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  • Student Postmortem: Algoma U's Flux

    - Spencer Congdon
  •  Introduction

    The Dare to Be Digital International Game Design Competition is every computer science student's dream, and in hindsight, something I still cannot believe I had the chance to compete in. It is the opportunity for you and four of your friends to be flown to Scotland and paid to develop your own game idea into a fully functional video game. More than that, Dare is backed by companies like EA, Rare, and Real-time Worlds, who provide mentoring to your team at every stage of development. It has been said that Dare is the nearest thing to full-on game development with one exception: there are no extensions on your delivery date. You have ten, and only ten, painfully short weeks to build your game from the ground up and deliver. On the judging day, your game better not have any unexpected compiling issues or you will have absolutely nothing to show. Needless to say, for any aspiring game designer, this is a once in a life time opportunity... even if you do lose half your hair in the process.

    Normally, this competition is open exclusively to teams from the United Kingdom, with each team beefed up with one international scholars from India, China, or Hong Kong. In spring 2006, the competition's host, the University of Abertay Dundee, opened the competition to Algoma University, in Canada. With the new Master's program collaboration between the two institutions, a few lucky Canadians were given the harrowing opportunity of eating haggis and drinking with Scots, all the while developing their dream game.

    That is where we, team Log2n, come in. We were the team selected to represent Algoma University this past summer and I might add, the first team from North America who successfully survived eating the haggis. We are led by Gavan Acton. Darren Schnare is our lead programmer. Nathan Inch is our sound engineer. Mike Biocchi and Spencer Congdon provided the artwork. Our international scholar was Kranthi Kumar, who had his hands in a little of everything. Consisting of four undergraduate computer science students and two graduates, we were a little inexperienced compared to our competition. In a competition that consists almost purely of graduates, we knew hard work and creativity would be key to get our game to match the excellence that the others would be setting.

    Our project is titled Flux, and more than a game -- it's an experience. From the beginning, we set out to capture the award for "Greatest Creativity and Innovation," which we used as the keystone for all of our ideas and decisions. It is a genre-bending, action-music-strategy game, where you must connect a network of as many glowing orbs as you can, within the span of one or more songs. We wanted Flux to draw you into an experience that would be very immersing, engaging and a whole lot of fun. In order to do this the team felt strongly that we needed to try new ways of interfacing with the player.

    The first cool feature is that there is no clicking in Flux. It doesn't matter whether you are playing with a mouse, stylus, or wand; the game is controlled through intuitive click-less gestures. This engages the player and intimately connects him or her with the actions playing out on screen. To get the idea, draw a circle with your mouse while pressing down the button and then do one without pressing the button. The latter is much smoother and intuitive, giving Flux very fluid gameplay.

    Second on the list of features is the lack of a traditional interface. There is a menu system used to access the game, and its levels, but once in-game, it's just you and your pulsing network of orbs. There are no numbers, words, charts, graphs, or maps to distract you from your goal. Information is delivered purely through sight and sound, allowing the player to know what is happening in the network, without having to be told explicitly. The third main feature could be viewed as the most engaging. Levels are built from songs, and how the game plays depends on the music you are listening to. Fast pace and high intensity results in frantic gameplay that really challenges the best of players. Meanwhile, when the player is in the mood for calming music, Flux creates a relaxing pace. These songs are provided by the player's personal music library, resulting in re-playability limited only by a player's collection.

    Our summer was a success, and we came home with the "Greatest Creativity and Innovation" award that we strived for, Gavan received the award for "Best Team Leader" and Flux plays like the experience we wanted to create. The purpose of this postmortem is to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and what we would have done differently. Next up, we will discuss what went right in development.


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