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The Chaos Behind "Chaos Chamber"

Yet another game-project has come and gone, and this one was one hell-of-a project. I worked in a team of five, and the theme we were given was "Layers" and the genre we were given was a choice of either Action or Puzzle. Based on what we observed last semester, everyone made some sort of indy-style puzzle game, and we wanted to do something unique.

As expected, every team made the same observation, and every team made an action game.

The game idea we created was a fighting-arena game where the map is changing dynamically over time (and as stuff is destroyed). The game takes place in a small square chamber, and as the map changes, layers of the floor disappear, revealing new terrains with new challenges. This gave us the identity of a fighting game with multiple elements of "chaos", leading to fast-paced and variable gameplay.

As a designer, this game was kind of terrifying to begin. Fighting games are incredibly difficult to pull off, and even harder to do well. But we made a goal for ourselves that we would have all of the core gameplay and mechanics done by week 4 (for public playtesting), and we stuck to that goal. I seriously doubt our project could have succeeded otherwise. We took our entire final week to tweak the characters and make sure that each attack was balanced, interesting, and fun. I can't imagine trying to make that happen without the awesome playtest feedback we got.

Thinking back on this game, I am in a very interesting state of mind. For one thing, I am very glad that we are done with it. This game was the hardest thing I have ever worked on (and hopefully the hardest thing I will ever work on in a group of five for 5-weeks), and it absolutely exhausted me. I have never worked so hard, so consistently on any project before. I put at least 6 hours a day into working on this game, and it was usually closer to 10 hours a day.

I think this game was way too ambitious. We decided to only make two characters for the game, which I think was a good call, but I seriously misunderstood how difficult the engine would be to make. There is so much really complex code you have to include in a fighting game just to make sure that features like "staggering", "damage hitboxes", and character select work as they should. If we had another 5 weeks to work on this game, I think we could probably rattle off at least 5 more characters, just because we wouldn't have to worry about the engine anymore, which was a pretty enormous part of the game's programming.

Despite how ambitious of a game this was (and how happy I am to be done with it), I think the game turned out incredibly well. The game feels very well polished and we included almost every major feature that we had intended. I attribute this largely to us making sure that we were basically done with the game by playtest (which gave us an entire week to just fix bugs), but also to having an amazing programmer who worked as tirelessly on the game as I did (maybe more).

In general, I'm a pretty firm believer that anything you can try that you've never done before is worth doing. This is no exception to that, and I learned an incredible amount about the design process from this game. First and foremost on that list is how to balance a game. Making an asymmetrical game was completely new to me as a designer, but pretty familiar to me as a player (I have been an avid League of Legends player for a long time, and - in general - their balancing process is pretty solid). We gave each of our characters core identities that created really interesting play within the game, and we tried to use those identities to determine which abilities needed to do what to create the gameplay strategies that we wanted.

In terms of aesthetics, we got to try out a PBR environment, which I enjoyed immensely. Since our environment was a bit creative, I tried to concept out as much of it as I could using boards like Pinterest and drawn concept art (it was also my first time drawing concept art, which was a great experience). I think this helped our art team a lot to make sure that their environments had a consistent in style, and the art assets we produced turned out pretty well.

So, to sum it all up, I would compare the making of "Chaos Chamber" to writing a term paper last-minute that you did absolutely no research for. You have really no idea what you're doing at the start of it, and you constantly question whether you can reasonably do what you need to within the time constraints you have, but at the end of it, you're happy with the result that you somehow achieved and you actually learned a lot making it. I think Chaos Chamber is a great game, and I am incredibly proud of it, even if my mental state is incredibly clouded with the pure exhaustion that working on it created.

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