BlockUP – a post mortem

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BlockUP is a third-person building block game where two players are working together to build as high as possible before they are consumed by the rising lava. The players start off on a platform of blocks where the controls are displayed via little animated signs. The lava is rising and a platform is above them, out of reach. The players have to pick up and place blocks to reach the next platform. Once at the next platform, they receive a charge of blocks where they can then start creating the blocks to get to another platform. The players must avoid flying enemies that are out to eat their blocks.

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From what I understand, originally our game was an experimental exploration of goalless cooperative play and had a focus on local multiplayer. We wanted the players to work together and make their own goals. The game was called “The World We Make”. My role in the group was one of the programmers though I later on became a kind of team leader. That happened because our self-appointed leader stepped down after they realised that they couldn’t handle the position. The way we approached the development and design of the game was silly. We were making it up as we went along and organising playtesting sessions with people outside of the team to check out the smallest of changes with no content. Team members stopped showing up to the sessions because they felt that there was no progress which lead to no ends of frustration. It didn’t help that we had no idea what we were actually doing for the game.

We didn’t start a Game Design Document until week five. That was a huge mistake. I had to step up and start organising the Game Design Document and talking with my team-mates to get a solid idea for our game written down. This should’ve happened during the first week, we lost a lot of time with this unneeded fooling around. Even then the idea wasn’t entirely thought through because we were rushing to try and salvage something. The entire game should’ve been scrapped and re-scoped to fit with remaining weeks we had left. Trying to keep the local multiplayer and the tedious gameplay mechanics was the worst mistake. We kept trying to fit everything around them which lead to design decisions that made no sense and added mechanics that we thought would make the game fun. If we had to keep those mechanics though, it would have been better if we stuck to our main idea and just refined what we had.

With the amount of issues my team and I ran into during the development of the game, I was pleased to even have a playable piece by final presentation and submission. With the amount of problems that cropped up, I’m happy that we managed to keep the cooperative element since it seemed like it just wasn’t going to be implemented. It would’ve been terrible if the split screen multiplayer wasn’t there because I feel that it was the only thing that made BlockUP fun.

I redid most of the scripts in order to support the change to the multiplayer in less than a week. I’m quite surprised I actually did that considering that didn’t really know much about cameras and the screen positioning.

I was really worried about that during development since the mechanics themselves were tedious and slow. The added risk of “team-killing” and “trolling” were what saved the project.

I’m pretty proud of the game’s third person camera. It worried me for a time since the scripts were designed around the first person play style. I completely rewrote them during a couple of days after it was pointed out that the game suited a third-person camera. I managed it in a lot less time than I thought it would take. I learned a lot about RayCasting function in Unity during the development of BlockUP which I know will help for future projects. Overall BlockUP was a big learning process which I hope to learn from and do better in my future endeavours.

I tend to take on as many roles and tasks as possible when I work in a team. I believe that it’s because I worry a lot about what’s getting done. I take on so many tasks that I get stressed and overwhelmed by the workload I’ve put onto myself. I also take on other team-mate’s unfinished tasks too when they don’t get it done on time. It needs to be done and since somebody has to do it, I do it. If I didn’t then it might not get done. I need to learn to let go more and let other’s do some work. I believe that could’ve been avoided had we kept and maintained a GANTT chart. That would’ve distributed the workload between us more and let everybody know what everybody else was supposed to be working on.

I documented any major work that I contributed to the game to keep my team-mates updated on my progress. I found that this really helps since it’s mostly for me to see how much work that I’ve done because I keep feeling like I haven’t done enough. Though most of the updates come at ridiculous times in the morning because I’ve stayed up so late working endlessly on a frustrating section. I need to keep better times since the late nights made it hard to concentrate during the day.

During the development of the game, the original team leader would organize skype calls where we would all just work on what we had to do for the week and chat while doing so. It was a good idea in theory, but it lead to no work getting done. I found the sessions particularly hard because I work better with music playing or in silence.  

BlockUP needed to have more player interaction. The mechanics we came up with were okay for a single player experience but they didn’t allow for team work or cooperation. They could be used for it but that wasn’t designed for and the interaction was limited and hollow. The sole player interaction was the player using the environment to affect the other player’s movement nominally. We had discussed the idea of merging blocks together which would require the two players to run into each other holding a block. It would then create a special block that they players could use to improve their conditions in the game world. I believe that if we had have scrapped the addition of level hazards to force more gameplay and focused on the development of the player’s relationship with each other and how that affects the experience of play. The game then would’ve been a lot more interesting and have a whole other level to the gameplay. Really in the end, the split-screen multiplayer did add fun to the game but the way it was implemented meant it was just meaningless extra. The game mechanics should’ve complimented the addition of multiplayer which just didn’t happen due to the late start and the confusion of the idea.

If we worked more on that cooperative element I believe that the aesthetics of the game would’ve shone through more.

Or sitting down and actually discussing the overall theme of the game. The development process was  a mishmash of “let’s do this because it sounds cool” and “lets put this in because why not”. Having a theme and an overall aesthetic to the game environment which would’ve lead to game mechanics coming through that the environment would have afforded to us. We managed to find a theme towards the end but that was during the final two weeks which left us next to no time to redo old assets and so they clashed badly with the added assets.

For future projects, writing down what the game is and what the aesthetic style will be is a must. I’ve learned from this experience keeping everybody up to date with what’s being worked on and who’s doing what with a GANTT chart is a necessary requirement to the team development process. Keeping an up-to-date Game Design Document is extremely helpful and shouldn’t been pushed to the side. Adding in additional mechanics for the sake of having them is a bad idea and should be avoided.

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