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Nov 18 2013

TIGA Game Hack

  This past weekend two of the Guerilla Tea unit, namely Alex and Matt working u...

Nov 18 2013 By: matt Close

TIGA Game Hack

 

This past weekend two of the Guerilla Tea unit, namely Alex and Matt working under the alternate name ‘Guerilla Pizza’ (dubbed Grill-A Pizza by Ryan Locke) attended the TIGA Game Hack 2013.

After packing up a portion of the Guerilla Tea office PCs late on Friday, they arrived on Saturday morning and set up their own Grill-A Pizza office in the fish tank area of Abertay University’s Kydd Building.

 

 

So armed with coffee, energy drinks and a lorry load of pizza, they were ready to receive the top secret theme of the game jam…

And the theme was… Childhood.

Utilising the recently refined creative process practiced at the Guerilla Tea HQ, they set about deciding exactly what would be made in the following 24 hours. Five minutes for open ended brainstorming and a further twenty five minutes to refine the ideas into a coherent game concept.

The end result of this was a Sandbox game.

Project scope is always an issue at game jams, and it’s even more of an issue when you’re trying to run an indie company, but this was no ordinary sandbox game. Contrary to any initial notion you may have had of them trying to build a full open world game in 24 hours, what they in fact did was take the term sandbox literally and piece together a game set in a child’s sandpit.

It’s a tower defense game with an interesting twist. You can deform the sandy terrain to create mountains and canyons. This will cause navigation problems for the enemy tanks hell-bent on destroying your precious sandcastle.
From here you have additional defences at your fingertips. Place cannons, robots and helicopters on the mountains you’ve created and they will fire-at-will on any attacking foe.

That’s the gameplay in the form of a blurb, but if a picture says a thousand words…

 

 

Then a video must say a million, right.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3OJr3dct3U

And if a video says a million, then a working prototype must say a… Googol

http://www.guerillatea.net/sandboxtd/

So the game jam ended and Alex and Matt were very very very very very tired. They unfortunately didn’t win a prize but they finished with something that is certainly more valuable to Guerilla Tea; a great prototype with a huge potential of becoming a strong original IP for the company. A great event and a huge thanks to TIGA.

For now it’s back to running a studio!

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Apr 10 2013

Busy Times

It’s been a wild few months for Guerilla Tea so thought we’d reflect on what’s been g...

Apr 10 2013 By: matt Close

Busy Times

It’s been a wild few months for Guerilla Tea so thought we’d reflect on what’s been going on.

 

Early in February, we held the first game development workshop with ENABLE Scotland’s East Renfrewshire LAC Team, where we worked with a small group on some basic game concept design. We finished the day with a working game design to carry through to the second workshop in March.

 

Back in the office we developed and released the Beano iPrank, which has been successful so far with hundreds of thousands of people pranked as a result! It was amazing to see our work actually appear in the Beano comic.

 

Shortly after this we were filmed for the BBC programme ‘Maths in Action’ where we were interviewed by young people interested in learning how maths is used within our industry. The programme actually explored a number of different industries, and is now available here.

 

The same week, we braved the snow on the way to Glasgow to hold a games industry workshop at Futures Fest 2013, involving presentations and a panel session. Great day and great feedback.

 

The following day we held the second game development workshop with ENABLE Scotland. We developed a game, called On The Freerun, in record time with the group (who decided on the team name Lazy Boys), which has now been released on Androidand iOS. All in all, it was a fantastic event and a huge thanks to ENABLE Scotland and everyone involved. This project as a whole has had some superb coverage in the media, and was picked up by the BBC.

 

To make our lives even more busy, we have this week moved office. We are now based on South Tay Street in Dundee, in the office which was formerly the home of Digital Goldfish. It’s a great space and perfect for further building Guerilla Tea. The future is looking very bright for this Dundee developer.

 

Incidentally, the header image at the top of this post isn’t the new office. Believe it or not…

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Apr 02 2013

Storytelling in Video Games

    I think this quote from game designer Bob Bates sums up the idea of sto...

