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April 2014

Crossroads Part I: Character Design for Project Tilt, or How Project Tilt was Once About Paper Craft

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So, the story behind Project Tilt’s main character is a very winding one. Project Tilt was, for a long time, a game without any art, without any idea of theme, and without a character. It was a long process that is, actually, still happening, and we all learned a lot. I’m going to make a series of posts about it, and I hope you guys enjoy it and comment back with your opinions! 🙂

Early Investigation

When I joined the Project Tilt team around May last year, the project was going on for about five months but we had nothing more than a big pile of sketches and no idea of what to do with them. So we started an investigation of what we wanted out of our game in terms of language, to start building the beginning of our art direction.

Early sketches

Early sketches

All we knew was that we wanted the game to be fast and crazy, with a kind of explosive humour, but not explicitly violent. Just cartoon-ish explosive fun. Like Team Fortress or Smash Bros, with a bit of nonsensey-ness from cartoons, like Invader Zim, Dexter’s Laboratory or Adventure Time (who doesn’t like that?).

Comical, Crazy and Charismatic

Comical, Crazy and Charismatic

So we made the graph below, comparing the humor and tone that we wanted out of Project Tilt with other similar games. This might seem weird, but it was useful to put everyone in the team in the same place: sometimes each person in the team is thinking something different and we can only find that out in the worst way. That’s why this kind of investigation is useful, and since I was new in the team, I wanted to align my ideas with the rest of the team’s, and also to see if they were all aligned between themselves and if our ideas made sense.     Btw, the app I used to make that graph is a very cool web app called Mural.ly. It’s a great way to creat moodboards and communicate visual ideas to a team 🙂

A Starting Point: The Character!

We needed a character to begin with. The character was central to the game’s concept, since the idea behind Project Tilt has always been that every player starts the same: we have no grinding and your level doesn’t change your power in the gameplay. Our character had to be cool enough for the player to like him and want to play with it, but also had to be customizable so players could differentiate themselves and show how much they played by the items they have, and how their character looks. So, we looked first at the requirements of our project:

  • The character had to be highly customizable;
  • It had to look charismatic on its own, but even cooler when customized;
  • The customizations would be other 3D models on top of the character, like in Little Big Planet or Modnation Racers (this is a decision we made early on before starting the design process, since it also involved technical things about the 3D modelling and the way the game would be programmed);
  • Our customizations would include garments and hats of any kind, even if very different from the theme of the game (Ex: Pirate hat in a robot character);
  • The character had to hold a big and visible weapon – for gameplay reasons, since the weapon had to be readily recognizable;
  • The head of the character also had to be pretty big, so hats would be easily seen and become important to the experience.
Proportions - at the same time we were studying the proportions to fit our game

Proportions – at the same time we were studying the proportions to fit our game

With this in mind, we took a look at some real-world references that could be useful, like Lego toys, Toy Arts, and Paper Craft. We studied games that used those kind of references and tried to decide which ones we liked the most and fitted our game more.

Nailing Down to One Theme

Then, we chose some options that we liked and started brainstorming and making sketches. From those sketches, I decided to make a presentation to the team. The theme of the game is something that everyone should be excited about, and a short presentation is a nice way to make everyone informed about everything at once, expose your arguments, and make a decision from there.

Toy Art Sketches

Toy Art Sketches

Paper Craft Sketches

Paper Craft Sketches

Cartoony Robot Sketches

Cartoony Robot Sketches

All the three ideas were loved by the team, the robot one because it was actually the original theme of the game from the beginning, the toy art looked cute, and the paper craft looked very different from what other games were doing. And we wanted to try something different so we got really excited about the Paper Craft theme.  And on top of that, we were thinking we could name the game “Paper Crash”and it would sound awesome! And it would! So we decided to take that route, and the characters would be robots made of paper, being made in large quantities in a crazy lab and studied by awkward scientists. All the game could have a low-poly papery look. And so we began a long road of paper-robot drawings!

Pirate Paper Robot Science - Paper robots have a heart too :{

Pirate Paper Robot Science – Paper robots have a heart too :{

Some references that we used:

Retro3D by ~ABELOroz on deviantART

Retro3D by ~ABELOroz on deviantARTMonster Life mobile game characters

Monster Life mobile game characters

 And here is a link for a project with a paper aesthetic that looks really cool: https://www.behance.net/gallery/Power-Giants-lowpoly-paperworld/7890183

The Paper Craft Path

The drawings were going well and during that time our 3D modeller, Daniel, joined the team, and we had him modelling everything we could so we could test as early as possible!

