Author: Ethan Loewald

Production Post-Mortem

For my final Toybox blog post, I am writing a post-mortem about my whole time working on the game and with the extended team of 8.  Ever since the first semester when our team was chosen to move onwards, the idea of expanding was a great one due to the amount of possible content that could be added to the game.  I personally knew that we had to make a ton of base gameplay changes to create the game that I was dreaming of creating.

While the instructions of this assignment of capstone was to create a innovative gameplay experience,  through the first semester we created a completely amazing vertical slice off of a polished game experience that had a multitude of game systems to work on as well as a pretty unique co-op experience.

I know that any more work on this game would have to change so many base systems, such as the camera becoming dynamic, enemy design becoming way more visible and interactive for the player and the upgrades and abilities systems changing once again to be integrated into the gameplay properly.

We made a ton of correct designs this semester though that made the game go in the correct direction that I am extremely proud of.  Firstly our scope of enemy count, interact-able count, level count and world count worked out perfectly with our team’s capabilities and while I had to crunch at the end to fix bugs and such, the overall content of the game was never behind schedules and never felt rushed.

Our game switching to focus more towards a more casual audience was also an amazing choice that ended up with us making core gameplay changes that only made the game appeal to a wider audience and more play-able.  This led to changes being made with the upgrades and special abilities as well as the combat, with the new downed state system.

Lastly,  I felt right at home with the project and more importantly my role as a product owner on the game.  While it felt at sometimes like I was more of a programmer or producer than designer, I 100% always was in the position of product owner due to my role on the game in the first semester as well as team dynamic.  I know that I will always love to work on indie games more than professional triple-A titles even though I haven’t been able to work in a triple-A studio yet just because of my abilities to work leading a development team.  In the end, Toybox was an amazing chance for me to show off my team dynamic as a product owner and how much I love game development for every little aspect.  I really hope I can either continue to publish this product, or find the next game that I spend every waking moment thinking and improving upon.


Production Cycle 12 (Release Candidate-1)

This will be my final blog post before the post mortem and we were able to add so many polish elements and bug fixes throughout this week.  I really forced myself to create a crunch this week because I knew that since we had to hit Gold Master next week, I didn’t want there to be any known bugs unsolved so that we could solve any unknown bugs by that time.

The main thing was going through each level and world and making sure every case scenario was solved, but also planning for the game to be set in the gallery for a weeks time I had to come up with automation.  I created a system where the game would restart to the main menu if left idle for too long.  I also made it so that no matter where in the game the player was, they would activate this system and if there was no one actively playing the game, it would restart completely.

I also finalized the audio completely.  All sounds and music are now in the game which includes the 3 fresh music tracks I made for each world.  The tracks are meant to fit in with the feeling of each world and they do so way better than I had originally planned.

I had worked extremely hard throughout this semester to help the team and the game come to a point where I personally felt good with the product and even though I spent upwards of 50 hours this week and multiple all nighters.  I still don’t feel like Toybox is at the level it could be.

I am immensely proud of the finalized product and the team for bringing my vision to life and I hope Champlain College and everyone who plays enjoys the game for how much time we spent polishing the game loop.

Production Cycle 11 (Post-Beta)

After beta, we have the intense task of getting everything ready for Release Candidate-1 which happens in a very little amount of time.  The main thing I personally was focused on was bug testing to the degree of level design.  There are so many things that could be wrong with each level and the fact that our game requires two players to play through each level makes it very obvious that its not tested as well as it should be.

Things like enemies being stuck in the ground, interact-ables and UI screens have some very interesting bugs that need to be solved before we can really reach a polished state so it was my job to find and solve all of these bugs.

This sprint I also worked on a bunch of audio that would help the polish of the game feel more immersive for the players.  I made each new enemy have a unique sound or multiple.  I also have a finalized list of audio elements that I will be implementing and creating for the next couple of sprints.

The polish is now in full force and that is my favorite and best part as a game designer.  Our game already had some amazing polish since the first semester but, I now have the chance to almost fully dedicate my time to creating and implementing new polish.

Production Sprint 10 (BETA)

For this week, our team tackled the BETA requirements and got to the point in the game where our functionality is completed and it’s time for polish.  As the lead designer on this project, I have always been looking for more opportunities to be able to fine tune the systems in the game and polish has been a huge part of making the game look and feel so good to the player.

One of the major requirements was finalizing the UI and while there were some bugs that popped up, after Beta we can really start working on finalizing the bug fixing and really getting user experience nailed down.ScreenShot00007.png

The level complete HUD was redone to be more simplified.  The major piece of information being the stars gained and then them filling up as the player gets closer and closer to getting a new upgrade


The Upgrade HUD also was revisited to give rarity to the new upgrades that were implemented.  In total there are 13 upgrades as the player won’t be able to get any more based on the amount of levels in the game.


This is a quick sneak peak of what the Chapter B levels look like.  The lighting is still being worked on, but the artistic model placement and new models used makes the game feel so much different throughout the chapters.


Production Cycle 9

After Alpha was finished, our team has started to work on materials for the senior show and some marketing objects as well.  These include the poster, team reel, and starting to brainstorm how we want to present the physical appearance of the game.  While I wasn’t directly working on gathering the materials or finalizing the decisions made, I helped spear-head the brainstorm and team work to get to the initial designs.

Continuing after alpha, there were tons of bugs to have fixed.  With the core game loop, interact-able elements and enemy designs we had to constantly hear back from QA about things that were slightly wrong and work on ways to fix them for the gameplay.

One of the most exciting parts of this sprint was finally adding in the laser sight which was a constant want from QA testers.  This new functionality let the players really aim better as well as connect with the gameplay in a whole new way that greatly helped the game.

