The Making of LifeSpark – Lead Engineer Kaleb Williams

Shaun - Tomb Concept Art

Lead Engineer on LifeSpark Arena – Kaleb Williams

The making of LifeSpark is meant to highlight the team working hard to make this game every day, and get to know about their back story, development practices, interests, and hobbies.

Hey Kaleb, so why don’t we start by letting everyone know what you do on LifeSpark?

I am the Engineering Lead for LifeSpark, so I coordinate everything with the engineers, coordinate with other branches, and also of course solve crises whenever they come up.

You mentioned branches – for those who might not be aware, what kind of branches can there be for an engineering team in a game like LifeSpark?

So, in one way when I’m referring to branches I am referring to our different branches of development with our engineers. We have the smaller groups of engineers, say 2-4, and then I was also referring to coordinating with art and design to make sure what we were doing was clicking with them.

What are some of the responsibilities that engineers have on LifeSpark Arena?

Any time there is a feature that needs to be implemented or a bug that needs to be smashed – that’s us.

What have you found to be helpful during your time on LifeSpark in managing all of these engineers?

This is the first time I have managed so large of a team, so the overall experience of coming to understand that the skill sets are different, both on my part and from my engineers, and using those effectively has been a challenge turned into a strength. Recognizing when there is an area that one of my engineers knows more about than I do personally and trusting them to make the right decision for it has also been very helpful.

You mentioned that it is your first time running so large a team. What was your experience like before coming onboard for LifeSpark Arena?

I worked on small projects, sometimes taking on leadership roles but never for more than 2-4 people. I have a background in general computer science, as well as web development work to make money while going through college. General programming with a higher focus on games, ever since I started my Masters degree here at USC. During my time in undergrad I worked on a lot of small game projects, little things to help me learn and improve.

What do you like about working on game teams versus working on those other types of projects?

Other types of projects have a lot of trouble holding my interest. The great thing about games is that you have to be able to do everything, all kinds of programming, and games really pulls that all together. All of these skill sets from other disciplines as well. If you are doing an online game then you have to know about networking, graphics programming, general data structures, etc. If you are working on a typical, general software program then you might be using Microsoft’s built in tools – the point being it is more isolated, while games really bring it all together. It’s just a lot you need to know, making it an intriguing and difficult process that you can be proud of, once it’s over.

Awesome, well Kaleb, to everyone that will eventually play LifeSpark, what would you like to say to them.

Deicide!

There will be team updates coming every week, with interviews from team members coming up as well. Stay tuned to our Facebook page and Twitter handle to follow LifeSpark Arena and not miss any of the content.

– Dominic

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The Making of LifeSpark – Lead Producer Collin Helstien

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Lead Producer on LifeSpark Arena – Collin Helstien

The making of LifeSpark is meant to highlight the team working hard to make this game every day, and get to know about their back story, development practices, interests, and hobbies.

Hey Collin! So, for everyone at home, what do you do for LifeSpark Arena?

Well my name is Collin Helstien, I am the Production Lead here at LifeSpark. My day to day tasks include setting up and maintaining cross-department functionality. This means making sure that the needs of the team are being met, and making sure that week to week, we are on par with our project goals and milestones.

You have worked on more traditional business teams before, correct? Can you talk a little about those?

Yes, so I’m working on a couple applications that are much more traditional (the teams) and I like the fact that I can balance those two lifestyles because, for example, my class schedule means I can be going from a micro economics class to an animation one, and it’s a really nice balance because it makes me into a very cross-functional game developer.

What is your favorite part of video game development culture, versus development on more tradition products?

Specifically I find that the most engaging element for me as a producer, and why I chose to be a producer, is the team building element. Going from this raw, conceptual idea that didn’t really exist and then iterating on that, ideating on that until it becomes something that you never really imagined is kind of like raising a child as a family, and over time it ends up becoming this thing.

Sometimes you are really proud and other times you feel like you can’t believe it turned out this way. At the end of the day it’s something that you built together and that you helped grow. It’s something that you walk away with and you are overcome with the fact that you were part of this process. I would say that growing that idea from start to finish has got to be one of the most mind boggling experiences from anything I have ever done. That’s the reason I love working as a producer.

How do you feel about working with a video game team itself, and the people in it?

