In the run-up to the 2006 Independent Games Festival,
which is held at Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose from March
20-24, 2006, Gamasutra is showcasing a number of the IGF finalists in
different categories. As part of a series of Gamasutra
Education-exclusive articles, we profile the 2006 IGF Student Showcase
winners by interviewing them about their award-winning titles, which
will be playable at the IGF Pavilion at GDC this March.
first interviewee to step up was the University Of Southern
California's Cloud Team, developer of acclaimed free-to-download
abstract action title Cloud, and they present their thoughts on their game, the other finalists, and their hopes for the future below.
GS: What's the concept behind your IGF Student Showcase winning game, and give us an outline of the team that's behind it?
you ever wanted to fly among the clouds? To see the sky only where
birds soar? Welcome to a dream of what could be. Welcome to Cloud.”
is an experimental game created by the students from the USC School of
Cinema-Television's Interactive Media Division. The game allows players
to share the imaginative flight of a child trapped in the hospital.
can control the child in his/her dream to fly freely through the world,
play and paint the sky with different types of clouds, and eventually
use weather and nature to save the world…
Instead of focusing on addiction, stimulation, direct competition or violence, Cloud
experiments with creating a richer emotional experience for the player.
It focuses on resonating with the emotions associated with looking at
the blue sky and the white clouds, such as relaxation, creativity,
goodness, nature, and zen.
- Team Lead
- Game Designer
- Lead Artist
- Gameplay Programmer
- Lead Engineer
- Engine Programmer
- Graphics & Simulation Programmer
- Level Designer
- Sound Designer
- Marketing PR
- Design & Engineering Consultant
GS: Tell us a little bit about the school and school program which were behind
the game's genesis? Was this part of a course or final project? What kind of degree program did it count towards?
was selected as the recipient of the 2005 USC Game Innovation Grant.
The Game Innovation Grant is intended to support the production of
experimental games by giving a student team the space, time, and
resources to complete a game that falls outside of the mainstream.
grant is given by the Interactive Media Division of the USC School of
Cinema-Television and the EA Game Innovation Lab. The lab and games
program build on the strong foundation of the School of
Cinema-Television, stressing creativity of expression, innovation,
experimentation and excellence in execution. Emphasis is placed on
practicing an iterative process of design, prototyping and playtesting
with the integration of player feedback at the heart of the process.
This "play-centric" process allows student game designers to take risks
with their ideas and to learn from their experiments.
GS: How long did development on the game take and what tools did you use to
The main development for Cloud started in January of 2005 and concluded in November of 2005. The latest build, 1.41, was released on December 18, 2005.
with many student projects, there was a small hiatus while the students
worked their summer internships in July and August. The team then spent
September and October crunching to finish the game
The tools we used in the development are:
- Microsoft Visual Studio 2003
- Microsoft Word 2003
- Microsoft Excel 2003
- Adobe Photoshop CS
- Adobe Illustrator CS
- Macromedia Flash 2004 MX
- Macromedia Dreamweaver 2004 MX
- Maya 6.0 Educational
GS: What was the all-time best and all-time worst moment that you encountered
during the game's creation?
best and worst moment occured almost simultaneously. A few weeks after
the game got put on the web, we had an incredible amount of traffic and
downloads from the site. It was an incredibly exciting time - we were
getting so much positive feedback from players all around the world.
We were able to get perspectives from players of different backgrounds
and cultures, unavailable to us at school.
the huge rush of traffic led to overages from our server, and crashed
our second, which happened to also be the department's. We got a huge
bill in the mail, and of course caused major headaches for many people.
We never expected it to spread so quickly! I guess the lesson is
never underestimate the power of the world wide web.
Do you (yet) have any success stories or positive experience based on
showing the student game to people in the game industry (praise,
actually getting a job in the biz, etc)?
is a huge success in our eyes because of the great response we've
gotten from players. Since we released Cloud V1.0 as a free
downloadable game at the beginning of Nov 2005, our website has got
more than 2 million visits and about 300,000 people have downloaded the
game (not counting unofficial servers and Bit Torrent downloads).
have gotten thank you letters, kudos and suggestions from all over the
world. Many of them are from people who are gamers who are looking for
different types of play experiences, but some are from people who don't
usually play games, but tried this one because it looked different. One
of the original design goals was to reach a broader audience, and
hearing these responses was extremely vaildating. We clearly have an
audience in those people, and they have proven our theory that more
people would play games if games offered a wider variety of content.
definitely see the huge potential for this game and its market to be
developed into a fully-featured console title. The limitations in the
current game, the suggestions, and fans' wishes we collected will help
us to evolve the game into what it was really supposed to be.
