Introduction and Overview

This project gave our team the opportunity to experience the processes, deliverables, tensions, joys, and frustrations of working on a game team in the professional world. Instead of a one-semester project, this project begins in the Spring of 2020 and concludes with another team in the Fall of 2020. Our team’s goal this semester is to create a clear and concise pre-production package to hand off for the next team to build. We have built a tactical role-playing game with a unique plague mechanic, loosely based off of the Black Plague pandemic.

You play as a disciple of the Devil who has been given powers of the Plague to take over the world in his name. Your goal is to destroy the High Priest and his followers to secure the Devil’s rule onto Earth, in accordance with the contract you have signed with him that gave you these unholy powers. 

We took an iceberg approach to our development, creating a piece of what would be a larger experience. We are focusing on the climax of what would be that full experience, where players will fight against the High Priest to secure the Devil’s rule onto the world.


What Went Well

We all think that the biggest point of success for our team is our transition to remote development. Due to the coronavirus outbreak that swept the nation, all project teams had to switch to remote learning from Spring Break onwards. Due to this transition, acclimating to the new environment was a journey on its own. With that being said, our team did a great job in this transition. Our development cycle was barely affected by this change, and we were able to finish our pre-production package to the degree we initially strove for.


What Could Have Been Better

To quickly address the elephant in the room, the main mechanic of our game has been scrutinized due to the state of the world that we were in during the Spring of 2020. We came up with the idea of controlling the plague as an evil character very early on in our development. Once the coronavirus outbreak took over the nation, we were already well into building the game and designing characters from this idea. We spoke amongst ourselves and to our advisors, and decided to finish what we started. If we were to do this project all over again, we absolutely would have chosen a different setting and game mechanic as to not correlate our game using plague powers to destroy the world with a real-world “plague” that is killing thousands of people. 

Among the various missteps we believe that our team has taken in development throughout the semester, they all can basically be condensed into two major points:

      • As a team, we were too conflict averse.
      • We approached the Pre-Production process incorrectly.

When you initially read the first point, it seems like a possible good aspect of our team dynamic. Conflict between group members is usually seen as a negative for a team. However, this hurt us for several reasons. Our artists had trouble in creating both the characters and environment because the rest of the team had little feedback to give them. Whether it was because we actually liked the direction or it was because we did not want to hurt the artists’ feelings, we almost always gave close to no feedback to them. This also hurt us when discussing our ideas with faculty. Instead of holding true to what we believed would make the game interesting and fun, we usually ended up heading in whatever direction that was recommended to us by them. This ended up mitigating the “exploration” aspect of pre-production for us, inhibiting our ability to support our decisions we made about the game.

The second point, approaching the Pre-Production process incorrectly, is where we believe that we made our biggest mistake. We were given a choice at the beginning of the semester as to whether we wanted our game to be chosen for us, or have us come up with it ourselves. After sitting down to discuss our options, we ended up deciding to make a tactical RPG since all of us had an interest in the genre. In hindsight, this decision was our biggest blunder in the entire semester. Strategy games and role-playing games are two genres that are way out of scope for the time and team size we have. 

Our project description mentioned how this whole semester should be an exploration into finding what works and is fun in our game. We came up with the plague being our main mechanic within the first few weeks, but we were unable to begin testing it digitally for much longer. This is because tactics games rely so heavily on several underlying systems that need to be built before we could add anything new and interesting. 

It was not until about week 9 (over halfway through the semester) that we added any plague-related mechanics. We were able to easily test out mechanics in a paper prototype quickly, but there are several aspects about playing a physical tactics game over a digital one that cannot be ignored. It is an entirely different experience to playtest a digital tactics game, where some mechanics and rules just simply do not translate well into a digital space. By that point, we essentially lost most of our time to explore. We basically translated to being a development team over pre-production.

As for the RPG side of the game, it is almost completely omitted in our experience. To create an RPG, there needs to be some sort of actual role-playing in the game. With our experience being reduced to playing one level of what would be a larger game, there really was not much room to add that sort of gameplay within the experience. Our earlier ideas included, stats, leveling, choices within the story where players choose sides, etc. All of these were drastically out of scope, and had to be taken out. We made the decision to make the game a simple “Good vs Evil” story for the sake of simplicity. We did not have the time to create the fleshed out, multi-faceted world we originally set out to create.


