Previously, on Leo's Senior Capstone Dev Blog...
After getting more acquainted with my Lafterburn team members and what exactly we wanted to get out of this capstone project, we decided upon three prototypes that we wanted to explore to be able to test out multiple projects before devoting ourselves to one for the rest of the semester. These projects were Magnet Ops - a 1st person shooter arena shooter where players move and shoot using the powers of magnetism, Frog Bath - a third person competitive platformer about frogs trying to bathe their Frog King faster than all of the other frogs, and Bucky Barefoot and the Hunt for Shoes - a 3D platformer in which a beaver named Bucky collects different pairs of shoes to alter his movement abilities.
So what's happened since then?
That's right, you guessed it: we prototyped all three ideas! Well, we prototyped three ideas, but they were the same exact ideas as we had before; we decided to kill off Bucky Barefoot. The reason being is mainly because of the art scope. Leanna, our artist, would be fine with working on the environments that the game entails, but it also requires some pretty well made animations to go with the movement-focused gameplay along with character art for NPCs and enemies. All of this within the span of about 7 weeks remaining after the prototyping phase is too much to pile on Leanna. Because we scrapped Bucky Barefoot as a potential idea, we then needed to come up with a new third idea to fit the class requirements... But I'll get into that later.
For now, let's take a look at how each of the three prototypes fared and see which prototype we at Lafterburn Studios ended up choosing to work on for the rest of the semester!
Magnet Ops takes place in the junkyard of the future, with the main city looming over it. Players control once-abandoned military robots that have suddenly powered back on, with no other purpose than to fight each other among the forgotten shrapnel of the past.
We decided to prototype Magnet Ops first because we had already solidified the main gameplay loop conceptually, meaning that there was not a lot of overhead to deal with throughout its development. We identified the core features of the game, which are as follows:
An approachable yet skill-based movement system
Players can use their magnetic arm to magnetize themselves towards metal surfaces.
Once a player reaches a metal surface, they stick to it until they let go of the magnetize button
Additionally, players can reverse the polarity of their arm to "repel jump" off of metal surfaces to gain a burst of momentum in the direction they are facing
An interesting way to collect ammunition and shoot other players
Players will find small pieces of shrapnel all over the map which can be magnetized into their arm
Once shrapnel has been gathered, players can fire off their collected shrapnel as a spread out shot at other players
As for the allotted time for the prototype, we planned to spend one week prototyping and testing the game's viability in Unity; the final product would be made in Unreal to allow for easier network programming to allow multiplayer, but since we are all vastly more familiar with Unity than Unreal, rapidly prototyping in Unity speeds up the process significantly.
Within the first week, we managed to make a testable build that we brought to the games testing labs at Champlain to put into the hands of the players. In this build, we got almost everything about the movement implemented in an functional (but slightly buggy) way!
The testers loved moving around by magnetizing towards metal walls and "repel jumping" off of them. The testers didn't even seem too bothered by the bugs and the general rigidity of the movement, both of which we knew could be fixed with further development. So as far as the first core pillar of the game goes, it's safe to say that we nailed it.
Shooting, on the other hand, received more mixed results from the testing session.
The shooting seemed rather boring and strange to the testers. Not only was it overall uninteresting, he feedback when hitting a target was difficult to process and did not seem as fleshed out as the movement. After the testing session, I spoke with the other designer on the team, Aiden, and we realized that we completely missed the mark on the shooting mechanic. The implemented version was nowhere near what we had envisioned for the game, and because of this, there was a disconnect between what we tested and what we wanted to test. We talked with the rest of the team, and we decided to take another week to test Magnet Ops; we knew we could do better and test the movement and the shooting in their ideal states (or, more realistically, very quick prototypes of their ideal states).
Before we get into what happened in the second week of Magnet Ops, I want to take a second to show off the environment art concepts that Leanna made!
The art style for Magnet Ops is focused more on very dull, drab colors to reflect the forgotten, rusty vibe of a pile of abandoned, old technology that the players would be moving around in contrasting with the more posh and pure colors of the city looming above the players, hinting at a city full of prosperity that the playable robot characters are not a part of. Additionally, neon colors will be used to contrast the dull environment to bring attention to things like the metal surfaces or collectible shrapnel to ensure that they catch the player's eyes. There's also a lot of playing around with more angular geometry as opposed to perpendicular and parallel angles, hinting at a future akin to something like TRON. The team all loved this direction that Leanna mocked up when she showed it to us!
So now, moving into week 4 of the semester, we took what we had built so far for Magnet Ops and pushed it a step further, with the focus being on implementing a shooting system that was reflective of our intention. But before doing that, Tommy, our programmer, spent a lot of time refining the movement into something less buggy. Don't get me wrong, people enjoyed the movement in the first prototype, but there were a lot of technical hiccups that we wanted to revisit and fix up.
This biggest change with this new movement is that it is all momentum based, giving players more ability to influence their travel path in midair. The controls were also changed to be a little more usable, with all of the magnetic movement being bound to LSHIFT. With these changes, our test results improved from last week. People loved the movement even more than before!
