TDC Collaborations Experiment
Submitted:|| 9th March, 2011
NEBULA FORCE: A Collaboration Experiment
The story of Nebula Force and how it came to be is of course much longer and deeper than the final product may present in itself. This brief article is an effort to explain some of that back story to those on the outside, and to aid me personally in future projects by way of recording some of my observations. Also, I have some modest hope that it will inspire others to try out experiments of their own, or even embark on their own collaborations.
So, how did it start? Well, I would like to say that I'd been inspired chiefly by Assault Andy's Collaboration Competition back in mid-2010. Although I hadn't the time personally to participate in the project, I was fascinated with the concept, and eager to see the end result. As it turned out, none of the projects started for the competition had been finished. However, Assault Andy did present an article that summed up the competition, and what he had attempted to accomplish with it.
Because of this competition, my curiosity had been sparked as to how members of the TDC community can relate. Could a collaborative process successfully produce a complete, playable game? Is there anyone out there willing to contribute to only one facet of the design process? Could the TDC community, in fact, be considered dead if collaboration isn't possible?
I too was encouraged to create a collaborative project of some kind. After my initial collaborative project fizzled (with apologies to Del Duio), I consulted with Assault Andy for some guidance on a future project.
I had approached him with a plan for a TDC-spanning competition, much like the one he had started, featuring the following aspects:
teams of developers
a sequential design process (more on this in a bit)
sets of judges to determine the winner of the competition
By sequential design process, I mean a final project that is developed piece-by-piece, and in this case each piece was to be created by separate individuals. For example, a single game project would include the following on its team:
an engine designer
a graphics artist
a sound designer
a level designer
To sum up his response, Andy suggested that it would be tough to pass something between so many people and have it easily come together in MMF2. There were simply too many variables that could be cross-referenced between a level designer, an engine designer, and so on. Furthermore, the number of active members in the TDC community seemed so small that finding not only contributors, but also judges who hadn't created projects themselves, seemed problematic. I quickly caught on to what he was saying, and agreed.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
So how could I streamline the process, but still come up with a collaboration that tests some parameters? After some time considering (and completing some basic research on project development), I came up with a new project plan:
I would come up with a very simple game, and ask for sprite artists to contribute content.
I would use only TDC members for the additional content.
I would offer some sort of concrete reward and/or compensation for anyone who contributed content. Essentially, I would hire them.
I would make sure it was a flash game so that all contributors could easily play it and share it with others.
The end result would also mean that I follow through with promises, and other TDC members will realize I'm a good, honest person to work with.
Satisfied with a less-ambitious (but definitely more focused and achievable) idea, I set to work in coming up with a game that could be finished by winter's end.
For a few weeks nearing the end of 2010, I fiddled around developing a game engine. I had been interested in creating a game using only the mouse to control it. After some intial testing, that was abandoned in favour of developing a game using both keyboard and mouse simultaneously. Once the basics were done and a mock-up was available for any interested artists, I moved on to recruiting others for the artwork.
I came up with a list of all graphics that would be needed for the game. All told, there were 29 solid art assets that would be used. I split that set further into 19 essential assets, and 10 bonus assets that weren't necessarily needed for the finished product but would clearly add a nice touch if they were included.
I picked a small sample of 5 of the essential assets, and then posted a notice on the TDC message boards:
I'm seeking submissions for a skill-shooter shmup that features ever-increasing difficulty and customizable ship upgrades. This is a perfect opportunity for a just-beginning artist who wants to test their mettle with a small project that will be released as a Flash app, so anyone in the world can see their work. Plus, there's some pay in it for you as well.
WHAT I'M SEEKING:
I would require a sample of the work you would like to have in the final project. The sample would include:
1 enemy ship
1 player ship
1 asteroid/space rock
1 upgrade icon, either ship speed increase, ship bullet range increase, or ship health increase
The above assets would be about 20% of what I would require from you in the final project.
I'm looking to see YOUR style of artwork. I'm not seeking anything in particular at this point.
The ships listed above may be scaled to be larger or smaller, depending on the stage of the game the player finds themselves. This will be factored into the decision-making process.
All submissions must be submitted as a source file readable by MMF2 Standard; I think anything from TGF and up can be read. No extensions are permitted in the source file (I'm just looking for art assets anyway, not coding, but I just wanted to put that out there).
WHAT YOU RECEIVE:
Credit in the game, $25 US (paid via PayPal or some other domestic means, depending on where you are, once all assets are received), and access to the file as a stand-alone EXE or a Flash app. The game will be released on the Internet, so plenty of people will be able to play it.
Please send me a PM with info regarding your submission, and a download link if available.
Thanks for reading!
