The Redwoods Production Journal
For this blog section I will be detailing how I led a team of 7 to work on a Fairy Tale RPG game, and document on a week to week basis on how we handled issues that came up in the production pipeline.
The first week we decided to start with a simple idea, and then build on this idea into a game concept. We had some team members that were really into Fairy tales, so we decided to create a game that would have a unique take on our favorite childhood stories. The team also did some ideation on what key stories to include and what parts of the pipeline we will eventually have to focus on. I spent this week setting up Trello boards (as seen above), and organizing communication channels through apps like GroupMe in order to keep everyone in the loop. In addition to setting up communication, I also made some general tasks for the team members to begin concepting and listing what assets we would need for our game. Our goal for the next week is to explore what the overall mood for our game would be.
For the second week we were able to compile preliminary concept art from our art team, and settled on a more grim/darker tone. The style is similar to Little Nightmares, Pinstripe and Fran Bow. We also developed a preliminary story line (as seen to the right). The professor also notified that we may have to split up the team, sowe decided to make it storied into two routes that two groups could work on. For this week I made sure that all members of the group were doing their assigned tasks on Trello, and guiding the narrative team in creating a general story route that two seperate teams could feasibly work on.
Examples of what we are aiming for in terms of mood
I also had my head artist begin creating tutorials that would teach the other two artists how to approach 3D modeling, and how to get their files into the correct format for sharing. The reason for establishing this tutorial system is because our artists are still learning the 3D art pipeline, and I wanted to create an additional resource for them.
During Week 3 we had a meeting with our professor where we showed him our path to a MVP and what we have accomplished so far in pre production. He allowed us to stay as a group as seven so long as we maintain our current trajectory. This week we settled on establishing where we wanted to be for game direction, and begin work on pre-production. I spent this time creating a color system of what kind of tasks we would need (art, design & programming). On top of updating/assigning more cards on the Kanban board, I also created a spreadsheet to organize our project on a timeline.
This week we officially exited the pre-production stage and began the production for the game, with most of our tasks for this week being put on asset creation. I also shifted progress tracking from Trello to Azure Dev-ops so that the team could have both the Kanban boards and code repo in a singular place. In order to set our asset creation pace, I had team members estimate how long it would take for them to complete their assets for this week. At the next SCRUM meeting we would compare the actual time it took to their predictions. The goal of the next two weeks is to complete our Minimal Viable Product that involves just the first level.
It was also this week that I had the students begin to limit their scope. The initial plan had more levels than I felt we would be able to deliver quality work on as a team, so I had the game designers focus in on what are the most important levels they wanted to see made. In the end the level plan was shrunk from 7 levels to 4 concrete ones (1 tutorial and 3 content levels) where we would be spending 1-2 weeks per level.
While getting into the groove for the art pipeline was rather straight forward. It did take us a bit this week to set up the programming pipeline, as this was our programming team's first time merging blueprints. I also had them start on simple game mechanics that are seen in all levels so that we could start small, and then branch into more complicated features in later Scrum sessions.
We started week 5 by finishing our first sprint, which was based around finishing the first level. We also planned & distributed tasks that needed to be finished before the next SCRUM session. This was our first time attempting to merge blueprints, and we developed a hand off system so that programmers would be able to drop their blueprints into the system without destroying the master branch. We also re-evaluated how we were handling our art pipeline and what procedures we would follow should there be delays in one area or another.
One of the hardest issue that we faced this week was when it came to getting our 3D art assets shared among team members. When our artist put on animating attempted to use character rigs another artist made, the file was simply not usable. In the spur of the moment we had the animation artist work on some UI art instead; and spent the rest of the week fixing up the rigs so that animations could be worked on in following weeks. The solution to our problem turned out to be sharing the fixed rigs via Maya MB files, and then animating out an FBX file for use in engine. Overall we learned how to get the most out of our artists should the task they have been assigned cannot be completed in the given time frame; and how to streamline our art creation process in times of unexpected delays.
Below are some videos of our progress this week. It includes showing our assets in the first level environment as well as some game mechanic functionality done by our programmers.
This week we finished most of the tasks for the Rapunzel level sprint and created a plan to deal with some art pipeline problems we have been encountering. We also presented our game pitch & what we have so far to the class.
The challenge we faced this week centered around rigging our characters. While our animator was able to get animate an idle animation this week, there were some clear point issues with our rigs. These included problems such as mismatched weight painting on the legs, no key-able controllers on the shoulders, and a reference world bone that was neither centered nor attached to all other body bones. When I went back and examined how we approached rigging I realized that I had never specified how we would approach rigging as a team. The result was our head artist rigging using the Maya autorigger, which was causing our animations to become non exportable to the game. We took this week for the artists to fix past riggin mistakes and look into alternative ways to rig that would work in game engine. Eventually we decided to use Mixamo for side characters and use ArtV1 to do all animations our main character would be doing
Unreal Engine Artv1 AutoRigger
This week I planned out with the team all not yet completed tasks for the following sprints up to the end of the semester. Due to delays on the art side of things, I also had the engineering and design team begin work on the functionality that we would need in later levels so that work overall would not stall. On top of creating cards for features we would need for our final game, I also got into the habit of creating integration cards to track who would be merging the project and how much time it owuld take to merge.
To top off this hectic week we also had an in class presentation to showcase our game idea, and the progress we have made so far.
For week 7 we were able to cover a lot of ground especially on the technical side. Our talented programmers were able to get a majority of the functionality done, especially core features such as dialogue and inventory. While there were some issues when it came to integration of these assets into the master file, the programming team was able to get these core features into our weekly build.
On the art side of things, the team was able to get Unreal Artv1 working to create a rig for our main character. This would allow us to finally start on animations that would make it into the game engine. We were also able to get Mixamo to rig up background character models and successfully get animations from the Adobe Mixamo library to play on them. In the coming weeks we will be working on rigging characters that Red has alot of interactions with using Artv1, as well as animating Red and building out her animation controller.
When it came to 2D art for this week, I had some of the artist switch gears and create portraits for our dialogue feature in the game. This gave them a break from endlessly painting weights on different character rigs, and allow them to explore the overall tone of the game.
Week 8 marks our second to last week and we have made a lot of progress! Overall the functionality of the game has been completed with the core functions and the three mini games being functionally done. Merging is another issue but that is why I had an extra week planned just to do bug fixing and polishing.
On the art side, we had our artists finish up her idle and walking animations for Red. We were also able to finish rigs for the major NPCs such as the Prince, Lady in the Lake, and Rapunzel. Mixamo animations were also integrated into the project and hooked up to the background character rigs for our next build. Going into next week I will be having the team do a final art pass on assets they believe are lacking in quality and getting all the assets they want into the build for the trailer.
This week I also had to present to my class faculty about how my team was doing overall. I also had to detail how the team did file merging and showed it as a diagram to the left. In short I had file merging set up such that there were mulitple reduncies when dropping in assets. The goal was to catch where on the production pipeline the asset broke, and who's responsibilities it was to fix it. For example if the designer could not successfully pull out an asset from google drive than the issue fell to the artist to resolve.
Finally done! Above is a trailer showcasing what we were able to accomplish over the course of our 9 week production cycle. The game shiped with both functional art, working core features, and three different mini games. It also shows what I would consider our greatest accomplishment, getting a character modeled, rigged, textured, animated, exported, and working in engine.