CMU ETC First Semester Reflections, BVW Festival

And so finally the first semester of my experience in CMU ETC is finally over. Time flies and it seems like 5 years ago when the first round of Building Virtual Worlds (BVW) arrived. It’s probably the most tiring and most hours worked of any semester I have ever experience so far, and much more tough than any semester in NUS, and the most number of hours I have spent in school. Fortunately, I did not find the need to sleepover yet. After all, school’s only a 20 minute walk away so it’s nice to be able to walk home at 2am to a bed.

Last week, we had the BVW Spring Festival. It was THE ETC event of the semester, where there is an open house, and guests get to play the worlds that we built for Round 5 which lasted 4 weeks (pitch + interim + tech final + deco). It was the most amazing thing to be involved in because it involved both technical work in building a game, as well as art and craft work in terms of decoration. My team decided to re-pitch RaillyTricky, the game we created for the jamodrum during the lighting round, and recreated it with an additional portion of depot cargo loading. 2 players would load cargo unto the train using joysticks, and then the trains will spawn on the jamodrum world. I was thrilled as I love trains, and this was a recreation of the iOS-style train games (kind of) unto the jamodrum. We had many hurdles along the way in terms of brainstorming, track layout, gameplay mechanics, and we eventually figured it out. It is also amazing how the depot loading game got totally revamped in the last week from 2 players competing to 2 players collaborating. The jamodrum layout also became much more beautiful and polished as compared to the lighting round as the 3D Modeler and I did pump up the graphics to Appaloosa cartoon-themed.

In the last week, we stayed up to midnight/1am/2am almost every day to do the Wild West-themed deco and programming. Sam and Sakar was great in creating wooden stuff such as the Saloon door, Railroad crossing signs, railroad tracks, and 3 standing building facades. Steph helped to paint them, and Mara did awesome paper mache cacti, and I helped out with misc printing of stuff for the deco. It was somewhat like rag-and-flag, as each team spends a considerable amount of money to decorate the room just for one day, and then after that half the things are thrown away. What a pity, wished we can show the world to more people across more days.

On the day itself, we had many guests, of which the guest-of-honour was  Jason Vandenberghe from Ubisoft, a pretty cool guy. He went around and played all our games and gave us feedback. The thing that he said to us was that gamers’ comfort is very important – user feedback of what’s happening to the controls will cause either enjoyment or frustration to the game. Our game is probably the best use of the jamodrum, if only we can fix the user feedback when they turn the wheel and/or lock it. Because currently, the game is very frustrating as the trains keep crushing, even though you think you have control of the junction. It’s the HCI – human-computer interface gap user interface problem again.

On the whole, it was a success for all the groups as all the guests enjoyed the games (and the fudge!). Our world is probably the most tedious to decorate as compared to the others. It was sad as we tear down the stuff the next day (reminds me of rag again). I wish there was more chance to bond with the other groups and play their games.

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Here’s a summary of some new things I have learnt this semester:

  • Teamwork and feedback. Making games is a head fake, as Randy would say. Teamwork is the real deal, after working with 7 different teams throughout the whole semester and receiving peer evaluation feedback at the end, I learnt a lot about myself, my own working styles, and how I interact with others. (Apparently, 3 people asked me to smile more, contrary to the fact that other people have said in the past before that I never stopped smiling. Perhaps I had more stress here which caused me to smile less.)
  • Interest Curves. A term which, oddly, isn’t on Wikipedia. Interest curve, or the climatic arch of a story plot, lies beneath any entertainment tech: stories, films, games, apps, museum installations etc. [How was the interest curve for Avengers? Peaking!]
  • Kill your babies. Usually the first few ideas of a brainstorming session ain’t the best ideas because they are the most common ones people thought of before. Also, don’t hold on to your own idea too tightly.
  • Surface Pleasures. (courtesy of Ralph). Things which add visual and graphical interest to a piece.
  • Naive users and playtesting. Naive users are people who don’t play games, who don’t use computers, who don’t know how to use a joystick. Test, test and test. After testing with at least 10 groups of people who played your game, using think aloud or otherwise, you will know what works and what doesn’t. Also, don’t assume that Naive users know the lingo you put into the language of the game.
  • Theatre in games: How is games similar to theatre? They let the player assume the role of an actor in the game, being able to immerse in a fantasy world and act out all the roles possible to the player. Now everyone can be an actor, not just in the theatre. Hence the poetics of Aristotle do apply in games too!
  • Improvising. Both in improvisational acting as well as in brainstorming.