The number of responses I had received was poor, frankly speaking. I even sent out personal invites to a few members I had connected with previously, with mixed results. Possible reasons include:
i'm still relatively unknown at TDC, and have not produced any seriously notable projects
the $25 wasn't enough to entice someone to do even this modest amount of work
people don't read the message boards as often as they ought to
people aren't interested in making these sorts of games
there were other contests going on that offered more of a reward
That being said, I did receive one response that immediately caught my attention. The artist had followed all instructions and had sent me a link to the samples they had developed; I agreed to sign on the artist about three seconds after downloading the material because I had been so impressed with the quality.
I sent them the entire essentials list, and had the full complement of them within two weeks (and they received their $25 through an online payment). One week later, I had received the essentials and bonus assets. My first art set was complete!
REGARDING THE ARTWORK
No other contributor had measured up to my first contributor, as it were. Although there were others who contributed, no one else followed the instructions completely. No other artist submitted all the essential assets.
So I had a complete art set and had sent out some cash. But with these other partial submissions, I had so much other excellent artwork! I vowed to find a way to use it all, and the multiple art set idea was born. Although I filled in some of the gaps with my own modest sprite work, I was comfortable giving most of the credit to the two other original artists. I know that these people had put some honest work into the art, and part of this project was letting people know I could be trusted. It seemed the fair thing to do.
As a reward for the other artists who contributed significant amounts of assets, I gave out generous gifts of TDC points I had stocked up, and/or TDC trophies to show my appreciation. By labeling the trophies Commercial Artist, other TDC Members who noticed them would realize that these folks had earned the trophies through collaboration.
ABOUT THE SOUND
Initially, I was comfortable with using default sounds and music for Nebula Force. But in another facet of life, I'm a board game designer. One of my fellow designers happens to be an electronic music composer, and I asked him to come up with a track or two as well as some sound effects in exchange for dinner. He agreed, and had a set of samples for me after about two weeks.
The final product left most of the music he composed generally underused, but it suited the project well. Additionally, the composer stressed that he was looking to create an ambient sound bed that featured changes in pace and tempo depending on in-game events. If you play Nebula Force, pay special attention to the background music as it changes when you're close to being destroyed.
I don't think I delivered as well on this aspect of the game as I could have, but it's not for fault of the sound artist. Rather, I personally gave this area a low priority in comparison to the artwork I needed to complete for two other art sets. And I still owe the guy dinner...
Once I felt the game was complete enough and bug-free enough to endure a public release, I posted it on my personal website with its own dedicated flash application page. The flash exporter for MMF2 has worked excellently for me in the past (as long as you start off the project as a flash app to begin with), and after one fully-functional flash app release, I was confident about this one.
As per the request of a couple contributors, I also released a stand-alone EXE version of the game. It was posted and available for download the same day.
So, am I happy with the game, and this experiment?
Let's look at my initial set of criteria, and see how Nebula Force measures up.
CREATE A SIMPLE GAME: yes, this succeeded. I did a fair amount of testing with others before the game was released, resulting in a fun game with few screw-ups that's able to be played on any computer with an Internet connection. In terms of future projects, I seem to be at a novice- to moderate-level of accomplishment, and I see myself operating at this level for the near future. I'm okay with that; there are other things on my plate which require more attention and which I consider more important.
TDC MEMBERS ONLY: Well, I ended up branching out a bit in terms of sound design, but for artwork I strictly stuck with TDC members only (including myself). This is a category where I will most definitely be limiting myself and perhaps the success of the project, simply because there seem to be only a handful of active members, and a smaller subset of them are willing to contribute to another member's project at any given time, for whatever reason. I have my own opinions regarding online communities (which are generally negative), TDC included, but that's not up for debate at this point.
COMPENSATION FOR ALL CONTRIBUTORS: yes, this succeeded. I had sent out $25 total, 3 trophies, and 2500 or so TDC points (as per requested from the recipient). It wasn't as expensive as I was thinking it would have been; again, I was expecting more contributors than I had received. For the future, perhaps this could be changed to revenue streams via commercializing the Flash release in some way, or donorware contributions. But working out individual awards for those who contribute at least a little bit of significant material to the project is fine, too.
FLASH GAME: Yup, it's definitely a Flash application that works on a host of different machines and OS's. The exporter makes this incredibly easy to implement for most projects (barring some extension restrictions), and I plan on continuing this trend.
SMR CAN FOLLOW THROUGH: Another emphatic yes. At the very least I finished the project, and compensated everyone who contributed with in-game credit and/or money and/or community tokens.
So it didn't turn out too bad, I think. I am curious to know if a second attempt would have more of a turnout. Timing can be everything, and maybe sending out a call for entries when the competition calendar is completely empty would be helpful.
There is also hope that although I may not be the most incredible designer or coder, people begin to recognize me as someone who wants to work with others on game projects and make sure everyone has a success. That's not something that I can personally judge (although I think I'm a pretty cool guy!), because that's up for others to decide. It's my hope that Nebula Force will serve as a testament to that, and encourage others to work with me in the future, start up their own collaborations, or even invite me to work on one of their own projects.