focus, limitations, then, finally, aspects of replayability that I may incorporate. As the main focus, I want to implement a style gauge, like in the Devil May Cry series. Why? Because the mechanic is underused, despite probably being a REALLY effective way to encourage player experimentation, encouraging them to branch out from the critical path and, for example, “attack with the move that leaves me open to attack – but it’ll be stylish!” However, before I consider more gameplay, I’ll outline other limitations. First, timeframe: as an indie game focused on illustrating the versatility of a certain game mechanic – and developed by a relatively-junior developer – the project will be small with a goal for a playthrough time of a half-hour. The second limitation is graphics, 3D or 2D? Given artist availability and player expectations, 3D is best. It is true that, in my experience, 2D games are easier; they, at least, seem quicker and the aesthetic is easier to control. Game-based 3D animation, however, is becoming a larger field with more post-secondary programs and competition, so if I go 3D, I can “do more good” by creating an opportunity for a 3D artist or two. Lastly, there is a player base that I hope to reach; they seek AAA experiences and usually avoid “indie-looking” games. With these limitations clarified. I’m guessing this new project will take 6 - 12 months. With a style gauge and short playthroughs in my plans, I should also consider replayability. Various mechanics are used in games – like the Devil May Cry series or The Binding of Isaac – to extent total playtime beyond a single playthrough. Many of these games have short playthrough times and deep systems, so the players hunger for more. Below, I remind myself of some mechanics that make a game feel different in subsequent playthroughs: - costumes - new weapons - new dialogue choices - new combo trees - social interactions - level branching - plot branching - companions (with whom do you foster the strongest friendships?” - different playable characters - different music - different environmental effects - limited time events - social media or real life integration - procedural generation - leaderboards - deep systems - cultural or aesthetic characteristics that do not exist in the current game market After brainstorming some features, replayability seems to come down to aesthetic changes, non-linear gameplay, and deep systems. I’m not satisfied with that, so I found a YouTube video by Mark Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N4U46QOyeA It brings up the point that repetition in the Hitman games shortens the gap between player and player-character. The parallel between these two parties is one of my favorite topics in game design; it’s a relationship that fosters massive emotions in dramatic moments, so I might write a blog post about this in the future. But in this case, repetition is used in Hitman to strength that parallel, according to Mark Brown. Hitman does this by allowing players to succeed in missions, but subsequent plays can create more satisfying completions; these bring players closer to feeling like Agent 47, the calculating assassin. The game incorporates unlockables, like weapons, and challenges, like “sniper-only” as the player learns more about how missions branch. Missions branch heavily too; for example, NPCs react to player actions differently from other NPCs, including targets, or certain locations are only accessible when conditions are met. Eventually, the player participates in a sort of “end game” where 48-hour events occur as new targets in old levels, so the players use their old knowledge to take out the new target who has new habits. This 48-hour target idea is pretty cool. I wonder if the same mixture of novelty and knowledge can be done without limited time events with procedural targets? Anyway, that’s enough for now. I’m visiting Montreal right now hoping to establish a life and get involved with the development community. Wish me luck!
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