Project Eisenross: Engine Proof Milestone Report

Nomad Engine Proof Milestone Report

Basic Information

David McKenzie
Level Designer

An Action/Strategy game in which the player custom-builds and maintains an armored battle train as it traverses a barbaric post-apocalyptic environment. Project is currently working under the codename, “Eisenross.”

Work Completed

Summer Prototypes
Work began during the dissolution of Tradewind and Team Woosh near the end of Spring 2012. Nomad was formed and Tom, Kevin, Hayden, and I began holding meetings for pitching game concepts throughout the team. Everyone on Nomad at the time had a different opinion, but we eventually settled on the Wind/Sand puzzler idea and began prototyping in the Zero Engine. After some preliminary tech was created by Tom, Kevin, and Hayden, I set to work creating one of the first prototypes which was a demo of push/pull mechanics using wind. The season of prototypes had begun. All four of us set to work and created, playtested, and iterated about two dozen separate prototypes over the course of Summer 2012. I had to find free time in between summer classes, but if I had to guess I’d say I worked on average 15 hours per week all throughout summer on Zero engine prototypes, playtesting them, collecting feedback, and reiterating on the design. We also held “Design weeklies” every week during Summer. These weekly meetings involved reporting our playtesting feedback to the rest of the team, taking in suggestions and feedback from the team itself on the design of the game, and holding PowerPoint presentations on where we believed the concept was headed.

Environment Preproduction Blueprint
After settling on a train motif and the beginnings of a core mechanic involving rail-based movement, I set to work on establishing a baseline for future environments and levels. This would culminate in my invention of the Environment Preproduction Blueprint (EPB), a style guide for environments and level design docs. It entailed a mountain of research into art direction, mood, lists of technical requirements and models, and pages and pages of audio, photo, and design reference. With every project, I hold a great deal of personal interest in the design and process of creating the environments. I conducted similar research on Tradewind, but never documented it to this degree. The EPB taught me a lot of important things about environments in Eisenross, specifically track design and delivering a specific mood. The document was a huge boost to my work ethic and was very personally satisfying. The amount of hours I poured into the EPB were roughly 10-12 hours over the course of a week. You can view the EPB here.

On-Rails Prototype
About when school started, the team decided on a train motif and the beginnings of a core mechanic similar to a tower defense game. The design team set to work on a Zero implementation of the concept. As the level designer, I took it upon myself to create the system for movement in the prototype and implemented a node-based rail system that would be highly modular. (Video Here) It was a simple looping rail system, but we needed something more evocative of the game. After writing the EPB, I set to work on a basic level prototype using the rail node system I created. (Video Here) Tom and Kevin implemented the core mechanic and UI into the prototype and we took it to playtesting club. I put roughly 10-15 hours into the prototype so far, but we have a long way to go.

Research, Research, Research
One thing that has taken up a lot of my free time is research into the current motif of “trains”. I’ve spent hours and hours researching such things as the anatomy of a steam train, types of railroad switches, freight car classifications, and popular types of train horns. I’ve also taken the liberty of crafting a Spotify playlist of train songs for audio and theme reference, purchasing a wooden train whistle for team morale, and creating an animatic using our Art Director’s concept piece to evoke the feel we want in our game. I’ve also spent hours playing Train Simulator 2012-2013, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, FTL: Faster than Light, Galaxy Trucker, and Iron Brigade as reference material for systems/themes/motifs within our game. Altogether, I’ve probably spent roughly around 60-75 hours conducting personal research into anything related to our game.

General Notes

I am extremely proud to be on Nomad as a game/level designer. Recently, the entire team took part in what I call an “appreciation meeting”. It was an idea co-created by John, our producer, and myself that allows everyone to speak up and reflect on what we appreciate about each individual team member. It was a remarkable experience in team cohesion and morale and helped everyone realize how critical we all are towards the project. I’m also very excited to be able to start speaking on the design in future milestone presentations. Unfortunately, due to our time limitation, I could not take a vocal part in the Engine Proof presentation, but once Prototype rolls around I will have that chance again.

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