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We will be approaching our official Alpha Build in a few weeks. We would love the gaming community, friends, and family to be involved with our development process as much as possible. We feel it is beneficial to the success of our game and to our success as Game Designers. Feel free to contact us regarding any questions, comments, or constructive feedback you may have regarding our game, Helios. We would also like to take this time to ask for your support in being beta testers for our game once our Alpha Build goes live! Contact us using the contact form listed in the Contact section or the various contact methods listed in the The Team section of this website to give us your information if you are interested in helping us make our game better! We will also give you credit as being beta testers in our final release! Spread the word and create some hype for us as we finish our game for the slated release date of January 31st 2013! See ya on the flip side!

 
I started out the week by crafting this little NPC interaction prototype:

The NPC interaction is all done in Kismet.  A trigger starts the animations on the skeletal mesh in Matinee, and simultaneously renders the text to the HUD.  Setting Activate Delays helps disable the trigger until the animation completes, and the text goes away.  The "..." that indicates the NPC is ready to talk is a simple texture I made in GIMP and applied to a script cleverly called "Helios_DotDotDotSprite," and is pretty much identical to the sprites I made in my visual style test.

Next, I put together the website!  This was a ton of fun.  Using Weebly, our videos, and images created by the team and found on Google, I snapped the official Team Helios Dev Blog site together, and I'm pretty happy with the result.  It's still coming together, but aside from persistent content like trailers, blogs, and builds of the game, I'd call it about 85% done.

My third task this week was designing Level 2 of our game.  This was a bit of a process.

First, I doodled out the levels on a sketchpad and took pictures of them with my iPhone.  We designed each of our ten levels in three short chunks, which serve as both places at which to stream levels and to provide the player a checkpoint. 

Here's my early mock of 2-A, for your viewing pleasure.
I decided I was pretty pleased with this for about 8 hours, then decided I absolutely hated it, and needed to take another go.  I noticed my own reluctance to engage the Nature World (see how it's just a little sub-drawing at the top?) and decided that had to change.  I assembled Version 2 using Google Docs' Presentation format, breaking the level up by "puzzles" or "rooms" and going into a lot more detail as I went.

Here's an example from the first "room" of Level 2-B:
This is further evidence of my preference for Microsoft PowerPoint as image-editting software.  The modularity and layering of the images is really helpful for finagling little bits and pieces to help get the message across.

The team looked this over and preferred this format and this version of the level.  Much of the design was redone for version 2, which includes a cool ending minigame that almost subs for a boss battle, NPCs with dialogue, and a much better series of challenges than the original version.

I also discovered my ideal work environment: I sat down at my desk with a glass of Sangria and "Nobuo Uematsu Radio" playing on Pandora, and cranked out that whole level design.  Rock on!
 
This week we took time to take a look at the big picture. We spent the beginning of the week looking at our milestones to make sure we were on track. We compiled all of the feedback we received from our professor and from fellow students and let that guide us this week. We did quite a few things this week and made some really big decisions.

First, we decided to revisit our mechanics to make sure that they are where we want them to be and to make sure that they synergize one another. We noticed that our mechanics, in fact, could use some more attention because they felt like they stood apart from one another too much. We decided to revisit our yellow and blue light mechanics and develop them more. We are working to make sure that all three of our main mechanics can be used in conjunction with one another. We also felt that revisiting them was extremely important for the development of the interactions in the game. We are really excited with where things are going with the game so far, and we are confident that all of the new changes will make our game much more immersive and engaging.

Second, we decided to look at improving performance for the game in the long run. We noticed that we were on track and even ahead of schedule with most of our milestones, so we looked into moving a lot of our kismet work into uscript. We feel this is a good idea simply because if we are successful, it will greatly improve performance in the long run, and if we fail, we will always have our kismet work to fall back on. We also felt this was a good idea considering the changes we are looking at implementing make our kismet work more involved possibly causing issues down the road.

Third, we decided to revisit our level design work and begin mocking up our first level. We all gave our feedback of some mock ideas and decided to break up into a level design team and a technical team for the remainder of the week. The greatest thing about our team is that we work together every step of the way and include everyone in every step of the development process. This was a great week taking us back to the drawing board in some sense and jumping forward to begin preparing for the delivery of our Alpha build. More news to come as the weeks progress!

