Capstone: And Then There Was One
Updated: Oct 13, 2019
After weeks of rapid prototyping and research, Holo Hexagon has created 3 prototypes that demonstrate the concepts we chose in our last step. As the programmer of our team, it was my job to not only help with the creation each prototype, but also research the risks and challenges we might face with each concept. Through presenting our ideas and bringing each concept to QA, our team made a decision on which game we wanted to move forward with for the remainder of the semester. In this post I would like to reflect on the process of each sprint and the valuable research we did to define the risks and rewards of developing each concept.
Concept 1: Cash Force
Our first concept is Cash Force. A VR first person shooter, where you play as the gunner of a getaway van from a successful heist. With a focus on realistic gunplay and procedural world creation, the player must use their keen aim and sharp wits to shoot their way through a 70's themed world of enemies.
In creating this idea we wanted to focus on 3 core pillars to define our design and research for this concept. Our first pillar is VR Gunplay. We wanted the player to experience rewarding feedback and control over the weapons they were using in game. Through realistic clip reloading and weapon handling, the player owns each and every move they make, rewarding the player for quick reactions and practice. Our second pillar is Dynamic AI. We want everyone to enjoy Cash Force regardless of their experience or comfort with VR shooters. Through a dynamic AI system we can both provide a challenge to veteran players and give breathing room for new players to explore the controls and game systems. Lastly, our final pillar is creating a Procedural World to bring the environment of Cash Force to life and make each game a unique experience for our players. In creating procedural creation, we are also providing tools to efficiently create the assets needed for our game to quickly iterate in our short development period.
During our initial sprint planning for our Cash Force, our teamed layed out a plan for what we wanted in a prototype for this concept. We looked at our core pillars and decided the most important one to focus on would be VR gunplay. With this in mind, and our team's Unreal knowledge being a bit lacking, we did our research for Unreal development. Our goal for the prototype was to test our main concerns for early development: Weapons and reverse movement. With this is mind, we first experimented with different handling methods in VR and how we wanted to tackle our gunplay mechanics. We also created the perspective of looking out the back of a van while moving at high speeds to test out concerns of motion sickness for players. We brought our initial prototype to QA and had a total of 18 testers play our prototype and fill out a quick response form to gather more information on their experience.
What we found is with a briefing on basic controls, our players were able to quickly become familiar with the mechanics involved shooting and reloading. Even our players whose first time in VR was our prototype were able to get acquainted right away. Our fear of motion sickness among player seems to not be an issue, but we will need to be researched some more. Most importantly, a majority of our players were able to complete the task we set out in shooting the targets we had set up chasing the player.
Concept 2: Robo Charge
Our second concept is Robo Charge. A third person robot battle arena, where players customizes their robot to smash their way through waves of enemy bots. With a destructible environment, players can find their favorite way to smash, cut, and flip the opposition with a variety of unique weapons and parts to customize to your playstyle.
In creating this idea we wanted to focus on 3 core pillars to define our design and research for this concept. Our first pillar is Physics Based Destruction. With the mechanics we want to create in Robo Charge, being able to smash robots and the arena into hundreds of tiny bits would give players a feeling of power. We want the player to get the satisfying feedback of how much damage they can do and the carnage it will create. The second pillar of Robo Charge is Customization. We want any player to fit their playstyle to a set of weapons and parts to make their perfect robot. For players who want to strategies their upcoming battle, we want to provide the power to pick parts that can provide the extra edge against a certain wave of enemies or arena you are fighting in. Finally, our last pillar is our AI System. With the game focused on arena wave combat, we need to create a unique set of AI to keep the player on their toes and guessing what is next. While the AI does not need to be as complex, having a system that can manage waves and encounters in the arena, will increase our replayability and enjoyment from continued battle.
Our sprint planning meeting gave us a clear vision on where we wanted to focus our resources for our initial prototype. With a few weeks of Unreal development behind us, we focused our research on destructible meshes and how we might implement that core pillar into our game. We also wanted to focus on some initial AI to give the player something to smash while moving around an arena. With that in mind we set out to research and create a simple prototype to test some core mechanics of Robo Charge. First we implemented car like movement to a robot model. This gave us a scale to work with for the arena and what we could do in terms of destructible meshes with our new hammer robot created. Working on a simple behavior tree to move around the map, a simple AI was created for the player to move around and smash into tiny pieces. With some destructible meshes created and simple animations for our hammer robot, we went to QA to test the core experience our prototype offered with 9 testers to give us a general idea of our current direction.
