A look back on my Final Major Project

July 30, 2010

Note: I might be critical of the documentation for Torque 3D in this article. There’s since been a new version released (About September) with vastly improved documentation. I mean, much much better.

Titled ‘A New World’ (Another World is already taken), the game was intended to be a gamified simulation of the challenges of setting up a new colony on another planet following a calamity on Earth. The player would juggle the resources requirements of supplying the colony against the demands of the colonists, attempting to keep the morale of the colony as high as possible whilst fending off the challenges presented by the environment.

The project was embarked upon as part of the requirements of a BA (Hons) Creative Computer Game Design degree, using Torque 3D/Torque Game Engine Advanced with a one person fulfilling all roles on the development of the project. This would inevitably turn out to be a mistake, there are few people multi-talented enough to do the art, design & programming of one project and though attempts were made to limit the scope of the project by avoiding real time gameplay or any form of intelligent artificial intelligence there would still be the challenging of actually implementing the core gameplay.

An initial design document was produced which detailed the buildings within the game and the main interface components. Including a building placement interface, and sub menus that would give the statistical conditions of the colony, gave a textual description of the conditions of the colony (in the form of a news service) and menus for controlling the minutae of running the colony such as factory production priorities.

The diagram above is an early summary of how factory production would lead from one resource or product into another and shows how complicated the game was despite the lack of real time elements to the gameplay. As an arts degree, the course wasn’t well setup for handling support of code heavy elements of a game project, with most students on the course using Unreal Engine 3 rather than Torque 3D which the lecturers were unable to provide much support for (Their focus being more on teaching asset creation for UE3), that said students using UE3 also experienced some difficulty as an eagerly awaited book on scripting in the engine continued to be delayed.

For the project, instructions were followed that created the basics for a top down game in which buildings could be placed (with a few modifications) and with camera movements appropriate for a Sim City style of game. Unfortunately, due to the challenges of working with Torque Script, the only working original code that was written was code that expanded on placement of buildings by snapping them to a 16×16 grid so that buildings (intentionally designed to be placeable as city blocks, for ease of implementation) and with further modification, buildings that were supposed to belch smoke would also have smoke emitters created alongside the placement of the correct buildings. The code written for snapping placement of buildings was first created in pseudocode, sense checked through Excel before implementing in the engine. Sadly, beyond this no further implementation occured on the code side due to difficulties working with Torque Script.

Buildings were modelled as fairly simple shapes in Maya and textured with GIMP (I was hoping there would be some teaching of Photoshop during the degree, but this didn’t happen, attempts to learn Photoshops basics on my own proved to be a challenge and in the end I found that using a tool called Texture maker in concert with GIMP allowed me to create textures sufficient to the goals of the project). Rather than just identifying the buildings by shape, it was decided to colour code the buildings which presented a challenge on its own as the colours chosen had to take into account people afflicted by colour blindness. The image below shows the colours chosen for the different buildings, plus how they would appear with different forms of colour blindness (the images created using a tool called Vis Check) with an additional blackened silhouette view to show differences in the shapes of buildings in addition to the colour scheme.

Within the game, the colony was originally envisioned as being fairly small, with buildings intended as being the same but there was considerable push from the lecturers to up the scale of buildings, that would’ve made sense for a city building game but the intent was to present a game where the player is trying to help merely a few hundred colonists survive tragedy rather than tens or hundreds of thousands of colonists. Feedback frequently focused on the visuals for the game, which, frankly, didn’t seem as important as the gameplay itself. The gamplay could and should have been prototyped in Excel in lieu of implementing in the game itself even if only for demonstration purposes.

The end result was frankly dissapointing and the cause was primarily due to placing too many roles on the shoulders of one person. There’s a reason why game projects (especially larger AAA titles) have people specialising in different roles, not just for organisational purposes, but because it’s far easier to find people who are passionate about a particular task or role (such as game design or art) than it is to find people who are passionate about doing every role altogether. The scope of the project was too large despite attempts to control it and the game design should have focused on game mechanics that could be more easily ‘faked’ for demonstration purposes than ones that really would require a full code implementation to make it into the game (at least in the absence of a team member who could focus on and be passionate about the programming side of the project).

As such, it’s difficult to know if a game like this could’ve been a success in the market place as the end result wasn’t sufficient for trying out on any prospective target market. The main goal was to provide a game in which the player could sit back and relax, without feeling the kinds of time pressure that might be experienced in high intensity war games but with a growing ‘casual’ (or part-time) gaming market, there must surely be room in the market for a game of this kind.

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