Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Recent Comings and Goings

Recently some of our team members attended the newly formed Washington Area Unity3d Users Group (WAUUG), which seems to be attracting a great blend of professionals and hobbyists interested in a myriad of Unity3d related topics. The first meeting of the WAUUG consisted of a very insightful presentation on the impact of working with strings on frame rates by the group’s organizer, Phil Ludington. Phil was followed by another presentation on the Unreal Development Kit versus Unity3d, as well as E4 Software’s up and coming title “Swarm” that is currently duking it out with other entries in this year’s Independent Games Festival (IGF). Additionally, I was really impressed to meet people who were using Unity3d for developing various types of games (i.e. serious, entertainment, etc.) as well as really interesting scientific animations.

"Tumbleweed Express" presentation at WAUUG
I also got a chance to show off “Tumbleweed Express” and the reaction was quite positive, though not in the way you might expect. Sure, we had a neat Work-in-Progress game; however, the audience was most interested in the team dynamics and our development process. I was more than happy to discuss our “process” with the audience and I thought that I could go over these questions here. I hope this post predominantly helps shed a little light on our process and perhaps helps our current recruitment efforts as we are taking “applications” to join the Dirigiballers in our game jamming adventure.


How did you guys get started? And, is it general chaos?
No, it is not general chaos – we’re actually fairly organized. Our project started as a game jam organized by IGDA DC and was not intended for more. However, we loved working together on “Tumbleweed Express” so much that we decided to keep pushing. As a result, it occurred to us that the game jam format was the most efficient way to continue. Additionally, we have a really entertaining time during our sessions. Thought it is important to note that immediately following this first jam session we went into a design phase that meant a lot of time in coffee shops together.

How big is your team and how is it organized?
There is some wisdom behind the rule that an agile team should be five team members, plus or minus two. Though we are currently breaking this rule as a group, we are currently organized into several sub teams (i.e. programming, art & design, audio, and production). The major sub teams are about three to four members, which allows for fairly good communication and productivity. Each team has a “lead”, which is a relatively loose term around these parts. Each lead works on production issues, but team members in general are always able to get their opinions heard with regard to all aspects of the project.

That sounds like a lot of communication channels, how does that generally work?
Generally speaking we work one weekend a month using a game jam format, which means we’re all in the same room. We talk back and forth fairly openly, which makes things pretty easy. Outside of a game jam, email is our primary method for external communication and occasionally we host Skype calls or meet in coffee shops on weekends to discuss things without a pile of work in front of us. We also use an internal message board for talking about ideas and conducting jam session postmortems (i.e. a debriefing activity).

Seriously, how does a jam session work?
One weekend a month we are graciously invited to a team member’s apartment. We arrive late on Friday evening after work and/or school. The first order of business is to set up our work area and do a quick food/dinner/supply run. Following these initial activities, we discuss priorities as a team and go around to each team member for other updates. We dive into our respective work for a few hours and then find a place to lay our heads. We don’t schedule a time to wake up, but we tend to get back to work early the next morning.

Saturday’s usually are about getting the major work done and doing some play testing, while Sunday’s are about finalizing the work so that we have something playable at the end of the jam. We have been at this awhile and so we tend to end our jams in the early afternoon on Sunday. At the end of each jam we discuss when the next jam will be and what tasks each member will be working on before the next session.

Dirigiballers hard at work at a typical jam session.
With so many people working, are you on an SVN? What other tools do you use?
Yes, we’re using an SVN service called Assembla. It would literally be impossible to work without this technology, though it’s always a bit of challenge managing the system. We’ve done a lot of work in Google Documents (now Google Drive) as well as well as Dropbox, but we’re beginning to migrate all of this into the same SVN repository and we are planning on reformatting the way we do issue tracking.

Does your team have a project plan?
Yes, a very fluid one. Our plan has always been to prepare a submission to IGF and we try to find other events to act as milestones on the way towards this goal (i.e. MAGfest 2013, which we’re terribly excited about). Some of our past presentations have been with local IGDA chapters and most recently, Artscape/Gamescape 2012. We have plans for after IGF; however, we’ll have to keep those under wraps for now.

Do you have any advice for new teams?
Keep your scope small and talk often about what everyone in your team is doing. Write as much down as you can and don’t hesitate amend your original ideas. You should find your team external milestones to drive progress and always plan to have something that works at regular intervals; every month we produce a new build that generally contains significant progress. Most importantly, keep things fun. There can be lots of pressure and frustration involved with building… well, anything… and despite it all,  you have to remember to have fun and do your best with what you've got. You should always be trying to improve your skills, as well as the skills of your team, while you try to make the best product you can.

