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Enabling our artist to work faster

We are creating out first game using Unity 3D (Pro) and as I previously posted, tile based graphics.  The problem is that our artist does not have Unity 3D AND he is working just over 2000 miles away.  This means that each time he needs to see how a new tile looks in the game, he needs to upload the file to our shared folder, email us that there are new tiles, wait for us while we add it to the game, take a screenshot, and email it back.  Seems like it wouldn’t take that long, but since we left our previous jobs we have been trying to check our email less frequently because it can be a huge distraction.  Also, since he is 2 time zones away our work schedules don’t match up that well.

Our artist’s major hurdle is that the tiles he is creating look good at the size and resolution he is creating them at, but look completely different after importing it into the game.  Due to the distance and poor testing setup, it became obvious that the iterative process that game-art requires did not have the fast feedback that is a core part of the process.

As we slowly came to this realization, one of us came up with the idea to create a build that used replaceable art…. meaning that the build of the game would load specifically named textures into the scene at runtime.  This only took a few hours out of an afternoon (mainly because I hit a couple bugs), but it should help speed up how our artist can iterate on his work.

While putting the scripts together, I came across a few things that may help anyone that reads this.  The first, is that the www class in Unity makes it super simple to load textures from other locations.  Check out this bit of code:

IEnumerator LoadTexture(string i) { 
    m_location = m_baseDir + i + ".png"; 
    WWW someWww = new WWW(m_baseDir + i + ".png"); 
    yield return someWww; 
    loadedTextures.Add(someWww.texture);
    loadedTextures[loadedTextures.Count - 1].wrapMode=TextureWrapMode.Clamp;
    loadedTextures[loadedTextures.Count - 1].Apply(); 
}

That’s all the import part of the script ended up being… it was simple and relatively painless.  A problem that I ran into was that I attempted to change the wrapMode on the someWww.texture prior to saving it to my loadedTexture list.  WWW.Texture is read only so that didn’t work and I don’t recommend trying it and adding other code-bandaids to try to cover it up, my attempt at unknowingly doing that wasted at least an hour.

Prototyping New Game Ideas

As we’ve hosted weekly game jams and helped organize the Global Game Jam in Madison, we’re often asked how people can start prototyping games. And we tell them:

Just do it.

Easy, right? Anyone can prototype a game. Don’t know how to program? Great! Make the prototype using physical materials or work with someone who can program. To be clear, we’re talking about prototyping gameplay––the rules that make up the game and some way to represent that state. Adding art, music, and sound effects frame the game and suggest an interpretation of the rules, but the point of a gameplay prototype is to test out the rule system.

Physical prototypes are a fast, inexpensive, and easy way to try game ideas. You really only need two things other than the idea: Something to write on and something to write with.

That’s it. Paper and pencil. 3×5 cards and a pen. Sticky notes and crayons.

These tools let you record the rules to the game and sketch the current state ranging from tick marks to a game board to content cards. If you’re planning on prototyping lots of games, then you might want to obtain more tools for convenience. In our physical game jams, most of the games use some of the following:

  • Dice. Six-sided dice are common and work great; polyhedral dice offer more control over the results.
  • Playing cards. Standard 52-card decks are most popular, with Uno cards coming in second.
  • Figurines. Buckets of plastic animals and insects are fun and complement the tokens found in other games lying around such as chess.
  • Tokens. Poker chips, aquarium stones, or Go stones all work perfectly.

The above combined with standard office supplies have supported most games made in our jams, but if you’re looking for even more suggestions check out Raph Koster’s suggested equipment.

Digital prototypes are also an option if you or a partner are comfortable programming. Simple shapes like cubes or squares are a fast way to try interactions; textures and audio can further enhance the framing and emotional impact of the game if they can be added quickly.

Luckily, there are some high-quality tools that can help. Dan Cook’s Planet Cute and Small World tiles are two collections of graphics that can work with many game styles. For audio, sfxr and its variants for OS X and ActionScript are the fastest, most flexible tool to generate sound effects that we’ve used. And the Netlabels collection has genre-ranging music, many with a permissive license.

Actually making the prototype is the fun, and hard, part. The goal for an initial prototype should be to showcase the gameplay; this can be done by describing the rules in sufficient detail so that someone else could play the game. But what if another player doesn’t understand something? Easy––just make something up and change the rules.

One other tip is to have a fixed time limit for developing the prototype. In both short 1-hour prototypes and longer 1-week prototypes, most of the work seems to happen in the last part of the alloted time; without a deadline, it’s easy to get caught up in abstract generalities instead of bringing the gameplay down into something concrete and playable.

Happy prototyping!

Other great sources of prototyping tips: