Week 15 – Final Sprint!

Time flies!

This was our final sprint in the development schedule. In the last week, we addressed most of faculties’ feedback from soft opening, while there are some medium-to-low prioritized tasks left in our task list. Before starting, our team spent some time discussing the importance of each task and re-prioritized them. In addition, at the start of the week, we invited several of ETC peers to come and playtested our project since we would like to find out if there was still any problem with UIUX which was the most criticized aspect in our project. Thanks to the playtesters, we got a lot of valuable feedback, and we created a new task list with the leftover feedback from last week and the new tasks.

On Friday, we had Open House event. In this event, luckily we had 10 playtesters who are among our target audience joined us. Here is the playtest data.

Based on the data, our game failed to ensure that the experiences provided were effective enough to help players understand basic computer security concepts, which are complicated and hard to understand by nature. However, it is still good to see that for a few playtesters, they benefited from the game experience. We sincerely hope some participants in PicoCTF 2018 can benefit from our game as well!

In addition, some UX problems arose from the open house as well. After spending the whole weekend, our game had a lot of changes, for example all scenes are relighted, map UI renewed, more guidance added in missions and so on.


Next week we will have our final presentation. Wish us best of luck!

Week 14 – Soft Opening

We had our soft opening this week on Monday and Tuesday and were able to get some great feedback on the usability of our game and the UX design improvements that we needed to make throughout the game to make it a good product. We also had a client meeting on tuesday where we talked about getting ready for handoff and also the client made some last requests for features they wanted in the game.

Taking the feedback we got from Soft Opening, we decided to streamline our production of the game and started cleaning out all the unusable parts. The client wanted a Copy-Paste feature in the Question UI as some of the flags are going to be very long and they wanted the players to have the ability to copy and paste the flags. Ramya spent the rest of the week working on this and also polishing out some of the feedback points from Softs. Rajat worked on finalising an ending to the game and putting all of that into the script for the players to access. Himanshu continued his work on the UI elements of the game and started cleaning up a lot of things. Lotus worked on Scaffold 1 and removed some bugs that we had. She also redesigned the UI for the Encrypt and Decrypt animation. Peilin worked on polishing Mission 3 and also adding hover feedback on objects in the hideout.

We are closing in on finals week and the team is getting ready to hand off the project to the client. We will be putting some time next week into creating some content for the archives and also for the website. We will also be working on a final presentation alongside the project.

We are working hard to get the fine details right before we hand off.


Week 13 – Gearing for Softs

We have our Soft Opening next week and all our goals for now include impressing faculty at Softs and getting the most feedback from them. We had a client meeting over Discord on Tuesday and they were satisfied with the demo we showed them.

Also, we spoke with our faculty and decided that we would benefit from meeting with them more than once a week and getting their continuous feedback on the iterating builds of the project. The team continued their work on the tasks they had. Himanshu worked on changing the UI elements in the game so as to provide more feedback to the players. Peilin continued work on Scaffold 3 and integrated the base level that Guangya provided. Lotus worked on looking for some more music, putting sound effects and music in game, iterating on the sound and fixing minor programming bugs. Rajat worked on iterating on the dialogues in all the scenes and also coming up with mission objectives that would help guide the player. Ramya worked on displaying questions in the Question UI from the backend without having to login with hyperlinks. Guangya gave the client a new updated version of the promo material. He also build more assets for the mission 3 based on Peilin’s request, finished the look of the director which will be used as the profile image in game and did the three cinematics for the three missions.

The team at this point is hurtling towards Softs and we are ready to make the most out of it. We have the layout of a good game and at this point we need to work on improving the user experience for the players as they play through the game.


Week 12 – Pushing through

We had a new schedule for the rest of the semester and even though there were only 4 weeks left before finals, we knew we could get it done in time. We had a client meeting on Tuesday, where we told them about our plan of scaling down the project and they seemed to understand our predicament very well. They were very understanding. They saw a small demo of the game and gave us some good feedback on ways to make the product better.

We had our process grades this week, where the faculty guided us on how to improve our process for the last part of the semester and that would help us improve the overall product.