 
I created this simple test in UDK for a unique, easy-to-produce, vintage style.  I developed the look inspired in part by voxel-based games like Minecraft, Cube World, or 3D Dot Game Heroes, and in part by collage-style games like And Yet It Moves or Tearaway.

The benefits of this style are improved engine performance, ease of creation and decoration, and unified feel across diverse level designs.  The Helios team doesn’t have much in terms of 3D artists, so I tried to come up with a style that would allow us to create and use our own assets without having to shape anything, but still allow us to have a look that was different from the standard Sci-Fi-heavy asset packages bundled in with the UDK.  Using N64/PSone-era imagery combined with the UDK’s ability to render beautiful depth and lighting seemed like an interesting experiment, so I gave it a shot.

The foreground actors that the player jumps on have very simple collision, but all of the other actors have none.  Every cube in the scene is the same mesh rendered at the same size, though materials vary.  The platform is the same cube, but rendered at different proportions than the others.

Leaves and grass are sprites generated from a simple texture file. The code used to create 2D sprites (the leaves and grass) is found here.  This code will require some adjustment, as the sprites created from this unmodified script will flicker in and out if their origin is obscured.  Hint: check out the standard Trigger actor’s defaultproperties, because it doesn’t suffer from the same blinking problem.

The background sky is just a big plane with a cloudy material and a panner node plugged in to give it a gentle, breezy motion.

I assembled the simple level in very short time using only materials found on the internet with Google image search, sometimes modifying them in GIMP.  To simplify my process, I searched for textures that were already proportioned to exactly 1024×1024.  This is because the UDK has some simple rules that must be obeyed for texture importing:

  1. Image must be perfectly square
  2. Image’s dimensions must be powers of two (32, 64, 128, 256, 512, and so on)
  3. Images must be in .bmp format
The mellow chiptune playing in the background is “Yellow Dust” by Rolemusic, and was found using the Free Music Archive.  Importing music into the UDK requires some finagling as well: you must upload only .wav files.  To change any music file into a .wav using only iTunes, check out this Apple tutorial.

 
This week was the first week we began working towards our Alpha Build. We came into this week with a basic prototype of our main mechanics in the game which give the player the ability to cycle between three different states of play, which are being described as “lights”. We have three different lights in the game: blue, yellow, and green.

The challenges that faced the team this week mainly revolved around our prototype from last week, which relied heavily on kismet. This week we decided to revisit our mechanics and make sure that they synergized with one another and fit the overall theme for the game. We split into three groups of two people that each took a light and worked together to make the required changes to it. We then came back together as a team to make sure that we agreed on everything.

The major takeaways from this week were that communication is necessary if you are going to be meeting milestones. We also have been looking for the best possible way to streamline our development process to increase workflow. We have also been successful in the sense that we involve the entire team in each decision that is made. We decided in the beginning of our game project that we were not going to get hung up on roles, which has actually benefited us in the sense that it has brought the team closer together and it has also helped all of us understand our game in every way possible. This wouldn’t be possible on a large team I’m sure, but luckily we are a small team.

This week, I primarily focused on improving our workflow in the later stages of production by doing things such as creating custom actors in Uscript. This would allow level designers to simply drag and drop actors into their levels instead of going through the hassle of setting them up manually. This speeds up production and clears up more space in terms of Kismet. My goal is to set up all object interactions in Uscript to be used as a drag and drop method for level designers later on. I also spent this week prototyping new object interactions such as:

1.       Rockslides

2.       Health Pools

3.       Other various interactions that needed tweaking from last week

All in all, this was a great week, and we learned where to go from here and what to take away to apply later. Something we have been doing at the beginning of each week is assessing where we are as a team, which has helped us maintain our scope and stay on track with milestones. I will be breaking down what I did in particular and going into more depth in upcoming posts so check them out!

 
This is our official presentation for our Game Design Final Project at Full Sail University.  Learn about the game, meet the team, and see our acclaimed prototype in action!
Team Chobits presented Helios to the FSO faculty and students at the end of our Research and Marketing course.  We were pleased when the presentation was met with general acclaim, and we're already moving forward nicely from the prototype showcased here.