Harrison Short

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Future Plans into 2018

So I've taken a week off (maybe a little longer...) from doing any work after Plunder Pups was released to just destress, chill out and try to plan out my next moves. I'm not sure what the rest of 2017 really has in store for me, as I'll be trying to work my casual job more in an effort to save for things like my trip to America, a couple of trips to Melbourne (GCAP!) and maybe a new iPhone! However, here's the general gist of what I want to spend my time doing:

 

Play some damn games...

When I'm working intensely on a project, or other necessary work back when I was in university, I get myself into this mindset in which I only work on that thing. Sure, I procrastinate by sitting around on my laptop not actually doing the work, watching YouTube videos or mindlessly increasing my useless knowledge on Wikipedia... But I still don't pull myself out of this workspace. This is probably something I need to work myself out of in future, but it's not as if I don't have any leisure time. Instead, I go out with friends to unwind.

As such, towards the end of Plunder Pups I didn't touch any games, and I want to start getting back into them, firstly by finishing Zelda: BOTW, and then going onto play games like Silver Grapple, Mass Effect Andromeda and Bayonetta. If I knocked these out quickly, I could move further into my backlog, but I think it's highly unlikely.

 

Get back into music production...

One thing I took away from Plunder Pups was that I neglected sound and music production for almost 6 months. The suite of sounds was lacking and the game didn't feature original music. I want to get back into music production in a big way, really taking the time to teach myself the ins and outs of Ableton that I haven't learned in the past. One of the first pieces I want to aim to make will be a replacement for the music in Plunder Pups. Then I want to work on finding a unique sound, something that may amalgamate my various inspirations, as well as adding my own personal emotive and cultural element to the music. 

 

Further my brand...

I added my branding, Red Chung, to Plunder Pups, but didn't really flesh it out, as it was an afterthought in the final weeks of development. Red Chung is intended to be the branding for my future creative pursuits, whether it's music production, solo game development or possibly art down the road. Red Chung comes from two of my three middle names, so it's something uniquely personal to me, and I've always looked up to those who have a really strong overarching brand that ties all their work together (Odd Future instantly springs to mind).

 

Game development...

Of course, why would I be here without this topic? There are still a few things I want to fix up in Plunder Pups, but in terms of game development, I'm actually more keen to get another project going rather than fix these issues. In the not-too-distance future, I want to take some time to bang out some ideas and then get some quick prototypes going to see what is the most fun and the most viable going forward. I already have a couple of ideas, and I've got a few parameters in mind:

  • must be for mobile - Android currently, iOS down the line
  • must be simple - I want to get the game mostly done in one or two months, with support continuing past this time frame
  • can't be art-heavy - I'm not an artist and I doubt I could coax anyone onto the project as I'm mostly unproven
  • I want it to be financially viable - it doesn't have to make money, but I want to actually properly publish the game to app stores. This might mean that the game needs to be of a standard that people would be willing to pay a dollar for, maybe the game needs to have leeway for microtransactions, or the game needs to have advertisements integrated. Regardless, this is a BIG point, as I can't continue to "gain experience developing" for free.

While I want to take care of some other other points above first, I'm almost inclined to really get this planning phase out of the way and have something tangible, as it would be good to show things to people at GCAP this year. Not completely necessary, but could work as a good ice breaker and networking opportunity.

So, that's about my plans for the next few months! Whether that really pans out is another question, but at least I've got some things to keep me occupied into early next year. Thanks for reading!

- Harrison Short

Things I learned in the BGIE final year project...

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a student just starting the BGIE capstone project. We mainly talked about what to expect in the project, and after I realized that I had a few tips to give from my experience with the units, I thought that a post may be helpful to not only students in the project this year, but also myself as a refresher. So I decided to write this up! It turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be, so I hope I haven't waffled on for too long.

This post is being shared on the QUTGDC group page, but feel free to show other students not in that group.

  • Play to your strengths, but don't be afraid to experiment

This first point is probably far more relevant at the current stage of your final year project (as of posting this) than any other stage, but it can be valuable to keep in mind down the line, too. Basically, stick to (and advertise) what you're good at for the most part in this project. If you're a programmer, don't decide all of a sudden that you're also an artist, for example. You want to look enticing as a team member and you want to be able to do this best for your team throughout the year, because time is absolutely limited. 

However, never forget that you're in university, and if there was ever a chance to make mistakes during a big project, it's right now. For instance, if you've dabbled in sound design in the past and find it interesting, but your main discipline is art and animation, you should give sound design a go if the opportunity arises (and you don't already have someone more suited to that role)!

  • Don't leave marketing until last

Throughout Bees Won't Exist, we were constantly pushing deadlines and sneaking things in when we really shouldn't have been. This meant towards the end of the project, while we should have been investing time in marketing the game and getting it in front of players, we were instead frantically trying to implement fixes that we deemed necessary, but may not have actually been. We were at least a week behind during the marketing phase and the game suffered greatly in terms of player numbers because of it.

