Stephen Mark Smith - Game/Level Designer

Weekly Reflection – 18/10/2019

So, this past week as been one of significant progress. Unfortunately not much was achieved from the point of view of the online courses that I’m undergoing but there’s been a lot of progress on Project Stealth following a successful play testing session on Tuesday night.

Regarding the online courses that I’ve been undergoing, I managed to get a whirlwind tour of different bug management systems such as Jira, Bugzilla and TestLink in regards to the Quality Assurance course and had an overview of how game genre choice, specifically looking at action-based games, adventure games, RPGs, simulations and strategy games, can have an influence on the design of video game characters in regards to the game character design course. However, I’ve went out of my way to get some tips for networking using LinkedIN and face-to-face meetings at games events thanks to an online course on games careers that I’ve got access to. Fortunately I’m due to attend a games industry event in London tomorrow so I have a chance to put those tips into practice.

Regarding Project Stealth, I ran a playtesting session on Tuesday night, thanks to the help of my friends at the University I used to attend, which was very successful to say the least.

Prior to running the playtesting session, I noticed a problem that was going to cause difficulties, that being the game suffered from major performance issues. While the game ran fine in the Unreal editor, a standalone application of the game suffered from an extremely low frame rate on both my desktop PC and my laptop, both which currently don’t run on up-to-date CPUs and GPUs. This forced me to have to do a lot of optimisation work targeting the game’s lighting and artificial intelligence navigation to make the game run at an optimal frame rate. This meant having to redesign the entire level to cater to being a daytime scene instead of a nighttime scene (which was why there was a lot of lighting being used in the game originally). After multiple builds, I managed to achieve a result that ran smoothly. Ultimately, this was a massive lesson to me in designing levels around hardware limitations for target platforms, regardless of whether it’s Windows PCs, consoles or even mobile phones.

During the playtesting, my observations of player interactions and reactions to the game included the following:
➤ Players found themselves getting lost frequently, relying on exploration to progress through the level
➤ Players picked up quickly that crystals opened doors due to placement of the first crystal in the starting house
➤ One player figured out a way to get out of bounds
➤ Players getting thrown off by barricades that didn’t have guards near them due to the original barricades not being removed after AI objects were removed from those areas

The verbal feedback I got from playtesters and anyone who witnessed the playtesting was the following:
➤ Lighting Contrast was off
➤ Initial crystal opening the door communicated the goal to the player immediately
➤ Not much communication regarding the stealth elements other than AI behaviour
➤ Third-Person Camera broke realism of stealth elements (using the camera to look around walls when the player character couldn’t)

Following this feedback, I have made the following decisions going forward for the design and development of Project Stealth:
➤ Experiment with a first-person camera instead of third-person to see how it affects the player’s approach to the stealth mechanics (possible use of two builds for comparison)
➤ Change the order of which crystals are collected to lead the player down a more logical path to lower player confusion
➤ Redesign lighting to cater for the daytime scene due to lighting contrast issues

Now that I know what I need to do going forward, I plan to use this to iterate Project Stealth for the next public playtesting session next month. Perhaps implementing the changes and adding further polish to the game by improving the heads-up-display and/or adding a time delay before the player respawns after being hit by a guard would be a good way to see how the game continues to evolve and if it improves the experience for the player, making Project Stealth a truly fun game of my own design.

That’s all for this week. I have a trip to EGX tomorrow and I’ll make a post discussing what I’ve learned there and the plan for the week on Monday.