Production Cycle Week 3 (Greenlight)

For the third week of production, we are challenging to pass greenlight after fulfilling all the requirements that were given to us.  The main ones I will be talking about today have to do with the changes that we are making to our updated target market audience so that our game doesn’t fall down the common pitfall of having a game that isn’t necessarily marketable towards anyone.

Our updated market audience went from hardcore players to midcore/casual players.  These are the type of players who enjoy casual games but want the content and mechanics to span more into the hardcore territory while still remaining ‘friendly’ and forgiving.

Many of our mechanics had originally been hardcore by design, the most prominent being the death system where we revamped the players dying by changing the insta-death system to incorporate a last stand mechanic. From QA feedback we learned that the majority were using the revive system to it’s fullest.  Since the QA testers were 70% our target audience, this is a huge relief to hear that this major change in the games core mechanics have targeted our new target audience perfectly.

Another major part of Toybox’s greenlight requirements is our amount of planning for the rest of production.  I personally made elaborate asset lists for enemies, interactables, upgrades, artwork and more to have our priorities straight on what needs to get done for the game as well as how much room for expansion we actually have.  The most of my hours this week was spent towards the documentation so that as a team we are all on the same page as well as being unified behind the design decisions that I’ve made. Overall next sprint we will have so much more visual progress made within the game (compared to this sprint). So make sure to stay tuned!



Production Cycle Week 2

Our team was able to get off to a really good start for the last sprint which means we are already making huge changes to the gameplay and player experience to mold our new target market.

For this blog post, I am going to be discussing the changes that I personally have made towards the new UI overhaul, the decisions that I have made and what will happen for the rest of the UI.

The first major change was the in game UI which went from a very static display of numbers just showing the ammo count for each player and the level time to a dynamic showcase of the player’s current special ability, their cooldowns and the level name.

In Game UI First Pass.PNG

The Brown squares on the bottom left and right will show off the current equipped  special ability (which for now is blank while we start creating icons).  The ammo count will shake and grow when players shoot or obtain bullets and the cooldown squares fill up to full when the player has a special ability use available.  The level name (in the upper right hand corner) disappears after a short period of time to give more attention to the level itself. This is just a layout for the final UI that will be developed continuously throughout development but is a huge increase from what we had before.

For the next iteration I hope to further increase the visibility of the icons and placement by possibly placing a blur behind the UI or if I have to a static image that fits into the game world.  I will also be adding a star counter underneath the timer (which is why the timer seems to be higher than it should be). The level name being “-1” is also just a bug with the specific level that is in the screenshot.

Upgrade UI screen first pass.PNG

The next update I did to the UI this sprint was to our new upgrade screen which will be replacing the progression menu for the player’s opportunity to upgrade their character and play the way they want to. The main goal on this screen is simplicity and even choice for both players.  We chose to go with a system with 3 randomly picked upgrades for the players every time they get 5 more stars.  You can see the general layout for how the final version will look (as it isn’t implemented in the build yet; we still have to finalize the upgrade system itself).

The next iteration, I will finalize the layout for all three upgrades as well as find a new font to pair with the one we have.  The Bauhaus font is very difficult to read when used in paragraphs and so a nice similarly simplistic and childish font will be better for the description fonts.  I will also work on animating the arrows that point under the UI so that the users can know exactly which upgrade they are hovering over.  The last major change for the layout is to add a progression bar to this screen that I will use for the level end UI as well.  The progression bar will be a way for the player to know how close they are to getting a new upgrade.

For next sprint, I will dive more into the specific greenlight challenges that we have tackled, as it will be the sprint before we challenge to pass into the greenlight stage.

Production Cycle Week 1 (Second Semester Sprint 1)

For the start of this semester we are tasked with completing a short list of greenlight requirements so we can move onto that section of development. In short the three requirements that we must fill with our design is:

  1. Having strong market research
  2. Co-op difficulty matching the player’s preferred difficulty
  3. An updated and more relevant progression system

Toybox‘s main difficulty in getting players involved with the core gameplay loop was the death mechanic.  While this mechanic was integral to the feeling of the game and one of the main reason we picked this prototype, the players who had teammates who constantly died felt left out of the experience and often times became frustrated.  To avoid this we are changing the mechanic so that when a player gets hit they no longer get ‘killed’ but rather get put into a ‘last stand’ mode which restricts their movement but allows them to still shoot and finish the level.  On top of that, players can be revived once a level by their teammate (the teammate must stand over the fallen player and mash a button).  For the more casual players this updated mechanic will allow for an easier but still hectic time beating each level.  For the hardcore speedrunning players, this mechanic will often times be the same as before because getting put into ‘last stand’ will mean they won’t be able to get the fastest times (Unless they make an insane bounce shot from the ground).

