Designer & Testing Lead:
- Systems Design
- Testing Management
- QA Management
- Satisfaction Design
- Level Design
- Particles and Feedback
- 3D prop modeling
Phase one (2019)
Vacuum Vault is a casual adventure game where the player uses a vacuum-gun to suck up the world, build with collected resources, repair broken structures, and engage with alien wildlife in attempts to uncover a locked away treasure.
We wanted to take the concept of a vacuum gun and create an experience not found in other titles. Taking the traditional mechanics of vacuuming and shooting, we gave our vacuum-gun a combination of terraforming (with our implementation of the Marching Cubes algorithm), structure repairing, combat, and puzzle-solving capabilities to deliver a non-linear adventure.
Vacuum Vault itself was designed to be a vertical slice. Thanks to our hard work however, we were able to expand our team, and are currently working to make a fully polished and published experience.
A lot of my work on Vacuum Vault was focused on testing and QA. Since the game was focused on using mechanics within a level, and our team had no focused level designer, I focused the bulk of our testing on one main area: SATISFACTION.
Since the players would be using the movement and vacuum gun systems so heavily, I spent hours upon hours making sure the vacuum-gun, and all the systems connected to it, felt and looked as good as possible.
My role on Vacuum Vault was primarily systems and testing, but I did plenty of additional work to fill in the gaps. Systems was the bulk of my early work. Whether it be the vacuuming mechanic, shooting system, the repair system, inventory menu, selling, and much more, I was working alongside the programmers to make sure the systems worked as described for designers to build with. Additionally, since nobody on the team was a dedicated level designer, I also took on the role of designing and assembling the level we would present for our vertical slice. I even made environment & prop models, as well as VFX for the game, so our artist could focus on more complex art pieces.
Disclaimer, the game's name changed to Eira: Echoes of Adventure by the end of development.
I started using the base gun we created and fiddling with variables to see what factors players enjoyed. Then, I began testing the vacuum gun in actual situations of vacuuming up items, creating unique testing scenes for whatever aspect of the gun I wanted feedback on. Using this method, the vacuum gun systems slowly improved.
This testing extended to how the vacuum-gun interacted with other systems. We learned that players loved collecting endless masses of items, but our early UI was designed to force players to limit their collection, so we retooled it to encourage hoarding. We learned that players didn’t like randomly getting medium-sized objects clogging their gun-barrel when vacuuming up a pile of treasure, so we tweaked the drop rules and adjusted level-design to avoid this. We learned player’s preferred repairing structures piece by piece in one go, rather than in chunks. The list goes on, connecting systems, UI, level design & more. With each test, the game became more and more satisfying to play with without even a shred of rhyme or reason.
This evolution continued across development, as we switched away from the blocky sand piles we had been using to the Marching Cube systems we have today. This took tons of testing, in and out of team, to bring the new M.C. system to the same level of satisfaction we had before. I tested different rates of clearing, different drop rates, build speed, anything that would matter when it came to interacting with this core system, and the pacing of the game. Thankfully, after testing every week, after making dozens of changes, we were able to bring the M.C. systems to a level of satisfaction we could be proud of, without crashing our game.
Today we are still improving, testing new improvements, and making sure this satisfaction doesn’t drop as we make changes to other systems while continuing development.
Vacuum Vault was made for our Senior Capstone. 23 teams of 4-5 members created a vertical slice of a game within 13 weeks. At the end of the development period, teams presented their work and were evaluated by industrial professionals on both quality and potential. We were 1 of 8 teams that moved forward into development next semester.
With our advancement came expansion, our team growing over 3 times in size, and an even larger scope for development; including multiple levels, more interactions and a whole lot more to vacuum up.
Our team is was very proud of what we accomplished with Vacuum Vault; with over 1400 collective hours committed to development in those 13 weeks. As we made our way through development, there are a number of struggles and faults we could have avoided through changing our development process.
- Exploring more concepts earlier
- Solidify art direction earlier
- More testing before creating art assets
- More clearly identify the player motivations
- Establish a stronger game context
We still have a strong vertical slice of systems and mechanics, and are actively challenging these struggles. However, if we dealt them earlier in developing our game, Vacuum Vault would be a more complete experience. Thankfully because of these elements we had plenty of important information to help our expanded development, as we transitioned Vacuum Vault into the published experience: