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Inside the IGF Student Competition: Trino
Inside the IGF Student Competition: Trino
January 15, 2009 | By Jill Duffy




In a series of exclusive articles, GameCareerGuide has been looking behind the curtain of this year’s Independent Games Festival, interviewing Student Competition entrants.

In this case, the site has been talking to the students at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University who made Trino.

The team developed the game, which is entered in this year's IGF (part of Think Services, as is this website), while in residence at one of Electronic Arts’ studios, which they discuss in the interview.

The team consists of Stephanus Indra, programmer; Linhan Li, technical artist and effects artist; Youngwook Yang, programmer; Soo Jeong Bae, sound and music designer, producer; Nick Lee, artist; and Ivan Ortega, artist.

As for the title itself, Trino is an action puzzle game in which an alien must escape an insidious cyborg swarm. According to the game's official description: "Use Trino’s powerful triangle trap to defeat the Nanites and break free from their laser prison! Evade, outsmart, and destroy seven types of deadly enemies! Collect power-ups to evolve and destroy the laser walls!"

Tell us how Trino came to be.

Stephanus Indra: Originally, Linhan Li [technical artist and effects artist], Young Yang, [programmer], and I pitched a project to create Xbox Live Arcade game during the spring 2008 semester at Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

Shortly after pitching, three other members Soo Jeong Bae [sound and music designer and producer], Nick Lee [artist], and Ivan Ortega [artist], joined the team.

In the beginning of the semester, we were not clear about which direction to take. Nevertheless, we wanted to make a game that was simple and easy to pick up and play. Upon that agreement, we bounced ideas back and forth between team members and kept iterating until the game became Trino as most people know it today.

The team will have another development semester to create a richer Trino experience.

What was your goal in developing the game? I noticed on your web site, there is a reference to the team being in residence at EA in southern California. Can you talk about that a little bit?

SI: Our goal was to make something new and that had never been done before at the ETC. More specifically, we wanted to make a game prototype for Xbox Live Arcade that was ready to be submitted to Microsoft by the end of the semester -- 14 weeks.

Even though the project was in the academic setting, we did not intend to make a game just for the sake of the project, but also something that people would remember.

We were working out of EA Redwood Shores in northern California. This was made possible due to the strong relationship between the ETC and EA developed by [the late] Randy Pausch (ETC co-founder) and Steve Seabolt (head of Sims Worldwide Product Marketing).

Basically, ETC students were allowed to use EA cubes and facilities for project coursework. The team took this opportunity to build a game at a game company and are incredibly thankful to everyone at EA.

Explain a little bit more about working at EA Redwood Shores. How long were you there? Were you able to consult with the employees for advice and help? What was the experience like? What restrictions did you have?

SI: We were in EA for one semester, which was approximately 14 weeks. EA made it very clear that we were not to provide feedback to any projects they are developing and we did not have any access to any of their game projects and their spaces.

On the other hand, we were allowed to receive feedback from them. Basically, we designed the game and developed the game by ourselves; it has no relation with EA. We showcased our game to some of our friends in EA and they gave some feedback.

The experience was wonderful! EA has nice facilities, like a canteen, game store, gym, and a nice environment, just like a university. In ETC, there are several occasions when we can showcase our project, for example presentations and soft-opening/open house.

During soft-opening, we invited anyone to come and play test our game. Those events were the best way to collect feedback from people and we got to do that in EA. It was indeed a great opportunity and a good way to connect to the industry.

Some of the characters look like jellyfish. Where did the inspiration come from to design them in this way?

Ivan Ortega: Our art style radically changed several times over the development process. We initially began in desolate, neon-colored space, then radically shifted to a more happy, peaceful, aquatic setting.

After a lot of game design meetings we decided to alter our overall art and music style to better communicate the core gameplay. Our final look is a mix of previous styles with alien-like deep-sea creatures and clean, rounded robotics for further inspiration. The jellyfish and whale are re-designs of early characters.

What was the most difficult part of developing the game, either technically speaking or otherwise?

IO: We faced a lot of challenges over our very short development time. Game design, developing the game and graphics engine, designing characters and backdrops, and wrestling to find the right music feel, all in parallel. We kept iterating our game design, which pushed our technical and art work in new directions.

Young Wook: Let me share a little bit from technical perspective. Since Trino is developed using C#/XNA, we could not escape from Garbage Collection (GC) issue. That was in fact the most difficult part. We implemented pool system for all of our game objects to avoid memory allocation during gameplay.

Nonetheless, there were some code (e.f. foreach, boxing, and anonymous delegates) calling "new" implicitly and woke GC up. We had to track and hunt down most, if not all, hidden memory allocation. We indeed missed C++ at that moment.

Tell us one interesting thing that you learned in developing the game.

YW: "New" is not equal to "fun." One novel idea can be a good starting point, but it is not enough to make a solid and fun game. Most of game teams who are still in school try too hard to find a new-and-never-been-done-before mechanic; so hard until they forget what a video game is supposed to be. It is supposed to be fun, right?

In fact, we made the same mistake and it took us some time to realize that our first game design was not fun just new.

[Gamasutra has reprinted an abbreviated version of the article from its sister site here. For the full-length article, see GameCareerGuide.com.]


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