This was written the day after my last day at Bungie. I wanted to wait until a week before Shadowkeep Launch to post it!
[Note this is long and more of a rambling on the past 3 months (and the end of 2018 to now) from more of an emotional standpoint than a technical standpoint. If you are curious as to my thoughts on Shadowkeep/New Light, Garden of Salvation, or anything else I suggest checking back in late October or early November to read about it then!]
I'm sitting here writing this while waiting for my airplane to leave from SeaTac back home to DFW. Tons of thoughts are whizzing through my brain at this moment but the only way I can describe my time at Bungie is the word "Blessed".
For the summer of 2018 I applied to over 50 companies looking for a summer job or internship. Not only did I not land a single interview, I only got emails telling me no from 3 companies. To me Summer of 2018 was the biggest waste of 3 months in my entire life because I was defeated, I wanted to work my ass off all summer and have something to show when I came back to classes in the fall. Instead I didn't do much of anything at all.
This dry spell lead to me wanting to come in guns blazing for Capstone. I set a goal of bringing my team's game to every single session of QA in the fall up until cuts (That is 29 Sessions at 3.5 hours a piece!). Dustin, Cody and Ellie (my amazing team) can attest to how I went almost overboard with this. The thing that helped me is that we all wanted to challenge ourselves, and going through to next semester would be a nice bonus if we managed to do it. There were multiple QA sessions where I literally got off of an airplane and started the session not even 15 minutes after landing. I had a mission and nothing was going to stop me from accomplishing it. All of it culminated to having a slide on our final presentation that said we went to every single session possible of QA. Long story short we didn't go through, but the professors were impressed with the QA and the fact that we knew more about a system in Unreal than anywhere on the internet at the time. (Hello GAS, hope you are doing well!)
Not even two days after cuts this QA mission lead me to being picked up by Wrong Warp Games (At the time it was just Evan, Nick R., Nick O., and Sean). They wanted me for two reasons,
#1: They knew that with less on my plate overall I could focus on QA to make the game as solid as humanly possible. (I did do level design as well but it's not as applicable for this specific post.)
#2 I was excited about their game and really cared about it. (I may or may not have said I would riot if Arachnotron was cut).
This was when I realized the record for the most QAs ever done by an individual in a single year was 40. I was already 3/4 of the way done so I decided that not only would I break this record...
I WOULD OBLITERATE IT
11 more QA sessions was easy because we were already planning on doing at least two a week. I also used this time to refine everything for QA, by making a bug log in Google Sheets that Google Forms could interact with. That way logging and finding bugs would be easy and organized for the entire team.
At the end of it all I finished out with at least 55 QA sessions. (I don't remember the exact number but it is so high that it is almost impossible to break with Champlain's current state of QA, I believe we only missed 5 sessions with Arachnotron.) I then proceeded to use this as one half of my Senior Reel. I wanted to show off QA in a fun way, and I really knew that it was something I was good at. In showing it though I wanted it to be really funny, because innately Quality Assurance is hilarious. The amount of things we ran into when testing Arachnotron that would have us laughing so hard we got to the verge of tears was an important aspect of the creation of the game. (Especially anything that dealt with the Inverse Kinematics [IK], the reel shows these pretty well but in real testing we had way funnier bugs).
To me that humor and excitement NEVER happens at Champlain Quality Assurance. QA at Champlain feels like a chore for the developers and a punishment for the underclassmen.
In the real world it's the opposite. Quality Assurance is the backbone of the industry (even if some people don't want to admit it). More importantly than that it is fun as hell. I found myself being more excited about how players will react to something than me actually seeing it for the first time. (And trust me I have seen some crazy stuff.)
