Cloudwalker is a small Serious Games prototype I created as part of a Foundations of Serious Games course at Michigan State University for the Serious Games certificate program. Based off of a project requiring Serious Goals to be formulated, tested through a pitched game concept and eventually realized in the form of a complete board or card game experience. Obviously my own take on the project, which has been supported by the wonderful Professor Carrie Heeter, manifested as a fully realized digital game prototype. Here I want to explore the process of the project to identify areas where I succeeded, did things right and generally performed well to continue practicing those methods in future or current projects. Similarly, I want to explore areas where performance was less-than-stellar. Regardless of the reason, it is important to analyze both sides of the positive/negative coin to also avoid those pitfalls, errors in judgment and so on.
3 Things That Went Right
Cloudwalker was built in Adobe Flash, now called Animate, which has been my focus of expertise for almost 10 years. My professional experience involved working with Microsoft's "proposed" alternative to Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, which was intended to compete with Flash as it was one of the primary methods for online content delivery in that era. Without the need to learn the process necessary to complete the task(s) at hand, the product is created much more efficiently and benefits from the polish and speed that comes with that experience. Additionally, my familiarity with sidescrolling games in general aided in the creation of Cloudwalker. By knowing how to resolve issues in the past related to building something like this I circumvented a tremendous amount of time that could have set progress back.
With experience in game development comes an understanding of how to properly discern good feedback from bad feedback. You can't predict the future with experience, but it reinforces your own intuition so better and more justifiable decisions can be made. At the foundation of this is my favorite "i" word, iteration. I employed a cyclical process as I tested my game's designs against tester feedback. I hoped to validate these ideas and expose the best ones that people responded to. This improves the user experience exponentially. The largest testing sequence I did proved insanely beneficial, despite the need it exposed to almost recreate the entire game.
Clear Narrative, Small Scope:
From the beginning I had a clear idea of what I was trying to convey with Cloudwalker. Wukong's journey to overcome his character flaws, an interpretation on my part of the Journey to the West, were at the center of it all. Using game mechanics to align the player's experience with the character's was a "design commandment" of mine from early on as well. In knowing this, all decisions moving forward could be made with a clear understanding of the game's "end result".
3 Things That Went Wrong
As a Father, tenure-track Professor, Director of a Game Art program, coordinator for Game Development networking events and an Indie Game Developer, my schedule is pretty tight. Add in a college course to the mix and compromises need to be made throughout every responsibility. Despite stepping out of a few responsibilities, asking Student Assistants to take on additional tasks and configuring my course load for the Spring term, my availability to focus on any given task is small. I would hope this would not harm the overall output of a project, but realistically more time spent on it would've improved it a great deal.
Not Enough Early Testing:
While iteration though testing was fundamental to the project's success, I always push testing as soon as possible. In some ways, due to time and investment, I isolated the initial design in order to complete appropriate tasks for a deliverable. This err made it so the entire experience as a whole had a series of unchecked components that possibly needed review and further iteration, costing time in the long run.
Considering the course took place between January and May, and Cloudwalker's development didn't begin until later on in the syllabus, I was not considering the project a great deal until I had to. This had me ignoring what could be done, really, which did not take advantage of free time I had through January and February. Given the fact that Professor Carrie Heeter provided syllabus content with complete project breakdowns for every assignment, there was no reason for me not to engage with the project ahead of time. The end result was successful, but could have been so much more.