The team shifted gears to smoothen the pipeline a little more. The most important change was that Lotus moved to working on sound full time and started compiling and integrating the sound effects and background music. To compensate for that, Peilin took over some of her responsibilities and started working on the scaffold 3. Himanshu worked on adding answer validation to the question UI so that players can get feedback on whether the answer they put is right or wrong. Ramya continued her work on scaffold 2 to remove any bugs and polish the gameplay. Rajat completed the level layout for scaffold 3 according to Guangya’s requirements and passed it onto the team. Guangya built the mission 3 environment, helped Peilin with hideout lighting and gave the client the updated version of the promo material.

The team is getting closer and closer to a finished product every week. We still have some usability issues that we need to resolve to make the game more user friendly, but we are on the right path and are getting there.


Week 11 – Down Scoping & Playtesting

The team had some momentum moving in from the last week. The team worked on backlogged tasks on Monday. During the client meeting on Tuesday, the client voiced their concerns on our ability to get the project completed in the time we had left in the semester. Taking the feedback we got from them, we had a solid discussion and came to the conclusion that we would not be able to complete 5 scaffolds till the end of the semester and thus we decided to scale the game down to only 3 scaffolds.

We spoke to our faculty advisors and they were completely onboard with our decision to scope down the project as they felt it was more important to deliver 3 fully completed and polished scaffolds rather than 5 half completed scaffolds.

The team continued their work through the week. Himanshu worked on creating new assets for the map. He also continued working on the dialogue and question UI. Ramya worked on scaffold 2 state management and moved to polishing the small details in the mission. Rajat worked on creating the first draft of the design for scaffold 3 and passing it onto the programmers. Lotus took that design from Rajat and worked on getting the base logic in the design working. Guangya gathered references for the mission 3,  He also worked with Peilin to figure out the proper lighting pipeline and troubleshooting baked light bugs.

The team had a renewed outlook on the project and a refreshed schedule for the semester. We are moving fast towards soft opening that is on April 23rd.

We also had a playtest day on Saturday, April 7th. We had several middle and high schoolers come playtest our game and give us feedback on how they liked playing the game and what they made out of it.


Week 10 – Halves

We had our Halves presentation this week on Monday. We received some valuable feedback from the faculty regarding our progress. We took Tuesday to debrief and digest all the comments that we had received from our peers and the faculty. We also had a short client meeting on Tuesday over Discord, where the clients were happy with our presentation and liked our progress.

Himanshu worked on improving the dialogue system for the game. Ramya worked on restoring the functionalities in the hideout while using the new hideout model from Guangya. Lotus continued her work on the first scaffold. She polished player movement, made changes to the animation and added the end state to the mission that required you to decrypt the suitcase before submitting in the portal. Guangya worked on gathering references for the hideout, built the hideout and rendered the concept art to give a direction for lighting and mood. Rajat worked on completing the scaffold 2 amd started some research Binary exploitation for Scaffold 3.

A significant amount of time was taken up by halves and we wanted to make sure that we were on the right path and we spent time coming up with a new schedule for the remainder of the semester. We plan to keep working at full speed and churn out missions every week. We have finally found are footing and are gearing to move forward.


Week 9 – Spring Break and GDC

In this two weeks, the team’s focus was on polishing the existing game flow including user experience and game play elements. Although it was Spring Break, the team agreed on working during Spring Break since half of the team planned to go to GDC. However, the team’s dynamic was not high in the Spring Break; we only finished some tasks on polishing UI look and flow.

In the GDC week though, thanks to the whole programming team, the project’s level of polish was greatly improved. Here are some of the major changes to address our faculty instructors’ hints:

  1. polished UI look and UX of the map UI
  2. reworked on mission 1 environment
  3. smoothed game flow of mission 1
  4. implemented unlocking mechanic of mission 2

In addition, the team also put a decent amount of time on preparing for Halves presentation.

In the following weeks, the team will work on polishing old mission based on faculty instructors’ polishing hints as well as working on new missions. Since there are only 6 weeks left for us to finish 5 missions, the team still need to do some extra work to catch up.

