This site showcases the thesis capstone projects for the Full Sail Mobile Gaming Master of Science program. Students completing the program post their end of program project self evaluation here examining what went right and what went wrong during production.

The site provides examples of all completed projects, without regard to the quality of work. Final faculty evaluation of your project is separate from your postmortem. It is a place to share student work and start dialogue with faculty about completed and upcoming projects.

If you are adding a postmortem for a completed project to this blog, please do your best to provide a meaningful meta-level evaluation of your project. This helps students currently in the program have a better understanding of the critical points related to independent production, game development and design and project management. The template for the blog content and instructions can be found in the first post from July 2014.

Thank You,
MGMS Faculty

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Capstone Postmortem : Pixel Perfect

Pixel Perfect

Game Summary:
Game App Icon:
Pixel Perfect
Platforming / Speed Running
Revenue model
Inlaid ads between level loads
Development tools/Language
Unity5 C#
Game audience
Gamers age 25-35
Speed runners who engage in head to head competition for ranking on leaderboards. Female gamers may enjoy the trope free character design but are not being specifically targeted.
Shawn Farris - Programming & Art
Music - Credit in game
Shawn Farris. (2016). Pixel Perfect [Mobile Video Game] Virginia : Shawn Farris
Sound Bite
Nothing is impossible but are you skilled enough?
Executive Summary
Pixel Perfect is a 2d platformer that synthesizes the core gameplay mechanics of what makes platformers popular and builds around the basics without additional frill. Players interact with simple controls to navigate increasingly difficult worlds and mechanics that will remind players of the “nintendo” hard style of play. Pixel Perfect also challenges standard tropes in gaming by having a strong female player character and approaching the entire genre with a satirical lens.
Pixel Perfect was inspired by my love of Metroid-Vania style games, platformers, and the blue bomber Megaman.
Capstone Game Scope
The ideal behind Pixel Perfect was to create a powerful platformer that strips away some of the frill that has been added to platformers over the years. I wanted to approach the game from the point of view of creating a strong but mute female character that players could identify with through her body language and manifestation of her emotions. I also wanted to play with the trope of the navigational or tutorial character being a force for good for the player and being trust worthy.
Demo Screencast:

