It’s thesis year and I am already in my 3rd and final year at USC for my MFA in Interactive Media and Games program. The year 2014 has been quite a year and here are some of the things I have been doing since the start of the year.
The start of the Spring Semester at the end of my 2nd year meant that it was time to explore and discover what my thesis project would be. So many ideas were rushing through my mind on what I wanted to accomplish.
One idea revolved around embedding technology in the physical environment like cellphones in trees. This idea came from my experience in playing around with the Nintendo 3DS street pass functionality. I took the idea of people interacting indirectly through their devices. Having phones embedded in the environment create conduits for people to leave their mark or messages for people to pick up. I was fascinated about encouraging people to visit different locations to retrieve interesting information from what others have left behind and adding the idea of merging the digital and physical environments together.
A second idea involved with my love for electronic dance music and the dungeon creation aspect of Dungeon and Dragons. This experience incorporates physical activity by taking people natural inclination to dance in a club and transforming the dance floor into the dungeon map. By incorporating wireless headphones to track their location and movements, images project on the walls and dance floor will transform the environment. Maybe the dancer encounters a music monster boss or discovered a new item changes the visuals they see and the music they hear. It is one of my most ambitious ideas as it involves incorporating technology that I am not familiar with. Also it is an experience created for the physical environment instead of a traditional digital experience that I am familiar with.
My third and final thesis idea incorporated concepts in exploring how narrative is told through may mediums. This focused on combining storytelling techniques of traditional point and click adventure games and comic books. Books in their own sense are non-linear as the reader has the agency to jump at any point in the book, backwards or forwards. It would be interesting to see if the game can create a book for the player so they can “flip” through the experience and recall all the actions they have taken. Most games record past actions as a synopsis instead of a visual representation. I wanted to create a point and click adventure game that generates comic panels from important actions the player has taken during their journey. At any point during the game, the player can flip back and re-experience the decision made. A completed comic book at the end that they can share with friends. Maybe even be able to flip ahead to “peak” what actions are awaiting them.
I ended up exploring further on my third idea and pitched it to my professors for our final thesis pitch. There were some researchers looking at storytelling through comic design. Microsoft even created a messaging application that creates comic panels (frame and composition) based on the content of the chat box. Yet I had some reservation on this idea as it requires a large amount of art content and I was not confident in my programming abilities to make this experience happen. There was still time to pick which idea would be best so I left it to the summer to figure it all out.
The first major event to kick off the summer is the extravagant Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014 (E3). I was really excited to see what games would be announced for the new generation of home game consoles. However there were many cool new independently developed games showing their imagination of the games medium. It was great to get hands on with Destiny, Super Smash Brothers, Gauntlet and the really popular Evolve (waited over 3 hours to play!). One of the surprises at E3 was the new Nintendo IP Splatoon. It was a blast to play! If Nintendo decided to make a third person shooter, Splatoon would be it. The idea of using your paint to capture territory and to destroy enemies create an interesting dynamic. I can’t wait to see what it would finally play like when it comes out next year.
I did also watch the big three (and big publisher’s) conferences at home. Microsoft did a much better job this year compare to last year while Sony stumbled a bit. Nintendo did a much better with their Nintendo Direct stream as it felt better paced and it showed off many new games. They also finally showed off a sneak peak of the new Legend of Zelda game for the WiiU and it looked beautiful. Can’t wait for it to come out next year. I wish Sony showed more features of their Morpheus Virtual Reality headset as I am curious on what advantages it will have against the Oculus Rift’s headset. Microsoft once again did not show any use for its innovated Kinect v2.0 or give any reason to own one. It is really neat technology that needs content to help prove its purpose.
Of course playing these games are half of the experience. The other half involved collecting free goodies at all the different booths. Of course there were a bunch of t-shirts but there were some unique items given out. One of my favorites was the burn pack from the Titanfall booth. These collectable cards had item image and description on them and the card themselves had a nice solid feeling to them. It made me which to see a Titanfall playing card game. Sunset Overdive has a special vending machine that gives a special Sunset Overdrive energy drink Overcharge. But the best “swag” I received last, a statue of Geralt with his Trophy from the Witcher III. It even included a stylish tote bag to boot. There is great amount of detail on the statue and it would look great on my desk. It was the highlight of my swag run of E3.
E3 was not the only thing I was doing that week. I was given an amazing opportunity to be an associate producer at Studio Guts working on their very first Kickstarter for Aegis Defenders. One of my first assignments was to get the game ready for show at the Media Indie Exchange (MIX) event where independent developers showcase their games to the media in a comfortable environment outside of the E3 conference. I was in charge of setting up our booth, getting the game into people’s hands and talking to the media all about Aegis Defenders. However not just media showed up, the lead designer from Grasshopper Manufacture (makers of Killer 7, No More Heros and Killer is Dead) really loved Aegis Defenders! It was great to hear this from a revered studio that proved the concept that Bryce Kho and Lifu Lin have been working on for a long time.
