Senior Capstone Dev Blog | Finding Our Starting Point (Weeks 1-2)

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

I'm back at Champlain College!

After quite a laid-back summer (outside of the 365 Days of Hearthstone challenge that I've been doing), I'm finally back on campus and extremely excited to start my final year here (oh wow... I guess I'm a senior now!). Now, I have been in school for a couple of weeks now, so I have made some progress in my capstone class already. The most important thing I have done isn't even related to me - it's my team, Lafterburn Studios!

Lafterburn Studios is comprised of a bunch of very talented people:

Aiden O'Connor - Systems Design | Level Design | Audio

Leanna Russell - Environment Art

Rachel Bussone - Product Environment

Tommy Mann - Gameplay Programming | AI Programming | Shaders Programming

So far, we've all been getting along great! I have already worked with Aiden in the past on Solar Defense System in my Production I class, and I worked with Leanna and Rachel on Reboot in my Production II class. Tommy is the odd one out, seeing as I hadn't worked with him prior to this semester, but after seeing the work that he did in our semester abroad in Montreal, I knew I had to work with him for capstone!

Now that you know the team, let's get into what actually went down these first couple of weeks.

Actually, I changed my mind. Let's talk really quickly about the groundwork we laid out for ourselves before the summer even started. Towards the end of our junior year, we all met up to talk about what types of games we are all interested in so that we can have some sort of basis to go off of, and potentially to try to concept some ideas over the summer. During this meeting, there were two core ideas that the team were all behind: the idea of investing time to become more skilled than other players and some sort of in-depth movement system with an approachable face. This pre-meeting was instrumental in our team's progression throughout the summer and these first few weeks, since no matter what ideas we came up with, we always came back to these core ideas to ensure that the games were really what we wanted to be making.

Over the summer, we didn't really do too much other than keep in touch and try to pitch ideas for games that we could take into capstone. Two of these ideas, which I'll get into later in this post, actually turned out to be some of the prototypes we decided on going forwards with!

And now, let's talk about what happened during the beginning of the semester. The first week was essentially just the team getting more familiar with each other; even though I knew everyone personally, the same couldn't be said for everyone else. We decided to take the first week to take it a bit easy; we even had our first official team meeting of the semester be a team-bonding session! Now, this isn't to say that we didn't do any work. In this first week, we concepted a giant list of ideas which we then narrowed down to 10 in preparation of choosing 3 to prototype before then focusing in on the one project. We then pitched those ideas to the class, took the second week to then narrow down on the top 3 ideas, and then pitch them to class with our plan to move forwards. And now, I present the three ideas we are going with:

Magnet Ops

Magnet Ops is a 1st person arena shooter where the player utilizes their magnetic arms to sling themselves to magnetic surfaces, "magnet jump" off of them, and magnetize shrapnel to their other arm to then blast other players to gain the most points by the end of each round.

Frog Bath

Frog Bath is a multiplayer, 3rd person 3D platformer focused on giving a big king frog a bath. See, he's stinky and dirty, and being royalty, he wouldn't even dream of bathing himself, so it's up to the players (up to 4), who are the king frog's loyal frog servants, to bathe him faster than the rest of the players!

Bucky Barefoot and the Hunt for Shoes

Bucky Barefoot is a 3D platformer puts the player in the shoes of a bipedal beaver who wants to collect as many shoes as possible. Bucky can use his beaver tail to spring off of the ground and use his front buckteeth to cling onto walls and platforms, but he can also pick up shoes that change how he moves around the world.

Now, that all sounds great, but we quickly realized there was a bit of a problem with the direction we were going in. See, originally we had planned on doing all three prototypes in Unity, with each one being given a single week of rapid prototyping, and then develop the game we choose for the rest of the semester in Unity as well, but we kept running into the issue of networking. No one on the team was familiar with it, and no one on the team wants to specialize in it. And seeing as how Unity's UNet is being deprecated at an undetermined time in the near future, trying to figure it out in Unity seemed like a big risk.

Due to this, we decided it would be in our best interest to expand the prototyping time to 2 weeks each and instead of do it all in Unity, we're going to be using Unreal Engine for both Magnet Ops and Frog Bath. Bucky Barefoot can be done entirely in Unity since there is no networking involved there, which is great! Which isn't to say that learning Unreal won't be great either; it will still be an important and useful skill to have under all of our belts. The only thing is that we need to extend our plan out quite considerably in order to accommodate for us learning a whole new engine. Thankfully, everyone on the team is totally on board with this new plan, and our professor said we should still be on-track with the planned schedule for the course (actually, he said that doing 1-week prototypes might be rushing it too much, so I guess extended each prototype to 2 weeks each will be better anyways).

Now, Aiden and Tommy were able to start working on a prototype for Magnet Ops during this first week in Unity, so our plan is to test this prototype when it's in a testable state as soon as possible, then learn Unreal and try to recreate the Unity prototype in the new engine, and test again! There's no harm in having 2 prototypes, and this early progress on this prototype just gives us more leeway in the 2nd week for Magnet Ops.

With all that said, I am still just as excited (if not more so) to keep working with the rest of Lafterburn on these games. Like I said, we're all getting along really well, and with no hiccups in our team dynamic and productivity, I don't see us stopping doing good work until winter break hits!

As for these blog posts, I'll be doing them as much as possible, and the next blog post will definitely have more to show and less to read since we're going to have playable and tested prototypes by that point. So, I'll see you then!

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