Saturday, 16 June 2012

Dream.Build.Play: Could It Have Gone Better?

It's been a few days since Dream.Build.Play closed its doors but not before I had submitted by entry, Do You Know?. While the game might not be finished and ready for launch, Dream.Build.Play marked an important milestone, one of which was that after three years of working with XNA I actually submitted something to the competition. Is it a winner? Well, I'm a realist and based on the other entries in my category I'm going to say no. Hell, before the last day I was hoping to be a top 20 finalist, but now I'm fairly confident even this is out of my reach. But where did my entry go wrong or rather where could it have been better?

I Knew What I Wanted...More Time
From the start of the project I outlined everything I wanted from my game. Not the game as it was submitted, but the game as it will hopefully be when I finally release it to market. From this list I tried to outline what features would be able to capture the essence of the game, while still being realistic about what I could include within the competition timeframe. Unfortunately due to certain circumstances, some unforeseen, I started running out of time and features got cut. For instance, at the start of the competition I wanted to include online functionality. The game has been built with this in mind and the single console experience I submitted is built using a local network session. However because I hadn't been able to test the online portion (mainly because my PC build would refuse to create a session), I removed the menu for this feature from the submission. However, possibly this was a blessing as it freed up more time for the polish phase at the end.

Testing - The Wrong Way
Testing was pretty much non-existent, mainly because in addition to programming up my list I was subjected to feature creep. I was testing the game in small parts, pretty much as I coded up each feature on my list, but it wasn't until a couple of weeks before that I tested it as a whole. That was a mistake! As at some point during the process I broke my packet logic which lead me to debugging for a couple of days. This process also led to a few bugs slipping through the net that I had realised were present when I went to bed the night of the competition closing. However I believe these bugs are edge cases and therefore the judges shouldn't end up in situations that will cause them to happen.

I also had planned to do a an AppHub playtest for the game to get some feedback from the gaming community. Unfortunately I never got to a stage where I was confident for an outsider to see the game, which lead me to resort my girlfriend's opinion when she ran through it. Well that was after she had stopped laughing over my voice overs in the game. Once she had, her feedback also led to more feature creep. Some of which was on the day I was submitting my entry. This has definitely brought home how important playtests are. It brought to my attention how important features that I personally had written off because I deemed them as unnecessary, but actually prevented players from being confused. This realisation has led me to aim for a playtest for the end of the month, so stay tuned developers.

Key Features Not Obvious Enough
I had written down a few key features that I wanted my game to include based on limitations I have found with existing trivia titles. I want a wide selection of questions. I want those questions to appear differently in some way every time they appear in the game. I want the presentation of the game to be different every time the users play the game to keep it fresh (there's that word again). While the core concepts of these features were included in the game, the data that drives them were not. This means that to the untrained eye (i.e. the judges), these features do not exist. For instance, a lot of the questions I was going to include in the submission got cut in the worry that I would be subjected to one of Dream.Build.Play's rules; In reality I don't think my questions fell into this rule, but at the same time I didn't want my entry to be disqualified over something that could have been avoided. This resulted in my game not having much of question databank, which sucks.

A Different Kind Of Submission
Microsoft guide you through the submission process so that anyone who tries to submit something can. So what possibly could have gone wrong here? Well, apart from the quite frequent server errors during the upload process there was also a section to upload media that showcased your game. Screenshots were easy with XNA Device Center's ability to take screenshots straight from the console. This resulted in me picking images that represented that actual gameplay as best as I could through a static image and without using a single screenshot of my menu system :p However the problem came with the video representation that was submitted. After looking at a lot of the videos associated with a lot of the submissions I'm fairly confident my video was unique...but not in a good way.

At the present time I have no way of capturing gameplay footage of my game through the Xbox, and because my game relies quite heavily on avatars, PC footage was out of the question. This led to my video entry being a slideshow representation. This is so disheartening after the amount of effort I've put into the game so far. It's so disheartening that I have not made my video publically listed because I don't want the first thing gamers to see of my game being a slideshow.

...Not As Bad As I Thought
After pin pointing the problems with my submission a lot of the problems all come down to one thing...time. This is not surprising for a competition and the chosen circumstances I had decided to work against. If I had more time a lot of these problems could have been avoided and my submission would have been that bit more stronger. But this is just one of many milestones for my games development and as long as I learn from my mistakes I will win when it matters most...when my game hits the marketplace.


  1. David,

    Thanks for playtesting my game on the App Hub. Your feedback was very helpful.

    I can certainly relate to some of your experiences with the Dream Build Play competition.

    I wanted to share with you the two tools I've used for making video trailers that you may find helpful. Both come with their own video editing software and are pretty easy to use. In fact I really enjoyed the process of editing a video. You can capture low res video footage with the Dazzle HD. It costs less than $100. That is what I used to create the trailer for my last game. Don't let the HD in the name mislead you, as it will only capture low res. For my new game, I needed to record in high res since the characters are much smaller on screen. I recently took a gamble and bought the Hauppauge HD PVR, and could'nt be more pleased. It costs $200, and can record high res footage from your xbox. Both of these devices are pass-through, so you can play while recording. You can check out both trailers on the side panel of my devloper blog if you like.

    Thanks again for your help!

    Brent (K-dog)

  2. No problem Brent, glad to have tried out your game. Hopefully as mentioned in the post you will be able to try out my game at the end of the month. In regards to the video capturing advice thank you for your suggestions. I've currently got my eye on a capture card for my PC but just waiting for sufficient funds to be available :P

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