Another major change in Toybox which directly addresses the first two points for Greenlight comes from the control scheme now allowing the player to not only aim by independently moving the right stick from the left but also by aiming by the direction they are moving if the right stick is not being actively controlled.  This allows for a more diverse crowd of players who might not be used to the controls of a twin-stick shooters, which may be our target audience.  Hardcore players will not be affected by this change at all which is what we were originally afraid of.

The updated and simplistic new progression system takes form in card “upgrades” that the players can choose from every 5 stars gained.  This is much more helpful for the player because they don’t have to scroll through meaningless pages of skill trees, and it also means the whole progression system is much more in scope for our team.

This upcoming sprint while I finish integrating the new upgraded UI into the game, the whole feel of the game will be drastically improved as well as the core systems evolving.

Sprint 10

This week for Capstone was a leap of improvement for many aspects of player feedback, including adding in new sounds and visual effects, and tweaking many gameplay values.  I also worked closely with Bryce (VFX and UI Artist) to correctly incorporate the UI mockups that he had created.  I was able to put in the final UI direction for the progression menu, level end screen and level map point UI.ProgressionImage.PNG


While these UI elements will need a bit more tweaking before the final build at the end of next sprint, it is very nice to have them in the engine to connect all the details of the gameplay experience for the player to really feel involved in the game.

Looking forward to next sprint being our final sprint before we have a finalized packaged version of the game, we just need to really finalize some specifics on the game’s balance in regards to the level times.

I am extremely excited to show off this project on November 20th and it’s amazing how much progress we have been able to make.

Sprint 9 – Proof of Concept

This sprint, I worked on multiple things for the team, the main one being the over-world system, that I kept iterating on and made sure that it worked with no bugs.  I was able to also prototype new special abilities that we can QA test as well as implement the game.  The final thing that I worked on was finalizing the player’s visual feedback.


The Overworld system had a major focus on the transition phase between the overworld system and also each level.  Last sprint I had the overworld basic systems down but there were tons of bugs in regards to when the player left the level and went back to the overworld.  Overall, the systems works perfectly now with three different levels (and the ability to add more easily) and that’s all that we need for this vertical slice.  However continuing iterating with the transition phase will be necessary to nail down exactly what we want: A visual experience that makes the player feel like their entering this world of toys.


For the special abilities that I prototyped, I continued with the trend of the dashing ability and made two others that give the player the ability to change their play-style with just the change of playing more.  The Shield (Pictured above) allows the player to collect enemy bullets which can give players who aren’t as keen on dodging or maybe waste too many bullets another chance to beat levels.  The Shotgun ability, lets the player shoot three bullets (one in a straight line and two 15 degrees at an offset) so that players who want to spam shots quickly or have a tough time killing closer enemies have a better chance at success.  Each special ability allows for success with different play-styles which is definitely one major aspect of the game.

The last thing that I worked on was the visual feedback of the player which has always been a major focus of my role on the team as a designer.  I added the start of bullet trails after the player shoots a bullet which increases the polish level on the bouncing bullets.  I also altered the camera shakes throughout the game and started prototyping feedback elements for the newly added special effects.  Overall this sprint I was majorly focused on making the player feeling genuinely comfortable with the player experience and satisfied with the difficult gameplay.