Lessons Learned

In a pre-production setting with a team of developers that have no expectations set on them about what they should create,  we believe that you should not begin with choosing a genre. The tactical RPG genre severely hampered our development, restricting our creative endeavors. Once we decided on our main “mechanic” being plague, we should have focused more on plague-games over a tactics game with a new plague mechanic. We should have been rapid-prototyping a bunch of small games that use the plague in interesting ways, not taking time to build the infrastructure of a genre that may or may not work with our mechanic.

We also learned a lot about the idea of pre-production, both in general and in our specific project setting. Pre-Production is a very loaded term that means something a little different to everyone in the industry. Asking two people about what is most important to work on next during a pre-production phase can easily give you drastically different answers. Instead of looking for specific steps to take, we should have focused more on the exploration side of thinking. We should have taken more time to explore more with the idea we generated. We developed backwards, since we came up with the type of game before the “theme” or “focus” that our game showcases.

Wrapping up this project is essentially compiling all art documentation, design documentation, and our white-box prototype to send off to next semester’s team who will develop the game we have set up for them. While there were several difficulties during our project this semester, the knowledge we have gained about working in a pre-production environment was priceless. The struggles we have faced have taught us how to better react in scenarios like these in the future, making us better developers and collaborators in the process.

Development Blog: Week 14

Week 14 consisted of softs with faculty, and finalizing our art, design, and code documentation. We want to finalize all of our documentation in a neat and parsable format to ease the onboarding of the next team.

Starting with softs, we received quite a lot of valuable feedback about all aspects of our project. The biggest piece of feedback we received was to prepare to strongly back the “why’s” of our project. Since we are a team creating a game entirely from our imagination, we should expect to have to explain exactly why we ended up on every decision we made. This feedback helped us better prepare the format of our Finals presentation to answer the “why’s” for the faculty. 

Looking at documentation, all three fields within our team really nailed down to finish up our documentation this week. We created an Index document for our Design section that will help the next team be able to navigate through all of our documentation.

We also have made much progress in finishing up our Art documentation, along with final Environment Art and Model Sheets. We want all of our Art to be gathered in a single pdf that clearly shows the iteration process of all characters and environment sketches. We want to convey to the next team exactly why we made the artistic decisions we did, so they can easily understand our intentions. This will allow the next artists to quickly pick up where our artists left off.

                                                        Model Sheet for the Swiss Guard Unit.

Finally, we sat down as a team to have a post-mortem about the semester. We discussed the hardships of our project, and where we believe that we could have mitigated some of the difficulties. A write up of the major points from this discussion can be found in the “Post-Mortem”.

Development Blog: Week 13

Week 13 consisted of finishing our last major sprint for the semester, along with preparing final documentation and artwork. As stated in our previous blog post, our sprint this week consisted of tweaking the UI in accordance with several pieces of feedback we received last week. The main two features that we asked to be implemented were:

    1. Allow the player to cancel unit selection. Once they selected a character, they felt like they were forced to use them because there was no UI indicator that they could cancel. There actually was a way to do this in the prototype, but nothing that the UI presented indicated this
    2. Allow players to more easily see the movement and health of units without needing to select them.

As you can see in the images below, we have implemented these changes within our prototype during this week’s sprint:

When hovering over a unit, players can see their movement and attack range. This allows them to better plan out their strategies. Also, health for all units is now placed below their character model.

We also added a clear undo button for moving and attacking, giving players an option to back out of these decisions in case they change their mind.


Another change we made had to do with our previously named Pope character. As you can see in the screenshots about, we changed his name to High Priest. It came to our attention from playtest feedback that using the name Pope can lead to greatly offending Catholic/Christian followers. While our game is based off of 14th century France, our world and characters are completely fake. For instance, our altar has a giant statue that depicts an angel (referenced to have similarities to Saint Michael the Archangel). Catholic churches always have their main altars/statues depict some form of Christ, so we are hoping that this visual indicator helps to show players that this is not the Catholic Church. With that being said, we changed the name Pope to High Priest to help mitigate any offense that may be taken from our experience. The last thing we want to do is offend people with the game that we create, so we think that this is the correct decision for our team. Unfortunately, the High Priest still shares physical characteristics of the Pope. We do not have the bandwidth to completely change his concept art with the time we have remaining, so we will leave that up to the next team to determine whether they believe it best to visually differentiate him more from the real world Pope. 

On the art side, we have begun to create final model sheets for some of the characters, including the main character and High Priest, shown below:

This should help the 3D artists next semester to understand how to create these characters in a 3D model. We also iterated on our final environment concept art, tweaking the windows, scaling of various objects, and improving the lighting: 

We also have made great strides in forming our Art Documentation that will be passed along to the team next semester. This documentation will showcase the moodboard, initial sketches, iterations, and final concepts for the team next semester to review. We want to set the next team up to easily understand our head space for the art we have created this semester. This should allow them to more quickly build from our foundation. 