To say that from a hiring standpoint I was a risk makes sense. I've only had one job in the industry (Hi Iron Belly!) and I literally graduated college not even 2 weeks before applying to work at Bungie. The most interesting thing is that my reel totally got me my job. What's funny to me about this is that we are told as Designers at Champlain that "Nobody will watch your reel after Senior Show". Not only did someone watch my reel, it also allowed me to catch my first triple A bug ever in Destiny 2! (Not going to say what it is now but if you know me well enough it's the thing I tend to find really quickly in games. Otherwise this will be in my Shadowkeep specific post later on!)
I think the number one thing that made me realize that I love working at Bungie was saying hello to Master Chief every day while walking to a raid play-test. (There's a life size one in the studio and I swear he's at least 2 feet taller than me!) I grew up playing Halo so the fact that I was now working at a company that I have fond memories of playing their games made me feel so incredibly blessed to be there. I took those feelings I had of loving the hell out of Griffball after coming home from middle school and I channeled that into combing the Moon for every bug I could find. I wanted every single Guardian in Destiny to feel the same way I did 10 years ago with Halo while playing this game.
If it wasn't for QA I wouldn't have the technical "Worlds First" raid completion for The Garden of Salvation. Testing a Raid for a Triple A game is one of the funnest things I've done in my life! (More on the raid at a later date, as I am literally only allowed to say the name right now.) [For those curious I am rooting for Datto and Math Class to pull out their first win on 10/5 during world's first race.]
The wildest part about all of this to me is that I spent my first weekend at college (yes orientation weekend) finishing up Destiny's first Moments of Triumph event as a student about to foray into game development, and here I am now finishing up Destiny 2 Forsaken's Moments of Triumphs event as a developer on Destiny 2 Shadowkeep.
There honestly couldn't be a better way to bookend an entire chapter of my life.
This isn't a goodbye however, it's a see you later. I just need to finish up this thing called graduate school at SMU Guildhall first!
Per aspera ad astra,
Photo of my last Bellevue Sunset at my favorite place in the city, Meydenbauer Bay Park
For my final blog post of my college career I have been asked to answer a few questions in relation to both my final game, and my time at Champlain as a whole!
It's been one fun ride!
This is a little story of the whirlwind that was last week.
April 26 was fast approaching and our team knew it. We were ready for what can only be described as the 3 craziest hours of our lives. Since the beginning of the semester we were told time and time again that the game needed to be ready by that Wednesday (the 24th). Our goal in the last week of polish was simple: Steal the Show. Arachnotron was good, and not in that “oh it is good” kinda way, it was more like “wait this is a student project”. But the game didn't matter for the show, it was how we presented the game that did. If our trailer wasn't as kickass as our game then the entire team would suffer because we'd basically be doing ourselves a disservice to all the blood sweat and tears that we put into the game.
Thus the two goals of the final week were born.
All in all the final week was insane and super fun. I will upload the video from the show once the VOD becomes available (it'll either be here or on the post mortem post that follows!)
Saturday, March 30th, 2019
The day Arachnotron was at PAX East.
In a sea of video games and cosplay it can be pretty tough to stand out. (Especially at a booth for a college) Showing off Arachnotron to the world was already cool, but at one of the biggest Video Game conventions in North America it was an absolute dream come true. Getting to wear a Pink "Exhibitor" badge (instead of the puke green color they chose for the regular Saturday pass) was also really cool, because it made me feel like I was a part of what makes PAX run, versus just being at PAX.
This was also the first real time we got to interact using the game with people who just play games instead of other gamedevs. It really helped us realize what was working and not working in our levels, and led to us improving them overall for clarity. The biggest of these changes came to our tutorial as it was easily the hardest things for new players (this is no bueno, because if the tutorial is hard people won't want to play the game).
Overall it was an awesome experience to get to show off Arachnotron at PAX East and I would 100% do it again if I ever have the chance.
That first little bit of my personal reel that you saw just now had some of our VR Level sketching in it!