Next stop for the major Aegis Defenders push was at Anime Expo. We were originally planning to launch the Kickstarter at Anime Expo however our trailer was not yet ready and we were still figuring out the exact pricing tiers. It was really cool to go to Anime Expo as a vendor and see the inner workings in setting up a booth before the conferenced began. It also revealed a lot of processes that need to be accomplished like getting tables setup, purchasing power and getting chairs for visitors to sit in. As the associate producer I was running around all over the place to make sure everything was in place. I’ve made quite a few Office Depot runs to get our information cards printed as we did run out. The company ordered over 5,000 cards and they were all gone by the end of the convention.
Of course it was not all just getting the basics done, I got to help run the booth and sell exclusive Anime Expo Aegis Defenders T-shirts. With six-computer stations setup we got a lot of guests to get hands on with the game. Many were impressed and even shared their positive thoughts on their Youtube Channel! We also did a huge social media push having people like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. If they did, they were entered to win a large film-size poster of the two main characters of Aegis Defenders. It was exhausting by the end of the conference but the team was happy with the results as people truly enjoyed the game.
But Studio Guts was not about to rest as we had a Kickstarter to launch! Being an associate producer I was in charge of contacting as many Youtubers, Twitch Streamers and Press as possible to start writing impressions of the game and have it ready when we launch the Kickstarter. The lovely Lai and Brian also helped a great deal, as they were able to get connections with the creator of Shovel Knight to have a Shovel Knight skin in the game! We also had amazing conversations Alonso Martin, creator of Heart Forth Alicia, on how he started his Kickstarter. These insights help us make smarter decisions, as we wanted to maximize the amount we can during this time period. Bodie Lee from Lunar Ray Games was awesome as he featured us on his closing Twitch Stream and allowed us have a Kobo familiar skin in his successfully Kickstarter game Timespinners. It gave us a huge signal boost to a new audience.
So the day finally came. July 30th 2014. A Wednesday. Studio Guts was up an early and we already hit our first snag. The Kickstarter Page had too many characters so we couldn’t launch the project. We delayed the launch for a half hour to convert most of the page into an image and by 8:29am we launched. The team spent months on making the Kickstarter perfect. Making a high quality trailer, engaging animated GIF images and clear descriptions for all the tiers. Our first day ended with a bang as the Kickstarter raised over $18,000 from 382 backers. We were a lost for words as we did not anticipate that much on the first day since we are just a small indie studio with no prior record. Launching the Kickstarter was just half the battle. We needed to keep the momentum going.
One of the tricky things about launching the Kickstarter when we did was in a couple weeks it would be Penny Arcade’s PAX East and a week before our Kickstarter ends would be Comic Con San Diego. But didn’t stop us. Shout outs from Kickstarters and coverage from many Let’s Play Youtuber helped spread the word of our game. We also got coverage from publications from around the world as you can see here. My mom even helped us get an article about the game in Sino Chinese Monthly in a printed newspaper! Not to many kickstarters can say they have been printed in a local Chinese Newspaper. I got a copy for everyone at Studio Guts. Hopefully it will be nicely framed.
After the 35 days we ended with $145,815 smashing our goal of $65,000 by 224%! This was beyond the teams wildest dreams as the game was now also coming to the Playstation 4 beyond the initial Mac and PC build. However we were close to our WiiU stretch goal and continue the campaign through our Slacker Backer page. It was an amazing experience working with Studio Guts and a great way to end my summer break before my final year at USC. Bryce and Lifi took a well deserve break after the campaign ended and will be completely refreshed to work and complete Aegis Defenders.
This leads into the start of my final year at USC however it was just to start right away as there were two weeks of Resident Advisor training that still needed to be accomplished. It was great to meet and better understand my staff this year. I can’t believe this would be my 5th year as an RA. Makes me think I’m already primed to work for residential education but games are still my passion. With the intensive training completed, school now begins.
As with the previous 3rd years, we finally get our very own thesis space! I couldn’t wait to set up can begin work. During this time also I decided on my thesis idea. I really like all of the ideas that I had before so distilled the essence into one sentence: “Exploring storytelling through environmental design.” I wanted to accomplish something that I was proud of and an experience that I can share with everyone. I worked with famous writer Maureen McHugh on solidifying my story idea and turning it into an interactive experience. I didn’t want to classify my project as a “game” but more of an interactive narrative fiction since it closely resembles games like Dear Esther and Kentucky Route Zero.
Berattande is the code name of my thesis project. It comes from the Swedish word for narrative. I hope you can follow the progress of my project here. I am working with really talented people in the 1st and 2nd years in the Interactive Media and Games MFA program to bring my vision to life. It is sort of a scary experience for me as this will be me final project at USC and it this thesis determines what I will leave behind at the university. I hope it is something worthwhile that others will appreciate.
If you made this far of my blog post, I congratulate you, as there was much to cover from the beginning of 2014 to this point in time. Next stop will be our Winter Thesis Show on December 5th. I hope all the choices I have made to this point proved to be worth it.
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Memory Log 10-10-2014CE Recorded Complete.