Week 8 – Getting stronger by the day!

Hello all,

The week started off with our designer finalising the design for the next scaffold likely to be placed in the Web exploitation category for now. The team got together to understand and discuss the design.


The rest of the week was filled with preparation for three upcoming major milestones spanning across week 9 and week 10,


  1. We have weekly builds planned for every Thursday night which we demo to our faculty instructors every friday morning. We have planned to show a polished version of scaffold 1 and may be a rough version of scaffold 2.
  2. We have a playtest planned at Mt.Lebanon high school as part of their computer fair where we want to playtest the hideout and first scaffold mechanics
  3. We have also set up individual faculty meetings with faculty who were previously associated with picoCTF 2013 and 2014 and faculty who had critical feedback for story and gameplay mechanic elements during quarters.

We are hoping to receive a lot of feedback from each of the three big events. Analysing them will help us decide our next top priority tasks.


In other news, our player robot got a major makeover!! So did a lot of animations in the first scaffold which got fine tuned over the course of the week. In addition to that, our UI for instructions and displaying pico questions also went through another iteration. Lastly, a few bugs related to session cookies were ironed out on the communication with the backend side of things.



— Ramya                                                                                                                                      

Week 7: Shifting gears

The team spent the previous week building the first scaffolding. It was used as a tool for visual communication of our rough idea and design to our clients and faculty. This week the team spent time completing the first scaffolding. The gameplay programmers finalized the main mechanic in this scaffolding and started using the art assets created by the artist to build the level. This includes the main character, Non player characters (NPCs) and environment art. They also worked on navigation for the main character and NPCs. The UI programmer worked on building a dialogue system for displaying dialogues and instructions from the Non player characters.

A significant amount of time was dedicated to make the scaffolding interactive and educational. Since the target audience for these scaffoldings is people with very little knowledge about the addressed computer security topics, the goal is to give them a context about these topics so that they leave the experience with an increased sense of curiosity and take initiative to delve deeper into the concepts even after the competition has ended and perhaps do better in the competition in the consequent year.

The game designer started working on the design of the second scaffolding. The focus is on having a coherent experience across levels and help the players use the rules they have learned in earlier levels to help them play newer levels. Another goal is to have players spend enough time on the game so as to get context about the related questions, but, spend the majority of the time solving competition questions.

The producer worked on our schedule for the next week. The plan is to polish the first scaffolding and start implementing the second one. The semester has almost reached the halfway mark and the team will now be shifting gears to efficiently produce the following scaffoldings so as to deliver a quality project on time.



Week 6: Twists and Turns!

Based on our quarters feedback, the team had taken major “redesign” decisions. It would not be fair to call it a pivot because we are still using many of our core ideas like the robot theme, map layout etc…

Our redesign was mainly aimed at addressing

  • Setting a good context such that the players action and the fiction correlated with each other
  • Inserting some fun game play elements inside of scaffolding that
    A. Engage the player better in the game leading to better retention
    B. Eventually deliver some high level concepts about computer security

We had decided to build an interactive tutorial kind of a scaffold around cryptography which we demoed to our client on Tuesday. We received positive feedback about the direction we are heading. We spent the later half of the week locking in and fleshing out our new design.
Since we made a demo within 3 days of conceptualising the new direction we had not thoroughly thought through a lot of nitty gritties. We took the rest of the week to iron out the details through discussion and brainstorms.

We now have a solid overarching story and level design for the first scaffold!

On the Art front , our main player robot is headed towards modifications to make the robot look more friendly. The robot is probably going to get rounder and shorter with less sharp edges.

On the programming front, we made progress in terms of improving our communication layer with the back-end and adding functionalities to existing UI components.

We also got our individual process grades and feedbacks and realigned our roles a little bit based on the feedback. Henceforth, Himanshu will work as UI engineer, Lotus as gameplay programmer and Ramya as lead programmer in our project. We finished the week with setting ourselves a goal for next week’s weekly build and dividing tasks amongst ourselves.



Week 5: Quarters and More!