In terms of getting a job out of this game... we haven't heard anything yet.
What are the most important things that student games should be showing
off, in terms of both getting high marks in your courses and impressing
freedom of a student project is that you don't have to worry about
employers or a potential market. That's what makes the growth in game
studies programs in academia so exciting! More experimentation, more
risk-taking. That's not to say it isn't important to understand the
industry, and to be pragmatic upon graduation. But while in school,
students should take every opportunity to experiment. This will lead to
more innovation and higher quality in game design, on every level.
GS: Have you tried any of the other Student Showcase finalists? If so, which ones did you especially appreciate, and why?
We were really impressed with:
from DigiPen. It has very original and fun mechanics, was well
executed and had lots of detailed designs. Our composer, Vincent
Diamante played this game obsessively at Slamdance and got the top
three high-scores, winning a trophy from those guys on the final night.
We also liked Ocular Ink, which has a very fluid & innovative gameplay with an interesting graphic style.
And Narbacular Drop, which is a very surprising experience with a unique gameplay mechanic.
GS: Name one thing that people probably don't know about your game.
Our game project is aiming for complete game innovation, not only new mechanics, but also new genres and new experiences.
with films, the emotional experiences that video games encompass lack
variety. Although there are thousands of games and a number of defined
genres, you can pretty much cover 95% of the mainstream games with
adjectives like “addicting, stimulating, and competitive”. But is
“addiction” all what we want? Does every game have to contain
mediums like film have proven that they can offer a wide range of
emotions and content that appeal to a broader audience. We think that
games can appeal to a much broader range of emotions and attract very
different types of players, too. In making Cloud, we asked the
design questions: What if we create a game that communicates a feeling
of youthfulness, freedom, and the wonder of imagination? Can we make a
game that taps into the archetypal feeling that we all have at some
time when we look up the clouds and wish we could fly up high and play?
We envisioned a game without the traditional goal-oriented,
conflict-driven, and asset-heavy design. A simple game, that makes you
feel good. Little by little, Cloud was shaped from these ideas.
Also, in order to create a broader appeal, the game couldn't simply be made for current gamers. Cloud
is designed to be a game about positive emotions. It is made to be
relaxing, refreshing, and playful. In order to eliminate all the
psychic entropy, there is no time pressure in the game, failure is
barely impossible. There are no elements that trap players inside the
game, they can pick up and leave at anytime with no trouble.
yet, the game is not “easy” in the sense that there is always something
new to do or try. Finishing the tasks in each level is never the only
way to play. Some people enjoy the game by simply flying around and
watching the world, others like to construct complex cloud formations;
still others like to generate interesting weather patterns. In Cloud
players never gain any points or special abilities for doing these
things – the rewards are intrinsic. Players are rewarded by the
pleasure of admiring their own creations and the wonder of the natural
phenomena simulated in the game.
games are deemed innovative based on new graphics or physics
technology, extraordinary visual style, or new gameplay features added
to existing mechanics.
During the development of Cloud,
we set a design goal of creating an experience of freedom, pure
goodness, youthfulness and creativity as our baseline. We then designed
our features around this goal, rather than beginning from an existing
instance, in order to evoke the childhood memory of looking up at the
bright white playful clouds, we created our clouds using a soft, fluffy
particle simulation. Also, to encourage creativity and playfulness, we
redesigned gameplay features to allow player to draw and erase clouds
as easy as chalk. We applied this guideline to pretty much everything
we could think of to make the entire experience a whole piece,
including gameplay, writing, visuals, audio, and even box art and
also used a number of different prototypes of each game element and
tested to make sure the effect was one that went along with our main
design goal. So, for example, we knew we wanted the player to be able
to zoom far out to see what they had written in the sky. But, we also
wanted to be able to fly close up with the child, to feel the emotion
of flight. In our early playable prototypes, we experimented with
automatic controls that zoomed out as you collected more clouds, but
soon realized we wanted more control. So, we created a camera prototype
that tested the idea of zooming in and out at will. As it turned out,
this concept, especially when combined with the “free flight” feature
solved both the practical interface issue and the emotional issue of
flying close-up with the child.
prototyping and iterative process was very intensive right from the
beginning of the project, up until the very end. Even when we had
worked out the details of most of the gameplay, we did user testing in
our usability lab to tweak the “tutorial prompts” that teach the player
how to use the game controls in the main four levels. We made a number
of subtle, but important changes so that even non-gamers could pick up
the game fairly easily.
GS: Have you any other messages for your fellow Student Showcase winners?
We are honored to be among such innovation and creativity. We look
forward to playing with you, and have fun at GDC!