New Project and Milestones

Back at university, and our next project is already well-underway. We’re building a quick 6-week project in Unreal 4, and again, we’re going with an Oculus project. This time, however, there’s a much better reason for it – it’s really core to our gameplay, as you’ll see in a little bit. Last time the Oculus was used for immersion – which was nice, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it was necessary for our game. We’ve also learned a lot from last time (our team has a few of the same members), which will hopefully prove invaluable.

The game is currently titled Space Whispers, though it’s a very much a working title. The game is exclusively two player, with one player in an Oculus Rift using a Razer Hydra controller, and the other player using nothing but physical sheets of paper. We’re trying a few different things here, and I’m really excited to see how we go with mixing virtual and physical gameplay.

The player in the Oculus (hereby “Player One”) is in sitting in the center of an engine room for a space ship. Unfortunately, the ship is in the process of exploding, because the cooling system has been broken – and it’s their job to fix it. They do this by taking spare parts found in their environment and assembling them in a certain pattern on a grid (within a time limit). Their job is fairly simple – except they don’t know what the pattern is.

Luckily, the other player (“Player Two”) has a set of physical instructions (inspired by IKEA assembly instructions), which are used to explain what pieces to put where. The challenge comes from trying to communicate which objects go where, without either player being able to see what the other can.

Step_One

Anyone who has technology-impaired relatives or friends should be familiar with the feeling – being in a situation where you have to explain what to do, but can’t see what the other person can see (say, over the phone). It’s innately frustrating, which I’m a bit worried about – we’re doing some paper prototype tests in the next couple of days to see if it’s more frustrating than fun when translated into a game.

All-in-all, though, I’m optimistic. It’s a relatively small project, which makes it easier to manage; we’ll also hopefully have more time for polish than we usually do. Our team is relatively¬†large (a total of six people), which is probably superfluous, but allows anyone with extra time to begin work on our next project, so it’s not a problem.

We decided to go with Unreal over Unity because of our previous experiences. It’s true we had some serious issues packaging our last project, but we now know that the key reason was that plugins are utterly broken in the recent 4.7 iterations of Unreal, which is something we can avoid. Otherwise, we had a very smooth ride with the engine, and especially appreciate the native Oculus Rift support (for those that are unaware, it’s literally “plug’n’play”).

My primary concerns at the moment are that Player Two won’t be enjoying themselves as much, or that Player One will be stuck in a situation where they have nothing to do until Player Two gets their shit together. We’ve tried to mitigate these in a couple of ways;

Firstly, the engine room will be interesting. Pipes will begin to burst, the engines will spin faster and alarms will blare as the timer counts down, and Player One should be taking stock of the objects around them in their down time, if they even get any. I’m hoping this makes it a bit more interesting for Player One if Player Two is taking their sweet time, but we’ll see come testing.

Secondly, we’ve tried to make the instructions a bit interesting. Player Two shouldn’t really have any downtime, but in the event that they do, we’ve scattered jokes amidst the pages, and tried to make them all interesting in their own way. We’re also trying to promote interaction that goes both ways – Player Two has instructions for three different models of ship, and only one is relevant for Player One – Player One has to figure out which model they’re working on and relay that information to Player Two.

At the moment, that’s our primary means of Player One interacting with Player Two, but depending on how testing goes, we can add more. The worst case scenario is that Player Two talks to Player One a lot, they fix the ship and go home. Ideally, they’ll scream at each other for a few minutes, fail and try again. Then again, and again, and again. This is the kind of game we want people to play with their friends when they’re drinking – not the kind of game people play alone in their underwear trying to get the highest rank in every mission.

I cannot wait.

I cannot wait.

So, frantic miscommunication is key. As I mentioned previously, we want players to struggle to communicate the instructions, but they’re actually fairly clear at the moment – we’ll need to see how people go with the current set of instructions and refine them from here.

Luckily, our lecturers have set a series of milestones for us to meet, so we don’t have any last-minute failure fiascos. Our first milestone is an Alpha build, this Friday (12/06/2015). I’m pretty confident we’ll meet this – the game likely won’t have a proper win (or fail) state, but we should be in a situation where it’s otherwise playable. From there, we’ll implement the final mechanics in plenty of time for the Beta, two weeks afterwards – the 26th. This build is basically the game, minus some polish – though because our game is relatively light on mechanics, I think we’ll manage to make these two milestones.

Two weeks after that, we present the finished product. If we meet the Beta deadline, all that awaits between weeks 4 – 6 are lots of testing, polishing and refinement, which is great. If we’re not in a good situation for the Beta, we’ll struggle to make a really great game, and probably end up with something much less than ideal – so hopefully we manage to avoid that.

I’m optimistic, though. The project is relatively small (though, that’s because we’re in pre-production on two others) and we’re all focused on getting it made. I’ll be updating every week (hopefully more) with how the project is going, as well as posting screenshots.

Thanks for reading!

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