My Addiction to Teamfight Tactics (LoL Auto Chess), Review, and Virtual board games.

What is TFT?

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In my own words: Teamfight Tactics (TFT) is a auto battle game where the objective to built the strongest army of units and items in order to eliminate the competition and be the last team remaining.

Have you ever played pokemon, and considered what pokemon to bring out on your next adventure. Our what arrangement of pokemon would work best against a particular gym? Well that’s the feeling almost every second in a 30-45 minute game of TFT.

You combine units by making pairs of three, into a “2 Star“ unit. Combine three two star units and you get a powerful 3 Star unit.

Items are similar in that you can combine them, but there are many combinations and effects. Each unique combination of two items makes a interesting effect to consider for any team. Things like a morellonomicon can make spells deal burn damage and stop healing.

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Why is it fun? Addicting?

The game is fun because of all the decision trees that are constantly going through your head as a player. Should I go brawlers? There are two elementalists that I can buy right now, should I switch my entire team for them? All of these questions and hard choices are made through simple repeated random choices and unit combinations.

These decision trees along side the fact that there is a incentive to hoard gold for interest gives the player a sense of tug and pull. Saving gold for added interest gold at the risk of falling behind on unit power, or spending gold like a mad man to keep a win streak going that also rewards gold.

The game is a delicate balancing act and always reminds me of a thing I learned in film class. The excitement curve that most movies follow is something that happens naturally in every game of TFT. You spend lots of gold? An early rising action to a later fall in power and potential climax of risk. You horde gold and are on the edge of your seat the whole time as your health bar dips below 20%? Either way or if you weren’t following a strategy at all leads to a engaging gameplay experience almost every time.

To be fair the action isnt always the most exciting, and the game is not for everyone as you are basically just watching units fight and micro managing them all. But for the inner strategy lover in me, and my childhood memories of playing many team builder games like pokemon and final fantasy, I’m hooked.

First TFT game.PNG

What to learn?

The game has continued support from devs, even after slightly changing target audience.

The systems design supports more player interaction.

The game itself is something that only a virtual board game could do.

Conclusion

I love teamfight tactics, and will continue to come back and see how the game is supported. I want to see the iterations of PURELY virtual board games, in ways that have not been explored yet. There is more to see and explore in games that push what it means to be a virtual board game. I love games like mario party, hearthstone, and TFT that could only be on a computer due to either the controls, or the computing power to support the game. And I think there is more yet to explore.

Dino Delivery - Post Mortem

Dino Delivery - Intro

Dino Delivery is a third person adventure/puzzle game about a boy and his dinosaur best friend and their quest to recover the lost mail of their town. (Download Link coming soon)

A 28 person team (Including volunteers) that I worked on over my senior year at DigiPen. The team worked on this game for a whole two years, which not many DigiPen projects do.

I as a level designer and interaction designer was tasked with scooping down the world, polishing and implementing new excited puzzles into the world, and just helping in general with bugs and implementation.

Post Mortem Goals

The goals of this post mortem is to review and understand how our project succeeded and where we fell flat. During all parts of development where could we improve and most importantly where can we learn and do better in the future.

Post Mortem Thoughts

Planning and Organization

Some of the best parts of being a part of this project was just how organized and and well thought out our development time was. Our producer, Jeremy McCarty, was by far the best producer I’ve had at my time at DigiPen. Utilizing a waterfall production pipeline to get tasks done. Being a scrum master. And using lots of extra resources externally well like Jira, Slack, and Slite. All of these things combined made Jeremy a great person to work with and a real leader.

When we hit the fourth semester of our development we hit a bit of a slow-down period. Jeremy had graduated earlier than most all of us on the team and we had to pick up the slack for him. Even though we didn’t have much to do in this final semester we really had a hard time sitting down all as a group and tackling some of the last few things. We got through it in the end, but not as smoothly as when Jeremy was here.

Clarity in Vision, Goals, and Systems

The three main parts to fully understanding a project and being able to work without any restrictions are. Clarity in vision what the project should look or feel like. Clarity in goals what the people want out of the project. Lastly, clarity in systems how the devs can understand what they are working on and how to do things.

Our clarity of vision was very clear as having our art lead Taylor having fantastic vision and hold on what our game was meant to look like. I never interacted or overheard any of the art meetings but she did a great job at making sure all the assets added to the game were up to standards. She also did a great job at letting or narrative designer Serria take control of the narrative and give feedback when needed.

Our clarity of goals is very clear in all of our industry goals being met and all people working on the project. We were able to have such a big team because of the leadership of Jeremy. This let us all work on the things in the game that we really felt passionate about and want to do in the industry.

Clarity of systems is one of the areas that I feel we fell short on. Joining the team halfway through development is a big downside to understanding the systems. But mainly Jeremy being so good at almost everything can turn into a downside. During the third semester development (Fall 2018) we had a lot to do in a short time. This became a problem of Jeremy being stretched really thin. Almost everyone on the team looked to Jeremy if they had a problem with a system they didn’t understand. Overall we got through it, but I’m sure we stressed out Jeremy a bit more than we needed to.

Success Criteria

Lastly our main way to determine if we succeeded is yet to be determined. Some of the goals that we had a team are yet to be met and others we have already succeeded in. One of the areas that most of us have already succeeded in is having a great portfolio piece. Like I’ve already mentioned most of the team got to work on what they wanted to while improving the game.

Some of the things that we will need to wait on are yet to happen yet. We had some early goals of getting our game on x-box, but when those plans fell through we looked to get our game on steam. We are still in the process of getting on steam, so we will see. And lastly we would like our game to get some outside recognition, gong to PAX or GDC. This will most likely need to happen in the later year because we just shipped. But we are hopeful and look towards the future.

Conclusion

Overall Dino Delivery is one of my favorite projects that I worked on at DigiPen. The whole team worked fantastic together and I would recommend any of them in the future to work with again. I am proud of our game and team, and am excited to see where we can ship and what people think of it when they can download and play the final release. Thank you.

-Tony Benson

Post-Production on Dino Delivery

PRE-PRODUCTION

JOINING THE TEAM IN POST PRODUCTION POLISH STAGE MEANT THAT THE TEAM ALREADY HAD A SOLID PROJECT IN PLACE. THE REASON FOR ME JOINING WAS TO HELP POLISH THE MAP AND TAKE OVER THE PUZZLE DESIGN AND PLACEMENT IN THE GAME.

CATCH UP

JOINING A TEAM MID DEVELOPMENT MEANS THERE ARE SOME THINGS TO CATCH-UP ON. EVEN FOR A TEAM WORKING IN UNREAL THERE ARE LOST OF THINGS THAT CHANGE FROM TEAM TO TEAM.

CUSTOM SCRIPTS, BLUEPRINT ORGANIZATION, FILE NAMING AND ORGANIZATION, AND MORE.

RE-WORK / CUT CONTENT

PART OF JOINING THE TEAM WAS TO HELP BRING THE GAME TO A STATE OF PROFESSIONAL POLISH. ONE OF OUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES WAS GOING TO BE FILLING THIS HUGE WORLD WITH THINGS TO DO AND SEE. OUR PLAN WAS TO CUT PART OF THE WORLD OUT IN FAVOR OF KEEPING THE GOOD CONTENT THAT WAS THERE. THIS WAS MY BIGGEST TASK JOINING THE TEAM. AND OVERALL WENT REALLY GOOD.

FIRST I DREW OUT THE CONTENT THAT WAS IN THE GAME, THEN STARTED BRAINSTORMING WAYS TO CUT CONTENT. AFTER THE MAP WAS PLANNED OUT, I STARTED IN UNREAL CUTTING AND SHIFTING THE WORLD AROUND THE NEW PLAN.

DEVELOP

AFTER CUTTING MOST OF THE OLD WORLD WE HAD A BETTER IDEA FOR WHAT THE GAME WAS GOING TO LOOK LIKE. I CAM DOWN TO PLACING NEW ASSETS IN THE WORLD AND DOING A FIRST PASS ON SET DRESSING THE WORLD.

SOME OF MY TASKS IN THIS STAGE WAS IMPLEMENTING QUEST LINES FOR THE PLAYER IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE MAP. STARTING AT THE MARKET AREA, AND CONTINUING ALL THE WAY TO THE END.