Apr 02 2013 By: matt Close

Storytelling in Video Games

 

 

I think this quote from game designer Bob Bates sums up the idea of story within video games very well:

 

“Story and gameplay are like oil and vinegar. Theoretically they don’t mix, but if you put them in a bottle and shake them up real good, they’re pretty good on a salad.”       (Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell)

 

From my time working in the industry I’ve heard a wealth of different opinions regarding the importance of story in games. I’ve met super heavy advocates of story who’ll try and squeeze out the vaguest of narrative elements from the latest FIFA title (believe it or not!), to those who like to deny its existence even in the very story relevant titles. Ok, fair enough, this is not an exact science by any means and there’s a lot of personal opinion coming through here, but to keep things sensible I’ll say that it’s foolish to treat all games equally when were thinking about storytelling, but some take storytelling ‘more seriously’ than others. I’m bearing modern action adventure/RPG/sandbox games in mind as I write this.

 

I think the quote above does hold very true, but how well the gameplay and story mix depends a lot on the designers approach to crafting the experience from the outset of a project. This is of course not always something that is in the hands of the game designers, but is often affected by deadlines, budget and publishers, etc.

 

It’s not always the goal of a project either and ‘tagging’ a story onto a game as an afterthought is something that is still frowned upon, but I always feel that this is an undue complaint from people who try to draw direct comparison between video games and film. They should really be trying to identify the differences between the two mediums.

 

Hack and Slash action adventure games are well known for featuring ‘nonsense’ tagged on storylines. But the goal of these games is to present the gamer with high-octane close quarters combat sequences, and to challenge the player’s reaction time and muscle memory. They achieve this very well and so long as the game environment and sequences are given a little context with a basic plot, this is all that is needed.

 

Heavy Rain (and all Quantic Dream titles) on the other hand is considered an interactive drama and is heavily story centric. The whole game and its elements are presented in such a way as to tie in with the overall narrative arc of the game. The gameplay is solely context sensitive and this allows the challenges which make up the game to be shaped around the plot and events. I suppose you could think of this as the exact opposite of a story which is tagged on to the gameplay.

 

Following on from this, since games are inherently different from other mediums, and I think it follows that some types of storytelling lend themselves more to games, just as some types lend themselves to books, theatre, etc.

 

One of my pet peeves is the notion among some that books are a superior medium as they allow the imagination to work in deeper ways. They are not superior, they aredifferent. Books play a lot more on senses with strong use of verbs and less intense description. (Books with too many adjectives read as though they were written by a 12 year old!) Film creates feelings with visuals and effects, and stage plays are about the emotion of the actors stepping into their roles. Games are driven by visuals and emotion also, but are very unique as they involve the audience. There’s a huge amount of untapped potential with games and I see titles such as the Mass Effect series as great examples of games which tell a story in ways that all the other mediums just couldn’t. The clever combination of travelling around the galaxy, undertaking various tasks and missions, and absorbing content (even as written descriptions) really brings forward the idea that the whole universe is alive. No matter what way I turn it, I can’t see this working as well in anything other than a video game.

 

All in all, these are my own opinions, and every one of us has our own with regard to story in games. The one thing storytelling isn’t, is easy! Games unlock a huge amount of possibilities with the potential for multiple branching narrative paths and the idea of ‘on demand’ storytelling (which is a topic for another post). I think a lot of professional writers would do well not to overlook video games as a great new challenge, and something to consider working with, or using as reference during research. I imagine many already do!

 

Featured Image courtesy of Stock Free Images

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Mar 21 2013

ENABLE LAC Games Workshop

    This is a guest post from Phil Harris on the ENABLE LAC Games Workshop ...

Mar 21 2013 By: matt Close

ENABLE LAC Games Workshop

 

 

This is a guest post from Phil Harris on the ENABLE LAC Games Workshop run by Guerilla Tea, first published on Scottish Games Network.

 

We were delighted to be invited to Guerilla Tea’s second workshop with Enable Scotland’s East Renfrewshire Local Area Coordination (LAC) Team; with some parents and LAC’s there with the kids. For those of you who don’t know LAC’s support people with disabilities to think about and plan for a life that makes sense to them.

 

These youngsters had actively shown an interest in the games industry and the LAC Team had the foresight to talk to Guerilla Tea at Future Fest, to make things happen. After a little negotiation Guerilla Tea considered a set of workshops over two days, so here we are.