Team members setting up for Artscape/Gamescape 2012
How do you deal with polycount on art assets?
This is one question I could not really answer at the time being a programmer, but when I spoke to the art team the answer I got was basically that they use best practices with regard to polycount and try to keep things simple - doing just enough work to make the asset look good, but not overdoing it to the point where polycount is really a concern. I am hoping to get a follow up post from the art team about their process for interested readers; leave us a comment if you would be interested in that kind of information.


This past weekend the Dirigiballers met up for a our final jam session before MAGfest 2013 to put the finishing touches on our best demo build ever! Our current demo will feature a revamped GUI, improvements to various mechanics associated with the camera as well as the player’s ability to target enemies, and much more. Most importantly, this will mark our first attempt at a boss fight.

We also want to congratulate Crankshaft Games on the release of their recent title “Party of Sin”. We are really inspired and happy to witness the successful launch of the game; we wish them all the best on their future ventures supporting the game out in the wild. I had the opportunity to interview Dan Menard awhile back regarding the project, which some of you might find interesting.

Finally, we would like to remind any interested developers that our team is recruiting new members to begin in February. Developers of any skill set are welcome to review our recruitment post and, if interested, should plan to submit their materials by January 15th 2013 to: mattm401@umd.edu

Quick Links:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Time Lapse Video: Quick Draw Quarry

After completing our one year anniversary game jam, I pulled together a time lapse video showing the making of Quick Draw Quarry, our first boss level. Enjoy the video!

Quick Draw Quarry will be finished in time for MAGfest 2013! We hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

MAGFest 2013: We're In!

Hi & good day to you!

I’m proud to announce that you have been selected to be a part of the new Indie Game Showcase for Magfest 11!

If there are any questions prior to the start of Magfest 11, please don’t hesitate to email me directly. Thank you for your time and congratulations!!!


Gabriel G.
Indie Game Showcase

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Small Art Update

Here are some renders of recent buildings created for a scripted event in Tumbleweed Express. The art style goal for these two structures is western steam-punk, so I hope that I added the right "artistic touch" to these models to generate that style. The textures are being re-worked, mainly so it looks more "dirty", instead of solid, nice-and-clean textures. More buildings to come soon! Images are a front view, followed by a perspective view from a top-down looking angle.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Enlist Today!

The Tumbleweed Express team, the Dirigiballers, is proud to be celebrating the one year anniversary of the project. We’ve come a long way since our humble beginnings and we are very excited to be working on our first full game demo for exhibition at MAGFest 2013. Following the exhibition we will be looking to add a few new team members to work with us over the following year to bring the game closer to release. We are looking for one or two energetic and passionate people with the right skills and the willingness to commit (on average) one weekend a month to the project.

We use Unity3D, it would be great if you have used it or have at least heard of it! If you’re a programmer, we’re looking for familiarity with C# and using versioning software. If you’re an artist, we’re looking for familiarity with Adobe/Autodesk products or similarly neat open source tools. Level designers, people with production experience, and even people just interested in providing administrative assistance to the team are all welcome to get in touch with us. You are invited to send a resume, a great letter expressing your interest, a link to your portfolio, or just about anything else you can think of that expresses why you would be a great addition to the team. You don’t have to have professional experience, just passion – but hey, if you’re a pro or an indie and you want join us, great! We’re not saying you need to be familiar with SCRUM, but perhaps having some game jam experience would be helpful – it’s completely analogous to our primary mode of development and what a weekend with the Dirigiballers is like.

You might ask, what are we paying our team members? All we can promise in terms of compensation at the moment is: good times with good people, the occasional beer from your fellow team members, a credit on the project, an invitation to all Dirigiballer events, and the promise of sharing any future gains from the project with you proportionate to the time you invest. If you have the passion to give us one weekend a month to help with the development of Tumbleweed Express over the next year or so, then zip of your files and send them to: mattm401@umd.edu with the subject line “Tumbleweed Express Application”. For consideration, please have your material to us before January 15th and be ready to start jamming in February (if you are selected). Thanks for reading and rock on!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I know if I don't keep posting I'll run out of steam (pun not intended). Wanted to test out some of the props I've been working on. Will texture soon.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

1 Year Anniversary

So I may be off, but around this time was the first ever game jam we had for Tumbleweed Express. A lot of great things came from that game jam and has gotten us to where we are now. This has been the greatest project I've ever worked on and I feel very privileged to work with such an amazing team. Lets keep on pushing and make Tumbleweed Express even better! You guys rock!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I'll just leave this here...

Can't wait for MAGFest, but there's so much more to do! Get hyped!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New Drill Car!

Been messing around with a new drill car. Still in the works, but I think its looking pretty slick. Didn't mean to make the GIF look so ominous with the shading, but I like it anyway. Will update again soon!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Level 2 Revamped!

