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  • Student Project Postmortem: Wakey Wakey

    - Conor Dalton
  • Wakey Wakey is a two-dimensional platform game built in Unity for the Android tablet. The player inhabits the dreams of Unmei, a ten-year-old girl, who navigates obstacles and traps by manipulating gravity and floating vertically. The goal of each level is to reach the end of her dream before they become nightmares and ultimately wake her up.

    The project began in August 2016 as part of the Southern Methodist University, Guildhall's (SMU - Guildhall) curriculum in Team Game Production. The student led five-member team, First Fantasy, finished development of the game in December of that same year.

    For most of the students, Wakey Wakey was the first game they had ever created. I held the roles of Assistant Lead and Level Designer for the duration of the production. The rest of the team was comprised of a Game Designer and Level Designer, two Artists and eventually a Programmer.

    Figure 1: Conor D., Danielle W., Zexin Y., Chong D. Not Pictured: Casey U.

    What went well

    Invest in People

    I've always said, investing in the lives of others, no matter what you do professionally, will make all the difference in the operation of a project. After we finished pre-production we welcomed a new programmer to the game. His integration into the new team was smooth, mostly because he really stepped up and eased the burden on the level designers. Immediately he asked for the Game Design Document to go over while the team had a mid-semester break and he studied it to get up to speed. As a team we welcomed him warmly and held a lunch together during one of our core hours to make sure he felt a part of the team.

    A healthy combination of good humor and sheer force of will also made it possible for us to finish the game. Additionally, two of our team members were from China, meaning English was a second language to them. Part of the team dynamics included helping them learn the English language better to facilitate easier communication, since that is key when working on a team project.

    It certainly helped that my undergraduate degree was in English, so I could walk them through some of the more interesting nuances of the language. Additionally, as team lead I spent time learning about Chinese business practice and workplace culture to better understand and address the needs of both my team members, which helped significantly.

    What Went Wrong

    Where are we?

    The design of the game was never clearly defined, causing us to create three separate games entirely. Initially the game idea started as an arena fighter like Slayin where color changing was the main mechanic allowing the player to eliminate their enemies. By the time we finished we changed gameplay entirely to where gravity shifting was our core mechanic and our game was more of a platformer like VVVVVV.

    It ultimately came out to our favor because we learned a great deal about how to make quick course corrections, but at the price of being behind in development. The source of the confusion came from changes that would be made to the game overnight before a milestone was due without being communicated to the rest of the team. Obviously communicating the vision clearly takes a lot more work than we gave credit for from the beginning.

    What was learned

    Positive Conflict

    Obviously, we learned a great deal of measurable skills, such as how to use Unity, how to use a Source Control such as Perforce, how to use agile project management with scrum, and ultimately how to create a shippable 2D game.

    More importantly, however, we learned that team work is hard, and poor communication makes it harder. One of the five dysfunctions of a team is fear of conflict, and that fear led to our team members being reluctant to discuss concerns or challenge design decisions. Specifically, I was very focused on making sure everyone was happy instead of making sure the game was the best it could be. We learned that conflict is necessary for a team to come to a consensus and create buy-in on the project.

    In the end, the project was a great opportunity and safe space to learn some hard and fast lessons about the fantastic adventure that game design is. Frankly, I welcome the challenge, especially with the lessons I learned that semester.



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