Sprint 8 – Deep Dive Challenge

For this sprint, our team was able to prototype every major missing system that we want to incorporate for this vertical slice, as well as plan out the majority (if not all) of our tasks for the rest of this production cycle.  The two major prototyping that was done by me personally was creating the Animation Blueprints for the characters and putting the Overworld / level map system into the game.  QuickGameplayFootage.gif

Putting the Animation Blueprints together seemed like a tough challenge since I had no clue about animation blueprints before this sprint, but after learning and successfully integrating their use into the game, I can say that Unreal has once again made a completely user friendly part of game development that makes complicated tasks seems so simple.  The first major task of the animation blueprints was actually the hardest one.  I had to figure out how to rotate the bottom half of the character skeletal mesh joint towards the velocity of the character while keeping the top half pointed towards where the player was aiming.  This was much more complicated than just having an animation run when an enemy was chasing the player, but was a great starting point for me because now I almost completely understand the workflow, the node similarities and pretty much everything that is possible in the animation blueprints.  While I haven’t completely switched over to using the animation blueprints in this regard, I will make sounds and particle systems activate through the animation blueprints because it’s most likely the easiest way to manage sounds and VFX playing in the game.Overworld fade in Gif.gif

The second major prototyping feat that I was able to accomplish was creating a base for the Overworld system.  In this prototype, the player can move between level waypoints in the level map (Which is zoomed in when the player selects a specific world). When the player selects the specific level they want to play, the screen will zoom in and fade out resulting in the loading screen just appearing as a seamless connection between the Overworld system and each level map.  In terms of the artistic representation this is huge because it means the player will have a constant experience without having to take a break in the gameplay.  While it is a massive improvement to have the beginnings of this system in place, the next iteration will be to have UI above each level waypoint, and to completely rid the system of the little bugs that pop up.  Another design question is whether I want the player at the end of each level to go back to this world map, or do I want the player to be able to launch right into the next level.  On one hand the seamless transition back to the world map would seem to the player like there wasn’t much difference, but the ability to rapidly play through levels could be a big interest to the player and since they can replay the level they just played with a push of a button.. Why can’t they just jump to the next one too?

The next major step for me personally will be to integrate these two systems to create the perfect workflow so creating levels will be a breeze.

Art Photo.png

Sprint 7

On this 7th sprint, I had just gotten back from the connect 4 conference ready to continue working on the game, specifically in helping out Charlie (programmer) re-organize the player and enemy code architecture as well as fix bugs from importing art and other assets.

The majority of my time this sprint was actually in the creation of the new architecture system that is made up of different entities that holds the brunt of the code for all the enemies, players and projectiles.  The main problem with re-organizing all the code was the fact that we were basically redoing all the quick prototyping nodes that I had made even though they ended up having the pretty much exact same functionality as well as node structure.  Some problems that arose from this (and aren’t limited to) Re-creating the entire player pawn because we wanted the two different pawns to have different animation bps etc,  The UI and game state being scrapped due to a bug that was occurring because of the map the game was being tested in, Collisions becoming very unstable and unreliable that ended in a 3.5 hour bug fix session that could’ve been entirely avoided.

However there are many benefits to having the code restructured and reorganized and one of those is the ability for us to really go in and add art assets, new levels and new mechanics to scale our game up and make the game experience that we sought after while pitching it in initial game concepts.  Once we have the progression system prototyped and a set structure for the mechanic, an overworld (and main menu screen) and an upgrade system for the player, we will be set with upgrading our art through feedback iterations and honing the gameplay mechanics from feedback at QA and meeting with professors.

In terms of being the acting producer, I have been away for the last two sprint meetings (because of the deadline) and so starting this sprint I’ll be able to really hand out tasks to the team as well as hold a big design meeting where we map out every little thing that will go into our vertical slice (and some extra things for scaling if needed!).  I am super excited to get all the functionality into the game so far because then we can have our artists prove how amazing they are with the models, animation and VFX, and Charlie and I can continue making the mechanics feel solid, the systems stay balanced and most of all convince that our game is re-playable, fun and marketable among the other games in the space.