 

At the first event Brian (Baglow) spoke about the general history of games in Scotland, answering questions from the children and discussing how we had gone from then to now; a talk which I’d advise anyone to catch if they get the chance. This event saw talks from Ryan Locke (University of Abertay) and myself discussing further aspects of the industry.

 

I went first, discussing ways you might enter the industry, what to prepare, the differences between companies and the fact that the great world of multi-media was drawing everything closer together. Elements of videogames were now associated with TV, film and more traditional gaming experiences,  and I highlighted the fact that the industry would consider anyone with the talents. Ryan followed talking about his experiences through university, the energy of proving peers – who suggested you couldn’t get a job in the industry – wrong and the fact that university learning was an open and engaging experience. Ryan reiterating the fact that the industry had grown up enough to see beyond disability and to the heart of the person beneath, be they programmer, artist, audio or design.

 

Following this Matt reminded the children of the company name, Lazy Boy, and the game concept they had invented. This cyberpunk reality, where the elderly were blocking the hero Norman from an alien invasion; causing him to have to use his cyber-watch to change his human abilities, so that he could move them out of the way.

 

It was great to see the youngsters actively animated and interested in this project, deciding whether they were working with programming, design or art elements and considering the needs of each other. They had high concept involvement too, which needed just a little reigning-in, as the game needed to be completed by the end of the day. However with gentle encouragement from Guerilla Tea, the LAC’s, parents, Ryan and myself things moved quickly – including the children passing positive reinforcement back to their tutors.

 

Lazy Boy’s first game will be launched for all to see later, after a little Guerilla Tea polish but, as always, the event itself was a shining example of what the games industry could achieve. Parents and LAC’s asked the whole team questions, looking for tips and ideas of how to support their young wards into the industry and some solid bonds were made. The chance for active engagement and the realistic feeling that they were part of something greater and could truly consider an industry job.

 

Guerilla Tea and the LAC Team have made a great step today and we hope that this event will be repeated next year, becoming an industry standard and ensuring that those who have disability understand that there is value in their work and skills within this constantly changing industry.

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Mar 01 2013

Flow

The concept of flow is particularly interesting in terms of game design. Flow: The Ps...

Mar 01 2013 By: matt Close

Flow

The concept of flow is particularly interesting in terms of game design. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi delves deeply into the topic and I’d fully recommend picking up a copy, regardless of your interest in video games or design.

 

‘Flow’ is the “state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake”

 

Basically, it is an analysis of pure happiness and the idea of complete involvement with whatever activity you’re current doing.

 

I first became interested in this concept a few years ago while researching for a piece of coursework during my Masters. It’s a fascinating idea, and something that tends to just blow by many people without a second thought. The book examines flow from many different aspects of life including food, music and sex… Too much to consider for a blog post on game design, but the general idea of happiness and enjoyment are very relevant.

 

I feel it’s true that a great majority of us are unfulfilled with life. We’re inclined to look back and think that we’ve wasted a lot of time. I suppose it is natural in a way… There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, but the whole idea behind flow is enjoying something for its own sake, so my positive thinking advice for the day is to simply enjoy things while they last and try to forget about the end result; in years to come I may even be able to charge vast sums of money for advice like that. Seriously though, so many people talk endlessly about planning for the future, and in the process forget to enjoy whatever they are doing.

 

So thinking in terms of game design, we are trying to get our players enjoying the challenges of the game purely for their own sake. Although I understand that there are many completionists out there, and the feeling of moving ever closer to the 100% point does create its own flow, in a sense.

 

It’s easy to throw around phrases like ‘maintaining player engagement’, but it goes deeper. First of all, there is a difference between pleasure and enjoyment.

 

Pleasure is a feeling of contentment. It happens when a prior expectation has been met. ie. When something satisfies a pre-programmed need or desire. For example, it is pleasurable to sit in front of the TV with a glass of wine in the evening after a long day at work. You wouldn’t call this enjoyable as such…  It could be considered more passive than enjoyment.

 

Enjoyment involves the idea of satisfying needs, but also goes a step further and includes a feeling of novelty and accomplishment. You have extended yourself and achieved something. The moment of winning a close tennis match would be enjoyable, as an example. That run up to the moment wouldn’t be pleasurable or enjoyable, as such, and that rush or buzz when the moment occurs would be something beyond a basic pleasure.