Now level 2 comes with a river! The landscape has also been improved to look more realistic!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gamescape Trailer Released

In case you may have missed our latest trailer at "Gamescape", it is now available on YouTube!

More photos from the event are also available on our Facebook group at:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gamescape 2012!

demo photo
There's been a great turnout for Gamescape so far, despite the rain. Tumbleweed Express has been a center of activity with people of all ages sitting down to try their hand at getting this ill-fated train across Cactus Downs in the face of attacks from the ominous Dirigibaus. It's been awesome to showcase our work alongside other innovative indie developers and get more feedback from players as we continue to refine the game.

presentation photo
presentation photo
Andy Varshine presented the concept, development process, and artwork to attendees last night. The team will present again at 6PM, so if you're in the Baltimore area, check out the last day of the massive Artscape festival and stop on by our booth to check us out.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

With the finishing touches on the new Train Yard for Cactus Downs (Our first area in Act 1), here is a new addition to the scene...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Textured & Revamped Tutorial Level!

With the newly added textures, level 3 is looking better than ever!
Aside from texturing level 3, we have gone back and revisited our tutorial level. The pointy mountains are gone and the level is much less cramped. 

Add that to the new UI, which our programmers and artists have been working on, The new level is looking pretty sweet!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

More Train Progress

The Train is coming together. Gotta clean it up and work on the back end. I hope to get the geometry done by the end of this week. Wee!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Smoke Stack!

Working on some animations for the train now. I did away with the "boring" smoke stack and replaced it with this one. The animations do work I swear. Still working on making awesome GIFS (only have 10 fps at the moment and the gears are going really fast). I'll keep chugging away :3


Tuesday, June 12, 2012


So I have the basic elements of the train down. Now to make it awesome and steampunky. These are the scribbles that I intend to implement into the current model. Should be fun!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Wheel Animation

Been trying to get a good animation going for the train wheels. Will integrate these new wheels with the new train. Sorry about the gif. Premiere did not like me :(

- Andy

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Train Progress

Just showing off the plans for the new Tumbleweed Express. Will Continue to make awesome.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Showcase Success!

This past week the Dirigiballers participated in the 4th Annual Indie Games Showcase hosted by IGDA Baltimore at Firaxis Games in Hunt Valley. We received excellent feedback, but this is all covered in the first "Tumbleweed Express Newsletter" - we're now accepting any and all subscribers!

Below are all the pictures we have from the event, which are also available on our facebook group and some were included in our recently newsletter. We're getting prepped for Gamescape next and we look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

IGDA Baltimore Indie Game Showcase: Here we come!


Your game has been accepted into the Baltimore IGDA's, 4th Annual Indie Gamedev Showcase. The showcase is this Thursday (5/31) from 7pm to 10pm. You are encourage to arrive at 6:15pm to setup.

This is occurring at Firaxis Games's "Fun Zone": 10 Loveton Circle, Sparks, MD

For any questions regarding setup, please contact the IGDA Baltimore chair: 

We look forward to sharing our work with the community this Thursday!
For event information, please visit: http://www.facebook.com/events/406436926062530/

Facebook Group

If you are interested in what is going on with Tumbleweed Express and/or would like to show your support for the project, you can now do so by joining our facebook group:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Level Previews (Work In Progress)

Level 2 with some textures and props
Level 3 after polishing Heightmap and adding water.
Level 3 with bridges and track laid out.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gamescape 2012, here we come!

"Congratulations! You have been selected to exhibit “Tumbleweed Express” at GameScape 2012! We are pleased and excited to have you at this year’s event as GameScape celebrates its 2nd year participating in ARTSCAPE, the largest free arts event in the country! As a selected exhibitor you will be required to follow the outlined schedule enclosed. In the effort of achieving the highest possible exposure for you and your featured game, we will be asking you to plan for a 15 minute presentation at a scheduled time on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the festival. Consider this an opportunity to provide visitors a behind the scenes sneak peak on how you created your game. The presentation room will be equipped with a computer and projector, visuals are highly encouraged to engage and further illustrate your thought process to audience members who are anxious to find out more about you as an artist and your game!  Should you have any questions or concerns about the exhibit or the schedule, please do not hesitate to contact me. Already looking forward to July! 
– Marisol"

This is an important opportunity for us to garner exposure and support for Tumbleweed Express. Please join the Dirigiballers in Baltimore during the weekend (Fri, Sat, Sun) of July 20th as we present our game at Gamescape 2012!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Third Jam Session: Postmortem

What went right?
Everyone is very proud of the work that is being produced and now that we have integrated a new artist and audio engineer into the team we expect even bigger and better things.  On that note, welcome Arnoud Moes and Greg Morningstar to the team. Though we are becoming a larger team, communication remains open and constantly high amongst the various units – which is allowing rapid development and quick resolution of issues. Additionally, we’re finding and using new tools to help speed our development process up further (e.g. external terrain editing software).