Through QA we learned that our movement might be a little harder to nail down than we thought. Lots of players are familiar with car movement and having something as floaty as ours was a little hard to control. Our players really enjoyed smashing robots and were excited for our UI and customization that we presented through concept art and descriptions. The large majority of our players were able to complete our task of smashing the robots around the arena with their hammer. We found that in this process, combining our movement with the hammer, some players had an issues hitting robots, but overall most got the hang of it after some practice.
Concept 3: Toy Deploy
Our final concept is Toy Deploy. A VR tower defense / autobrawler mix, where the player pins their favorite toys against opposing toys to attack and defend their base. Focusing on free form combat and unit customization, players can carefully craft their strategy to take on each round as they explore their room for additional toys and parts to take on the generated battlefield of attacking toys.
In creating this idea we wanted to focus on 3 core pillars to define our design and research for this concept. Our first pillar is VR Objectplay. Toy Deploy has lots of interactive elements that the player will be able to touch, throw, and place. Making these interactions between the player and objects in the game should be familiar. The less complicated for players to interact with the world, the easier it will be for them to learn the mechanics of our game. Our second pillar is Strategy/Exploration. we want our players to not only explore the environment around them, but also the strategy around the unique clash of tower defense and autobrawler we envision. Using simple concepts to allow casual experiences with more in-depth elements for experienced players. Finally, our last pillar is our AI System. with our game genre combination having a strong AI presence, we need to create a dynamic AI system that can react to the changing world around them.
With the vision and scope of this game being very large, our sprint planning sessions became a risk assessment on it's own. We realized this game required lots of systems that we could not quickly prototype. Additionally, we were not completely decided on how the game would play out and what the player experience would be during the length of a prototype. All this being considered, we created a presentation prototype that walked players through the game loop and how they would interact with the world around them. This gave is more time to research into the mechanics the game would require and assess the difficulty of creating them with our development cycle ahead of us. We researched procedural generation of maps, path finding, behavior trees, and a bunch more topics in order to determine the challenges we would face. With our presentation prototype created through team collaboration, we brought our self guided presentation to QA and had 11 testers learn about our vision and game loop.
During QA we were very surprised by the response we were getting from testers. May understood our concept and were excited to see more. We also added some questions about general VR use, such as "Do you own a VR headset" and "If not, are you interested in buying one". What we found is many of our tested do no have a headset themselves, but are very interested in playing and purchasing a VR headset. Overall we found that our concept was being conveyed to users and there was a market for what we wanted to create. The challenge was whether it was possible to create this game with our current team.
Picking a Concept:
After multiple weeks of prototyping and deliberating, our team had one question to answer: "Which game would we move forward with?". What it really came down to was which game were we most passionate about creating? We discussed this exact question during a sprint retrospective/planning meeting and broke down each game into the needed roles and what would need to be created. We also went around and had each member describe what it was they wanted to focus on during the course of the semester. Personally I was interested in working on any of these projects. They all had unique and complex systems that I could work on and in the long run, hopefully create some tools to expedite the process of development. All three games had the similar need for complex AI systems, which as someone who hasn't spent as much time diving into certain AI topics, I was excited to work on. With AI being a core thing I would have to work on, I decided that I would prefer to work on either Toy Deploy or Cash Force, since I felt the AI challenges there would be more interesting to tackle. After further deliberation, we came to the conclusion that we were most passionate about creating Cash Force!
With our game now decided upon and goals ahead of us, our team will be prototyping and iterating on the mechanics in Cash Force. Our primary goal is to focus on the gunplay and AI systems before we branch off into creating a dynamic world. To start we will create a hand crafted level that we can get feedback on to help determine what kind of maps/levels players enjoy. This will help guide the means to procedurally generating maps and levels, as well as determine what is important to the player when they are planning their getaway. Overall these pasts couple of weeks have been very helpful in terms of learning what Unreal has to offer and setting my compass on what needs to be done for future prototyping. Being able to focus a lot of time on research greatly benefited my understanding of how to approach our prototypes and determine what challenges and risks we might face ahead of time. I have also spent additional time with the team teaching repository techniques to better manage our work and create a plan for how we will do future version testing for our game. So with all that planning and prototyping behind us, we are now prepared to develop Cash Force! All the work done up to this point has prepared us for the challenges and work we will encounter and we are eager to bring the vision of Cash Force to life!
If you missed the previous blog on Senior Capstone development you can see it here! Stay tuned for my next blog within the coming month!