Papelez - One of our concepts for the PaperBot

Papelez – One of our concepts for the PaperBot

The PaperBot - One of the first concepts

The PaperBot – One of the first concepts

But the problem came when we actually transported the drawings to 3D models and put them in the game. We made simple textures and rigged the 3D models of the new ideas and used Unity 4’s Mechanim to transport all the animations from the old placeholder robot character to the news ones. Then we could rapidly make early tests by playing with the new models. And the result was… Well, not so cool. We tried lots of things, with lots of silhouettes and shapes, but it looked like the pointy corners of a Paper Craft models didn’t really fit into the game. They didn’t look good in the camera, and we weren’t really happy. Of course a lot could change with lighting, shader and more texture work, but it looked like no matter how we tried changing the shape and working a bit more in the texture, it didn’t look the way we wanted.

The Turning Point!

So, we had to make a rational decision to make things work. We decided to make a test in the same way we’ve been doing, but with one of our robot ideas. We all loved the first concepts and would like to see it back anyway, and it would probably work out. So I started drawing some robots and our 3D artist modelled them and we made some in-game tests. And it looked A LOT better from the start. We learned a few things from that too: – First, the rounded corners looked a lot better than the pointy paper ones. Our character is really small in the game, so his shape has to be simple and easy to understand from a distance. The paper pointy corners were not easily readable. – A more rounded head was also much clearer to see in the side-scrolling camera view. Our robot shape right now is actually still not so round, but it is a bit, and it allows some of the character’s face to show even if we are seeing it completely sideways (a pretty common thing in a side-scroller game). We were really happy with the result and started working in the design of our robot non-stop! The only down-side was losing the opportunity to use that name we liked so much — but we can save that for a next game. 🙂 It was still a lot of work to get to the version that is in game now, and even that one is still not done.

After that…

In the next part of the post I will be explaining how our design came to life and what we learned with it! Also, if you are insterested in seeing creative process in character design, here are a few links! Sackboy is one of our favorite characters of all time, and our biggest reference in terms of customization. In this link from Media Molecule’s blog, they explain the process behind the creation of this awesome character: http://www.mediamolecule.com/blog/article/from_yellowhead_to_sackboy/ And this is their Flickr with lots of pics from the process: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mediamolecule/sets/72157625338372788/ If you want to see more, this is a video from the Modnation Racers team talking about character customization and how they made it unique in their game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfx0xCHNC70 If you have any questions, tips, feedback, feel free to comment below! 🙂 We are happy to discuss anything with other developers or people who just appreciate Project Tilt and what we are doing. See you in the next post, and in-game!So, the story behind Project Tilt’s main character is a very winding one. Project Tilt was, for a long time, a game without any art, without any idea of theme, and without a character. It was a long process that is, actually, still happening, and we all learned a lot. I’m going to make a series of posts about it, and I hope you guys enjoy it and comment back with your opinions! 🙂

Early Investigation

When I joined the Project Tilt team around May last year, the project was going on for about five months but we had nothing more than a big pile of sketches and no idea of what to do with them. So we started an investigation of what we wanted out of our game in terms of language, to start building the beginning of our art direction.

Early sketches

Early sketches

All we knew was that we wanted the game to be fast and crazy, with a kind of explosive humour, but not explicitly violent. Just cartoon-ish explosive fun. Like Team Fortress or Smash Bros, with a bit of nonsensey-ness from cartoons, like Invader Zim, Dexter’s Laboratory or Adventure Time (who doesn’t like that?).

Comical, Crazy and Charismatic

Comical, Crazy and Charismatic

So we made the graph below, comparing the humor and tone that we wanted out of Project Tilt with other similar games. This might seem weird, but it was useful to put everyone in the team in the same place: sometimes each person in the team is thinking something different and we can only find that out in the worst way. That’s why this kind of investigation is useful, and since I was new in the team, I wanted to align my ideas with the rest of the team’s, and also to see if they were all aligned between themselves and if our ideas made sense.     Btw, the app I used to make that graph is a very cool web app called Mural.ly. It’s a great way to creat moodboards and communicate visual ideas to a team 🙂

A Starting Point: The Character!

We needed a character to begin with. The character was central to the game’s concept, since the idea behind Project Tilt has always been that every player starts the same: we have no grinding and your level doesn’t change your power in the gameplay. Our character had to be cool enough for the player to like him and want to play with it, but also had to be customizable so players could differentiate themselves and show how much they played by the items they have, and how their character looks. So, we looked first at the requirements of our project:

  • The character had to be highly customizable;
  • It had to look charismatic on its own, but even cooler when customized;
  • The customizations would be other 3D models on top of the character, like in Little Big Planet or Modnation Racers (this is a decision we made early on before starting the design process, since it also involved technical things about the 3D modelling and the way the game would be programmed);
  • Our customizations would include garments and hats of any kind, even if very different from the theme of the game (Ex: Pirate hat in a robot character);
  • The character had to hold a big and visible weapon – for gameplay reasons, since the weapon had to be readily recognizable;
  • The head of the character also had to be pretty big, so hats would be easily seen and become important to the experience.

