Monday, November 21, 2011

Prototypes, Presentations, and Coffee Shops

A small crowd gathered this past Thursday, in the wonderful DC establishment that is Bravo! Bravo!, to view a prototype of Tumbleweed Express. The team conducted a brief post mortem of the recent game jam event that produced the prototype, discussed where the project was going in the future, and allowed everyone to get hands on experience playing through the first couple levels. During the Q&A section of the presentation there were a number of questions surrounding the process and the tools the team used. In short, the process was very organic and the tools used were spontaneously chosen based on collective past experience.

To develop the idea behind the Tumbleweed Express, the team was adhering to the theme of the event: “Tram Combat”. Following typical game jam format, the favored game pitch of those presented was selected. The pitch immediately underwent rapid prototyping, which consisted of: designing enemies, building trains, playing with weapons, sculpting maps, and generally fleshing out the idea in a little more detail. The last post shows a few pictures of ideas scrawled on whiteboards and conversations being held in the thick of it all, which pretty much summarizes how the first two days were conducted.

As far as the tools used, the team relied heavily on: Dropbox for file sharing, Wikispaces for remote coordination, Facebook for event management, email, and Google Docs to track issues with the prototype. For the actual prototype development, the team used: Unity, 3D Studio Max, Photoshop, Visual Studio and Vim depending on preference. Additionally, a reference library of images and theme related assests was compiled to get everyone thinking along similar lines. Organization and coordination was heavily dependent on everyone taking on a leadership or intermediary communication role from time to time. Ultimately these tools, and the processes that evolved around them, were successful at managing the development process over the weekend.

As the project continues, the tools and processes will continue to expanded. Thus far the team has: polished the prototype, moved to an SVN system, developed an active Wiki discussion, hosted some Gchat sessions, and taken over a Chinatown Starbucks to further define the scope of the project. This last step was very important for the team to do because it makes it possible to come to a consensus on where the project is going and what level of effort is going to be necessary. Additionally, it was necessary to reign in the sheer volume of ideas that were being generated and that could only be done together.

Ultimately, Tumbleweed Express is taking a short reprieve, of sorts, from production work on the prototype and is instead taking a reflective look at what the game is about. The current major push is to have a solidified design document prior to the next big team work session in mid-December. Individuals are also working on various programming issues and continuing to develop the artistic style of the game in the meantime, but production is slowing down for a time (there is also the Thanksgiving Holiday to consider). If you happen to catch us at our next Starbucks meeting, feel free to lend us your support... we're only half kidding about this: free coffee will always be accepted!

As a final note, the DC Chapter of the IGDA is a really great venue for feedback on game projects. Not only can you network with like minded individuals, but you can present your game projects in just about any state and expect to receive solid feedback. If you are interested in joining the chapter or presenting a game, you should definitely checkout the chapter’s Facebook page.

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