Now, let's address what this second week of Magnet Ops is all about: the shooting. Because of how bare-bones the shooting was in the previous week, we decided to try to implement something as close to the intended system as possible. Players would no longer be able to shoot whenever they want and instead would need to pick up pieces of shrapnel in the map. Once they do, they'll be able to blast it all out at once at targets found all over the course that Aiden built.
With this shooting being implemented, we were able to test out whether or not the idea worked! And well, it didn't. At least, it didn't work within the realm of Magnet Ops. The results from testers showed that while the concept of the shooting was fun in its own right, it didn't work well with the movement mechanics that everyone loved. See, the movement encouraged a lot of fast-paced gameplay where players were constantly magnetizing between metal surfaces, especially with the advent of the timer and the linear style of the map. The shrapnel collection slowed this down a ton, requiring players to stop moving to pick up shrapnel and shoot targets. Additionally, if players missed their shot on a target, they'd have to spend time gathering up shrapnel once again, which took up way too much time away from the proven fun of the movement. In short, the shooting did not work with the movement and took away from the overall experience.
Before we get into the conclusion of Magnet Ops, I wanted to show off more art that Leanna did. Since she concepted the environment art last week, this week she spent trying to draft up some character designs that fit the aesthetic of the game.
We also took these characters and the environments that Leanna made and tested them along with the second build. Overall, people enjoyed the art by themselves, but thought that they didn't look too much like a "junkyard of the future", which was how the game was described to them.
So, with all that being said, what are our thoughts on Magnet Ops after these two weeks? Well, we knew that there is something valuable with the movement, because people REALLY liked it (to the point where some testers began trying to speed run the second prototype). The main problem is that the shooting needs a drastic rework in order to function alongside the movement. Players were not having fun with the shooting, at least not as much as they were with the movement. Going forwards, we could either have a more direct connection between movement and collecting ammo, where each successful wall-cling onto a metal surface gives you ammo, or we could scrap (no pun intended) the shooting entirely and make a more movement focused game. Additionally, there needs to be either a rework with the game's visual aesthetic to better fit the planned theme, or a rework with the theme to better fir the aesthetic Leanna made that we all enjoy. So now that we've tied up Magnet Ops, let's move on to the next prototype!
Frog Bath takes place in a land where frogs are obsessed with two things - hygiene and their beloved King Frog. Since every frog wants to gain their King Frog's favor, they've begun competing to clean him the fastest. This eventually evolved into a spectacle, where the Frog King sits idly by as his loyal subjects race against one another to give him the best bath possible.
Before we went into this week and while we were prototyping the second week of Magnet Ops, Aiden and I sat down with each other and tried to address one big problem about Frog Bath: we didn't know what the gameplay was. All we knew is that it's an item-focused 3D platformer, but we never actually settled on any gameplay that we were interested in, but everyone on the team (along with everyone in our class when we pitched our ideas) adored the silliness and stupidity of the game's context. So, we had a meeting to figure out the gameplay, and we settled on the following core pillars:
Diverse frog-based movement in a race track
Players have access to different froggy abilities, such as hopping for horizontal movement, jumping for vertical movement, and a tongue-shot that allows them to grapple surfaces at any angle
The level design would be formatted like a race track, where all players are moving along a similar path with each other where the Frog King acts as a starting point and finish line
There are two different types of track: lazy rivers and rapids. Lazy rivers are more open, where players can explore to find items, while rapids force the players to keep moving forwards in order to prevent back-tracking
Item-focused gameplay with an item-focused goal
The main goal of the game is find the item that the Frog King requires and bring it to him in order to complete a "lap"
The items found throughout the map can also be used as consumables to gain powerups
Holding onto an item for too long builds up "sickness", which when full, stuns the player and gets rid of the item held
So going into the prototype and what we wanted to test, we tried our best to get all of what was described implemented. The thing is, we didn't actually test any multiplayer since the two pillars outlines above didn't really necessitate multiplayer, which actually brought up some discussion. Because of this, Aiden and I made the executive decision to pivot the level design away from the track and towards just an open sandbox for the sake of testing, since there was no real reason to test it out just yet. But I'll get into that in one second; for the testing session, we focused on the movement and the idea of items!
Because the playable character is, well, a frog, the movement is focused almost entirely on a frog. Moving around normally is done by small hops, and jumping gives the player a lot of vertical height. Most importantly, the player can shoot their tongue out to surfaces to fly towards them or to items to collect them. All of items in this build also give the player buffs to their movement - soap increases the distance of their hops, shampoo increases the height of their jumps, and the bath bomb makes their tongue shoot further and faster. People enjoyed this movement a lot, but there were some issues that made some aspects of it less enjoyable than others. Similarly to the development of Magnet Ops, because there was no directional influence when in midair, people did not like jumping at all since they often jumped straight up and went nowhere. Additionally, the tongue was bugged in the sense that it could easily get stuck on the invisible ceiling or on some surfaces. But even when factoring this in, the movement was fairly well received!