Since this is the week before Beta, we worked tirelessly to make sure the art models were correct as well as decorating plenty of levels to correctly make the game look as good as Toybox feels to play.

Production Sprint 8 (Alpha)

For production Alpha, we worked on getting the game in a finalized state in terms of content.  The enemies, special abilities and upgrades had to be finished and the levels as well but the actual art was not going to be able to be completely finalized.

We started working harder on the actual art assets that needed to be completed.  For example getting all the skins finally designed and worked out who among the artists would work on that specific part of the game.

I continued work on bugs to make sure the gameplay was completely fresh for each player, and the new enemy work made sure that the QA tests that we did proved to us that we were moving in the right direction.

Some slight changes in the UI and enemy design were made on my part of the development,  but I mostly held a team product owner role on this sprint when answering questions about what work had to be done for the production cycle to be a success.

Production Sprint 7 (Mid Year)

For the Midyear sprint, I worked on mainly UI assets as well as improving interact-able elements of the game.  This was a huge week for the team in general and while I did iterations with the UI elements and HUD elements, most of the work was done with the team to have the build in a finalized state.

We are constantly removing bugs especially with the interaction blocks and the crane that Aaron created.  We got rid of the old grabbing mechanic and was able to refine the mechanic to feel much more responsive for the player and helped the game loop for the player.

For the UI, I will have many examples next week, but mainly improved the flow between screens and had each UI element feel the same so that the player could have a very similar experience with each UI screen.  Overall this sprint we had a great team experience getting the game to a playable and exciting experience.

Production Sprint 6

Short video showing off the new grabbable objects and the in-game UI to help the player


This sprint is the second to last sprint before Midterms for Capstone Production and we need to be feature complete before next week.  The main things I worked on were UI functionality and layout and finished up all the design decisions for the game. For Toybox since polish is such a vital portion of the game feel itself I have also been working on the major systems of the game and how the game feel affects that.

UI Changes

The main additions to the UI include the new Main Menu screen that lets the player choose between the normal game and the upcoming Credits/Kiosk mode; More on those on a later blog 😉

The Overworld UI has also been changed to allow the player to switch special abilities before entering a level and will also be able to view the upgrades that they have purchased so far. The bar on the top shows the progress towards the next upgrade and since I was working on the functionality aspect of the UI, the UI images themselves are not final and will be updated after the midterm crunch.

There is also now a pause menu screen and a screen for unlocking special abilities that help the player flow through the information that is given to them.  These are all finalized in terms of functionality and layout.

Gameplay Updates

Some exciting new changes to the major gameplay loop have been finalized, including changing player movement and enemy movement to make the gameplay flow much more smoothly and the down state has been fully implemented.

The player movement was originally very sticky and by switching over to a floatingMovementComponent I was able to completely get rid of the sticky-ness as well as incorporate player acceleration with the movement.  This feels so much more satisfying for the player and has been a huge change with Quality Assurance as well. The bullet speed from the player was greatly reduced in order to let the players visually see where they were shooting and already this has made a big change in how players tend to use their bounce shots.

The enemy movement was changed to use Nav Meshes so now the enemies will never get stuck on any walls or each-other again either.  This was another change that was bound to happen with all the new enemies that we are introducing and it has made the game flow just like it should.

Finally the downed state being implemented has made it so players can understand the new death mechanics without any explanation and the visual effects Bryce was able to put on the player model are outstanding.


Next Week…

For next blog, I will be uploading an entire playthrough of our first chapter, with all the levels being finalized both layout and visually.  The only changes that might happen in the future being polish means this video will be the closest thing to how the final game will turn out!

Production sprint 5

For this week, I worked on prototyping enemy code that we had planned out, and also re-iterating base enemy and player interaction to make the base gameplay loop in the game feel extremely good.

The first enemy that I prototyped was the dino enemy.  The Dino enemy will see the player and then charge.  The dino is faster than the other melee enemies but cannot chase the player.  After hitting the wall after the player dodges it, the dino will recharge and then run back at the next player it sees.

The second enemy was the UFO which will actually change colors throughout it’s lifetime.  The UFO is another melee enemy that’s planned to make the player choose their route throughout the level.

The base gameplay loop was improved through adding a player movement component to the base player blueprint.  This made the movement much more fluid and allowed a slight acceleration throughout the controls.  The upgrades we implemented this level added onto this new improvement by making the player speed feel faster when upgraded and making the dash very efficient throughout the game.

Production Sprint 4

We passed greenlight and now moved onto full production mode!  This sprint I dove into major planning documents and some major gameplay core loop changes.  There isn’t much to show visually, but the experience for the player is much improved and our team should be able to plan for newer content faster and more efficiently than before!

The biggest planning document that I had worked on was the Game Design Document, where I completely re-did the structure of the document to touch base on every single detail that the game has.  This includes UI, Game play loop, Enemies, Upgrades, Special Abilities, Interactibles. Pretty much anything in our game is mentioned and described in this larger than life document.  While it can be intimidating to open and find the correct page for the detail you are specifically looking for, it helps each one of the developers really have the same vision for the project.

In terms of changing the game, I worked on a major improvement to our collision system. Before this change, the characters would get stuck on walls very easily (and each other) causing the levels to be needing to be much larger and the gameplay experience would be static. This is obviously an issue as our gameplay loop calls for a very dynamic experience for the players. I was able to add a FloatingPawnMovement component (a default unreal component) and use the Input Vector node to make the characters not stick at all and flow much smoother with the gameplay.

With this new change I am currently working on changing the enemies to also be technically AI by Unreal’s standards so that they also no longer stick to walls and have the functionality to follow the player if they run away.

The team has been super busy to adding new content to the game to allow for our new levels and mechanics to feel in place with the game flow.  Next sprint I will be prototyping many new mechanics and systems for the game and will have a much more visually pleasing blog post.