What went wrong?
Our preferred method for production, at least what works for us, is working over weekend jam sessions – you could call these our sprints – and keeping up the focus for the 48 hours can prove very daunting.  There is also this idea that things need to be “perfectly” completed by the time they are first integrated into the game (e.g. levels, models, and even code segments) and this might not necessarily be the best approach to take when trying to make it to a play test that allows us to verify that the elements we are working on “work” in the game.  On a similar note, we have kind of an asset backlog that is growing for many reasons; we need to do more integration work with what has been “completed” because soon we will have a sound backlog as well! One thing that seems to effecting many us is hardware difficulties – however, it is pretty difficult for us on (a mostly) student budget to improve this last item.

What can be improved? How?
In general, more planning as to what tasks are most important during a jam session could be performed prior to the event, which would save time on Friday night – and even getting people working before the event takes place. We could, perhaps, develop a plan for each department per session that is a part of a greater plan that outlines how we get to a submittable prototype for the IGF Deadline in October. Additionally, we tend to plan our schedules one jam session at a time versus planning our working schedules a few months out – we have a lot of problems trying to work the upcoming sessions into people’s schedules and providing more notice will hopefully make this better.

What is important to do next?
The art department has been cranking out models and this has generated quite the backlog of items in need of textures. Additionally there is a thought that the artists need to implement a documentation system beyond just a simple assets list to facilitate communication and track progress amongst the team. On the management side, we should develop a global project plan and we should get to some serious play testing in - which encapsulates design validation, artistic direction review, and confirms the closure of items on the issue list.

Our next jam session, though ripe with scheduling conflicts, occurs on March 23rd.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

4th Annual IGDA Global Game Jam: Affiliations

During the month of January there has been a bit of a lull in our production schedule for Tumbleweed Express as the team prepared to take part in the 4th Annual IGDA Global Game Jam. The Global Game Jam, as we know it today, started in 2009 and brought together 1650 participants whom created 370 games in 53 different global locations. Since then the number of participants, sites, and games produced has nearly doubled with each and every year. Our team traveled to the George Mason University Site in Virginia, which was chosen by our IGDA Chapter, to participate. This year's theme was:

Ouroboros Snake: Go!

In the spirit of the event, our team divided up to work with other jammers and is affiliated with the following titles:

Pandora's Blocks

Bo Banducci and IGDA DC member Nathan Maton, along with their very excellent team members created a Minecraft and Go inspired turn-based game. Their approach was extremely interesting in that they were able to practice iterative design, construct a paper prototype, and evolve their game through play testing in under 48 hours. Their title won the Audience's Choice Award and was a runner up for the Judge's Choice Award. Check this game out at: http://globalgamejam.org/2012/pandoras-blocks

Pandora's Blocks Title Screen


Sam Levine, Mike Willis, IGDA DC members Zaal Tonia and "Evil" Dan, and the rest of their team went after the "Eyes Wide Shut" diversifier and created a game without any graphics. The story is based on the classic Greek mythology of Orpheus' journey to and from the underworld to bring back his dead wife, Eurydice. As a complement to the awesome job they did in design and execution, their game took second place in the Audiance's Choice Award. Check this game out at: http://globalgamejam.org/2012/eurydice

Through The Hoop

David To and IGDA DC  member George Dounkov, along with their team of George Mason students were able to create a physics puzzle game that won the Judge's Choice Award! The game played on the cyclic nature of the event theme and masked it by using simulated objects and airflows to get a basketball "through the hoop". Check this game out at: http://globalgamejam.org/2012/through-hoop

Through The Hoop: Level 1

Susie's Summer Home

Matthew Mauriello assisted in the development of a psychological puzzle game featuring a young girl trapped in a maze like house. The team was composed of students from George Mason and IGDA members: Taro Omiya, Josh Bock, Chris Totten, and David Newcomb. The title earned third place in Audience's Choice Award. Check this game out at: http://globalgamejam.org/2012/susies-summer-home

Susie & The Monster Door

Snake Escape

David Weiss, Jacob Clayman and Andy Varshin joined up with a George Mason student programmer to create a traditional survival sprinting game with an ouroboros twist. The game features the music of Kevin MacLeod. Check this game out at: http://globalgamejam.org/2012/snake-escape

Snake Escape Title Screen

Ultimately the 2012 Global Game Jam was a huge success! We were very glad to have this opportunity to network and develop projects with our local gaming community. We're really anxious to get back to working on Tumbleweed Express and our next jam session is scheduled for later this month. Special thanks to George Mason University, Trey Reyher, and the IGDA for this very awesome event. See you next year at Global Game Jam 2013!