 

Proportions - at the same time we were studying the proportions to fit our game

Proportions – at the same time we were studying the proportions to fit our game

With this in mind, we took a look at some real-world references that could be useful, like Lego toys, Toy Arts, and Paper Craft. We studied games that used those kind of references and tried to decide which ones we liked the most and fitted our game more.

Nailing Down to One Theme

Then, we chose some options that we liked and started brainstorming and making sketches. From those sketches, I decided to make a presentation to the team. The theme of the game is something that everyone should be excited about, and a short presentation is a nice way to make everyone informed about everything at once, expose your arguments, and make a decision from there.

Toy Art Sketches

Toy Art Sketches

 

Paper Craft Sketches

Paper Craft Sketches

 

Cartoony Robot Sketches

Cartoony Robot Sketches

All the three ideas were loved by the team, the robot one because it was actually the original theme of the game from the beginning, the toy art looked cute, and the paper craft looked very different from what other games were doing. And we wanted to try something different so we got really excited about the Paper Craft theme.  And on top of that, we were thinking we could name the game “Paper Crash”and it would sound awesome! And it would! So we decided to take that route, and the characters would be robots made of paper, being made in large quantities in a crazy lab and studied by awkward scientists. All the game could have a low-poly papery look. And so we began a long road of paper-robot drawings!

Pirate Paper Robot Science - Paper robots have a heart too :{

Pirate Paper Robot Science – Paper robots have a heart too :{

Some references that we used:

Retro3D by ~ABELOroz on deviantART

Retro3D by ~ABELOroz on deviantARTMonster Life mobile game characters

Monster Life mobile game characters

 And here is a link for a project with a paper aesthetic that looks really cool: https://www.behance.net/gallery/Power-Giants-lowpoly-paperworld/7890183

The Paper Craft Path

The drawings were going well and during that time our 3D modeller, Daniel, joined the team, and we had him modelling everything we could so we could test as early as possible!

Papelez - One of our concepts for the PaperBot

Papelez – One of our concepts for the PaperBot

The PaperBot - One of the first concepts

The PaperBot – One of the first concepts

But the problem came when we actually transported the drawings to 3D models and put them in the game. We made simple textures and rigged the 3D models of the new ideas and used Unity 4’s Mechanim to transport all the animations from the old placeholder robot character to the news ones. Then we could rapidly make early tests by playing with the new models. And the result was… Well, not so cool. We tried lots of things, with lots of silhouettes and shapes, but it looked like the pointy corners of a Paper Craft models didn’t really fit into the game. They didn’t look good in the camera, and we weren’t really happy. Of course a lot could change with lighting, shader and more texture work, but it looked like no matter how we tried changing the shape and working a bit more in the texture, it didn’t look the way we wanted.

The Turning Point!

So, we had to make a rational decision to make things work. We decided to make a test in the same way we’ve been doing, but with one of our robot ideas. We all loved the first concepts and would like to see it back anyway, and it would probably work out. So I started drawing some robots and our 3D artist modelled them and we made some in-game tests. And it looked A LOT better from the start. We learned a few things from that too: – First, the rounded corners looked a lot better than the pointy paper ones. Our character is really small in the game, so his shape has to be simple and easy to understand from a distance. The paper pointy corners were not easily readable. – A more rounded head was also much clearer to see in the side-scrolling camera view. Our robot shape right now is actually still not so round, but it is a bit, and it allows some of the character’s face to show even if we are seeing it completely sideways (a pretty common thing in a side-scroller game). We were really happy with the result and started working in the design of our robot non-stop! The only down-side was losing the opportunity to use that name we liked so much — but we can save that for a next game. 🙂 It was still a lot of work to get to the version that is in game now, and even that one is still not done.

After that…

In the next part of the post I will be explaining how our design came to life and what we learned with it! Also, if you are insterested in seeing creative process in character design, here are a few links! Sackboy is one of our favorite characters of all time, and our biggest reference in terms of customization. In this link from Media Molecule’s blog, they explain the process behind the creation of this awesome character: http://www.mediamolecule.com/blog/article/from_yellowhead_to_sackboy/ And this is their Flickr with lots of pics from the process: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mediamolecule/sets/72157625338372788/ If you want to see more, this is a video from the Modnation Racers team talking about character customization and how they made it unique in their game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfx0xCHNC70 If you have any questions, tips, feedback, feel free to comment below! 🙂 We are happy to discuss anything with other developers or people who just appreciate Project Tilt and what we are doing. See you in the next post, and in-game!

BitCake Studio @ GameFounders – Week 1!

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Hey People! Ok so we’re in the middle of April right now but we’ll give a retrospective of our GameFounders experience week-by-week until we arrive on where we are right now! 😀

Week 1

Ok, so the rest of Week 1 was CRAZY! After we wrote that First Post we had 2 very awesome, crazy and exhaustive days with mentors!Some of them are the best mentors we’ve had since the program started!

