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News+Gameplay: Bin Laden Raid
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News+Gameplay: Bin Laden Raid

May 20, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Monday Night Kickoff

We all gathered in my office Monday night to draw up our game plan. John collected the latest information, Rich sketched out the compound, and I examined the programming needs. For the most part, Monday night was about getting the scale of the compound down, as well as the placement of the six individuals who were shot, the Blackhawk helicopters, and other details, like the trash burning site.

In order to get our scale correct, we cross-referenced Google Earth (for perimeters) with the isometric 3D model image released to the press that detailed the heights of the walls surrounding the compound. There are many types of newsgames, but from my perspective the most objective newsgame is a "spacial reality". The thought process is that if the game is modeled to scale along distances, masses, and forces, that the game could potentially report the news better than any other source by virtue of its physical accuracy.

Getting the scale of the model and the surrounding visuals from within the compound was pretty straightforward. Where things got murky was the details of the story. Was Osama bin Laden armed or unarmed? Where were the guards? Where were the helicopters? Reports were still conflicting at the time.

The Week

Throughout the week, John refined all the details, including the interior layout of the compound. He meticulously arranged arrays of pictures analyzing every possible angle of the compound and studied all the video walkthroughs of the compound. By cross-referencing the visual media available at the time with basic building practices John created floor plans for all three stories of the compound.

Unfortunately, John and Rich didn't communicate well. Throughout the week, John sent information to me that should have gone directly to Rich. Meanwhile, Rich was asking me questions that John had the answers to. This lack of communication took its toll on the project. Some of the details John picked up on didn't make it into the game. Overall, I think we managed to produce something very solid, but with better communication the newsgame could have reached a higher level of fidelity.

The 24+ Hour Crunch

Friday night started off slowly. I began dropping in some basic behaviors I'd written in 2009 for an iPhone FPS project. For the most part, these scripts were too specialized to that old project, and contained unnecessary complexity, so I ended up ripping them apart and writing mostly all my basic behaviors from scratch. After squashing some early bugs, I broke to go pick Rich up to help him carry his monster of a computer over to my office so we could crank on the last night locally.

It should be noted that Rich had just recovered earlier that day from a massive system crash. Luckily, his filesystem was still in place, so he didn't lose anything. When I think back on some of the challenges we faced, it's truly amazing we were able to deliver the game in a timely fashion!

Anyway, by 9 pm, we were all cranking in my office. John was feeding structural information to Rich and circumstantial details to me. By 4 am we had finally covered the major points of the mission and the structure of the model was pretty close after Rich iterated through the interiors twice.

Due to aforementioned poor communication, Rich never received the layouts John created from the video footage and general building practices. Rich had gone ahead and created his own version of the interior space. The cool part was that Rich is a core gamer, so the interior was really interesting and tense. It would have been a good interior for an entertainment game.

Since we were making a newsgame, though, I told him we needed to redo it to line up closer to the videos available. In the end the first two floors were close to what John derived, but the third floor remained mostly fiction. John stated that no video footage was available from the third floor so Rich ended up keeping the layout he'd originally created with the exception of the location where the stairs came up, which followed the second floor plan that John created.

Although the compound was refined that night, some details were simply overlooked. Since it was John's job to collect the details, he was particularly disappointed that some details he found didn't make it into what went out on Saturday. Our plan is to continue to refine those details, but it will have to be balanced properly so that we deliver the best information without impeding the development of new newsgames. I can certainly see traditional "feature creep" working its way into newsgames, which would be detrimental overall.

By 5 am, the structure of the compound was finalized, and the mission points we covered. It was decided that players would shoot five individuals, as was reported, kill Osama bin Laden, collect intelligence, destroy the damaged Blackhawk, and finally extract using the remaining Blackhawk with bin Laden's body aboard. With the major points decided, John headed home while Rich and I continued to refine the programming and quality of the model.

For the most part, Rich was done, but he continued to improve the quality of the model mainly through use of better materials. I, on the other hand, was swamped. As the sun rose, I looked at the game, horrified by the number of bugs.

I had chosen to make use of the Bootcamp demo that comes with Unity, but this was the first time I'd ever worked with this "engine". It's widely acknowledged that it's easier to write your own code than learn someone else's if you know what you're doing, but in this case I didn't have the time to replicate many of the good qualities present in Bootcamp -- so I wisely chose to learn it.

The downside of using Bootcamp for this project is that it was pretty complicated to dissect all of its features in such a short period of time. There were GUI features I didn't want, the locomotion animation system wouldn't walk up our stairs, there were conflicting collision layers, and more. On top of Bootcamp I had several of my own script issues, which were causing inconsistent behavior (the worst kind).

Rich and I worked side by side until 11 am, when he finished redoing the materials on the compound model. By that time the sun was shining, so I told him I'd take him back to his place. We loaded up his titanic tower of a PC into the back of my SUV; I dropped him off, and then picked up breakfast for my wife.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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