Saturday, 2 November 2013

Remember The Fallen - Postmortem

 The Jam
Myself and Joseph Kinglake participated in what was intended to be a 2 week long game jam in about a weekend and 2 evenings. In total, we probably put no more than 48 hours of solid work into this little prototype. The event was an online jam hosted by Skybound Studios, creators of The Walking Dead. The given theme was 'All Out War', more information and detailed rules on the jam can be found through this link.

The 10 best entries will win prizes as follows:
  • Super-special Walking Dead prizes, including signed special books, merchandise and t-shirts.
  • A full Unity Pro license for each of the 10 winners.
  • A Steam Greenlight key so if you choose to build your winning game further, you can ask the Steam Greenlight community to help bring you to the Steam platform!
  • Fame and adulation on and Eurogamer and other Gamer Network trusted game sites!
  • Featuring on!

And for our Number 1 pick, all the stuff above, plus…
  • The endorsement of Mr Robert Kirkman, should he pick you as our grand prize winner game from the 10 winners.
The Game

Remember the Fallen was our best attempt at a War Memorial tribute game. Inspired by the aftermath imagery taken of the nuclear bomb explosions on Japan in 1945. The game was made to honor the people who suffered during the atomic bomb explosions and the lives affected and ruined for generations as a result thereafter.

Nagasaki, 1945 [Online Image]
Atomic Bomb Survivor [Online Image]
At its core, the prototype is a simple hidden object game where players have to discover flowers in the environment to then place onto the graves of fallen soldiers. Players can simulate the process of paying tribute to the dead. We wanted to give players the freedom to explore, and those who do are mildly rewarded with the ability to interaction with certain unique assets.
The teaser trailer for Remember The Fallen can be found here: teaser trailer
The gameplay for Remember The Fallen can be found here: gameplay trailer

What Went Well
Taking Risks: It isn't everyday that people design a game inspired by the atomic attacks on japan. We very much pushed ourselves creatively to take a big risk in terms of subject matter and visual aesthetics. From a indie design manifesto I take guidance from it states that, "Try to innovate the hell out of anything you make. From how your game plays to how it looks, be unique and you'll stand out. Push your personal limits, try new genres, mechanics and aesthetics. Experimentation and risk are the keys to growing as an artist." (McMillen, 2009). This was the first official game jam that had me working on a 3d game, initially I wanted to use 2d pre-rendered assets into Unity - however I am glad I took the risk to move ever so slightly out of my comfort zone. I learnt a ton about Unity game development processes, I am more open to the idea of working within Unity whereas before I was a little close minded as well as skeptical towards the tool - I do still favor Flash over Unity but am more open to work in it depending on the game idea for suitability.

Feedback & Response: People have seemed to peak more of an interest to this piece compared to my other game projects which has been interesting to say the least. I've had friends say that I'm actually making 'proper' games now - purely based on the fact that it is a 3d game, of course, this is ludicrous. Nonetheless I do consider it a strong peice conceptually but not the strongest in terms of gameplay - note that strong gameplay wasn't our core intention when designing the game. We approached it with the intention to make something interesting on the given theme. The feedback has been fairly positive but it is clear that some players do find it boring, the process of finding and placing flowers isn't that motivating to the player. The most motivating comment we had so far was from one of the employes from The Walking Dead who said, "You're one of our strongest entries by the way, so well done. You planned and executed beautifully. If you don't already make games for a living, you definitely should be".

Not Over-scoping: In game development, the term over-scoping means you've 'scoped' bigger than the game needs to be. Sometimes our ideas and aspirations are greater than our abilities. Feature Creep is when you are mid development and you start having additional ideas which sidetrack you off the task in hand whilst elongating the development time. We scoped this game realistically in relation to our time constraint, technical abilities and skill limitation in the Unity engine. Naturally tasks were prioritised - whilst Joe began focused on implementing the core mechanics and establishing game controls to feel nice, I was working on building an plethora of assets to be used for set dressing. We discussed design choices in relation to the throughout development. When you're working on a game that has a 'finished when it's finished mentality' attitude it can linger for months and ultimately you may lose your enthusiasm and shelve the entire game. "Feature creep is inevitable and so you should expect it, and even assign time to it. This will make you more adaptable and flexible when developing games. The trick is to manage it and not let it manage you."  Ian Garstang (2013)

Unique Take on The Theme: We pushed the minimalist aesthetics and some of the unique qualities of the game in order to stand out from the other potential entries in the competition. A lot of deep deconstruction and thoughtful consideration went into how we planned to interpret the theme prior to the event. We'd previously done a shooter game for the Indie Speed Run competition so we were inclined to push ourselves towards something more than 'just a shooter'. Not rushing into an idea can sometimes be beneficial - particularly when dwelling deep on a subject matter.

Limitations: Working with limitations is great, it makes for interesting and unique ideas. As a designer you want to embrace and explore any limitation that you may have. You should never put off doing a game because say 'your waiting for a new piece of software to come out', you should just do it - work with what you have and you'll find that certain qualities will shine through. Simply doing a game jam is a limitation in itself, time is against you. It will limit the scope of your idea and train you to think in particular way when designing.

