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  • Student Postmortem: ETC's The Winds of Orbis

    - Seth Sivak
  •  The Winds of Orbis: An Active-Adventure was a semester-long project by seven students at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center. One of the unique aspects of the ETC is that student teams are allowed to pitch potential projects, and this is where Active-Adventure started.

    The goal of the project was to create an exercise game for kids ages 7 to 12 that utilized the Nintendo Wii remote and a dance pad. We wanted to build a game that would have intuitive controls, an immersive world and an in-depth story so that the players forgot they were even exercising.

    The team really felt that the project was a success. We were able to create a full tutorial level that involved several different types of gameplay and a touch of our greater story. The game has been tested with close to 300 children with raving success and the project has been pitched again to continue in the fall semester.

    What Went Right
    1. Friends do what's best for the project. From the beginning, we knew how critical it would be to unite hard working and dedicated students from a wide range of backgrounds to work on the game. Luckily, we got together a team of seven of us, all of whom were passionate about the nature of the project from the start.

    It's true that each individual team member has strong personal talent, but the cumulative effort of all seven has led to something greater than we could ever imagine on our own. Expectations and roles were clearly communicated from day one. For example, two of the artists on our team were very strong at character modeling, but we were in need of an animator and environmental artist. Despite their ability to excel in an area that they may have preferred to work in, they understood where the team needed their efforts focused for the semester. The result was incredible contributions.

    Each team member would send a nightly email noting what they did that day, what they planned to do the next day, and any problems or concerns they were having. Along with bimonthly scrum meetings, this helped keep everyone focused and accountable for individual tasks.

    Finally, we are all really are great friends, which helped us work together to design the game. The entire team had a hand in the design and because we were all working together, the best ideas were the ones that made it into the game.

    2. Designed for movement. We developed on the PC using a Bluetooth adapter and a managed Wiimote library that allowed us to utilize most of the features the Wiimote has to offer. The dance pad was run through PyGame and is USB compatible. These two pieces of hardware presented a serious challenge to the team because we knew that the controls would be the most important part of our game.

    The controls for any game are vitally important, but in an exercise game they take on a whole new level of significance. To find the control scheme that would work right for us, we researched all sorts of different Wii games and dance games. It was important to make players feel like they were controlling the characters accurately so their interactions with the world feel important.

    The dance pad has never been used for much more than dancing and rhythm games. It was important that we design the interaction to reflect an adventure game and that we immediately break the notion that our game is anything like Dance Dance Revolution.

    We decided to reorient the dance pad in a diamond shape and clearly give the player a place to stand. This idea of having a "home" on the dance pad makes the players feel comfortable with the controls early. From there we put all the combat related steps on the front of the dance pad and all the movement related steps on the back.


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