The team itself, engineering, art, they are like two different ballparks, they speak completely different languages entirely. Getting them to work together itself is a really fun challenge that I actually got to tackle early on as a producer for LifeSpark. It’s something I am very happy that I get to do day to day as well.

In dealing with all of this, what is something you have taken from working on LifeSpark? Something that has enhanced your abilities as a producer or as a game developer in general.

Well LifeSpark Arena specifically allows us the opportunity to work with an internationally massive team and it teaches me a lot about staying on task and managing my own expectations. In doing that you really learn people, and you learn what exactly you can rely on in order to not undershoot your goals. You realize as you get more experience that one of the most important tools you could ever have is being able to gauge specific expectations.

That may not sound like a glamorous answer. Yes, I’ve gotten more familiar with development tools, yes I’ve learned about building a MOBA, but specifically what I’ve gained is the ability to look at a handful of people and really be able to narrow down who I can count on, and for what, and that really helps find a balance in a team early on and helps me really know what everyone can do.

Thanks Collin, great talking to you! 

There will be team updates coming every week, with interviews from team members coming up as well. Stay tuned to our Facebook page and Twitter handle to follow LifeSpark Arena and not miss any of the content.

– Dominic

LifeSpark Arena Weekly Update 2/12/15 – The Secret To Games

Shaun - LifeSpark Landscape Concept 2

LifeSpark Arena Weekly Update 2/12/15

By Dominic Ricci

Hey guys. I got into the office a little late today – USC had a visitor, and I got sidetracked by talking to the secret service. No biggie. On to the game!

The Biggest of Playtests

The day started with a playtest including faculty and team members. Everyone busted open LifeSpark Arena’s most recent build and fought for control of the LifeSpark. Great ideas were thrown around, bugs were railed against, and a lot of productive feedback came out of the session. Aligning all parts of the experience is still a high priority, and our producer was sure to match the backlog of tasks with the concerns. It was incredibly helpful for moving forward during the next few months!

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Mastery of Painting

Not Davincis, but our artists have been cranking away in various areas. A wire frame and other assets for the map are in place and they are being worked on diligently to be put into a build. One of our artists is wrestling with the delicate art of UV Unwrapping for a character. Once that is done, the character will be well on her way to being introduced into the game!

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The Particulars and Specifications

The engineers continue to work hard at a myriad of features and bugs that, regrettably, aren’t too interesting to talk about. They control how fast something falls to the ground, how swiftly a character responds when you tap the screen. This week they are making sure the fog of war functions properly, that a certain new character’s moves can be executed, and that it is easy for the player to understand certain functions. Glamorous? No, but hard and important work nonetheless.

We Prefer Beer, or…

Martini Time Productions is moving along, with the legal work progressing in a predictably slow manner. LifeSpark Arena is in it for the long haul, and MTP will be the platform pushing it forward all the way through. Articles of organization are being filed and the specifics of how the production company will be run is in the burner.


That’s it for now! Stay in touch on our Facebook and Twitter pages (links to the right) for more information on LifeSpark Arena!

The Making of LifeSpark Arena – Lead Designer Bryan Edelman

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Lead Designer on LifeSpark Arena – Bryan Edelman

The making of LifeSpark is meant to highlight the team working hard to make this game every day, and get to know about their back story, development practices, interests, and hobbies.

Hey Bryan! Why don’t we start by telling everyone what you do on LifeSpark Arena?

Hey Dominic, I am Lead Designer on LifeSpark Arena. I am here to make sure that we make a really awesome game! I help collaborate among the multiple teams – engineering, art, design and production to make sure that the design portion of the game (Map design, skills design, different attacks, etc.) are being executed properly.

This also includes some catch-all stuff, for instance making sure that the lighting system meets certain tone goals, and that art assets are placed properly within the map to convey a particular message.

What kind of message, for example?

If we are making lanes with the map then those art assets should help to accentuate those lanes as a playable environment. So basically it is a multi-faceted role, working with a lot of talented people. Somehow I also find time to sleep.

Out of all those myriad responsibilities, what would you say you enjoy handling the most?

