Capstone: What Now? (The postmortem)

What’s next?

At the end of our long weekend working as hard as possible, our game did not make it through. The overall issue was the delayed decision making my team suffered from from the beginning to the end. Taking the news of the cut wasn’t easy, we put in a lot of work and in the end it just wasn’t enough. Although at the time I was really upset looking at it now, it was probably for the best. Our game had a really big scope and with the trouble we had setting things up if we went forward we risked facing just as much, if not more trouble. I would have liked to go forward, but I can understand the decisions made that kept us behind.

How did it happen?

Our team seemed really good at first, it wasn’t like we all knew each other, but I at least knew two of the members extremely well. The designer I had at least met before, but we weren’t close friends. It didn’t create a divide though we were happy to try working together and to see what the four of us could create. Over summer we started talking coming up with ideas and there was one we liked, but fell away from due to limits on outsourcing and our own misdirection in what that really meant.

Passion Catastrophes

When we learned of that we moved on, we had discussed other ideas in the summer too and considered them again when the semester began. I don’t want to go too into detail into all the ideas in hopes that the one our designer was so passionate about can be made by him. Now the passion we all had was great nothing would easily deter us, but that also became the problem.

At first we had a lot of ideas and one stood out as a unique concept, but there were issues. The requirements for that game to reach a good point were so high for both me as the programmer and for our artist it just couldn’t be done with such a small team. This began some friction since there was so much passion behind it that, well, it made it hard to let go. That held us up a little since the focus on that idea was just a little to strong, but it wasn’t only that one.

Next we had a game dealing with a cursed sword and morality. Again a wonderful idea, but overall a huge scope. We had I would say a great passion mixed between all of us, but to show off the joy of the game required more than just me. It would have been fun to make, but we would have been figuring out the AI for a little too long. From what I know it still may be a game that can be played someday since we all like the idea, it could be pitched to a future team.

Next we had a cute game starring a teddy bear. Three of us got behind it fast and wanted to make it pretty badly. It featured a lot of focus on gameplay which I liked and a lot of focus on animation, helpful for the artist. What this one lacked though, was room for the narrative designer to really explore. The idea itself was more technically feasible, but it became a big push to that one in a way. In the end the only way to settle the dispute we had with this was to let our producer decide what to choose. Both this and what we chose, Cure, were great ideas and the producer really couldn’t go wrong with what he was given

pickup_test
A test at the time for one of the teddy bear mechanics
invcraftgif
A display of the at the time core idea of collect items and craft

Decision Time

When our producer made the decision we had a few things ready for both games. At first he chose our teddy bear idea.This wasn’t met well because data wise it wasn’t the right idea, but feasibility and test frequency it was safest. To be honest safety can be overrated and either game would have been fun. With that in mind we decided to give our producer some more time along with a pro con list from each of us. In consideration of our artist, at least at the time he picked Cure. He had faith in my abilities due to our past work, the artist thought it wouldn’t be as rough, and our designer had a comfortable premise to really explore

How it all went down

So we got started. I didn’t waste a second and jumped straight into setting up every possible system as in depth as possible. We had a lot at our first update after we made our decision. We rushed things a bit to try and catch up due to a feeling like we were behind and that was our mistake. We didn’t plan far enough ahead so that once all the systems were done we were too close to the end to add in some real entertaining gameplay. I pulled a lot of late nights and cut myself off from too much friend related things to try and pull it off. In a way that seems like a mistake, speaking with more programmers could have helped.

In reality though, the issue really came when the base systems were ready to be changed, which was a week into our real work on the project. They were far from perfect by all means, but there was no direction for them. Based off current implementations ideas were cut without any discussion and that was suddenly mentioned in presentations. Ideas we did cut were brought up without any warning and mentioned in front of our executive producers as well. By the end although on the surface things were fine there was a lot of fires being handled without the awareness of the one who would cut and add things without our knowledge.

It made it hard to have any solid decisions. Eventually our focus somehow became polish over game play. We were centered on adding sound, making events feel good. Creating UI we could put off. Adding effects to that UI. At some point I was always being asked to fix things over improve, especially the AI. I kept saying we could make it better next semester, but the focus wouldn’t leave polish.

So what does any of that mean?

Well it means that in reality by the end of the project we didn’t have a full game because decisions were made without the team agreeing. They were things that people wanted and never actually considered the time we had left. It feels fair to blame the one who did that, but we did our jobs as best we could even with that. For the ones on the team that really tried to pull it together from the day we decided to the end without any lapse, they should be really proud of what we all did in that time frame even with the detriment. The blame isn’t something worth putting because of the pride we should have in the game.

The push for polish hurt us, but as I was advised at one point every member of the team can take control. As the programmer I could have argued about ideas and changes, even gone on my own. I’m glad I didn’t, I’m glad only one person did. I worked as a part of a team, and so did others. Things weren’t perfect and I’m sure we would have had a much crazier road continuing forward, but those of us that did their all at least had fun.

In the end, I can’t really say that one person tore us down, or even blame anyone for us getting cut. We were all passionate about the game even if one fell of the train a bit. We did all we could, and yes had we done the other game we may have had a better shot. This taught all four of us about scope. Then personally I learned as the lead programmer I need to be confident and stand my ground if I assess a lot of risks and make my team plan out our game for the most part early on.

 

Last thing I can really say is, I’ll miss this team and in many ways I wish it was the teddy bear game, but I don’t regret what I learned or the pride I gained seeing the impressed looks at the leap I was able to help my team make each week once we got going. I am not the number one programmer in the world, but I am realistic and I’m not cocky. I need remember what I am aware with myself and stay confident in that rather than falling into fear of causing trouble.

Click here to download a playable version of what we are proud to have accomplished.

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