Nexus: Status Update Week 9

Vertical Slice, GDC, Spring Break, a week of classes, and the flu has all come and gone since my last post. A lot has happened in three and half weeks and I am just now getting around to catching up on the blog.

After Vertical Slice I headed off to GDC, which was an amazing experience. I won’t get into any details about GDC, but while I was gone, Nexus was obtaining and integrating new teammates and there was a lot going on at FIEA.

Right after vertical slice, if you were on a project that was cut, you will be reassigned to a new team. Typically faculty tries their best to go back and see what game you rated highly during the pitches so that they can place you on that team. They also ask the team for any special requests, and they also entertain requests from individuals themselves.

From that, the remaining Capstone games, Scarfell, Nexus and Dead West each required new teammates from Erado and Organ Grinder.  Aside from teaching us that projects can and do get cut, FIEA also teaches you the difficulties of acquiring new team members.

It is always a challenge for any project to acquire new people. It is tough on the team and it’s of course tough on the new members. Those coming from Organ Grinder and Erado are naturally still disappointed about having their work cut. Meanwhile the teams obtaining the new members are trying to reassess their game, all while trying to get the new teammates caught up.

For the most part, the week after Vertical Slice is re-organization, code clean up, and just overall ramp-up. You need to make sure the new teammates are given their new desks and you have to get them up to speed on how the team does things. This includes Perforce and coding standards as well as possibly learning a whole new engine for some people.

One thing with Vertical Slice being six weeks in is that it hovers closely around Spring Break. This year Spring Break was a week after Vertical Slice. Suffice to say motivation was probably lower than normal and the teams were slow to ramp up. Also, we were all naturally pretty tired from Vertical Slice, so motivation itself was low to begin with.

As such, the teams struggled out of the gate and the Status Updates this week were pretty rough. In the end, it was an interesting lesson for all of the teams.

Classes have been back for a week now and all of us are getting back into our natural flows. So with that brief overview of what happens post Vertical Slice, I will dive back into Nexus and update everyone on what’s going on.

First, Nexus acquired six more members. We acquired three producers, two artists and one more programmer. Five out of the six new teammates had worked in UDK before, so for the most part, there was little ramp-up in terms of engine. However, there was one Producer who came over from the Vision engine and they had to quickly learning UDK so that they could hit the ground running.

Overall, everyone seemed to get adapted quickly and the Nexus team was starting to refocus. We sat down and figured out what our plans were going forward. There were a lot of design meetings to determine what kind of new levels we wanted to introduce and there was also a lot of ramp-up meetings.

Time went by pretty fast, as it usually does. Spring Break was nearing an end, and we had a status update on Tuesday. As I alluded to earlier, the three teams, Nexus included, didn’t have much to show. During the break, we did a lot of planning and a lot of clean up.

First, we re-organized our UDK packages. During the heat of Vertical Slice sometimes you just forgo structure and organization even though you shouldn’t. But you do just to make things go faster and easier. Sadly, this was slowly coming back to bite us as our packages were getting messy.

So we reorganized the packages, moved assets to more logical locations, renamed files to meet naming conventions, and even removed a lot of duplicate files. We also spent this time re-organizing Perforce a bit and doing a bit of code clean up.

While that was all great and was necessary, it certainly wasn’t something we could show during the status update. This is where we fell back on figuring out what we wanted to create.

First, we decided to pretty much put the previous two levels we had created aside. They fit our needs for Vertical Slice, but they were never our original intended levels. They were awesome levels so we will be using most of the assets we created as we develop our new designs.

One of the first areas we fleshed out is an Aztec bridge area. The artists started doing some concepts for the various pieces we had in mind for this new section and we started determining some of the possible puzzle elements and ways to use the powers.

The artists spent most of Spring Break doing their concept work and even working on some of the Zbrush sculpts for the unique assets for the new area (you can see some of the concepts below).

While the artists were working on concepts, the team reassessed the mechanics a bit. From this, we came to a conclusion that while our powers were functional and seemed pretty cool, they were uninspiring and were not fun.

A good meeting or two was spent on this topic and out of it was born a new mechanic. We have kept the powers mostly as they are, but we have modified how the player goes about using the powers.

Originally, mass was going to be our main resource. The player would have a set level of mass and they would manipulate objects and themselves by giving or taking away mass. We have thrown that out and have instead replaced it with something we are tentatively calling “shards.”

The player will now have two shards as their resource, one on each hand. To be able to use the powers, the player must launch a shard and place it on an object. They will shoot out a shard and hit an object and then they will shoot out the other shard on a different object, or perhaps even the same object. From that they will apply mass, and the forces of attract or repel on those shards themselves, rather than manipulating the actual object like they did before.

This new way of controlling the powers opens up a lot of more opportunities. We feel it gives our powers more of a unique system that we can use to build cool amazing ideas. Before the player could just spam the powers and they were hard to use. Now, there is a system in place that makes it more fleshed out and engaging.

The player could throw two shards onto two objects and smash the objects together. Or maybe they could throw a shard on the roof, and then the other on a platform and using attract and repel forces they could create a makeshift elevator. Maybe they could throw a shard on one gear, and then the other on a second gear and cause them to rotate in their proper direction.

In the end, this decision wasn’t made lightly. We sat down as a team and we all made sure this was the new mechanic we wanted. Everyone had to be on board with as there was no going back. Everyone agreed and this will be the new mechanic in Nexus!

Well, that was mostly what we discussed during our Status Update this week. We showed a lot of the cool concept art and we discussed our new mechanic. We also talked about the new traversal system our programmers are working on. Sadly we didn’t have anything in engine to really show this week, but we are confident in our new mechanic. We have the basic system working in UDK now and we have some of our initial ideas in place.

With that, we are certainly looking forward to demonstrating our new mechanic next week!

Until then, I will leave you with some of the concept art we showed on Tuesday. Thanks for reading a long post and we look forward to sharing a new mechanic and the start of our new level next week. Also, we will be continuing our video status updates next week, so look out for that as well. Thanks again!

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