A Game About Feel
In my last year at DigiPen Institute of Technology, I wanted to explore something more focused on satisfying “game feel” than my previous titles. Given the limited amount of time I would have, I opted to keep the same top-down arena shooter dynamics I studied while working on Rekkage, but traded modular engineering for an increased focus on that gameplay that feels great in the moment.
Being an advocate for design self-sufficiency, I began Wingman as a solo project to ensure that I was able to establish compelling core gameplay as well as creating a strong visual look and feel for each arena level. Once I had solid gameplay and each level felt very close to my goal, I began collaborating with artists to help extend the beauty of the game while staying true to the tone and atmosphere I had already built.
What Went Right
I would say we’ve succeeded at accomplishing several of my goals, including:
- Regular Critique from Industry Leaders – Getting regular critique and mentoring from industry leaders was crucial to achieving a visual look and feel for the characters and worlds that excels beyond student standards.
- Gameplay first – The core gameplay of Wingman was prototyped in a matter of hours, with a strong emphasis on building a solid [yet expandable] gameplay core before diving into content development.
- Minimal Attachment – Keeping an objective eye on how each feature was developing helped us efficiently evaluate new ideas, prototype a broader range of interesting content, and build a library of shelved experiments for later re-evaluation if needed.
- UX focus early in development – Whereas Rekkage reflects a lot of focus on content and gameplay, Wingman demonstrates a much stronger commitment to pick-up-and-play mechanics and the new user experience.
- Strong visual look and feel – Through heavy collaboration with several absolutely excellent artists, we were able to ship multiple visually-captivating worlds.
- Scope Management – Some of the content proposed in the original prototype was recognized early in development as unrealistic, and was appropriately cut in favor of increased polish on less content.
What Went Wrong
This project also suffered some mild setbacks, including:
- Team-based Strategy – Early playtesting led the game towards more of a fast-paced arena combat setting. While this did create an awesome player experience in one regard, the faster pace makes it very difficult for players to coordinate strategy in real time (though some players still managed to succeed at it).
- Player Retention – While I explicitly wanted to focus on game feel over retention, I feel as if the game’s frequent intensity made it harder to achieve long-term player retention.
What I’ve Learned
This was the first major game that I’ve led the creative development for since Rekkage, so this has been a great opporunity to learn how to integrate a strong UX, facilitate an excellent visual atmosphere, and produce a game that just feels great to play. Most of all, Wingman has taught me an efficient way of taking a designer-built prototype and communicating with a full team of artists and sound designers on how to capture the essence of the experience while still giving them creative freedom.