Final Screen Cast:
The Critique: What went right
Design & Aesthetics
Pixie's Emotions
A great deal of effort and iterative design was put into creating Pixie's emotions so that she would be understandable in both her "Emoticon" and her body language. Initially I designed her emotions and then sent out surveys to focus groups to get feedback. After changes were made based of user feedback I then had a serious of GTM with experts to refine her emotions even further. 
CarisPhoto on 2-12-16 at 3.24 PM.jpg Love02.png
All of these efforts paid off a great deal. In the end Pixie became a very strong character who stood on her own and conveyed emotions clearly. Most testers felt a strong identification with Pixie and clearly understood the emotions she was trying to convey.
Design and Mood
Doing iterative design to levels and lighting enabled me as the developer to convey a mood to the game that came across clearly to the players. It is a powerful moment when the player first enters the first level after the tutorial and the tutorial wizard "reveals the devastation a great evil has caused. This light sprite effect adds a great deal of mood to the game and elevates the game above the standard pixel art game style. 
Design approached to try to impart story narrative even in menus and world maps.
Iconology underwent focus group and expert surveys.
Layout underwent multiple testing for control and layout.
What was hard to make work? Button layout and redundant notifications.
Project Management
Use of sourcetree and GIT enabled me to get into good habits of frequent updates with detailed descriptions. Strong version control practices are an important habit for any developer working with a company. Because of these strong version control practices no portion of code or art work was lost during the development process. I was able to work from several locations seamlessly on the overall game.
Pixel Perfect uses the native code of the Unity engine efficiently and extends existing classes to be able to create effects such as the sprite lighting effects. Because of the engines fast prototyping and publishing abilities I was able to bug test quickly. Initially having multiple levels of difficultly and a speed run tracker/leaderboard were wish list items in development but because of the agile development method and smartly handled milestones I was ahead on development and able to put these wish list items into game.
Testing surveys provided a good deal of feedback from my focus group. I learned the important value of quantitative vs qualitative data. Being able to glean more information beyond 1-10 from a player is really important for getting good feedback. For this reason I will lean more towards talk-aloud testing in the future as it proved very helpful in the Pixel Perfect development process. Doing multiple test phases allowed for iterative design and changes to the game. During the development process I broke down individual sections of the game for testing which provided more focused feedback.
Business Model/Plan
I learned a great deal about what Pixel Perfect lacked and needed in order to be ready for a kickstarter to get the total game off the ground. I was able to discuss with experts in kickstarting games the process they took and what players expect in terms of incentives. I also got really good feedback when discussing with Full Sail staff various pricing methods and distribution options for Pixel Perfect. 
The Critique: What went wrong 
Design & Aesthetics
Creating all of the pixel art myself became time consuming. Because of the iterative design process required to create Pixie's emotions I ended up generating her sprites by hand several times. In the end I had begun to wish that I had created Pixie as a 3d model for faster rigging and changes to her animations. I could not have for seen this as a developer at the start of the game development though.
The limited scope of the vertical slice caused the narrative of Pixel Perfect to be crunched. The tutorial level especially feels very meaty with text that would have ordinarily been spread over several levels. Some elements with in the game were pushed in to earlier levels as they are important to the narrative and had to be shown in a vertical slice for player motivation to be shown. For example the player is meant to save a jar full of animals after every boss fight so they have to overcome the hurdle of several levels and then a boss to save these animals. However since bosses were not included in the vertical slice animals were placed at the end of the Dark Forest to show player motivation. Players commented however this placement felt like it had a lack of obstacle to overcome, which I agree with.
Bugs existed in the early launch of Unity 5 that I as a developer had to wait for the next version of the engine to fix. 
As I coded the game I started to create a large script that handled all of the events with in each level. This became burdensome when it came time to make changes to timing or parts of each event. Had I coded more smartly I would have made code for each of these mini events so that if I need to make changes to one event I was only tweaking the timing and code of that one event. It became a pain to shift 50 events to fit one new event in.
I was unable to create a procedural generated dungeon which was part of original idea but was scrapped for the vertical slice.
I was also unable to get online leaderboards in the game. This was another wishlist item but I would have liked players to be able to compare themselves to other players even in the vertical slice.
Doing distance testing with the facility across two different types of devices had it's downfalls. While the staff was very helpful in attempting to take screen shots or videos of the bugs they were encountering I was often unable to fix a bug until I was personally able to replicate it. A more robust bug reporting system would have been helpful. Also being in person for this testing so I could have watched bugs as they happened would have helped. 
Business Model/Plan
I learned that Pixel Perfect needs more levels then the vertical slice and some kind of incentives such as lance texture changes in order to get a kickstarter funding. This is not necessarily something that went wrong in the capstone but a lesson in what more I need moving forward.
Pixel Perfect is:
Design driven game
Visually strong game
Compelling narrative
Unique platforming mechanics
Strong mute character that players relate to
Polished vertical slice
Multiple levels of difficulty
Built in speed running mechanics
Shawn Farris. (2016). Pixel Perfect [Mobile Video Game] Virginia: Shawn Farris
Thompson, S., Walsh, T., Evans, E., & Evans, D. (2014, December 31). Postmortem: Pinball-RPG hybrid Rollers of the Realm. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/233340/postmortem_pinballrpg_hybrid_.php
Harvey, C. (2013, September 23). Postmortem: DrinkBox Studios' Guacamelee! Retrieved February 11, 2016, from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/200658/postmortem_drinkbox_studios_.php
WINTHER, Helle. Body Contact and Body Language: Moments of Personal Development and Social and Cultural Learning Processes in Movement Psychology and Education. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 9, n. 2, may. 2008. ISSN 1438-5627. Available at: <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/414>. Date accessed: 12 Feb. 2016.
Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent messages. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing