We collected a lot of progress pics during the development of our first independent game. It's been a fantastic tool to track our progress along the way and now after the release for iOS, it has created a way for us to reflect on our process and improve as game developers. In the first part of this series we covered the concept and prototyping phase for Ollie and Flip. In this article we’ll cover how we used playtests to give us directional feedback and how we began shaping the project to look, feel, and sound like a more final product. Part 3, finally, will cover game polish and publishing.
Edit: This is now a 4 part series! Part 3 will cover polish and editing while part 4 will cover studio identity and release.
At various milestones during the development we would playtest the game with friends and family. We would always video record these playtests to be able to review them together and be able to view them repeatedly. Notes from these review meetings would then help us agree on next steps for the game.
Here's an example of a feature we implemented after playtests. Our camera angle made it difficult to know how far away the character was from the ground during big ramp jumps. This targeting reticle solved this problem. Interestingly, later playtests showed that people thought it was some kind of weapon targeting so we tried various designs until we simply made the reticle look like a shadow to blend in naturally while also clearly indicating the distance to ground.
You can see the final version of the "targeting shadow" in this comparison image.
Animation State Fine-Tuning
The characters were complex in that they had to switch fluidly between a lot of animation states both while steering and when performing jumps and then spins and flips while jumping. We used markers to visualize all of the moving pieces and adjust the Avatar movement code and Mechanim states. These markers were the Unity cube primitive with a simple Material the were then just parented to the various parts of the Avatar.
We decided on fonts and did a treatment of the individual UI elements that could get re-used in all of the UI in the game while at the same time help define the look of the game. All the layouts also took into account where ads would show up on the free version of the game.
For titles we implemented bitmapped fonts. I created the look using various extrusion techniques and colored strokes.
For the implementation of bitmapped fonts in-game we bought the Bitmap Font Tools package by CJFinc from the Unity Asset Store.
Trick Combo System
At this point we started implementing more of the gameplay features we had agreed on. This feature is a system that tracks what combination of tricks you perform in the air and awards points and tells you what the name of the combo is.
Not the most original feature but coin magnets are always fun and Glenn was able to implement a system that has worked great pretty quickly. He eventually also added a nice animation that plays on every pickup.
Track Section Tiles
I iterated a lot on the track sections. They had to tile well, be reusable and not be resource-heavy.
Although we considered hiring a sound engineer we eventually decided to capture and create all the sfx ourselves. As with everything else in this project we kept it scrappy and took it as a learning experience. I purchased a Tascam recorder and a nice shotgun mic with windscreen and we spent several sessions in my backyard experimenting on sound creation techniques.
We rigged up a super-fancy recording booth out of a cardboard box and some leftover packing foam. With this we were able to record additional small sounds as well as voice tests to see what would work.
We used everything we should think of including my real snowboard, the swishing of fabrics, music boxes, rocks, rice, paper bags, etc.
We ended up using Glenn's voice for an announcer voice. We're still on the fence whether we will replace it with more professional stuff in the future but we had a blast during these recording sessions.
GarageBand for Music
Music was also something we always thought we would do without or hire a professional but I kept playing with GarageBand on my Mac. I created temp/placeholder music at various stages of the project and I kept improving it as best as I could. In the end we ended up using about 3 music bits I made that seemed to fit the game well enough. This was one of the most fun parts of the game for me since I was in uncharted territories learning as I went along.
Progress so Far
At this point the game was headed into its Alpha stage- where all the main design features, art, and sound assets have been implemented without heavy polish.
To Be Continued
Stay tuned for part 3 where we’ll cover game polish and publishing!