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  • Postmortem: Julia's Magnificent Mishap

    - Heather Decker-Davis
  •  [In this article, Heather Decker-Davis of Savannah College of Art and Design looks back on the development of the student game Julia's Magnificent Mishap, outlining the successes and missteps the team encountered.]

    Team Mishap formed slowly, through recruitment efforts sustained by a few students with dreams of competing in the Independent Games Festival (IGF) student showcase. In March of 2010, I started pestering faculty and students at Savannah College of Art and Design, in hopes of getting a project started. After the message hit enough avenues, more online and on-campus students started joining up, and in some cases bringing more students with them. As is typical of most student projects, some recruits came and went, but despite the odds, Team Mishap emerged to create Julia's Magnificent Mishap (JMM,) a puzzle/platformer spanning two interrelated timelines.

    JMM generally strikes people as interesting because you simultaneously control two characters, one who exists on the past timeline and one who exists on the present timeline. Puzzles in the game revolve around interacting with items on one timeline to change the state of items on the other. For instance, opening a secret passage in the past means it opens in the future.

    What Went Right

    1. Submitted To IGF

    First and foremost, we should be proud to have pulled this project through to completion! As a student team, without the structure of a class, without any mentor or guidance, we worked completely independently, completely remotely, and we came through with a playable concept. Often times, without money or grades as a motivating factor, many students are reluctant to work on side projects in addition to their normal classes and jobs. However, the benefits are there for those who are willing to go above and beyond. Students gain valuable experience working on a team together, have a real development cycle to garner new insights from, gain an extra portfolio piece, and enjoy the exposure of submitting to a competition. Additionally, prospective employers will certainly be impressed by students who strive beyond their normal requirements.

    Instructors have frequently mentioned that student-driven teams often have a hard time making it to completion for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, we reached enough students who could see the many long-term benefits of entering IGF and were willing to work together towards a common goal!

    2. Developed A Unique Concept

    The design process for JMM began with a small list of goals. Firstly, we all came to the consensus that a casual browser game would allow us to reach the largest audience. Following this, time travel emerged as our theme of choice, because it had the potential to support a great variety of unique game mechanics. Steampunk visuals were suggested to compliment this theme. From those starting points, we all began brainstorming.

    One of the helpful factors in developing our game mechanic was prototyping early on with Game Maker. During preproduction, even non-coders were able to put together some playable ideas, which everyone could check out and discuss. We were quickly able to identify that concurrently maneuvering two avatars in an action-based game with hostile enemies wasn't on-target with the casual qualities we were aiming for. Frankly, it was difficult and frustrating, to the point that it took several attempts before anyone on the team could even clear the prototype level! In response, we decided to abandon action or twitch based game mechanics and any concept of time limit, instead opting for more relaxed, story-driven puzzle platformer.

    People who play JMM generally report not having played anything exactly like it. There are definitely games out there that involve split realities of some sort, or puzzles related to the flow of time, but the exact execution of our concept was delightfully experimental and unique. We've received a lot of great feedback for our work!

    3. Strong Core Team Members

    One of the deciding factors in Team Mishap pulling through and submitting, despite numerous "mishaps" along the way, lies in the persistence of the core team members. It's unavoidable on student projects that some participants may come and go. Don't get discouraged. More often than not, just a few ultra-dedicated people can really pull the project to completion. Besides, when you refuse the possibility of failure, you will get it done. It's undeniable that some of us were working around the clock near the end of October. However, by prioritizing and making tough decisions about what would make the cut, we got our demo finished in time for the deadline. We achieved our goal of submitting, learned a great deal, and through our hard work together, cultivated a sense of collaboration and trust on the team.

    An additional interesting aspect about IGF is that you can continue to upload new builds of your game after the initial submission. While this isn't any substitute for having a solid submission in the first place, this detail allowed us to go back in and add some artwork that we were initially forced to leave out. The various home furnishings may not directly effect how the game plays, but Julia's house looked a lot more interesting and believable with some decorative touches.


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