Minor Battle: A Game Too Small for One Screen
by Deborah M. Fike · 03/06/2009 (1:45 pm) · 6 comments
With Torque currently licensed in over 200 schools, we have seen a lot of interesting student game projects over the years here at GarageGames. Every once in a while, however, one game project really stands out. I first saw Andre Clark's thesis game project a few months back on our forums and have subsequently seen articles about his game, Minor Battle, all over the Internet.
Minor Battle is a 2D multiplayer platformer displayed on multiple screens. Four players play on teams of two. Each player controls one character and they must move their character around the level to complete different objectives. Since the level is spread across multiple screens, the players must physically move from one screen to another while controlling their avatar. The game uses traditional platform mechanics such as running, jumping and attacking, but it is the physical interaction of having the game played across four screens that really makes this game stand out. You've got to see it to truly appreciate it:
I caught Andre in between game project meetings and school work to ask him what it was like developing Minor Battle. Enjoy his responses below!
What makes Minor Battle unique?Minor Battle creates an instant connection between the physical space and the virtual game space. Using multiple screens, each having different information about the level displayed on them, causes players to become more physically engaged in the overall process of playing the game. Players move not only to control their avatar from one area to the next, but to see what other players are doing on different screens. Having a physical area transform into a play space immediately creates very interesting social behaviors amongst players.
Where did your inspiration come from?Minor battle was first conceived from a 14 screen panorama I had to create for class last year. I created a stick figure battle between two kingdoms (click here for a peek at that panorama, using arrows to scroll left and right). When it came time to show it off in class, I wondered how fun it would be to control one of these stick figure characters and move around this huge canvas battling other players. And thus, the concept for Minor Battle was born.
"The most difficult thing about developing Minor Battle is finding a balance between being a graduate student working on a thesis and being a game designer experimenting with gameplay mechanics." - Andre Clark
What has the development process been like?After drafting some of the basics of the game, two friends from class and I created a Flash prototype. This prototype used four projector screens and was only a single player game. The player would move through the level running, jumping and killing any enemy that spawned. This prototype proved that the gameplay was interesting and deserved more attention.
From there, I wrote up a few documents and sketched out some concepts until I was comfortable beginning the second stage of development. Initially, this was a solo project. I set up a multiplayer framework using Torque X and the Platformer Starter Kit. Once this school year began, I was able to gather a team of students that were excited to work on this project.
The team size has fluctuated a bit through the past 8 months. At one point there were about 20 students on the team, each fulfilling a different role in the process. Currently we have a team of 8, with many of us filling multiple roles across design, production, programming, art, and sound.
We really wanted to use the various talents of the team to the fullest extent. For the most part, each person was accountable for a set of weekly tasks. This kept the development process pretty smooth as far as getting things done and seeing what else needed to be done. As a team, I would stress that this is a collaborative process. I wanted everyone to feel as though they had input for different parts of the game, even if that wasn’t their main role on the team. Of course, to keep things from getting too crazy, we have a producer and art director to act as a filter, and then I oversee all major decisions.
It has been a little less than a year since Minor Battle was initially designed. The pre-production phase took about two months to understand the underlying game that was to be made. This time was also used to explore the various tools and engines before settling on Torque X. We’ve been in development for about eight months now.
Minor Battle's greatest draw are the social interactions that arise between players.
Why did you use Torque to create the game?Torque X was attractive to me because I have experience with the Torque 2D engine from past classes, so I was familiar with the capabilities of the engine. On top of that, C# is one of my favorite programming languages for its power and ease of use. I’ve been interested in XNA game development for a while, so when I found out about Torque X and the Platformer Kit, I immediately fell in love.
How have you managed QA and beta testing so far?A significant amount of testing came from Minor Battle being presented at various showcases or events on campus. Because this is a multiplayer game that is site-specific, we needed to hold tests in venues where we were guaranteed to get lots of traffic. We’ve had about 3 showcases on campus that allowed us to get feedback from different types of players. We have recently begun holding biweekly play sessions where we try to get 4 to 8 new players to test the game and give us feedback on multiple components of the game. On top of this, the game is a part of the “Advanced Game Project” class, so we have weekly play sessions with our professors and advisors in the class. We constantly take notes on the feedback and use them to drive our production forward.
The team creates a new prototype every week, testing new and polished mechanics. They would then use the prototype as a gauge for what needs to be added next week.
What have you learned while developing Minor Battle?I’ve learned that rapid prototyping and iterations on the game project are the best tools to keep a team motivated. Every week we bring in minor improvements and features for the game into our team meetings, and it is obvious that people really get excited to see progress no matter how small. Some of the biggest struggles you can encounter with a student project spawn from lack of motivation from the team. I’ve learned that anything I can do to keep the team motivated directly improves the chances of creating a high quality game.
What are your next steps for Minor Battle?The main task at the moment is to get Minor Battle feature complete by mid-April because we have a big end of the year show in May. (We will be showcasing it at the USC Interactive Media Thesis Show, May 9-14th on USC Campus.) We still want to add a game mode and tweak player mechanics to really bring out some exciting play. Once the school year is over, I plan on seeking venues that may want to showcase the game. I really want to see how far I can go with this project, because I am excited about what it can potentially mean for games one day.
You have any other game projects in the works?I have a few projects and ideas that I’ve kept to the side. One that I think has potential as a possible WiiWare title has gone through a few prototypes, but still needs some design work before development. For the most part, Minor Battle has been taking a lot of my energy, but I definitely plan on working on some new projects very soon.
It's great to see a student project in development, and I personally look forward to watching Andre's foray into game development continue. Good luck on your thesis!
And if you're interested in these types of blogs, check out GarageGames' Dev Interview series.