Well the thing that got me into LifeSpark Arena, and what I still hearken back to is Co-opetition. It being the joint balance of cooperation and competition. It is the lifeblood of LifeSpark Arena. At the end of the day we didn’t just want to make a League of Legends clone, or Heroes of Order and Chaos, both excellent games, but we wanted to make something unique and Co-opetition gives us the opportunity to do so. We feel that the IOS market deserves those mid to hardcore games that aren’t the same as everything else. I’m very passionate about the subject of Co-opetition and I thoroughly enjoy designing for it.

So Bryan, you are very passionate about being original and not copying into the fold. How do you work that into your design philosophy?

It is difficult! That is a part of leading a large team. You have thirty to forty people contributing to the game, and it can be hard. That innovation comes by taking the familiar and extending it just enough so that it is understandable and useable, and that there is actually information to be gained from it. We could go far outside the bounds of what we do but the other team members won’t know how to deal with it, because there wouldn’t be anything to benchmark against. We balance all that by mixing the old and the new to get something unexpected, something innovative, something we are excited for our team to handle.

Finally, if people had to take one thing from the design of LifeSpark Arena, what would it be?

I think it would definitely be Co-opetition. How you can compete or cooperate with your opponents depending on the point of the game. You never quite know if you can go by them or work with them. The analogous experience is in Team Fortress 2! The spy is one of the most interesting characters to me in that game because if you know that a spy has infiltrated your team, then you don’t really know who to trust. You might not want to get close to this heavy that’s following you – that’s a little weird, right? – and it’s a balancing act of trust. That’s what we want to bring through with Co-opetition in LifeSpark Arena.

Thanks Bryan, always a pleasure.

There will be team updates coming every week, with interviews from team members coming up as well. Stay tuned to our Facebook page and Twitter handle to follow LifeSpark Arena and not miss any of the content.

– Dominic

LifeSpark Arena Weekly Update 2/5/15 – A Saint Arrives

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Lifespark Arena Weekly Update 2/5/15

By Dominic Ricci

A new week, a new set of development on LifeSpark Arena! Hopefully you guys caught the interview with game director Yale Buckner on Sunday. He went over his inspiration in making the game, talked about design philosophies and touched on plans for iterating the game in the future. Check it out! Now, on to the game!

Advice From A Saint

One of the advisors for LifeSpark Arena, USC faculty member St. John Colón, came in and drilled into the design of the game, talking particles, map sizing, and ways to iterate on currently existing game mechanics. This turned into a lengthy brainstorming session involving designers and engineers about bringing new ideas into the fold. Some things that were thrown around include changing the size of objects in the map, giving Spark Points new abilities, and better telegraphing elements of fusion.

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What You See

The artists and art lead have a menu wireframe locked down for a final design. The UI as a whole is going through an overarching improvement process, with the menu leading the forefront as a primary concern. Making the menu user friendly was a high priority for us, as was keeping a consistent design across the whole of LifeSpark Arena’s UI. Keep the feel, keep it usable, and make it fun for our players to navigate.

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A Gorgeous Vista

The designers have been hard at work on the new map. With the navmesh being laid out for players and minions to move along, soon the props will begin to be placed as well in their appropriate locations. The scale of the map is changing quite a bit, with time to combat and distance to center of the map all being considered with fast-paced gameplay in mind. Each area of the map will have its distinct style, and that will help players tell where they are at any given time, just by viewing the area around them.

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 Chugging Along

Engineering has been keeping up work in a variety of areas. Lane creep behaviour is in progress, fog of war is almost finished, and gameplay effects for future characters have almost completely been put in.

A small issue in-engine came up – a feature that had been stomped a long time ago came back with a vengeance, blocking some progress and making it harder for the engineers to do their job. Luckily this has been isolated and fixed, and doesn’t present a problem any more!


That’s it for now! Stay in touch on our Facebook and Twitter pages (links to the right) for more information on LifeSpark Arena!

The Making of LifeSpark – Game Director Yale Buckner

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Game Director on LifeSpark Arena – Yale Buckner

The making of LifeSpark is meant to highlight the team working hard to make this game every day, and get to know about their back story, development practices, interests, and hobbies.

Hey Yale! So why don’t you fill everyone in on what exactly you do at LifeSpark, and what gave you the inspiration for the game.

I am game director, which means I handle the overall choices and coordination of the team pushing the game forward.