As far as the core gameplay loop of delivering items to the Frog King and the general theme of the game go, people enjoyed it a lot! It's a goofy game with a goofy premise, and people tend to like those a lot since they're easily palatable.
Additionally, we tested out the art that Leanna made, and this week she was able to concept both the environments and character concepts.
The environments were very well liked! Honestly, there isn't much else to say about them other than that people liked them a lot!
As far as the character concepts go, Leanna concepted a bunch of 2D characters and we tested them all to see which ones testers liked the most. And by a landslide, people loved "baby" and "shifty", so we took these two frogs and had Leanna concept them in 3D in the next week!
Wait a second, but wasn't Frog Bath only done for a week? That's what the banner says! But the banner also says "Frog Bath v1"... what's up with that? Well, remember how we killed off Bucky Barefoot and the Hunt for Shoes? We still needed to test out a third prototype to fit the requirements of the class, and well, Aiden and I talked a lot about the state of Frog Bath. We knew we had something with the theme, but there was a lot of concern about the gameplay we established. You see, we wanted Frog Bath to be a multiplayer game, and this racing model is essentially singleplayer gameplay but with multiple players. That is, for the ideal; we even realized that the gameplay didn't necessitate multiple people, so we tested it with one player at a time. We also didn't even test the racing track because we realized we didn't need to! But the movement has promise, and the theme has even more potential. So, for our third prototype, we decided to take Frog Bath and redesign it to fit the multiplayer ideals that we wanted!
So what exactly did we redesign for this new prototype? Well, we knew that we didn't need a racetrack, so we scrapped that immediately. Additionally, we decided to pivot away from the item-focused gameplay and focus it entirely on multiple players interacting with one another. So, with all this considered, let's go over the main pillars of the brand new Frog Bath:
The same froggy movement as before, but revisited
The same hopping/jumping/tongue model, but this time with more aerial control and the ability to move around normally (no hopping)
More open level design, with the same idea of the Frog King being the start and the end of the gameplay
Multiplayer gameplay with focus on a shared goal
Rather than having multiple items which can be used as powerups, one of which the Frog King demands, every single player is after one singular item; there are no other items in the map
Players can shoot other players with their tongue in order to stun them. If they're holding the item when they get hit, the player will steal the item from them as well
Once a player has an item, they can not use their tongue. Their goal is then to deliver the item back to the Frog King in order to win
With all of these changes, we were all in a happier place with the direction of Frog Bath. So, going into the prototype, we prioritized getting some sort of split-screen multiplayer working along with touching up the movement and implementing the new gameplay loop.
We took all of the old movement mechanics, had Tommy readjust them to allow for more player control with aerial directional influence, and introduce the new main gameplay loop. With these new adjustments, people still enjoyed Frog Bath just as much as before, but had an easier time with the mechanics. Well, except for the tongue, which had a couple of bugs that got players stuck in certain places of the level. That being said, testers still adored the game and had a ton of fun playing, especially because they got to play the intended multiplayer experience!
The player to player interaction was very fun for the testers, and from standing next to them while playing, they had a lot more fun with this prototype than they did moving around by themselves in the previous prototype. Granted, they could have been having the same amount of fun if we had tested multiplayer in the first version, but like I said before, the way that design was formatted didn't really necessitate any multiplayer at all. It was a single player game that was intended for multiplayer, which is an issue that brought us to this prototype anyway!
As for the art update goes, Leanna managed to concept some 3D versions of the 2D characters!
We tested out both the 3D concepts of the playable characters and the Frog King, and this time, people fell in love with "shifty" and the 2nd Frog King concept. But overall, they loved the art direction as a whole!
So, in the end, Frog Bath v2 ended up being a lot closer to what we had envisioned for Frog Bath from the beginning. That isn't to say the racing model doesn't have any merit, it just isn't the direction that we had planned for Frog Bath. And seeing as how people loved the theme of Frog Bath and generally liked the game for both versions, it's safe to say that Frog Bath definitely has a future and has potential.
So which concept are we choosing to move forwards with for the rest of the semester? Well...
We are moving forwards with Frog Bath v2!
It shouldn't come to any surprise that we wanted to do the second version over the first, but why did we pick Frog Bath over Magnet Ops? Well, while both games were fun to work on and were enjoyed by testers in their own right, Frog Bath is a game with a lot more potential and a lot less problems seeing as we've ironed out a lot of the concerns that came up during development. Additionally, we as a team had more fun talking and working on Frog Bath; not only does the theme strike a chord with testers, but it strikes a chord with us as developers.
So, look forwards to a lot more froggy updates from me and froggy updates from everyone at Lafterburn Studios. Our next step is tackling Unreal Engine and networking; in the next 7 weeks, we will have a proof of concept that we will present in front of our entire games studio at Champlain College, and I'll be posting as many updates as I can about the game. So, I'll see you next time!