After a good amount of work, and plenty of prodding and pulling by the team, we are finally published – You can go and download Race of the Zodiac from the Google Play store

Thanks again to everybody on the team! Well done!

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Zodiac in the Press!

During the recent EAE Fest at the University of Utah, KSL News interviewed Josh Lee, Ashley McMillan, and Brandon Karratti, to get a feel for how the game is working out. How about that for a little press?

See the video here:

KSL News Story – Students play games they designed instead of taking finals

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Updates – Mobile, Kinect, and Publishing


Well, we’re back from GDC, we’ve had some time to work, and we’re in talks with potential partners to get our game published… It’s been a busy couple of weeks. We’ve been looking into several publishing opportunities across the internets, but the biggest problem that we seem to be having is that when we mention the use of “The Kinect,” we tend to have something of a negative reaction. It seems that most people don’t really want to deal with extra peripherals, especially for a PC title.

Luckily for us, we’ve been building in Unity, which has proven to be quite a boon as we’ve finally made a somewhat drastic decision over the past couple of days – We’re going mobile. While we’ll still have the Kinect version of the title available to us, our publishing deadline is coming up soon, and we need to make the necessary adjustments to get the game out there. While the idea of publishing in the Utah GameForge crossed our minds, our larger concern was the lack of accessibility to the title. With Unity, we can release on Android and, pending approval, iOS as well.

This has created a drastic shift in focus for the team over the past couple of days, as we strive to adapt our control systems and models to a much smaller screen as well as less-robust computing system, but it has also ignited quite the fire within us. Being given this green light has allowed us to plunge into the water headfirst, and we’re flying towards the finish line. Just a few more weeks to go!

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Zodiac Trailer for GDC 2013

This is just a trailer that we put together to show off the current state of our game, as well as the idea of how it’s played. (That’s Karratti’s little brother and sister acting as the “kids” of our game. We chose them because they’re rather vibrant and crazy.) Off to San Francisco!

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Current Updates – Publishing Plans

We’re coming down to the wire, rapidly approaching our publishing deadline in April, and the new wrinkle in the project is that it seems our team was just a little too talented for our own good. With Kevin off to Disney Interactive, Michelle at Bioware-Mythic, and both JorgeĀ and Anurag at EA Tiburon, only four of us our left, our goal to get the game polished up and ready to roll. (We can do this!)

Though the rest of the team will surely try to help when they can, but understandably, they’ve got to keep their immediate responsibilities in mind. So, we’ve scaled back our development plans a little, and have decided to work on four specific items.

1) Obstacles/Collectibles – Currently, our obstacles and collectibles have been mostly “stand-in.” Our designer has dedicated himself to getting the final pieces of the puzzle put together so that we can start actively playtesting the level to make it better and better.

2) Poses – Over the last summer, we got feedback about the poses that we’re looking to implement. We plan to do more child-based playtesting to make sure things get put together.

3) Shader – The shader that we showed off last winter is excellent, and we’re looking for ways to implement that in the live game. We have some excellent ideas, and hope to have them in the game soon.

4) Occlusion/Framerate – While the game generally runs well, it has some issues, especially when we hit the larger-expanse areas. It turns out that Unity terrain actually creates a few more problems than it solves. The plan is to rip out all of the Unity-created terrain and remodel it all in Maya and place it back into the game. That’s going to take some time, for sure.

Sorry for the short update, but we’re a little short-handed and there’s a lot of stuff to get done!

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Seeing The Light

Jorge has been working hard on a lighting shader in Unity in order to help our game really pop. Today, he showed it off, and it’s just a little too awesome for words:

We’ve been having a number of discussions about the “look” of the game, especially looking at ways to make our objects and landscape look a little more “paper-like.” Ashley and Misha have been doing quite a lot, pushing the textures in an attempt to get things working, and though the game has been looking better and better, getting the “paper” feel to the game just wasn’t progressing as we’d like, but with the new shader on top of the textures, things are looking much better.

This was a welcome boost.

We were quite impressed with the new look, and are excited to implement the change on Monday. I could try to explain the process myself, but I think Jorge does a much better job of it:

The Kinect Posing tool is done! At least for now we agreed that the functionality it has is enough for this stage and the lead engineer asked me to start working on making our game look better!

These days we have been working on little details of our game, adding HUD elements to give enough information to the player, crunching numbers to make gameplay more complicated but way more fun, modifying our models to make them better for the game, etc…

There has been a lot of changes on the art side, now that we have more experience with Unity and how it uses 3D models, we are at the stage where we can modify the geometry to make it look the way we want and get some special effects in Unity. These tweaks have also brought many challenges, some very common ones but a lot of unexpected too.

I started working with the Lightmapping tool in Unity, right now most of our textures don’t have any lighting information and I thought there is a lot of volume information that has gone missing because of that; the ligthmapping tool works well in the sense of giving you the ability to modify color tones to make stuff look more interesting. I have been testing with our level and checking what is possible and what is not; here is a small test that I put together to present to my team, I believe they liked it!

Another area I wanted to work on more was writing some custom shaders and some post-processing image effects. Hopefully I will get the all the 3D models on time so I can lit them properly and move on to the next stage!

Just wanted to give him a quick shout out. Great work!

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Trials, Time, and Trepidation

Momentum is sometimes difficult to keep moving when the passion for a game has somewhat run it’s course. With the end of the year quickly approaching, (as well as the end of the semester even sooner), the stress of multiple projects is steadily pulling energy away from the team.

Interestingly enough, for those who have never had the experience of graduate school, your classes, projects, and studies truly become the dominant part of your life. You wake up thinking of the multiple projects that you need to get done, work on as much as possible over the course of the day, and then go home with those stresses still on your mind. This perpetual to-do list is further compounded by the looming date of graduation rushing steadily closer like an impending asteroid. We know it’s going to hit, so we’re looking to get everything as done as possible before it crushes any further opportunities.

Shoot, reading that over again, that seems a little bleak. I don’t mean to be, but with the weight of multiple responsibilities on our minds, it’s difficult to ignore. In any case, let’s talk a bit about where we’re at.

At the point of one of our EP’s proddings, we’ve taken a hard look at the color scheme for the game, as well as individualizing certain areas of the game into separate “biomes.” Highland, valley, urban, and forest areas are nearly complete, and are currently being implemented. Ashley has been hard at work, re-texturing and changing saturation on multiple elements to make sure each biome is ready for Anurag, who is currently implementing and adjusting the level design that Josh has created.

Jorge has been researching and experimenting with shading techniques in Unity, with Kevin implementing our new “Photographic Top 10 Board” for the end of the game. And at the head of all of these pieces has been Pace, weaving the game together like a tapestry as he’s been attempting to implement water features into the game (to add further color to our palette) after already adding ramping and adjusting collision actions. Everyone’s been working quite hard, especially dealing with multiple minor issues along the way, which constantly seem to come up as we continue with this Unity/Kinect experiment.

Spirits are a little difficult to gauge, but it’s easy to see that people are stressed, and with our EAE Day coming up next week, it’s a little alarming to realize that things are not exactly to the point that we’d like them to be. We’re continuing to work as best as we can which, at the moment, is the best that can be expected.

Personally, I believe that things will go a little better after the winter break, but owing to the thought that much of the team may not be available next semester – with internships and jobs coming up in the spring – it’s adding some unforeseen wrinkles into our plans.

But, just as the Guide cover says in large, friendly letters, “DON’T PANIC.” There’s always a solution, and there’s always a way to overcome any challenge. Things may need a boost, but we’ve overcome the odds before, we’ve met obstacles in the past, and we can do it again.

Just got to keep taking things a day at a time.

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