 

I tend to associate the pleasurable feeling with familiarity. You are comfortable in a way, but enjoyment is a step into the unknown and you look back and remember it as something that was new and has changed you.

 

When making games, we are trying to utilise both pleasure and enjoyment. We try to create a basic loop of gameplay; the standard ways in which someone plays the game. This creates the feeling of familiarity throughout, so that person becomes comfortable. For example, in an action adventure game, there is a common loop of movement, taking cover, aiming, shooting, movement. The game will then throw unexpected things in your face. These require additional engagement, but once done you get that raw feeling of accomplishment.

 

So thinking back to the original idea… Does this keep a player in flow and enjoying the game for its own sake? Not necessarily. If it was that simple then all games would engage all players regardless of how they are put together.

 

In my own opinion, the key is the overall arc of gameplay. You’ll find yourself replaying your favourite games over and over. These are the games that keep you in flow. You’ll remember each section and what comes next as you play through. You may dip in an out of specific sections or chapters. Stop and think, you are engaged in this game as a whole. You’re not just trying to get to end credits.

 

The game is keeping you in flow with an intricate balancing of pleasurable standard gameplay, and new and ‘attention grabbing’ events, even if you already expect them to occur, the most effective ones will still bring forward that sense of achievement.

 

Every aspect of a game contributes to this. The core gameplay, environment, story, art style and level design in particular. Flower by ThatGameCompany is a great example of an experimental game which has looked into keeping the player in that state of flow. A must play for anyone interested in this idea.

 

Game design is still very vague as a discipline in the industry to this day. It is about the minutiae, and I don’t believe it should be considered as too much of a science. Nevertheless, through a lot of trial and error, tweaks, and more importantly through observing emotions of players trying out your game, you can judge (at least roughly) how well your masterpiece keeps the audience in flow.

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Feb 17 2013

ENABLE Scotland First Workshop

    This past weekend Guerilla Tea, working with ENABLE Scotland’s East Ren...

Feb 17 2013 By: matt Close

ENABLE Scotland First Workshop

 

 

This past weekend Guerilla Tea, working with ENABLE Scotland’s East Renfrewshire Local Area Coordination Team, ran a game development workshop in Glasgow for children and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and other similar learning disabilities.

We met with East Renfrewshire LAC Team last year at the ScotCampus Futures Fest in Glasgow. ENABLE Scotland is a charity campaigning for a better life for children and adults with learning disabilities, and they were particularly interested in teaming up with the Scottish Video Games Industry to promote Games Development as a possible career to their members.

 

The Games Industry, with its fairly insular nature, can at times be its own worst enemy and the Scottish games industry is unfortunately no different. This is something that we’ve found frustrating in the past as the much discussed lack of diversity in the Games Industry is caused, at least in part, by the widely held belief by so many outside the industry that it just doesn’t represent a viable career path. We’re determined to prove to the public that making games is in fact a great career to pursue so when this opportunity arose we jumped at it.

 

So our idea…

 

We would run two workshops for a small group of young men with additional support needs, aged between 14 and 20.

The first would introduce them to the games industry, and with the help of industry ‘legend’, Brian Baglow, teach them about the industry, what the roles are, and how we put games together. We would then do some brainstorming and by the end of the day, have a concept to work on for the next workshop.
The second workshop would involve us working with the members, tweaking the gameplay, putting art into the game, and finally releasing it. Everyone involved would end the day with a completed, released game with their name on it.

 

Last Saturday (February 9th) we held the first of the workshops beginning with Brian Baglow entertaining the group with a talk on the Scottish games industry, helping to dispel the myth that Grand Theft Auto was developed in the United States and hopefully convincing all those involved that there are in fact more than 10 games companies in Scotland. Hugely entertaining and the idea of developing a game about the man himself even arose… Although having Lara Croft as a love interest was the only request.

We then covered some of the roles involved in game development. I think only one person really wanted to be a producer… But everyone was of course interested in testing games, less so once they realised testing isn’t the same as playing.

Our programmer discussed software such as Gamemaker and Unity, and how it makes the creation of games all the more accessible to hobbyists, something which we hope some will seriously look into.

