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  • Max Weintraub

Forkdrift Floors It At The Greenlight!

Since this semester has started, Production II has been arguably my most important class. It's a test of each of our individual skills, as well as our abilities to work together in teams. This past Wednesday, we had our Greenlight Presentations: a time to show off what we've all worked on so far and to determine which games were worth continuing development for.


To give an idea of what we've done so far, we've had four one week sprints. Each of the first three sprints we spent creating prototypes for a game concept. In the fourth week, we'd choose one of our three prototypes to continue working on, and present it at Greenlight. To put it lightly, the end result of this was pretty successful.


My team is made up of two designers, two programmers, an artist, and a producer, so we had a good amount of manpower and an even larger amount of talent. We were able to get working prototypes which included the core gameplay loop all three times, and I think that's something to be extremely proud of. I'll go over each of our sprints and talk about the process behind creating them.


 

Sprint 1: Curb Appeal


In the first sprint, we spent the first two days brainstorming, fleshing out concepts, and finally, choosing which one we wanted to continue with. It was our first time working together as a team, so we spent a lot of time stuck in the brainstorming phase before coming up with enough ideas that everyone was a fan of. This ended up becoming a recurring issue during these early weeks.


The game we settled on was a 2v2 game that put players in the role of suburban couples, trying to vandalize each other's lawns. I was the product owner of this sprint, having a clear vision for the mechanics and flow of gameplay. I'm pretty proud of some of my design decisions, choosing where windows would appear on the map, restricting visibility, and narrowing down the mechanics to what was relatively feasible for the programmers.


We ended up with the only prototype in the class that could really be considered a game, but there was absolutely no polish. There was no UI implemented, controls weren't explained well, and we didn't even have time to playtest it as a team. We slightly over-scoped for our first week and failed to get the game fleshed out to a point where mechanics were done until only a few days were left in the sprint. The programmers took the brunt of the workload here. While they did manage to make it all work, our presentation was as unpolished as our game, and we did a less than stellar job showing off something which was actually pretty darn cool.


We didn't end up taking this game into Sprint 4, but I think had we tackled it later, we would have done a much better job. I think this was actually our strongest week for prototyping. While we were still tripping over our untied shoelaces, it was at this point that we were all simultaneously shaking off the cobwebs. It was an exciting feeling to throw ideas against the wall, and see what stuck. During this period, I definitely felt extremely motivated to crank out rapid mechanics and level design concepts. I do think that this ended up causing us to overwork our programmers, but of these first three weeks, it felt like my strongest showing.


 

Sprint 2: Warehouse Wars


During our brainstorming phase back in Sprint 1, our artist expressed a strong desire to work on a game that had something to do with forklifts. He just... really wanted to model a forklift. Honestly, I can't blame him, they're pretty cool, so we came up with a vague idea of some sort of vehicular combat game where players drove forklifts and decided it was our best choice to move forward with.


I was at a bit of a loss for ideas, so I decided to look up "funny forklift accidents", hoping that I could get some sort of inspiration from footage of warehouse shelves toppling like dominos because of some idiot. About half my team gathered around my computer screen, and oh! It was censored, but we watched footage of a person die beneath the wheels of a forklift that tipped forward. I could describe the awkward laughs that followed as an unusual and uncomfortable bonding experience.


Brushing that aside, we channeled the idea of toppling shelves into a sort of "capture-the-flag" with forklifts. We researched the unique mechanisms of how forklifts work, and I ended up knowing much more about them than I ever expected. Did you know that forklifts brake with their front wheels and turn with their back wheels so they can make wide turns in cramped warehouses? It's an interesting factoid, but what immediately came to mind for me when I heard this was drifting.

Our team continued working on what was relatively speaking, a more simple game than before. Our time management wasn't quite where it needed to be yet, and due to an overwhelmed product owner, we didn't have priorities organized. Rather than focusing on the controls, which I was under the impression we were doing, our game ended up getting networked. At the time, I was less than pleased with this. Our controls were abysmal, to put it politely. That being said, we did go forward with Warehouse Wars, eventually renaming it, and looking back, I'm very grateful that our game is already networked.


 

Sprint 3: Fish'n


Not loving any of our ideas from the original brainstorming session, we took the time to come up with a few more. Some ideas that popped up merited exploration, and some didn't. We took the time to flesh out these ideas, and meet back up tomorrow evening.


I spent the next day working on building the mechanics for our concept: a game where you control a goth person followed by a flock of crows. You'd be able to send these crows to attack people and steal their money, or to gather more crows, with levels requiring a certain amount of money or crows to be earned in the given time. Eventually, the goal would be to dismantle capitalism. I lovingly refer to this game concept as "The Rise of the Crowletariat".


During that Thursday meeting, the idea was met with hesitation from one of our team members who expressed doubt in the core gameplay loop. I personally didn't agree with it, since I had found clear player motivation. What followed was like a scene out of Twelve Angry Jurors. Each of us slowly became more and more doubtful in our convictions, and eventually, we lost the passion to continue with this idea. Stressed out over this exchange, we ended up taking a hard reset and proceeded with a fishing game that takes place in a fantasy world.


