PyroBuilder

 Vital Stats

Created By: Culver Redd
Development Time: 2 weeks (Prototype Completed May 2012)
Artist: Culver Redd
Designer: Culver Redd
Programmer: Culver Redd

The TL;DR

PyroBuilder is a game prototyped by me in the Unity3D game engine during the two weeks of the Sid Meier Game Design Bootcamp at University of Michigan. This game provides players with the tools to build and launch their own firework shell, with an emphasis on experimentation, quick iteration, and realistic pyrotechnic effects. Players can modify variables such as fuse time, lift powder, and color. Additionally, they can add a wide variety of different chemicals and effects like crackles, titanium powder, and willow. There is also an educational component to this game, as an information window displays information about the effects of specific chemicals.

* Attending Sid Meier's Game Design Bootcamp was one of the most valuable professional development experiences of my career, and has helped improve my design skills, art skills, programming skills, and personal networks.

* I prototyped PyroBuilder outward from the core experience goal of allowing players new to pyrotechnics to experience the multitude of possibilities that shellbuilding offers, and encouraging them to quickly iterate their shell designs in order to learn more about different effects/techniques and acheive an aesthetically pleasing effect.

* I was able to experiment and learn freely with how to present information in a GUI-heavy game, programmatic generation of highly-detailed and lifelike pyrotechnic audiovisual effects, and guiding players along a difficulty curve with a challenge-and-unlock system.

Postmortem

The Sid Meier Game Design Bootcamp was an event first launched for two weeks in May 2012 at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Myself and the other attendees got to attend lectures and workshops by Sid Meier, our faculty host Dr. John Laird, and a host of guest speakers from academia and industry. Zynga, Electronic Arts-Tiburon, Microsoft Games, and University of North Texas were just a few of the organizations involved. As part of the camp, we were expected to design and build a game individually or as part of a group, which we would present at the end of the camp. While we were expected to present our game, it did not necessarily need to be playable. The emphasis was much more focused on getting us to explore the various possibilities of a design space. As we worked on our games each day, Sid, Dr. Laird, and the guest speakers often would come by to offer feedback, suggestions and insight.  Needless to say, being part of this camp was an absolute blast, an immensely powerful learning experience, and an extremely valuable networking experience!

Knowing that I had never worked completely by myself on any games project, I deliberately chose to work individually on my game so that I could get the most out of the experience. One of my hobbyist interests happens to be pyrotechnics--I have attended the annual convention of the Pyrotechnics Guild International almost every year since I was eleven--so I chose to make a game that would allow the player to build and fire their own fireworks shell. One of the things that always frustrated me about other fireworks building games was that they were mostly limited to very cheaply-made and shallow experiences meant for flash game sites like Newgrounds. These games barely scratched the surface of what can be done even inside a single fireworks shell, and my aim was to create a shell builder with a depth and encouragement of experimentation that would keep players coming back to try something new.

Working outward from that core experience goal, I found that if I wanted to bring players into the esoteric world of pyrotechnics, I would have to not only give concise explanation of the effects of a given item, but also let them wade in with small guided steps. As such, in addition to a completely open "Free Build" mode, I decided to build a tutorial into PyroBuilder in the form of a series of challenges where players would be instructed to build a shell to achieve a desired effect and would then be given a limited toolset to build that shell. As the player completed more advanced challenges, they would be taught how to use more and different portions of the full range of options. As I constructed the shellbuilding toolset, I also found that the other key component for encouraging experimentation was the ability for players to complete the build-test-iterate cycle of prototyping in very quick succession, and so I worked to lower the barriers to each round of shellbuilding. The shifts in thought process and worldview that have occurred in me as a result of creating and iterating on this design are tools that I anticipate will be enormously valuable to me in the years to come.

In the process of prototyping PyroBuilder, I learned an enormous amount about nearly every aspect of game design. I have already described how I learned about ways to teach the player new and esoteric information while keeping them engaged and ready to try again. Additionally, because my game was so GUI-heavy, I had to find ways to balance compact presentation of many tools with ensuring that the toolset did not appear too intimidating, and in the process became intimately familiar with Unity's GUI system. Since I was working by myself, I also had to create my own art assets, which gave me the opportunity to build my near-complete inexperience with use of Blender and GIMP into a proper working knowledge. The tutorial system I settled on required step-by-step unlocking of functionality, allowing me to experience building an unlockables system across levels from scratch, which translates nicely to a wide variety of mechanics and designs for future projects. Finally, I of course needed to create aesthetically satisfying effects for the fireworks shells that players would build, which forced me to think about audio in a new level of depth. This also allowed me to explore techniques for efficiently simulating the complex timing and physics interactions present in a fireworks shell while simultaneously ensuring gameplay performance remained at a high level of quality.

As I mentioned, the camp did not require a playable final deliverable, and I therefore took full advantage of the opportunity to explore different designs--different GUI layouts, different methods of simulating pyrotechnic effects, and many other facets of the project. Therefore, I cannot post a playable prototype of the game on this site. However, I believe my above discussion can also stand by itself as a testament to the value of this project as a game creation experience.

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