 

After lunch, the first task was to come up with a team name. By majority vote, the team became known as ‘Lazy Boys’, although a number of other suggestions narrowly missed out. (Sonic Muscle was my personal favourite, but not to be!)

We then jumped into some game concept design with a full on brainstorming session where the participants fired down ideas onto paper for games they’d like to make.

 

Scope was the word of the day (at least from us, ‘Zombie’ seemed to be theirs). Our challenge was to whittle down their ideas for GTA 6 into something ever so slightly more manageable… Some of the concepts were superb actually, and in the end everyone did understand the constraints we’d set.

After an hour or so we collated all the ideas onto the ever-so-useful ‘Magic Whiteboards’ of Dragon’s Den fame.

So what game are we going to make in March?

 

Well we took all the concepts and picked the best parts of each, voting on specific areas. The phrase “2D platformer” cropped up on numerous occasions, which then evolved into an endless running game a la Canabalt, which assumed the name On The Freerun.

 

Lazy Boys decided that the main character will be called Norman; not entirely sure how that happened but it is nicely open to interpretation so we’ll see what weird and wonderful designs the team come up with…
What about a setting and theme? Cyberpunk High-rise. You’ll spend the game running across skyscraper rooftops in a dystopian futuristic world.

 

This world will naturally be riddled with crime and we needed to come up some enemies for Norman to overcome. There’s nothing quite as daunting as senior citizens with evil intent, so our setting will be populated with pensioners out to put a stop to Norman’s free running endeavours.

 

Eventually the first workshop came to a close and we will now be preparing for the second ‘development day’, to be held during the Futures Fest event on the 20th March. Team Lazy Boys will be working on the game during the day, creating artwork on paper, which with the help of Guerilla Tea, Adobe Photoshop and a trusty scanner will be put into the final game. We’ll also be tweaking some gameplay elements, and doing a little testing work.

 

Some great ideas came out of this past weekend, all of which could potentially become a reality thanks to software such as Gamemaker. We thoroughly enjoyed running the event; huge thanks to the LAC Team and Brian Baglow.
Look out for On The Freerun, by Lazy Boys coming to Android and iPhone after March 20th.

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Feb 13 2013

Applying Game Design to a Medicine

    [This article is cross-posted from a piece I wrote for Game Career Guid...

Feb 13 2013 By: matt Close

Applying Game Design to a Medicine

 

 

[This article is cross-posted from a piece I wrote for Game Career Guide shortly after we released Ward Round. It examines how we used game design techniques when building a study aid application. See original article here.]

Ward Round is an application which experiments with utilizing video game design methodology within an academic discipline, in this case, medicine. The project, aimed at medical professionals, integrates the study of medicine with the enjoyable spirit of video games, and was the first commercial project for Dundee based game development company, Guerilla Tea.

 

By introducing game design elements such as risk and reward, experience tracking and a heavily competitive edge, Ward Round seeks to innovate in the field of medical study. It utilizes a question bank which covers nine discrete specialties and involves the user tackling medical cases in the form of real life scenarios, rather than single, unrelated questions.
For each case, questions take the player through potential diagnoses, initial investigations, interpretation of results, treatment and knowledge of pathophysiology. These allow the user to deal with medical/surgical pathologies in a more natural, holistic way.

 

The Ward Round project was a ‘slow burn’ and something which was introduced to me before I had really started on the long career road of video game design although I always aspired to work in that field. The concept had arisen in casual discussions, some years ago, with my client and good friend, Dr Adrian Raudaschl, during our time at the University of Glasgow, where I was studying for a BSc in Mathematics. He was a medical student at that time, but had always been interested in the video game industry, specifically in combining his career in medicine with video games in some fashion.

 

With the formation of Guerilla Tea in 2011, we were on the lookout for commercial projects. We share a common ambition in that we are interested in finding innovative methods for utilizing the video game medium within other disciplines. The Ward Round project conformed to the proposed ethos of the company, and – of course – the eventual aims of both Guerilla Tea and Dr Raudaschl.

 

Upon the project receiving the green light, we were given a design brief detailing a quiz application which would serve as a medical study aid. It would present textual information on interesting, real life, medical cases, the idea being for the player to answer a series of questions on each case, effectively carrying out clinical deductions. The brief also required the integration of video game elements into the project, creating a fun and absorbing educational game while retaining a serious, professional, study application feel.