Sprint 6

For this past sprint, our team has made it past the Initial Concepts phase and have finally started production of our game Toybox Shooter (working title).  For the most part, we already had a great portion of the game designed and planned out. We want short levels with simplistic mechanics that allow the player to really master the gameplay and have tons of ability for replay-ability.  The replay-ability comes from two aspects of the gameplay experience. The first being the stars that the players get from completing each level. These stars are given to the player depending on how quickly they beat each level. If the players beat the fastest time, then they get 3 stars with a chance to get 3 stars for each level. Basically if the players need more stars they can redo levels and try to speed-run them in order to unlock the stars.  These stars can then be used in the world menu to upgrade the player’s stats. So the replay-ability comes from the player’s desire to upgrade their character’s skill-set.  The other replay-able system comes from the limiting factor of bullets.  When the players finish a level, they will start the next level with the same amount of bullets that they finished the last level with which will eventually mean the players will most likely run out of bullets.  The players will then have to redo some levels to try and get enough bullets through past levels so they can beat the newer levels.

This sprint, I was away attending the Yearly VR conference called Oculus Connect 4 and so I wasn’t able to work on the project during the conference, but I did start planning more design documents for how exactly the progression will work, and what aspects of the player, that will be able to be upgraded.  However, now that I am back and able to work again, I will be putting in extra time with the next couple of sprints to really make sure we can challenge every phase without having to resort to too much crunch.

Sprint 5

For Sprint 5, our team focused on getting ready to challenge with our game Toybox Shooter

Toybox shooter gif

This prototype was the one that we decided to go with due to a couple of reasons, First of all our team’s dynamic really jelled with the game play mechanics, artstyle and development ideas. The gameplay is extremely fun and every one of us has a blast playing it already, meaning that is makes it that much more accessible to get in the mood to develop. The artistic aspect is very appealing for Colton and Bryce because they can focus on modeling and VFX rather than animation and texturing which are their strengths. Charlie and I get to work on fine-tuning mechanics, systems and levels which means we can really make the main game-play loop exciting and fun for every player.
The next reason why we are picking this game is due to the insane amount of support from QA testing. Almost every player has compared the twin stick shooter game favorably to our other prototypes and makes it known that there is a large target audience that would be willing to play the game concept.
The innovation of this game concept comes from the very short levels of 1 hit kills and death, bouncing bullets, and co-operative gameplay. There are plenty of twin stick shooters out in the market at the moment doing very well, but our innovation through the systems and the game-play will set our game out from the competition, especially with the co-op component. Since the cooperation is so ingrained in the gameplay experience, the players will get an extremely skillful game that needs them to have their communication on par with aiming skill. The speedrunning and competitive gamers will take a liking to the competition that innately comes from the gameplay mechanics. Overall this game concept is our strongest one and while it took us a while to find it, the quick iteration and the smaller scope will let us quickly catch up to where we need to be in production.

Sprint 4

This was the first sprint where we got to implement some art assets into the prototypes that we are planning on challenging with, and it was very exciting to really see how our art pipeline and development will flow together.  Additionally, I worked exclusively on two of the final three prototypes for this sprint and was able to make the general design idea into a playable and fun prototype.

Shadows Prototype Gif.gif

The first prototype that I continued to iterate with was the Shadows Shooter game where the player must fend off against their ‘demon’s (for now that implies grey capsules) by staying away from the shadows and shooting back.  The prototype has a FEAR bar as well as a HEALTH bar to indicate the amount of control the character (and player) has in the situation as well as the player’s eventual lose state.  The environment was created with modular assets by Colton and I was able to make the small environment seen in the Gif above. The benefits of continuing with this game would be the interesting idea of having shadows as the enemy as well as being able to truly innovate with weapon choices.  However the downsides for our team include the vast amount of art that would be needed as well as me having to work on level design much more heavily than any other prototype.

Toybox shooter gif.gif

The second prototype that I worked on was the Twin Stick Toybox Shooter where the players must work together with limited bullets to clear out a level in very limited time.  However the bullets do bounce throughout the environment/off the enemy bullets and eachother making the game have many WOW moments as well as crucial spots for teamwork.  This prototype and game idea is my personal favorite as it would allow me to be fully creative with common game types (Twin stick shooter) but adding very unique game elements to add innovation. Some ideas that have already been implemented are the fact that enemies can only be killed by a specific player, making the teamwork crucial, as well as a dash that can be used through walls, the ability to pick up bullets that have not hit an enemy and different enemy types that test the players mobility as well as quick decision making skills.  Most of the team members also see this game as our best chance to really put together our skill-sets and provide a fulfilling vertical slice, so I am very interested to hear back from professors and other students about their opinions on the game prototypes-.