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Virtual Reality Is In Play At The Los Angeles Film School Game Fair

Each month the Los Angeles Film School’s Game Production program holds a Game Fair to showcase the games our students are developing in their classes. Throughout the month of June I taught Game Design Project 1, which is an upper-division course where students work together in teams to design and create a prototype of a game that they will complete in Game Design Project 2. Both of the student teams in my class had decided to work on virtual reality projects, and I was so impressed with what they accomplished in just four weeks that I just had to also showcase them in my blog post for this week.

Confined

Confined is a survival-horror game for players who are interested in the development of VR. Resource management and good shooting skills are vital to your survival. Since you are going to experience the game from your own perspective it will really add to the immersion and threat of the game, and unlike Resident Evil 7 that had a VR function, Confined will be designed for VR rather than have it as a side feature. Now I ask you is being trapped underground really the worst thing to happen or is not knowing if you are alone down there worse?

For their Game Fair prototype, I gave the team a goal of implementing their flashlight mechanic for navigating through a dark, spooky lab and at least one puzzle to solve.  The puzzle they created took the form of a room littered with books, and the player had to find the one book that was out of the ordinary.  That book turned out to be the only book that remained on a bookshelf that could only be found by searching though the room with a flashlight before its batteries ran out.  When the player picked up the book with their virtual hand, a secret door would open, allowing the player to escape.

The players at Game Fair reported that this environment perfectly captured the right mood for a scary, horror game.  This mood was enhanced by the darkness and limited view through the virtual reality headset.  However, the avatar movement needed some work, because the player avatar would teleport short distances instead of walk and often would teleport right though the bookcase they were trying to reach.  But all in all, they were very excited about this game and saw its potential.

Development team:

  • Eric Castillo (Project Manager, Lead Designer, Programmer)
  • Will Mackey (Game Designer, Level Designer)
  • Vlad Altshuler (Co-Programmer, Lead Audio, Game Designer)
  • Jared Delatorre (Lead Level Designer, Marketer)
  • Jesus Soto (Lead Programmer, Level Designer, Mascot)
  • Anthony Reese (Lead Artist)

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Now Open is a action packed level based first person VR shooter with a focus on tactical high intensity combat. Fight with anything you can get your hands on as you run and gun attempting to escape three levels of a secret super-soldier facility called Blackgrove. You play as Finley, the only patient to survive the Treatment, altering your genetic make up allowing you to posses super human abilities called Meta-Upgrades. Use these abilities to alter time, electricity, plasma and electromagnetic energy to destroy the ones who took not only your mind but the one you cared for the most, your wife.

I gave this team the goal of implementing one of the Meta-Upgrades and a situation where that special ability would be useful.  The team created a level in which the player started by choosing a gun from among an arsenal of weapons and then travel across the level to reach the exit.  As the player went into the main hallway, a horde of enemies would spawn into the far end and rush toward the player.  There were too many to kill with any of the weapons, unless the player activated the Alter Time Meta-Upgrade, which slowed down the enemies sufficiently to shoot them all.

Everyone who played this at Game Fair found the controls easy to use and the action to be exciting. However, not understanding this was only a prototype to test the mechanics, they did complain about the enemies being unfinished models.  They all enjoyed the immersion brought by the virtual reality headset, although several reported a slight feeling of motion sickness.  When I played the game, I too found it both to be a thrilling experience but felt a bit queasy when turning.  This is something the team will look into solving for the second month of the game’s development.

Development team:

  •  Jack Sabato (Project Manager / Lead Modeler / Assistant Texture Artist / Lead Writer)
  • Hassan Wansa (Assistant Project Manager / Lead Programmer / Lead GUI)
  • Brandon Deniz (Creative Director / Lead Level Designer / Assistant Modeler / Lead Texture Artist )
  • Desmon Jernigan  (Video Editor / Lead Story / Lead Dialog / Assistant Programmer / Lead Lighting Supervisor)
  • Jeremy Garrett (Business Manager / Lead Sound / Assistant Modeler / Assistant Artist)

 

 

At our next Game Fair, which is about five weeks away, I’ll take a second look at these games to see how they progressed.

 

 

Game Design For Cub Scouts

A friend whose older son was in one of my sons’ Boy Scout troop asked me to attend her younger son’s final Cub Scout meeting and talk about game design. Now, I teach game design every day to college-age students, and I have a lot of experience running game design merit badge workshops for boy scouts (in fact, I’m one of creators of the Boy Scouts Game Design Merit Badge). However, this opportunity presented a different set of challenges. For one thing, I had only about an hour. And for another, we’re talking about ten-year-old boys, and that means barely-contained bundles of energy.

Okay, I needed a game plan.  To keep their energy focused into a productive hour, I needed to keep my talk fast-moving and keep the boys active.  So, here’s what I did.

After giving the briefest of introductions about my background (Disney, Activision, Spinmaster toy company), I asked them what their favorite game was?  “Minecraft!” Of course. “Angry Birds!” “LEGO Marvel Super Heroes!” “Portal 2!”  Now, those are all great video games, but what about other times of games?  What’s your favorite board game? “Monopoly!” “Life!” “Risk!”  What about sports?  Those are games too.  “Baseball!” “Football!!” What about party games? “Pin The Tail On The Donkey!” “Tag!”