 

Extensive medical information was presented to Guerilla Tea with the brief being to utilize it as effectively as possible, in an interactive product. Due to the highly specialized nature of the project, and the fact that no member of Guerilla Tea has medical knowledge, regular and effective communication between ourselves as developers and the client, at all stages, was imperative. One of our main aims, as a small developer, is to function effectively through good verbal communication between team members – something which can (in my experience so far) be lost within larger companies. We were always aware that the need to work closely with each other and to communicate with our client at all times, through our producer Mark Hastings, was vital to the success or otherwise of this project.

Concept Design and Art Style
Early concept design for Ward Round involved identifying an over-riding theme and art style for the game. During this stage, I liaised closely with our artist, Matt Zanetti, working through a number of early iterations. The game was intended to be a loose representation of a virtual tour of the hospital wards, governed by specific textual information. The medical content was presented in the form of ‘cases’ containing detailed descriptions, along with questions and answers, taking the player through individual diagnostic processes.

 

The original concept involved a stylized hospital setting for the game, where the main menu consisted of a representation of a reception area. In this iteration, the game would effectively move through the various departments of the hospital as the player proceeded through the game. But game development naturally involves a degree of trial and error, over a number of iterations. Although this concept seemed to match our brief, we felt that it was ultimately going to become very art heavy and did not quite fit the slick feel we were trying to achieve, a reservation with which our client agreed. We therefore focused on a certain amount of simplification, formulating a style themed around basic (almost stereotypical) medical items such as pens, clipboards, and stethoscopes. This moved the app closer to our desired outcome, but further experimentation was clearly required.

 

We ultimately decided on a more minimalist style, which played heavily on a clear, medical blue color, and would make use of transitions between screens, alternating between screens with greater blue areas, and greater white areas.

 

Ultimately it was agreed that this art heavy approach with its pseudo-realistic elements threatened to cheapen the overall experience by becoming kitsch or even worse still overshadowing the primary focus of the app, the vast question bank. In response to this we decided to strip everything back to a far more minimalist style focusing on bold colors reminiscent of medicine, strong graphic design elements and simple motion graphics animations. This helped to elevate the app to its intended age limit without becoming dry when being observed for long periods of time or through multiple visits.

 

Gameflow
Working closely with our client, we divided Ward Round gameplay into three modes:

 

Specialties. The player has the opportunity to choose a specialty and play through all the scenarios in no particular order. This acts as a free play mode, providing access to the full content of the game. The lack of constraints presented in this mode allow it the greatest amount of versatility in terms of studying and it may be approached in either a linear or random fashion.

 

Practice Mode. Much medical learning involves memorizing, but the challenge lies in applying that rote learning in any given situation. This is intended as a ‘mock test’ for the player, where he/she can test knowledge gained through five different scenarios picked from the main information bank. This mode essentially presents a challenge to the player.

 

Big Medical Quiz. This mode was designed to function in the same way as the Practice Mode in terms of gameplay, but is more representative of the ‘real thing’. Attempts are limited to one per twelve hour time period. This mode demands a certain level of confidence from the player, and utilizes a risk/reward mechanism, whereby limited opportunities are given, but evidence of good performance (and practice) can be shared with others, worldwide, thereby giving it more significance.

 

The inclusion of a competitive element was important for this project for two reasons: one was that even with such a practical professional subject as medicine, an element of competition would provoke enjoyment (and consequently engagement) in the player. The other, arguably even more important, was that the examination system in the world of academia has a certain competitive edge. In developing Ward Round, we were always aware of the need to achieve an even balance between a valuable personal study aid and an enjoyable and stimulating experience.

 

Mentor Character
It is my belief that the video game medium still has a great deal of untapped potential in terms of story-telling, and indeed many mobile and casual games do not require any overt storyline in order to achieve success. However, this largely comes down to one’s definition of ‘story’. Many casual games have an engaging persona and absorbing environment, created through a vibrant art style. It would also be true to say that video games of all kinds require the presence (and control) of one or more characters, with some objective which will encourage gameplay. The above could be regarded as going some way towards creating a story of sorts, even if it is largely in the mind of the gamer.