I’ve always been a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, and all of those things. Especially anything with dragons in it, so I’ve always wanted to make one of these things. It was actually LifeSpark 1.0 that was my portfolio piece that got me into USC.

Can you describe for us what LifeSpark 1.0 was?

It was a simple game made in Flash, an RPG where you ran around this world, talking to its inhabitants and interfacing with different personalities and types of people. You really got immersed in the game.

And you really enjoy bringing story through in these games, correct?

Yeah, that’s what really captivates me about RPGs.

What are some games that you feel do that really well?

The Final Fantasies, the Dragon Age games, Chrono Trigger was probably one of my favorite games of all time.

Are you working any elements of those games into LifeSpark?

I definitely am. They all had unique ways of bringing stories to life and I’m trying to let LifeSpark do the same, and develop its own brand of storytelling.

What are some things you find really important when designing a good story?

In narrative design I think it is really important that characters are not necessarily bad or good, but that they all have their faults, their flaws, and in these characters we’re designing and their narrative arcs within the story itself need to be convincing and authentic, not just straight light or dark.

What are you most excited for people to see once they can get their hands on LifeSpark?

I can’t wait for them to see all of it. It’s a phenomenal game that we are putting together, and with a team of super talented people working on it every day it is really a blessing, because each part of the game has a lot of care put into it. The result will be an IOS MOBA that is easy to pick up for ten minutes, or three hours, that allows players to really delve into the game.

Thanks Yale, great talking to you! 

There will be team updates coming every week, with interviews from team members coming up as well. Stay tuned to our Facebook page and Twitter handle to follow LifeSpark Arena and not miss any of the content.

– Dominic

LifeSpark Arena Weekly Update 1/29/15 – A Disney Introduction

 

LifeSpark - Crystal Forest

Lifespark Arena Weekly Update 1/29/15

By Dominic

Hey everyone, welcome to the last week of January. The LifeSpark team is still cranking away, and here’s your snapshot of what is happening.

A Surprise Visitor

This week started off with a bang! Tolga Tekin , Senior Manager of Technology from Disney Interactive floated through the office, checking out all of the games under development for the Advanced Games program. LifeSpark Arena, Apophis, Toward the Stars and Polyseum all came under scrutiny by this industry visitor. Little did we know, this visitor was also an alumni of USC, graduating from the Viterbi School of Engineering in 2004 with a Masters in Electrical Engineering.

After jumping into a game of LifeSpark Arena, Tolga gave excellent feedback on minion movement, game mechanics, and representation of information in the game – namely, who was winning. He had great comments on the UI as well, giving the team pointers on what to move toward next.

What Can You See

The engineers of LifeSpark Arena are a hardworking bunch! Every week they conquer countless tasks and difficult challenges. For some of the engineering teams this week that means focusing on fog of war – making sure the player can’t see too far, isn’t too limited, and that the resting state of the fog of war still shows the map and environment in all its glory.

Some more bugs were smashed, notably an unfortunate case where poor souls would stay in their bodies after death, allowing the player to target the body even with them dead. Thankfully, this has been fixed, and bodies now stay dead. We don’t approve of zombies here at LifeSpark, and they’ve been dealt with.

The Earth We Roam

Yale and the design team have been hard at work with the new map design. With the new pillars for our design ironed out, it’s a matter of implementation and making sure every area is addressed from multiple angles. What does this mean?

– Lanes throughout the map are more clear, and connect Spark Points in a logical and easily understood manner

– An overall radial design will allow for different “pizza slices” of the map. This keeps a certain symmetry, while also allowing for multiple or secondary areas of approach

– Jungle camps are being rearranged to incorporate a sense of exploration into the map, placing them in secondary areas and incentivizing exploration, without taking away from the main lane theme

A cool new feature is also the map being explicitly set into different aesthetic appearances, with each corner of the map having its own visual style that contrasts with the others. This will help keep players oriented while also giving a little more visual flair!

Martini Time Productions

LifeSpark’s LLC development team, Martini Time Productions, has been officially filed with our lead producer, Collin Helstien handling the proceedings. We are all very excited for the company to be made official, and are poised to take LifeSpark to the next level with an official company behind it.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for next week’s update – we have some exciting things in store, including an interview with Yale Buckner, game director on LifeSpark Arena!

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