3. Making tools that we used
So, even from the start of production, we wanted to make Penned with the mentality that we could later expand it if we wanted. We wanted to keep as few things hacked together as possible, because this was a learning experience and we wanted to do it right.
We made our tools accordingly. This was arguably one of the best things we could have done, and we made tools that we used all the time. We had an auto-rig script that saved us a ton of time on character rigging. Our weapon-editor allowed us to create new sword words (adjectives that give properties to the player's sword), glove words, and enemy weapons, all while keeping every word in the game organized in clean XMLs.
A demolition tool allowed us to have not only crumbling buildings, but the ability to break everything (including characters). We created tools that helped us with exactly what we would be spending a lot of time on, and made them robust enough to use in ways that sometimes even we were surprised by.
Really try to take the time to develop tools that will benefit you throughout the project. If a task seems like it will be repetitive, monotonous, or common enough that you're doing it all the time, see if you can find a way to streamline the process. This can save a ton of time and will allow you to spot problems faster.
4. Learning to make unpopular decisions
So I talked a little bit earlier about how making unpopular decisions didn't happen for the first half of the project. But we learned to do it, and the project improved drastically because of it. We cut scope when we needed to, we put new people on features because they needed fresh eyes, and we did a complete rewrite on dialogue because it wasn't where it needed to be.
Ultimately, we made the hard decisions that sometimes created more work or made people annoyed, but the game is better because of it. Sometimes people won't be happy with decisions made, but understanding that it's made with the game in mind is important for every team, big or small, to understand.
5. Being ambitious
This is something I am personally very proud of. We made a lot of stuff for Penned. It was a student project with a full game's feature set. It had two levels, four different types of mob enemies, a mini-game, a mini-boss, a puzzle, and a boss fight. It was massive, and we were completely crazy to try and tackle so much stuff in so little time.
But one of the best things about being a student is that you get the opportunity to try things, make a massive number of mistakes in the process, and come out on top with something really cool if you work hard enough.
The fact that we had so many features, so much stuff, and so many chances for failure meant that we learned more about game development in one project than in anything we'd ever done before. We attempted things that faculty warned us were terrible ideas, or that we were shooting too far for, but we did it anyway because they were our mistakes to make, and the chance for success was worth the hard work and growing pains necessary to try it.
People talk about blood, sweat, and tears being put into projects, and that's truly what epitomizes the capstone projects at FIEA, for all three teams. We worked together (sometimes even cross-team) and created the games that we wanted to make, and we made them big and flashy and as extreme as possible because we didn't want to squander the opportunity we were given.
At the end of all of this, seven months, one vertical slice, and countless hours of work later, we made something cool and complete. Sure, Penned has some faults, but those are the kind of mistakes we won't make the next time around, because nowwe know better, and that's the best result we could hope for.
Producers: Alexis De Girolami (Lead) and David Hottal
Artists: Silvia Arana, Amanda Beaver, Seto van Boxtel, Natalie Burke (Lead), Monica Espinoza, Marco Garcia, Paige Lehnert, Drew Merritt
Designers: Murshed Choudhury, Daiwei He, Emily Krebs (Lead), Floyd Reese, James Simmons, Bryan Venzen
Programmers: Kevin Cartrette, Darrel Hoffman, Stephen Karasevich, Michael Krusel (Lead), Kiran Purushothaman, David Weston
Special thanks to: Nick Ware, Keenan Sieg, Kathy and Jason Wood, Logan Emmett, the FIEA faculty and staff, and the Battle Fortress Tortoise and Plushy Knight teams.
Platform: PC, Windows 7
Release Date: July 31st, 2012
Development Time: 7 months
Technology: Havok Vision Engine, Autodesk Scaleform
Software: Microsoft Visual Studio 20012, Autodesk Maya 2012, PixologicZbrush 4, Autodesk MotionBuilder 2012, Adobe Creative Suite, Perforce, Fogbugz
[Alexis De Girolami is a production student at FIEA and is currently interning as a designer at Zynga. She aims to continue her career in games as a level or narrative designer.]