Without doing this form of a sketch the level wouldn't really make any sense. 2D drawings in programs like Photoshop or Illustrator don't give us as designers a level of clarity that we are looking for in Arachnotron. With the level being made in VR it allows us to literally flip our level upside-down or on it's side to make sure the level makes sense for a player entering rooms from that direction. One of the hardest (if not the hardest) things when it comes to working on Arachnotron is visual clarity, we as designers HAVE to make sure the level and space always makes sense. This is super tough due to the fact that players can get lost in a room after jumping 3 times. To counter this we tried to make every wall in a room visually different to give the player a form of awareness.
After Arachnotron I don't honestly see myself ever using 2D drawings for level design docs again (with the exception of if it is a 2D game of course).
It is no secret that I love Quality Assurance, and a major aspect to my love of it is the back-end that my team has established because of it.
Essentally to establish my QA workflow I have this big scary spreadsheet (Like the one pictured above that I made for our polish weeks!). This allows me to track bugs, assign people to fix them and to give details about each bug. It is a nice substitute for programs like Gira or Confluence, because our task managing program (Pineapple Redmine) is not great when it comes to bug tracking as tasks get lost easily.
I love using Conditional formatting to color code the list as well, Red is High Priority and Blue is Low priority. The colors go from warm to cool priority wise.
As to what I am looking for at a QA session, that varies. Sometimes I have a google form if we need to do some weapon fixes and changes, other times I can usually gather information by watching people play. We have actually gotten a good chunk of features in because of QA findings. Arrows in scan-view, cut-scenes when a door opens, and more!
Check out this awesome podcast that our Producer, Nick, hosted that includes all of us designers! We talk about level design and pipeline for Arachnotron.
This week was all about learning Pro-builder in unity. We also brought an updated version of the game to QA, but otherwise not much happened overall. The biggest thing though is we began planning out the train level fully!
This is our Millipede Train that Evan set up, it is pretty cool and I can't wait to see this boss fight evolve over the next few weeks. There are plenty of interesting things about ProBuilder that I learned, one of which being that you can actually change the pivot point of an object in Unity with it. (This would have saved me 4 hours had I known earlier!) I also began to set up a document about making the game more accessible, more on this way later as it will get its own blog post probably sometime in March! Otherwise us Designers are Chugging Along!
Things that got done this week - Documents (Lots of them)
Essentially the entire week was spent getting the team Greenlight for Senior Production. This involved us making a gigantic list of every single thing we humanly think we will need to do for the entire semester, AND put descriptions/risks for every single point. As you can imagine this list is gigantic and took literally the entire week. I am not going to show the list in this blog post because that would spoil the fun of what is coming!
On Wednesday in class we were officially greenlit and everyone was so ready to go that we started going…
FULL STEAM AHEAD
*record scratch* *freeze frame*
That’s the Arachnotron! You are probably wondering why it is here.
Well to explain the whole story again would take to long (Just read the blog posts from my previous game), but let’s just say Capital Vice got killed off in the Thanos snap that is the Senior cuts. I am sad to see it go but I am excited for this semester.
So what is Arachnotron you asked? Well here is a trailer!
My role on Archnotron is a few different things. First and foremost I am a level designer on the team. I am working with the other two designers (Evan and Billy) and our ultimate goal for the semester is to add 3 more levels to the game, and give the current level a coat of fresh paint! My other role on the team has been described as “Quality Assurance Daddy” by many members. Essentially I am taking the game to every QA session possible to ensure that our game is free of bugs (well, minus the robot kind as we need enemies in the game), and to make everyone else's role on the team easier because I am double checking their work in a way. I plan to go into detail on our QA spreadsheet I made in the future when it actually has bugs on it!
This week has been a ton of preplanning to make sure the next 14 weeks are smooth as your favorite brand of butter. Us designers have started going more and more into detail on our level plans, and I have started the documentation for the games second level, the Millipede Train Heist. I have been excited to work on this ever since it was pitched as a concept last semester and I am excited to see how the level evolves over the next few weeks!!!