The main limitation we had for Remember The Fallen was time, we started the jam about a week into the actual event so the scope for the game had to be fairly minimalist. Also we could only work on evenings and weekends due to jobs and university. Embracing this limitation helped achieve a very specific type of aesthetic in the prototype. We both knew from the beginning that we wouldn't have any time to unwrap and texture any asset, so we didn't. We worked purely with blocked out grey toned low poly assets using scripted filters in unity and minor particle effects to build a traditional grainy film aesthetic. I wanted players to feel like the world is coated in ash -  a minimalist blocked out grey-scaled world helps to achieve this, whilst giving connotations of isolation, abandonment and loss to the player.

The lecture below by Petri Purho discusses why limitations are good for creating games:

What Went Bad
Fun: As it stands, it's a nice 'proof of concept' piece, it has a lot of potential to be something cool. To put it bluntly it isn't very fun and arguably boring to certain players. It is the kind of thing that players need to sit down alone with headphones to fully enjoy searching for what it may have to offer. I like the idea of having mini games/micro games incorporated somewhere in the world, perhaps some combination or number finding puzzle elements which players have the freedom to solve - this might help to enhance its substance and possible open up possibilities for emergent gameplay. Rewarding players for 'thinking' or making them feel smart is always a good thing.
Submitted Early: Technically this isn't particularly a bad thing, however due to confusion over the time zone for game submission we e-mailed over the game with about 24hours to spare. They did seem impressed quite impressed by the entry and the fact we submitted early which was cool. There probably wasn't too much else we could've added to enhance the experience in the time frame that was left anyway - mainly just little tweaks here and there, all the features and mechanics that we wanted to get in were in. Anything else would have just been further set dressing.

Initial Self-Doubt: It's always intimidating trying something new due to fear of failure. I'm glad I entered the event as it was a huge learning curve for me. I'm more than happy with what we made, it illustrates perfectly to the judges what kind of designer I am and the types of games I'm interested to make. Like all the games I make, I do see this somewhat of a stepping stone to the next game.
Internet Speeds: As Joe was working from Amsterdam and myself from UK both of our Internet connections for the duration of the jam were critically slow (mine is awfully slow anyway) - sending over/sharing work was a long and nail biting process. The main sound file for the game took around 2 and a half hours to send so there was a lot of pressure to ensure that the file was right for the game build prior to sending it! It was tricky to iterate the game with this constraint but we just about managed - there was a constant flow of new or updated files being thrown into the Skype chat.

How I'd improve it further
I've been considering how I'd improve the game and that's the kind of question that as a designer you always have to ask yourself because naturally there's always something that can be improved. The direction I'd like to take RTF is in the form of a fully fleshed out War Memorial Tribute Game. I would like to design historically accurate events in war history with appropriate research into the time, location and culture of the event. For example, a level of London during WWII which features players finding poppies to honor the fallen. Similarly an accurate stilled account of Hiroshima and Nagasaki levels that feature white flowers which are culturally accurate to Japans process of honoring their dead. Likewise with such locations and events from, Berlin during WWII, United States during September 11th 2001, the Jewish faith and Auschwitz etc.
Another area I'd like to improve If I were to develop RTF further, is to give players more significant rewards for finding and placing flowers - possibly through a system that unlocks new components in the area where the flowers were found, giving players a reason to backtrack to the already explored area. The rewards could be in the form of unlocking particular personal insights into the peoples lives of the graves just before the nuclear explosion. I like the idea of presenting players with the ability to interact with people, holding their hands, waving, etc.
There's a lot to be said on what could be done to further enhance the players emotional response from the game, I'm looking to produce a Design Document on this in the near future outside of my current University studies. We're currently waiting on result for game jam finalists, The Walking Dead site get exclusivity of the game on the site for 2 months. I will update and post the link [here] when it is available.
Thanks to everyone who's peaked interest in the game and thanks to The Walking Dead for hosting the event, good luck to everyone who participated.

- note this post may change due to further proof reading and changes

Sources Referenced:

- Image 1:

Prof. Chris Bursk. (2012). Atomic Bomb Survivors Meet Harry Truman’s Grandson: Testimonies and Discussion on the Nuclear Age. Available: Last accessed October, 2013.

- Image 2:

NA. (NA). A Photo-Essay on the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Available: Last accessed October, 2013.

- Indie design article suggesting to 'Take big risks.' (section 4.)

Edmund McMillen. (2009). Opinion: Indie Game Design Do-s and Don't-s: A Manifest . Available: Last accessed October, 2013.

- An article that discusses over-scoping in game design:
Ian Garstang. (2013). The Over-scoping Game Designer – The Attack of the Feature Creep. Available: Last accessed October, 2013.

- A lecture on working with limitations when creating a game:

Petri Purho. (2011). Why Being Poor and Having No Budget is Good For Making Game. Available: Last accessed October, 2013.

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