POLISH!

THE FINAL PUSH FOR POLISH WAS ALL HANDS ON DECK FOR BUG FIXING AND GOLD LEVEL SET-DRESSING. WE GAVE UP ON JIRA STYLE BUG REPORTS IN FAVOR OF QUICK ITERATION BOUNTY BOARD STYLE BUG LISTS. THIS HELPED WHEN MOVING FROM BUG TO BUG FIXING SMALL THINGS IN THE WORLD OR RANDOM BLUEPRINTS THAT GOT BROKEN.

OUR FINAL MONTH OF PLAY-TESTING AND BUG FIXING WAS A STRESSFUL ONE, FIXING FATAL ERRORS, WORKING ON PERFORMANCE AND GETTING NEW THINGS IN THE GAME CONSTANTLY THAT WOULD BREAK THINGS IN UNKNOWN AND INTERESTING WAYS. BUT AT THE END WE SHIPPED A PRODUCT WE ARE NOT YET HAPPY WITH.

WE ARE CONTINUING FOR ONE MORE SEMESTER, (4 MONTHS) TO WORK OUT ALL THE EXTRA KINKS AND SHIP SOMETHING THAT WILL MAKE EVERYONE PROUD.

4 Act Level Design In Synthalaxy

The game that I worked on my spring 2017 semester was a joy to work on. We had a very interesting chance to implement a great level design technique that I learned from a YouTube video. In this video from Mark Brown called "Super Mario 3D World's 4 Step Level Design | Game Maker's Toolkit" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBmIkEvEBtA) he talks about an interesting design technique used for the most recent platformer Mario games. 

The 4 steps in Mark Brown's video are great but don't work the same when you have split the game into 1 World and 4 smaller levels. Because they didn't really work for everything I came up with my own theory/technique. The 4 acts that I came up with to design ANY experience, big or small, go as follows:

1) Intro - The intro act is the most obvious yet the easiest to mess up. The main parts of the intro include teaching the main mechanic or interesting portion of the game/world. Next letting the players get a feel for the game/world. Letting players get a feel for the world is the hardest part, some designers think that the teaching is the main part. Letting players get a feel for whats to come builds anticipation and sets expectations. This portion of the game is usually safe and players generally don't lose or die in this portion.

2) Ride - The ride act is simple and pretty straight forward. The player in this section must use the mechanic or interesting portion of the intro in order to complete the ride act. This gives the player some reinforcement of theme and mechanics setting them up for the next act.

3) Twist - The twist is when we design a portion of the game that the player must use the already taught mechanic in a unique, interesting or different way than previously.  This new twist is also not explicitly taught to the player letting them use their intuition and discovery to solve the puzzle or understand the plot/theme. This is great because it makes the player feel smart when they understand the twist in the plot of a story or solve a puzzle in a way they never thought was possible.

4) Climax - This is the final boss, mastery, challenge level or climax to the plot of the game. All plot has been pointing to this moment and the player must use all of the previously used and taught mechanics to get passed the level or boss. If you skip out on a previously taught mechanic or skill then the player might feel like what they played previously was useless. This is the same when a plot line is not wrapped up in a story. The Mastery act lets the players master the skills taught in order to get a huge pay off and some of the best and most memorable parts in video games are in the climax.

Overall this theory/technique has its flaws, but I think it does a good job at fitting any part of a game. This technique was used when designing the 4 levels to each world in Synthalaxy, as well as the overall world structure for the game. For example world 1 - 1 let you learn movement and pulling enemies in a safe environment (INTRO). World 1 - 2 let you move around in a less safe environment (RIDE). World 1 - 3 introduced the turret enemies, but was still about pulling and killing enemies (TWIST). World 1 - 4 was the final level making you master pulling enemies in an interesting way (CLIMAX). Overall all worlds are structured in the same way.

Thanks for reading my design technique that I learned from designing Synthalaxy. Taking inspiration from both Mark Brown's wonderful video, and some of the narrative techniques taught by my Game Analysis and Theory 211 professor, Boyan Radakovich. 

Here is Synthalaxy available for download: https://games.digipen.edu/games/synthalaxy#.Wd04PGhSzcc

More blog posts to come...