Robin B. Goode Goes Robin B. Bad

During week 11 we had a playtest for the final project of our cohort. The capstone project of our time here at SAE. During that, we learned a whole bunch about our game that we didn't know before, but we also learned that sometimes a heavy pivot is necessary for the sake of the project and the sanity of the team. For those that do not know, Beat Burglar was a rhythm stealth game where the player had to move to the beat in order to stay hidden.

There were three main issues we encountered, and I will discuss all of them in this post, as well as talk about our solution.

Issue #1 - Mushy Movement

The first issue was that the movement wasn't crisp enough. We were going heavily for a "Crypt of the Necrodancer (CoTN)" type of movement. We even read the blog post that the developers wrote in order to get as close as possible. Unfortunately we wanted the game to be more punishing when missing the beat, and this caused the game to not feel well. What CoTN did was shape the beat around how the player was moving, making it a tailored experience for whomever was playing the game.

One of our solutions to try and fix this was to implement "snake-like" movement. That is, the player moves forward automatically and the player steers left and right. This would have the player constantly be on their guard, observing where their character is heading and assess the situations to try and make the best of it.

Issue #2 - No Urgency

The second issue was urgency. In CoTN (which was our greatest inspiration) all enemies come for you, and if the song ends the level ends and the player get's sent to a small room with tonnes of enemies. It works as a kind of punishment, but if you complete the extra challenge you get loot and can continue to play the next level. In our game, guards didn't move towards you, they patrolled. When the song ended, it looped instead of kick you into a challenge.

For this issue, the snake movement would have been useful as well. The urgency of assessing the situations ahead of you and planning on the go would have possibly solved the issue of non-existent urgency. We even had counter-measures for the player actively trying to walk into walls to stand still (bump them off in the opposite direction).

Issue #3 - Tediousness

The third and final issue, Tediousness. We gave the player no direction on what to do and where to go. The levels were massive and empty and the movement was too sluggish to enjoy moving through the levels. 

I believe that snake movement would only have made it worse. Sure, you don't have to press every single beat, but given how empty the levels were you'd be able to press the turn-button once and then wait for a few seconds until pressing again.

Possible solutions include a more proper tutorial, carefully explaining to the player what they need to do. The stills are beautiful, but it leaves the player hanging where they might need to know the most. Other than that, Decreasing level size or Increasing guard population may need plausible solutions here.

Solution

I've mentioned at least one solution to all these issues, but there is one I haven't mentioned yet. Today, we pitched these solutions to our cohort and lecturers, and we were given the greenlight (kind of) again on this solution.

In order to increase interactivity, increase the overall feel-good of the game and to give the player a chance to experience all our environments close up, we decided to switch this top-down rhythm stealth game to a third-person beat 'em up game. The thought is that the player can create combos while fighting off guards, and the higher the combo the more of the main music layers on, creating an amazing feeling of being powerful.

From the start of this project, all we wanted was a game that met everyone's needs and felt amazing to play. Thanks to us sitting down and pondering on the feedback we were given, we were able to pivot this idea to something that we all want to work on, for real this time.

We will have to change the narrative slightly, as we decided to fully switch over to EDM music instead of the original choice of electro-swing, mainly because it's our audio students main choice of music and they make amazing EDM music.

Thank you very much for reading this blog post, expect to see more updates both here and on twitter.

Beat Burglar Pitching Process - Post Mortem

What Did We Do?

Final project part one consists of roughly 6 weeks of pitching and polishing an idea for a project, where the rest of the project is creating a prototype to get all the work ready for next trimester. During these past 6 weeks, we have worked as a team to get an idea and presentation ready to start working on the game. We had meetings regularly both within the team and within the game designers to try and get as good of a product as possible. 

What Went Well?

Communication

During our process of pitching and presenting, We have all been very transparent and honest in our communication. We have raised issues and discussed them with each other, and we have had meetings regularly to make sure that everyone is on the same page. We have had meetings discussing feedback we've received and what changes to make, and we have had meetings to rehearse the pitch and go through the presentation to make sure everyone knows what to say. 

Pitching

Our pitching in front of class were very structured and clear. We spoke loud and made sure to detail as much as we could, highlighting all key features and levels. Everyone talked about a specific point of the project, making sure that everyone sounds engaged.

Why Did It Go Well?

Communication

When working in such a big team as we are, it is important to make sure you know exactly what everyone is doing and that it will be done on time. A big part of why I think we succeeded so well on this point, is partially because we had a lot of trust in each other that we can finish our work and make something great. It was also because we made sure to pick an idea that everyone would be happy working on, and in that we find everyone being enthusiastic about showing up to the meetings and discussing what we've done and can do. 

Pitching

After we had pitched twice, we noticed that our way of pitching sounded very improvised and unstructured. Because of this, we decided to have a script that we read off of. This also allowed us to rehearse every day before class to make sure everyone knew and could agree on what was being said. 

How To Make Sure It Happens Again

Communication

For a project like this, where you've worked together with the majority of the people in your cohort, you know which ones to trust in doing the work that is required. Part of why our team in general was so successful was because we had all worked together in one project or another before, and we know each others strengths. You can trust each other to show up on meetings and get work done. It is also easier to communicate with people you know well.

However, for projects where this isn't the case, having a strong project manager that makes sure that things get done, that frequently looks through all work that we've done and checks what is remaining to be done helps a lot. It is important to keep the morale of all teammates as high as possible and include everyone so that no one is left out.

Having set dates for meetings is also a good idea, in that case everyone can make time for the meeting and make sure to show up on time.

Pitching

If you want your pitch to do well, it is important to ask for feedback. Especially if you're pitching several times after one another, as this was the case here. The script writing was also very useful as it allowed us to review each others lines and comment on them before the actual pitch.

What Went Bad?

When trying to come up with an idea for our game it was very difficult for us to try and find out how to come up with an idea everyone would get something out of. Graphic design and audio was simple, but for the game designers it was tougher. We also had trouble finding a time for meetings where everyone was available.

Why Did It Go Bad?

Mainly our team size made it difficult for us to come up with ideas and meetings. When having 4 game designers trying to figure an idea out that everyone gets something out of, a lot of ideas that 3/4 designers like get tossed away. This is also why meetings was an issue. You have to find a time on a day where no one has work or an activity, and we had to do this approximately 3 times a week because of all the meetings we had.

How To Make Sure It Doesn't Happen Again

I would say pick a team with less teammates, but that is not always the case. The main reason that our team has managed to get meetings together is because we've all been participating in trying to find a time for meetings. We assisted in taking the burden off of the project manager's back and called for our own meetings where we all look through documents and iterate on feedback.

As for the difficulty of coming up with ideas, it's always important that you try to make everyone feel included, however that will not always work. Working with friends often makes the roles of project manager and creative lead sort of fade off a bit, as everyone discuss the ideas as friends and no one holds real authority over the others, and that can cause ideas to become harder to decide as no one really goes "No. We're doing this". I'm not saying that you should completely ignore the requests of your teammates, especially not in a smaller indie team, but it's important that someone takes the wheel and decides in benefit for everyone.

Summary

The pitching process has been a joy to work on. I am in a great team that all are capable of working and showing progress, as well as turn up to meetings and raise issues or questions. We always were confident in our ability to do the presentation and we never doubted that we could create a great product together. Although we've had our troubles because of our team size, we make up for it in enthusiasm and interest.

Thank you for reading this post mortem. Stay tuned for more posts regarding Beat Burglar.