Next week will be softs where our team will sit down with faculty, and discuss how to best finish our project with the time we have remaining.

Development Blog: Week 12

Week 12 consisted of receiving feedback from faculty, alumni, and other students on our current state of our prototype. Looking at the feedback given by our playtesters, we received generally favorable reviews on the core gameplay and its mechanics. The biggest piece of constructive feedback we received all centered around the UX/UI.  Players had trouble selecting certain units due to the camera, they could not de-click units after selecting them, and they wanted to see movement and attack ranges of units before selecting them.

With that being said, our next sprint is focused on all of the UI issues players had in our prototype. We are focusing on allowing players to more easily see health, movement range, and attack range of units without being stuck selecting them. This includes the enemy units as well. We want players to be able to more easily plan out strategies by being able to visually see all of the options both they and their enemies have.

We are also looking ahead to the next team, and are designing concepts for how to make the ranged units in the game more unique. From visuals to mechanics, we want to make sure these units feel as different as possible from their melee counterparts. 

To add to this idea, our artists have been brainstorming and sketching ideas on how these units will look visually. We are planning on making the ranged Swiss Guard have an armor variation as archers would not have pauldrons and chest plates on due to them limiting movement to shoot. Our initial idea is to give them leather armor to allow for more body and arm movement. As for allied “archer” characters, we are making them a different “chimera” variation on gargoyles. We have their ranged attacks to be shooting stones at enemies in some shape or form. We decided on making the ranged gargoyles more snake-like, giving them the ability to spit out rocks at enemies. This will give them an extreme visual difference to both their enemy ranged and allied melee counterparts.


Adding onto our Melee Gargoyle from last week, we tested and decided on a color scheme we like:


The finalized color choice for our Melee Gargoyle

We also have made a lot of progress on the concept art for the Cathedral building. We want it to showcase the grandness and majesty of the building.We want it to convey everything that a real-life cathedral does in people who enter them. This will give the artists next semester a strong idea of how to build this style in 3D. Seen below are the iterations the Cathedral has gone through throughout the week.



Next week will be focusing on preparing for softs with faculty, making sure that we tackle as many issues expressed by playtesters this week. This will be the last major feedback we receive before handing off our pre-production package to the next team, so we want to make sure we can get as much new feedback as possible.

Development Blog: Week 11

Week 11 for a preparation week for us to send out our prototype to ETC alumni for playtesting. The ETC usually hosts a Playtesting Day where people of all ages and backgrounds come to the building to test our games. However, this event has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. We pivoted this by now sending ETC alumni who previously signed up playable builds for them to playtest and give feedback on. With that being said, we wanted to focus on what we could add to our digital prototype to give these playtesters the best idea of what our concept is for combat. 

With that being said, we decided on creating a skill for the Plague Doctor to execute now that our magic system was properly placed into the prototype. We believe that showcasing some of that magic that we took time to implement (and plague magic especially) will give playtesters a better idea of what the gameplay is heading towards for the final product. Our next sprint was decided to focus on adding a corpse explosion mechanic for the Plague Doctor. Dead units on the field that have the plague can be blown up with the Plague Doctor’s magic, causing damage and infecting plague on surrounding units.

We also created several design documents this week to pass onto the next team, such as UX and Dialogue. These are meant to be ideas we had, and why we came to them. They should be used as a base for the team next semester to work from so they do not have to start from the beginning. 

Looking at the art side of things, we focused on the Gargoyle Unit for characters and materials for the environment in unity. Upon iterating on several different designs for the Gargoyle, we have discussed and focused on specific characteristics we want out of the unit. We want these units to be bulky and menacing, while still resembling a more animal-like silhouette. We will begin playing with color palettes to see which color scheme fits  best with the gargoyles.

As for materials, we have created materials for the floor, walls, and altar. Like the design documents above, these are meant to be a baseline for the team next semester to build off of. We also placed the 2D characters within the environment to get a feel for what they look like in-game. This includes how the lighting and camera will look when presenting these characters.

Next week we will focus on feedback from the alumni playtesting to find out what would be best to showcase with the remaining time we have left before handing this off to the next team. We will also begin to finalize concept art, both with environments and characters. We will also make sure that we have properly documented all of our exploration, detailing why we made the decisions we did.