Not only that but during marketing, we were able to obtain some feedback from players on the Internet, which would have pushed any post-semester development in a more worthwhile direction, as we could see exactly what players were clearly having issues with. In one case, we had a player who gave us an extensive list of issues he found with the game. Had we given more priority to marketing, we would have seen more of this player-developer interaction.

In retrospect, I personally think that the best option is to not only place great value in the allocated marketing phase of the unit, but also to get a head-start on it. You'll most likely gain the most traction in the first few days of creating your social media pages and inviting a bunch of people to like and follow those said pages, but in order to keep attention high, posting periodically about the game throughout development is your best bet... And you can't do that without creating those pages early! (Check out this article about what can happen when you create the right post at the right time)  If I would have to say a period of time to create social media accounts and get the ball rolling, I'd say maybe two or three weeks into your second semester this year.

So, in conclusion, don't leave marketing until last minute! Speaking of things that can't be left to the last minute...

  • Don't let music be an afterthought if your game needs it, and don't EVER let sound become an afterthought

When it comes to including music in your game, this may only be relevant if music is actually completely necessary, and will greatly enhance the experience for your players. For example, a mobile infinite runner is unlikely to need a diverse range of music, as not only will the play sessions be small, but player's are likely to be playing whilst listening to their own music, or without music whatsoever. On the other hand, if your game is going to be a longer with multiple levels, areas, etc., you should definitely be keeping music in mind, even if you're not a sound-minded developer. Going into Bees Won't Exist, I knew that if this Legend of Zelda/Bastion-inspired style of game was going to work, it would require a diverse soundtrack in the vein of those aforementioned games (and not to toot my own horn or anything, but I'm pretty proud of what I managed to accomplish!). 

In terms of sound design, for the love of God, don't leave it all until the last second. At the very least, plan the game's sound throughout implementation of different features in your game, and then add sound when it's possible. Not putting enough effort into sound - either whatsoever, or until the last second - can really make or break how the player feels playing your game. A sword slice or discovering a secret can go from feeling really rewarding, to falling flat without good sound. In addition, it's also quite likely that you won't have a sound designer on your team, which means two main things: 1) you won't realize how long sound design can take, and 2) someone will have to learn sound design or you'll need to bring an outside person in to do your sound, which can be an endeavor in itself.

Remember, sound is important! It adds emotional value to your game! Don't forget it or leave it behind!

(Check out Akash Thakkar's (Hyper Light Drifter) GCAP 2016 talk where he talks about emotional impact using sound, as well as a whole range of other sound-based topics)

  • Don't tell people about your game if you know you can get them to test later on

This may be a little unorthodox and probably hard in practice, but hear me out. If you didn't already know, in semester two you'll be tasked with finding a certain amount of naive testers, who should in theory provide unbiased feedback when playing your game. A naive tester is any tester who doesn't know a thing about your game. As you have to be hitting weekly quotas (with actual data to match!), holding off from telling your close friends and family about the game could make the process a little easier when you get to it.

Furthermore, you'll get better data from your testers when they have no idea what they're in for. Your brother doesn't know that you're making a first person hack-and-slash RPG? Good! See how they adjust to getting sat down and thrown into the experience. Eventually, you'll organize to have naive testers come back as deep playtesters anyway, meaning they'll get more opportunities to play your game before release.

  • Submit to anything

This one is pretty simple. If there are any competitions or showcases that coincide with stable, near-final builds of your game, you should consider submitting your game (assuming you're at all comfortable with how the game is)! We submitted our game on a whim to the GCAP student showcase and got accepted. You never know what might happen! It's also a great marketing opportunity if the game does end up going somewhere. 

  • Always scope down

Just... do it. Never forget to do it. Always be doing it!! 

But more seriously, you'll definitely come to points throughout the project where ideas will snowball and your game concept will grow, and you need to learn to rein all of that in. Always be aware of how big ideas are getting, and always be conscious of your time frame. A good producer should be on top of this, but it shouldn't all be on them. It's a team effort to control the scope of your game, as much as your design lead wants to go bigger and bigger. (😉)

That's all the tips I have for now! If you ever want to have a chat with someone who's been through the process of not only the final year project, but an honestly pretty poorly scoped project that saw each team member consistently putting in 30 hours a week, just message me on Facebook! Hope to play your games in future, probably at a QUTGDC playtesting party!

Harrison Short

 

My trip down to GCAP

My very short trip to Melbourne for GCAP was an eye-opening and inspiring experience. If you hadn’t already found out, my final year project game, Bees Won’t Exist, was selected as one of six games to be showcased at the GCAP 2016 Student Showcase. Being selected is excitement enough, but as this is my first published game, it was an honour to be in front of so many industry eyes as early into my game development career as this.

I flew down the morning of the 31st (missing GCAP Loading, an event catered to students, which I now sort of regret) with my teammates Rory Dungan and David Upcher, and we met up in the CBD with Dylan Ford before heading to our accommodation. Upon getting settled, we discovered that Rory’s beautiful Dell monitor was not able to weather the flight down from Brisbane, and had cracked, not only damaging the screen, but also causing the display to glitch out.