Here we were, 5 Brazilians with this crazy Multiplayer Game showing it to some of the guys from Tencent, Hidden Path and other crazy big companies on the FIRST WEEK! It was mind numbing, and exploded our heads so many times with knowledge that we didn’t know what to do next!

By the time week 1 ended we had changed our WHOLE development plan 2 times.

Tutorial!

Week 1 had some great feedback on our Tutorial, we realized our Tutorial wasn’t as good as it could be, we had some metrics in place to check it but they sucked. Our funnel looked like this (no picture because it doesn’t exist anymore, sorry):

  • Player Started Tutorial: 100%
  • Player finished Tutorial: 50%

WTF Right? We didn’t track all the steps, out of this metric is only possible to identify you have a problem but you can’t point out where exactly it is coming from! So we figured we needed to work on our Tutorial, but not only that, we needed to work on our whole New User Experience for Project Tilt.

Retention – a driver of success

We also had a very, very good talk with Mark Terrano from Hidden Path. He talked to us about game feel and how we could improve our gameplay by adding stuff like Camera Shakes, he also gave us some tips on lean development. Having worked with Valve, he shared some insights that the Steam company has on how to develop games.

First of all, go watch In-Game Economies in Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 here

One key thing you always have to have in mind: Retention. That’s a recurrent theme in all of Valve’s talks, retention drives not only a games success but also its financial success.  Its easy to hear someone saying it, other is REALLY understanding how important retention is as a driver and how to measure and improve upon it. Mark helped us a bit, but we’re still working on this (and will be for some time). In the future I expect doing a post on this topic, so stay tuned 🙂

Our Retention problem

So Project Tilt had a pretty big problem with retention, our numbers were bad (we measured it using www.gameanalytics.com) and we needed tips on how to deal with this.

Continuing with the mentors, when we told them about our retention problem we couldn’t really say what was happening. We clearly needed to do some deep digging and discover the reason behind why players weren’t coming back to play Tilt! What we figured out (through metrics and pure observation of player behaviour) was the classic multiplayer problem. A quick tip: if you are doing a Multiplayer only game you WILL go through this unless you have a publisher or someone to market your game or do User Acquisition – even Awesomenauts had this problem.

  1. User finishes the tutorial, logs in the game and there’s no one to play with
  2. User finishes the tutorial, logs in the game and there’s Hebertpro (level 500) and BossofallBosses (level 300) killing all the noobs

This is classic. You can’t do matchmaking and separate Hebertpro from the New Player because you don’t have enough players to fill those 2 rooms that will be created, but if you don’t do matchmaking you’ll keep loosing those players that repeatedly dies to Top Players – classic dilemma.

Solutions? Well, mentors gave us plenty! I bet you thought of some already: Add A.I. bots? Check. Add Single Player? Check. Add Time Trial? Check. Do matchmaking? Check.

Do Bots? We could… It would delay new features and many additions to the game for a month or two… Single Player? That could be potentially simple, would it fall in line with or vision for what Project Tilt is? Probably not. The solution will come on a future posts (because by that time we didn’t know enough about GameFounders, what the program would have and we only had gotten through 2 Mentoring days).

How is your Monetization?

Monetization was also a hot topic on our discussions.

How do we monetize the game? That’s a question that has been popping up every time we speak with a mentor (even now)… “We don’t”, that’s our answer. “We have a prototype store in place that we were using to gauge players interest in buying customization stuff to show off, but no one buys anything anymore”. That’s the only thing we could say at that time, we had a small plan and a vision for what our monetization would be, but we had more urgent matters to address.

Facebook? Don’t stay there.

Oh, and Facebook? Our friends at Aquiris had warned us about how Facebook is not very good for monetization. Don’t ever say your game is only on Facebook. The platform is on a rapid decline by now, no one plays there (even worse for our target audience), its hard to monetize and you can potentially scare investors by saying that. We needed to work on this and Greenlight was our first step.

End of Week 1

So we ended Week 1 like this:

  • Our Tutorial was terrible, the metrics and the way we measured it was horrible
  • Retention is something that we need to tackle, and fast
  • Monetization is a huge interest for every mentor and we needed to know how to talk about this
  • Facebook sucks
  • Social Media!

One thing we did as soon as we got there was starting our Social Media campaign.

Since we got to GameFounders, there hasn’t been a day without a post on Project Tilt’s Page. This has almost single-handedly made our retention WAY better 🙂 (more on a post later)   So that’s how Week 1 ended! We were screwed! We didn’t have a clear focus, yet we had many things to do! Our heads were spinning and we couldn’t think straight, the dust had just been thrown on our face and we needed to wait for it to settle.

Week 2? It was awesome tho….