 

With Ward Round, I very much wanted the player, in essence, to play as him or herself, throughout the game. This is an app aimed at trainee doctors, and the player, already part of the medical profession, had to become totally absorbed in the sense of learning and achievement for themselves. With regard to design, there is a loose but interesting parallel to the RPG genre, where the player is given freedom to create his or her own persona. But since Ward Round is also indisputably a teaching aid, this inspired the decision to include a mentor character, who would be known simply as ‘The Professor’ – suggestion from Dr Raudaschl. This character was used to introduce the game to the player, appearing as part of a pop-up message tutorial. The character was also used on a general help screen accessed separately. To maintain a professional, serious application feel it was important not to over-use this mentor character. The idea of a non-player character guiding the user through the challenges had to remain subtle at all times. The Professor would appear with speech bubbles at distinct benchmark points within the gameplay, such as advancing in experience level, and for score submission forms, after completing playthroughs of Big Medical Quiz and Practice modes.

 

Experience and Leveling-Up
Player progress tracking and rewards could be considered a video gaming constant, used across many different genres and within contemporary gaming. This key game design element clearly had to be an important feature of Ward Round. The Experience system in Ward Round was inspired by the RPG genre, but somewhat simplified to facilitate quick learning, for the mobile platform. The experience summary screen would contain all progress information on a single non-interactive screen accessed from the main menu.

 

The experience system is composed of three elements:

 

Progress Bar:
An empty bar which fills gradually as the player answers questions correctly, akin to vitality bars within action and combat games. This bar is designed as a general completion bar, tied in solely to individual questions answered correctly. This provides a graphical representation of progress covering the main content, holistically.

 

Ranking Titles: 
Linked to the progress bar are rank titles. The player begins at the rank of ‘High School Student’, and progresses through various rankings, all the way to ‘Doctor Demi-God’. Rank names were introduced to provide a more engaging benchmark of progress. Decisions on the exact number of required correctly answered questions were made as a result of extensive playtesting during development.

 

Speciality Complete Medals:
Medals are awarded for the individual specialist categories, once the player has answered all the questions within that specialty, correctly. This provides the player with a different form of achievement, in effect, rewarding a greater concentration of knowledge.
Like most academic disciplines, medicine can be studied in a number of ways, with individuals specializing in a single area or spreading their knowledge more evenly. To some degree – and while remaining aware of the need for a student to absorb a significant body of general medical knowledge – the Ward Round design encompasses this idea within the experience system while the mentor character is called upon to reveal these progression highlights such as Specialty Complete medals, as and when they occur.

 

Scoring System
An area of design in which mathematics played a large part was the scoring system applied to the Big Medical Quiz and Practice modes. I devised a specific formula to process gameplay information obtained during a playthrough of either of these modes. The actual details of the formula are beyond the scope of this article, but it had to take into account the number of questions answered correctly, along with the overall time taken during the play of the mode.

 

An interesting aspect to this formula is that it actually rewards the player for answering all questions correctly, in any particular individual case. In other words, for a Big Medical Quiz playthrough, the player may answer, on average, 25 questions. If the player answers 5 questions correctly from a single case, this will score higher than answering 5 correct questions spread throughout the 25.

 

Medical professionals do tend to specialize and will be stronger in certain areas than others. To a certain degree, this will have an impact on Big Medical Quiz performance. On balance, therefore, I felt that it was more important to reward full completion of a single case from initial diagnosis through to treatments, than for a player to answer random questions correctly during a playthrough, especially since random questions may be answered correctly solely through the element of chance.
The actual values of each score, utilizing gameplay data, are fairly low, so to conform to the convention of using high values for the scores within video games, multiplication constants were used to drive scores into the thousands.

Development Design – The Question Bank
Games do not need to be ‘perfect’ and never will be. Even the most high-end, AAA titles feature bugs, animation and gameplay problems. However, there are some imperfections which are ‘acceptable’ among players, and some which are not. A significant challenge of game development lies in knowing (largely through testing) which imperfections can be waived, and which must certainly be fixed. This idea was particularly relevant during the development of Ward Round, as it was clear from the outset that the factual medical content needed to be absolutely accurate and it was indeed supplied and checked by professionals.