This concept interested each of us in different ways for different reasons. My fellow designer cared first and foremost about the zen aspects, being able to catch and collect fish, putting them in your aquarium however you like. I, like most of the other team members, found that this wasn't enough, and needed something a bit more concrete to motivate myself. We ended up shifting more in the direction of a Fishing RPG, with completionism as a key aspect of it.


For the sake of making the game as visually appealing as possible, we took to Unreal: an engine that only our artist was familiar with. Our programmers challenged themselves to work only in C++, never touching blueprints. They succeeded in implementing the core gameplay interaction, but barely had any time to do so, having to ignore including the rest of the core features that would have been totally possible if we had worked in Unity. While Unreal was a hurdle, it's a great way to gain experience, working in new engines. I can say that I don't have any regrets from it.


 

Sprint 4: Forkdrift


We spent the beginning of this sprint deliberating which game we wanted to go forward with. At first, it was a pretty even split between the forklift game and our fishing game, but upon discussing the pros and cons, it became almost a unanimous decision that we'd do the forklift game. There were many reservations as to whether this was the right call, but once we got to brainstorming how to overhaul what was once Warehouse Wars, it soon became clear that this was absolutely the best choice we could have made.


We changed the mode of our game from capture-the-flag to king-of-the-hill, with forklifts now competing to maintain control of a specific point. After playtesting our results from Sprint 2, it became clear that the most entertaining aspects were the socialization, and the reckless destruction, as opposed to the careful and precise turns that I had in mind.


Both programmers got sick at the same time during this sprint, which freaked me out pretty badly, although everything ended up fine. Our controls weren't perfect. How could they be? It was only our second week of working on a game that you could sink hundreds of hours of fine-tuning into. Presentations were fast approaching, and we were all stressed. Having been criticized time after time for our weaker and uninteresting presentations relative to our classmates, despite our more game-like prototypes, we wanted to prove that we can put on a show.


It was me who suggested we make a trailer. I didn't want the responsibility. We were tight on time, and it sounded like a lot of work. I'm not sure how, but I ended up getting roped into making our trailer pretty much all by myself. Finding music, collecting footage, and editing it, all fell onto my lap suddenly. My next few days suddenly became a lot busier, with a countdown clock to Wednesday Night.


Monday: I reached out to @TravisOdyssey on Twitter late that night to ask for permission to use his music for our trailer. After explaining what it would be used for, we got approval. I was thrilled. With our game focusing on exciting vehicular action, I felt that nothing suited us better than Eurobeat, and being able to secure us the ability to use some was a massive step in the right direction.


Tuesday: Having spent the day getting all the homework I could out of my way, I managed to gather a couple of friends into the same room by some sheer stroke of luck, and convinced them to play what we were now calling "Forkdrift". I set up OBS on each of their computers with varying degrees of success. I egged them on to perform as many stupid tricks and stunts as possible so I'd have action shots to work with, and ended up collecting over 50 minutes of footage.


Wednesday: I got out of class shortly after noon, grabbed lunch, and started editing. I edited, and edited, and edited. I spent pretty much all day just trimming the video clips we had, and slapped them together, hoping that it'd get done in time. I fluctuated between confidence and terror until eventually, it was done.


Our trailer was complete with just an hour and a half until presentations began. I shared with my team what was done, and we were all... ecstatic. The excitement was palpable, the hype was fresh, and the butterflies were in our stomachs. We didn't really have time to practice our presentation even once, due to technical difficulties, and our only choice was to simply wing it and pray that things went well.


 

Things went extremely well. I'd like to imagine that the trailer hyped all of us up for our presentation, with how clearly and passionately we delivered each line. It was surreal to hear those laughs, cheers, and screams. I've performed in musicals for years, and I think that Wednesday night was the happiest I've ever made a crowd. While our trailer played, I smiled so much that my cheeks started to hurt. Everyone's eyes were glued to the screen, unable to notice my stupid grin, aside from my roommate who I had already shown the trailer, and later commented on how happy I looked. That night, I felt like a rock star. I can say without a doubt that it was one of the happiest nights of my life, and I can't wait for the recordings to become available so I can share it with my family.


 

It was just earlier today that we finally deliberated on which games in our class were to continue development, and thankfully, Forkdrift got the green light! It's thrilling to hear that this game that we're all so excited about is not just continuing development but bringing aboard new members. If I were given another chance to do this all over again, I don't think I'd want to take it, even though there were certain things I could have done better. Things have aligned so beautifully with this game, and I can't imagine that even with the experience I've gained I'd continue to be so lucky. Our slip-ups in prior sprints motivated us to reach new heights, and it's for that reason that I'm so proud of how much we've grown as a team.


Max Weintraub

 

#college #design #editing #levels #mechanics #forkdrift #production #trailer

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