• Walter Hill

Capstone Reflection I: First Steps

This reflection was written for the Champlain College Game Studio Capstone course on 9/10/19. The goal of each of the three reflections is to reflect on the work done, the decisions made, and the challenges were met and overcome, or learned from. The first reflection focuses heavily on the team's process for generating and fleshing out initial concepts.


Last week, our team challenged for Step 1 of the Game Capstone. We came to class with our three ideas and no presentation and made the case that each game had a valid starting point, intent statement, and plan for rapid “investigation.” That class was the culmination of a week’s worth of thought and discussion, and in some ways, the realization of a summer’s worth of ideas for our team as a whole.


Late in the summer, our team chatted over Discord twice. The first voice call we had was about the values and ideas we wanted at the core of our team and as the pillars of our game designs. We discussed our desire to make games that we can test and get feedback on early and often. We were also determined to stay true to our collective creative voice; we agreed we wouldn’t try and create a project that exists solely as something that is safe and likely to get through to Senior Production in second semester. We spent time during the first meeting making clear the types of games we wanted to make as well as the kind we didn’t want to make. One space we wanted to stay away from was games that are narrative-centric in their design or concept.


The second voice call we held was a rapid fire brainstorming session. Over the course of ten minutes, each member of the team came up with around 30 game ideas some short and sweet, some half-baked. We then made a top ten list of our favorites.


Ultimately, our two summer meetings were invaluable for helping us set a foundation as a team and to define our creative goals. The brainstorm session eventually inspired the games that we presented for our Step 1 challenge, but fleshing out those game ideas into whole concepts worthy of exploration proved difficult initially.


Our second meeting after the first Capstone course, was focused on revisiting our idea list from the summer and seeing what we could construct into fully formed game explorations. This turned out to be more difficult than I would have thought. We left that meeting with three ideas. One about a puzzle box game that seemed to have too much of a narrative bend, a game about platforming using only hands and physics, and a branch off of the second idea about interchanging limbs to complete action-adventure puzzles. I left that meeting feeling unsure about the direction of the puzzle box game, and worried that the other two ideas would be difficult to differentiate.


Our next meeting that week was on Sunday and it was a longer, more drawn out meeting. We knew we as a team had work to do to unravel the shallow ideas from the previous meeting into concepts worthy of investigation.


Jo, certain that there was value in the puzzle box idea, had set out to create a small demonstrative prototype after the previous meeting. He presented the prototype to the team, and our collective imagination jumped at the idea. Days ago the puzzle box idea had seemed shaky, and felt like it stood against our creative core. The digital prototype made the case for the puzzle box idea as something with fun, feel-good feedback, and little need for a complex central narrative. The prototype recontextualized the puzzle box idea while removing concerns over the creative pillars and spurring a new avenues to build upon the prototype in the process.


During that meeting we also added some meat to the bones of both of the game ideas centered around hands. The physics platformer became more staunchly focused on the movement based gameplay that the physics would support, while the action-adventure hands game became more strongly focused on puzzle solving and player experimentation through mechanics than the other hands idea. At the end of that Sunday meeting it felt like we had three ideas worthy of exploration that the team was invested in and willing to dive into with some enthusiasm.


One of my biggest takeaways from Step 1 would be to go down the rabbit hole just a bit. I learned that a premise or a prompt that might initially seem shallow or unfeasible could contain the seed of an engaging game idea. Working through Step 1 also reinforced the value of prototyping. Without Jo’s proof of concept prototype for the puzzle game, I think our team would have moved far away from that idea. I learned that moving an idea from words on paper into a digital playable representation is not only the technical foundation for a full game, but it can inspire that game’s creation in the first place.


One thing I would have done differently in Step 1 would have been to have a prototype. I do feel our team was all on the same page in regards to our creative vision for each idea, but having that information down on paper would have been beneficial in the moment and for future communication as well. Going forward, I would like for our team to have presentations for each prototype we create. I feel it forces collective understanding both through creating the slideshow and discussing the game out loud. It also seems like good practice for once we’re out in the real world pitching to internal stakeholders or a publisher.


In terms of our teams progress over the first step, I think we got off to a rocky start creatively. Socially, I think our team is strong. We all have previous connections through coursework and outside of the classroom as well. I feel like we stumbled with the first brainstorming meeting of the semester primarily because we didn’t do a great job of conforming our initial ideas to the realm of our already agreed upon creative pillars. I do think we regrouped and recentered our ideas in our second meeting, and that going forward our team chemistry is only going to grow stronger.


Ultimately, I feel confident in our game ideas that we presented, and I look forward to diving deeper into each of those rabbit holes to see what our team can discover. I think our team will only get better as the semester goes on, and I can’t wait to get to work on turning our single sentence ideas dreamt up over the summer into playable digital realities.