After a quick call to a computer rental shop that told us it was too late for us to rent a monitor, Dylan optimistically decided to send a tweet out into the world hoping to find someone local that might have a monitor to use before we headed out to try and find a store that could sell us a new monitor – and miraculously we got a response, almost immediately! Not only was it an answer to our prayers, but it came from within Melbourne’s famous Arcade, from Tin Man Studios.

After a quick lunch, we headed down to The Arcade (a collaborative workspace in Melbourne with an impressive host of game dev studios) and met up with Neil Rennison who had replied to Dylan’s tweet. A bit of small talk lead to a longer conversation, and that lead to meeting a few more Tin Man devs, and then afterwards, we managed to score a bit of a tour through The Arcade. I’m not sure how open people are in the building, but I’ll consider the whole experience very unique. I could probably write a whole blog post on this tour and my thoughts, but maybe that’s for another day.

After saying our thank yous and goodbyes (or more, “see you tomorrow’s”) to the various people in The Arcade, we returned to the apartment and prepared for a networking event at a bar beneath Federation Square. As someone that does have trouble speaking to people, I remained a little subdued at this event. As much as I want to get myself out there, it’s hard for me to approach people, and it’s just something that I’m going to have to get used to and get over. Despite my reservations, I did meet a few people that I’d love to stay in contact with, so the event was not a loss.

 

We returned to the apartment and I attempted to get as much sleep as possible on the uncomfortable AirBNB bed.

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Trekking a short way to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre with computer and monitor in hands, we made our way to the location of GCAP. Upon arriving, we were directed to the area where the Student Showcase would be held, and to our surprise, the student games were the only games on show. We mostly went into GCAP blind and had no idea how it was set up, so this was a very welcome surprise as it meant that anyone who was itching to play a game of some sort was directed to our games.

The response to our game was overwhelmingly positive and we also received a lot of feedback on how we could improve and fix certain aspects of the game. While we had many people from the networking event the previous night come around and play, we also had a heap of people who we hadn’t met prior to GCAP play the game, which was another good networking opportunity as people came by constantly throughout the day.

Another great experience was meeting the other students who were presenting their games. In particular, I had a great time talking to Jamie Rollo, who’s been working on his stellar title Silver Grapple for about 4 years now (almost entirely on his own!), the Team Armadillo folks working on Baroviet and Brad Francis, who impressively produced everything for his short game A New Life for Jerry. I actually helped out Brad by offering my laptop for him to use for the day, as the laptop he was using to showcase unfortunately died during set up.

Besides showing off our game in front of plenty of folks in the games industry, and meeting so many friendly people, the other great benefit of being at GCAP was the talks. I managed to see all the talks I wanted to see. The first of these was one titled “Let’s Make Unity Great Again.” This was a pretty good talk as I identified with a lot of issues that speaker Kieran Lord (of Cratesmith Games Assembly) raised, but I was also a little too inexperienced a coder to understand a lot of the content of his talk.

Moving on, I next attended the “Future of Game Audio: So Bright, It Hz” panel with some immensely talented and storied game audio experts. This was a talk I was eagerly anticipating, and I found the advice from the likes of Mick Gordon, Sally-Anne Kellaway, Jeff Van Dyke and Jacek Tuschewski. In particular, I became almost enamoured by the way Mick Gordon spoke – it was inspiring to see someone so enthusiastic about not only what he does, but what the people around him do.

Initially, my next talk was going to be one on mental health when working in the games industry, but I learned that Mick Gordon would be doing another (unrecorded) talk, so I decided to head over and attend this one instead. Again, this was another great talk that inspired me in various different ways. In particular, I loved hearing about Mick’s process as to how he comes up with not only music, but the true feeling and weight behind each track. It seems like every track that he composes genuinely has an entire thought process behind it.

To cap off the day, I went to Akash Thakkar’s talk about the sound work he did for Hyper Light Drifter – which ironically I have not yet played. Akash’s talk was probably the most entertaining of the day and it really succeeded in not only making me want to play Hyper Light Drifter but also just do some sound designing for the hell of it! Sound design is something to appeals to me due to how fun I find it, but I think in the last year, because I’ve been constantly under the pump, I sort of forgot that. After the talk, I spoke to Akash briefly, saying that I’ll follow his advice of emailing him, as he loves to help new sound designers and composers (note to self: I should probably get on that…).

Throughout my university tenure, I’ve always had moments of doom and gloom, wondering “what am I doing, this isn’t going to lead to anything, this is crazy, etc.” but after experiencing GCAP and how the industry truly is, those worries for the most part have left my mind. Having this experience so close to graduation was almost cathartic in a way, as if it was all meant to happen and I’m moving in the right direction. There’s always uncertainty in the industry and in everyone’s career’s, but I couldn’t be happier and more enthusiastic about where I am, how I got here and where I’m going.

Harrison Short