Well, is every activity a game?  Is homework a game? “NO!”  Is taking the trash out a game? “NO!”  So what does an activity need to be a game?  “Fun!  It has to be fun!”  Right you are!  Fun is an essential element of a game.  But throwing rocks across a pond can be fun.  Does that make it a game.  “It can be, if you try to make it skip three times!” Oh, so the activity needs to both be fun and have a goal. Anything else?  “Rules!  It has to have rules!” (This kids are smarter than my college students!)

Maybe we can turn any activity into a game.  How about painting?  Is painting fun?  “Yes!” Is there a way to give it a goal?  “Maybe someone has to paint something!”  “Maybe it’s two people!”  Okay, here’s the goal: there are two painters, and we give them a word or phrase to paint.  And the first person to paint it correctly wins.  What other rules can we give to them?  “People have to guess what they are drawing!”  “They take turns!”  “They have to do it in a time limit!” Congratulations!  You Cub Scouts have invented the game Pictionary!

Enough talking!  Let’s play some games!  Let’s play one of my favorite games of all time — Tic Tac Toe!  (I begin pulling papers, marking pens, dice, and colored discs — one side red, the flip side yellow — out of my supply box).  Now, I’m a little fuzzy on the rules.  Tell me, how do we start the game?  Very quickly the cub scouts assemble the following How To Get Started Rules:

  • Draw a 3×3 grid
  • Choose 2 people to play
  • Each person picks a color
  • Roll the dice to see who goes first.

So, how do we get from the game start to game finish?  “We take turns!”  And what do we do each turn? “You put your color down in a square!” Any square? “An empty square!”

And how does the game end?  “You win by getting three in a row!” Is that the only way the game ends? “No, you can get a cat’s game where no one wins”  Well, I think that’s everything we need to know to play.  So, let’s break up into groups of two and play the game.

After a couple of minutes, I tell them to stop.  I re-arrange them into groups of three, with one person appointed to be game designer.  I explain to them that the job of a game designer to create fun experiences for other people.  It’s like being the host of a party: you decide what decorations there will be, what food to serve, what music to play, what activities to do, and when your friends arrive, you need to make sure that they are having a good time. But different people like different things, and so it’s hard to guess what will be fun for them.  So, you have to watch them, and if they aren’t having a good time, you have to switch things up.

And so, I had each “game designer” propose one change to the rules that he thought would make the game more fun, as well as what his prediction would be about how the players would react to the rule change.  The “designer” then watched the other two scouts play the game with that rule change, and then tell me his observations afterwards.  Then I let another scout be the game designer until each scout had a chance.  Most of them simply added more squares to the grid, but one scout made a very intriguing circular grid unlike anything someone has suggested before when I’ve done this exercise with students.

After everyone had their turn, I explained that even video game designers may first play their games on pen and paper before it goes to programming, because its so easy to make changes to pen-and-paper games.  You can even play a first-person shooter game as a pen-and-paper game!  And with that, I pulled hexagonal graph paper, sticky notes, cards, tokens, and discs out of my supply box, and described the rules for a “paintball” game (I winked at the scouts’  parents as I said this, since I knew that would be the only acceptable way I could present a first-person shooter to young kids) based on a game described in Tracy Fullerton’s book Game Designers Workshop.

Getting Started

  • Use hex paper as the floor of a room
  • Use sticky notes as walls
  • Each player uses a colored disc as their avatar and draws an arrow on it to show shooting direction
  • Each player colors one hex as their starting location and places their avatar on it.
  • Each player takes 3 tokens to represent their “lives”
  • Each player takes a deck of 9 cards: 3 “turn” cards, 3 “move cards”, and 3 “shoot” cards.

Gameplay

  • The game is played in turns.  During each turn, each player chooses 3 cards from their  deck of 9 cards, indicating the actions that they want to take in each round in the turn.
  • Each turn consists of 3 rounds.  Players take the action for the card corresponding to that round, in the following order:
    1. Shoot: Any other player that the arrow on the player’s disc is currently point is hit, unless a wall blocks the short.  The hit player loses a life: if he loses all three lives, he is removed from the game, otherwise, he returns to his starting point.
    2. Turn: The player rotates his avatar disc so that its arrow points one hex side to the left or right of its current direction.
    3. Move: The player moves his avatar disc one hex over from his current position, in any direction.

Game End

  • The game ends when only one player remains alive.

I was worried at first that the rules would be too complex for ten-year-olds, but my worries were unfounded, as I had underestimated the kids.  They picked up the rules quickly, and the natural leader on each team wound up calling out rounds and actions.  As the meeting time drew to a close, one game had been one and another was close to winning.

There was a moment or two when scout’s tempered flared because they weren’t happy with how things were going, or their excitement was almost not containable, but I kept things moving quickly enough that I was able to redirect their attention.

All in all it, the experience went as well as I could have hoped.  The scouts seemed to have a fun time, the parents were pleased, and I got a blog topic out of it.  I’d happily do it again some time.  I’m available for future cub scout meetings, birthday parties, and bar mitzvahs.