If you’re one team of students, you dive right back into development. And you do it on a crazy self-imposed schedule of under three weeks.
The game is called They Come In Pieces (TCIP), and it’s being developed for iOS by eight students from Game Design and two collaborators from Sound Design for Visual Media. It’s a new spin on the tower defense genre, kind of, that makes use of iDevices’ touch and tilt controls as you cut down a bunch of huggable, peace-loving aliens.
From the team’s design documents:
TCIP is a god-view perspective tower defense game for iOS touch devices where the player takes the role of a corrupt politician of a small town in 1950s middle America. The town is being besieged by adorable aliens who want to bring peace, love, and cake to humanity, and the player must pilot his cutting-edge remote DRONE device around his town while calling down bombing runs and raining bullets onto the foreign invaders. Each alien that makes it to the capitol building for a hug reduces your patriotic fervor. If too many reach you, you are hugged into submitting and the game is over.
We caught up with team project manager Isaac Calon to find out about the game and why on earth the team would take on a challenge like this so late in their year.
Seriously, you guys just went through the Pitch & Play wringer and now you’re diving into an insane development schedule. Are you gluttons for punishment? Why take on this project?
Isaac: The short answers are “yes” and “because we love games.”
In greater detail, we see these three weeks as another opportunity to work together, test ourselves, and learn. It’s been a long year, but we can squeeze a lot of valuable experience out of these last few days at VFS, and have fun doing it. The school has been incredibly supportive of the project, too, and this may be the last time we’ll have such a strong, reliable support network available to us.
We’ll all admit to looking forward to some down time, of course, but after the production schedule we set for ourselves for our final projects, 30-hour weeks on top of our few remaining classes and job-hunting is all pretty relaxing. Relatively speaking, of course.
Our project goals are pretty modest, too-we’re looking to build something just a touch above a minimum viable product, but They Come in Pieces has a ton of low-hanging potential to expand into a much greater product, just in case there’s interest in the project after we graduate.
Why develop for iOS?
Isaac: Lots of reasons. If TCIP becomes popular the App store would be a great home for it, and we have a few Apple fans on the team, too. More importantly, our technical team has experience with iOS development and App Store approval processes, and on top of that, we wanted to build a touch-screen game because they’re still relatively new and there’s a lot of room for us to learn and innovate. Finally, there are many successful and growing game studios in the Vancouver mobile/social scene, so building a mobile game for iOS will be very valuable experience for us new grads as we head out into the workforce.
The tower defense genre has been made and remade to great effect over the years – how is your team going about bringing something new to the table?
Isaac: We’re doing two new things with TCIP. First, we have unique camera controls, and second, we have a unique theme that we love, and we hope that will translate to the players.
The idea that launched the project into pre-production was to maneuver a top-down camera with tilt controls, so you would tilt the device and the camera would move in that direction. We pitched several ideas that supported the camera both mechanically and thematically, and settled on the device itself acting like a remote-controlled drone. We iterated from there to reach this absurd theme of a corrupt 1950s politican hunkered down in city hall obliterating waves of hapless, peace-loving space aliens – or Alyums, as we call them.
We should also point out that TCIP isn’t really tower defense, though it shares many characteristics of that genre so we felt branding it that way might help people grasp what’s being done. It might be more accurate to call TCIP an isometric, horde-mode defense shooter. with touch controls.
We might need to work on that a bit, but that’s a big part of the fun, too.
The team’s a lot bigger than your average “final project” group in the Game Design program – what are the advantages of expanding like that for a project like this?
Isaac: Well, as long as we don’t let ourselves fall in love with our amazing ideas and scope creep beyond our abilities, a large and focused team is capable of creating a lot of polished content in a short time.
There’s a fair amount of risk, though, and one major challenge is setting that shared vision early, building buy-in with every team member, and then maintaining both throughout production. The short schedule would normally be an enormous source of stress, but we’re working for ourselves now, and it actually makes it easier to both maintain the vision and team engagement in the project. Of course, we still need to have daily check-ins, and we need to capture our ideas in documents and on our documentation wiki to avoid miscommunication, but it’s been very positive so far.
Looking back, were there any lessons you learned in making your final games that you can apply to this one?
Isaac: One thing that became apparent as we worked through the development cycles it that designing from an armchair is important, but getting your ideas playable as early as possible is essential in testing your assumptions and ultimately achieving your target experience. It’s all well and good to work things out on paper, but until you can look at them in the real world it’s just educated guesswork.
How important is adding a portfolio piece like this to you, as emerging professionals?
Isaac: I think it depends from person to person, but we’re confident TCIP will be valuable to all of us no matter our disciplines or relative places in our careers. For some of us it’s a chance to specialize even further, and for others it’s a chance to branch out into new areas or shore up areas of our portfolios that we feel we couldn’t sufficiently fill in the craziness of 70-hour weeks this past year.
For all of us, though, it’s another chance to practice what we love, and maybe the last chance for us to work together that we’ll get for a while. We had to take it.
L-R: Grey Jenkins (Character Artist/Game Designer), Justin Landry (Environment Artist), Marc St-Onge (Programmer), Isaac Calon (Project Manager), David Dryden (Game Designer/Level Designer), Ryan Cramer (Programmer), Rishi Patkar (Technical Artist)
Not pictured: Joel Lagemaat (Composer) and Adam Hyjek (Sound Engineer)
Pictured (in ghost form): Jay Zhou (Concept Artist)