We had our quarters presentations this week on Monday and we were able to show the faculty what we were working and what we had decided to build as part of the final deliverable. We received some very usefulfeedback from a lot of the faculty and that made us reconsider a lot of the things that we were doing. Some of the feedback that we got was that the action the player was doing in playing the game and participating in the competition was in no way related to the fiction that we were creating for them. Also, we were targeting the wrong demographic. The students who already had some experience participating in computer security competitions and CTFs would have little to no motivation to play our game and we were advised to focus our efforts on students with little to no experience on what computer security actually is.

On Tuesday, Ramya, our programmer visited our clients on main campus and got access to the questions and the games from the previous years. We spent the evening analysing whatthe games did right and what they did wrong. We found out the layout of the questions in the 2017 picoCTF made it very hard for the players to find the easy questions and made it very easy for them to get stuck on the harder questions. The 2014 game was a very polished product with the competition integrated into the game but it had a very wordy story with a lot of unnecessary dialogues and we found that we wanted to avoid doing that.

On Wednesday, we returned to the drawing board to decide on how we want to approach the game now that we had a new direction. We decided that we would be building some kind of scaffolding that would accompany the game and assist in teaching the high level concepts to the students. The scaffolding would be in the form of small metaphorical puzzles that would teach those relevant concepts to the players.

Figure: An example of what the map of the world would look like.

The programmers then started prototyping a small demo for one of the questions in preparation for the client meeting next week. We also asked the problem development team to help us in the design process by filling out a survey that told us what attracted students to CTFs and what helped retain them. These were important things that helped us approach the game in anew light and come up with solid design pillars that will assist us in taking sound design decisions.

Figure: A demo scene that we are working on to test the scaffolding.

Our Artist, Guangya started work on the models of the players robot and other environment objects that would be required on the game and was able to come up with a few models that will help in the theming of the world.

Figure: First draft of the model of the player’s robot in MagicVoxel



Week 4: Action!


The team spent this week preparing for quarter walkarounds. This is an opportunity for an ETC project team to discuss its plans with the ETC faculty and get as much meaningful feedback as possible. This helps the team understand what is going well and what needs to change. Depending on the nature of the feedback, an ETC team can decide to continue on its path or change course.

In order to get the best feedback possible, we need to prepare for quarters in the best way possible. One way to do this is to talk to the instructors about our ideas. Words, however, can be confusing and may hurt our chances of getting useful feedback. As JK Rowling says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it”.

So… How do we present our work in the best way possible?

It is simple: BUILD SOMETHING!

The programmers, thus, spent the week building a prototype of the game. The prototype did not need to be aesthetically pleasing. It just needed to be functional and enough to get the job done, which in this case, was to present our ideas as clearly as possible. The prototype showed how a guest would navigate through the experience, control the main character and interact with objects in the virtual world.

The producer spent some time preparing a formal presentation for Quarters and setting up other project management necessities, including a meeting with our client. In the client meeting, the team provided a few updates about the progress of the project. Our team received some resources from the problem development team at CyLab, which will play an important role in the design direction for the project in the near and distant future.

Our designer spent the week creating a design document that will act as a point of reference for the rest of the team throughout the semester. It will be a key document when making implementation and artistic decisions. The document will be updated from time to time and made more comprehensive as the project progresses.

Our artist was busy working on the branding materials for our team including a poster, half-sheets (small pamphlets that describe the project), and the team logo. We also met on the weekend to make some final amends to our presentation for quarters and to click our team photo!



– Himanshu

Week 3 : Ready to Roll


This week was about wrapping up pre-production and that involved pitching ideas to our clients. We first ran multiple ideas by our faculty instructors and taking the feedback we received from them into account, we pitched our top 2 ideas to the clients.

At this weeks client meeting, we had the core Problem Development team from CMU’s PPP present as well. We pitched both our ideas and they were both received well and after some back and forth with the client we agreed on taking a few good parts from both the ideas and combining them into one idea. This helped clear up what direction we need to be heading and laid the foundation for all future design decisions.

After the meeting, we started planning what we were going to present for the Quarters presentation that is in Week 5. We as a team agreed on a small demo level of the entire game, a Level 0 so to say. This prompted us to decide tasks for our sprint for the week and everyone with their tasks started working on it.

Our artist, Guangya is also hard at work making our branding material that is the logo, poster and half-sheets. The programmers also decided on a system architecture for the entire game that would beneficial to them as the project went on. Our team agreed that a strong foundation to the game is of utmost importance.

That wrapped up our Week 3. We have a mostly clear vision and goal of which direction in which we are headed and most of our next week is going to be implementation of the basic prototype of the game to see if we are on the right path or not.


Week-2 : First things First


This week kicked off with Peilin (our producer) setting up a comprehensive Project Management Worksheet.

As a team who must deliver a product at the end of the semester, planning is crucial to us. We realized that scoping the project realistically with an achievable goal is the key to success.

From last week’s client meeting , we had pointers to three research papers published about previous picoCTFs. Peilin and Rajat read the papers and shared their knowledge with the rest of the team. The papers served as good resources to make certain design decisions.

We had our second client meeting in the middle of the week. After the meeting, the entire team was on the same page on client expectations. There are at least 3-4 important point of contact in our client committee, each with a different agenda. Honestly, identifying the distinction between them helped!

We now have a precise understanding of our deliverable which is – A game with multiple levels that encompass the questions prepared for picoCTF’18 aimed at middle/high school students who are in the competition to learn and explore . We are not targeting students who are in the competition with a razor sharp focus to win as they are very likely to be using the plain HTML user interface to save time.

We have also promised to pitch a couple of concrete game design ideas to our clients in our client meeting scheduled for next week. Therefore, the week was heavy with brainstorming design ideas and noting them down as we speak. We have got to prepare a pitch presentation too.

On the tech front, the programmers had 2 follow-up meetings with Maverick who is responsible for a backend framework <https://github.com/picoCTF/picoCTF>. This framework is used to maintain consistent state management between the game and the plain HTML interface as both of the frontends communicate with the same backend. First, all three programmers set up the server on their local machine. Mike, a NSA official currently working with CyLab, briefed us about the infrastructural details of the backend. It is a very cleanly built support framework which can help us build a stronger frontend.

Last but not the least, we participated in the Playtest Workshop at ETC. Needless to say, the workshop was beneficial in number of ways but my personal best takeaway is the importance of focussing on the user group. You never know what your user thinks until you actually make them think. We are looking to playtest plenty this semester!

— Ramya

Week-1 : Get, Set, Go!

Hi everyone!

Team CryptoKnight welcomes you to an insight on what we are going to be doing for the next 15 weeks.

The team consists of –

Peilin (Producer)

Guangya  (Artist)

Himanshu (Programmer)

Lotus (Programmer)

Rajat (Designer)

Ramya (Programmer)

Who are we ?

We are a 6 membered interdisciplinary project team at the Entertainment Technology Center at CMU. The project is a part of our curriculum and spans across a full semester. Our project’s client is CMU’s Cylab and specifically the ‘picoCTF’ team inside Cylab lead by Megan Kearns (Project Lead on picoCTF’18) and Maverick Woo ( Tech Lead on picoCTF’18).

PicoCTF is a cyber security competition conducted by CMU’s CyLab for middle and high school students.<https://picoctf.com/> The competition aims to

  1. Expose middle/high school students to the field of cyber security
  2. Lead them to learn and explore the field
  3. Encourage them to pursue further education in this field
  4. Identify best talents among the participants who are already good at it

So what are we going to build ?

We have been tasked with the responsibility of gamifying the entire competition. We will be building a game around the questions that an another team of CMU students from SCS (known as the Problem Development Team) will be coming up with. We would also be working closely with Maverick Woo for technical aspects and Prof.Martin’s educational team up on main campus.

Summary of this week’s overall tasks:

  1. We claimed our project room! And set up our desks and computers
  2. We had our very first client meeting on Thursday
  3. We read through archives and post mortems of two previous picoCTF projects that happened in 2013 and 2014
  4. We kicked off our brainstorming session where we addressed
    1. Team Introductions
    2. Peilin set up project management tools and discussed workflows with the team
    3. Coming up with a team name

— Ramya