 

The extensive medical content was provided in spreadsheet form, which was then translated from this to the game. This was achieved via Guerilla Tea’s proprietary database software, which was used to save out a database file of the full question bank, for simple input into the game. The real challenge involved manually creating the database from the information contained in the spreadsheet files. Thanks to our programmer, Alex Zeitler, this approach allowed myself, as the designer, to check each item of information individually, place it into the correct field of the database, and assign the solutions provided by the client to each question. In effect, my work could be completed and checked independently of the main game engineering and art. This is not to say that mistakes were not present after many hours of database building, but our testing phase was utilized to iron out any minor errors.

 

During the development process, many other minor development and design decisions arose for the team, including how the game would handle questions with multiple correct answers, and the methods for information display during the timed case questions. Because the questions for each medical case are inter-related, the idea of giving instant right/wrong feedback was rejected, since we believed that this would damage player motivation. The idea would be to let the player play the game, and allow him/her to review performance at the end of a case – thus facilitating the desired learning process. Another design element aimed at limiting player frustration was the ability for the player to review the case scenario descriptions as necessary.

 

Minor design tweaks contributed towards the final product to create an attractive, high level, professional educational application.

 

Conclusion
All in all, Ward Round has been a successful and enjoyable debut project for Guerilla Tea, and as the game has only recently been released worldwide as an iPhone app, its full potential is yet to be seen. Updates, and supplementary projects are currently in the works, and we have had a degree of interest from medical organizations and universities, especially from the U.S. We aim to continue to find innovative concepts and projects for future work, especially those where we can apply video game design methodology, and ideas of fun and absorption to other disciplines.

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Jan 15 2013

Reflecting on 2012

  At Guerilla Tea are busy as ever as we start back in 2013. It has been a succe...

Jan 15 2013 By: matt Close

Reflecting on 2012

 

At Guerilla Tea are busy as ever as we start back in 2013. It has been a successful first 18 months, and things are moving onward and most definitely upward for this company. We’ll have regular updates over the coming months, but it seems like a great time to reflect on the past year’s activity and achievements.

 

At the beginning of 2012, with Ward Round safely released to thousands of students and medical professionals, we returned to our original IP, the Rubik’s Cube inspired puzzle game The Quest. We worked on a number of small contracts including Fairground Photos, simultaneously while developing The Quest, ultimately releasing the, now BAFTA nominated game on iOS, Android and Kongretate in April.

 

A trip to London for the finals of the TIGA £100k competition followed shortly, with Guerilla Tea winning the ‘Games on the Move’ category, funding the prototype development of Fangs Out, a model helicopter dogfighting game. This success involved an office move and some much needed security for the summer period. Work continued and Guerilla Tea was featured (primarily with Fangs Out) for the BBC programme Show Me The Money.

 

During the summer months a free version of The Quest was released, called The Quest: The Beginning, and the Ward Round supplementary application, Ward Round: Picture Quiz began, and was duly completed.

 

August was exceptionally busy as we presented the completed prototype of Fangs Out to the public at the Dare Protoplay event, and two days later left for a productive trip to Cologne for Gamescom.

 

On our return we were delighted to become involved with the digital relaunch of The Dandy, developing additional games, and integrated mini-games for the world’s longest running comic. We moved into a superb new office at Seabraes House in Dundee to continue development and expand the company. We were also featured in the October issue of develop magazine with a six second studio spotlight, and around the same time released Ward Round: Picture Quiz.

 

Early November saw us attend Explay 2012 Festival in Bath, which involved exhibiting Fangs Out to the public for a second time, covering the South West of England. Big thanks to Remode for the invite.

 

It has been a tough but hugely rewarding first year, and we will continue with more exciting work in the new year including fresh contracts and a return to Fangs Out. For more news as it happens follow us on Twitter, Click the like button on our company page and certainly don’t be afraid to add Guerilla Tea as a friend; we’ve given our company a personality thanks to the wonders of Facebook!

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Apr 09 2012

BAFTA Nominated

  This month Guerilla Tea had the honour of being nominated for a Scottish BAFTA...

Apr 09 2012 By: matt Close

BAFTA Nominated

 

This month Guerilla Tea had the honour of being nominated for a Scottish BAFTA for in the New Talent Awards category with The Quest.

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