The Making of LifeSpark – Designer Boka Agboje

Shaun - LifeSpark Landscape Concept

 

Designer on LifeSpark Arena – Boka Agboje

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 Boka! So what do you do here on LifeSpark Arena, as a designer?

The three designers on LifeSpark Arena are responsible for many things, including the look and feel of the map, character balancing, and integrating the story into gameplay. A lot of my work has been iterating map designs and balancing the characters’ abilites.

Balancing character abilities is a task that requires a lot of finesse! What do you enjoy about it for LifeSpark’s heros?

Character balancing is like developing a small ecosystem. You have to be aware of how all the hero powers can interact. No amount of playtesting can compare to the hours real players will put in the game, so I have to use foresight when thinking about the ramifications of any changes that I make.

What are some of the key points and ideas you keep in consideration when balancing a hero for LifeSpark?

Key things to remember are what we want an ability to do and how it fits into the rest of that hero’s kit. For example, Delia’s Angel Flight ability is useful for closing the gap between her and enemies. Early on, its cooldowns were too low, and it was impossible to run away from her. Also, players were using it mostly for LifeSpark destruction. Since then we’ve upped the mana cost and cooldown while reducing it’s power slightly so Angel Flight would be more in line with our original intentional usage for the skill.

Do you think about hero’s interactions with other hero’s abilities, and the dynamic that creates? How do you feel about that?

That’s another important piece of the formula. An interesting interaction exists now between Delia and Levantis. Delia’s Angel Flight can put her in range to use her other abilities on Levantis, but doing so puts her in range for some of Levantis’ most powerful abilities and also leaves his hook available for other use. We want any hero interaction to have tradeoffs in it.

There are a lot of popular MOBA games out there, have you taken cues from any particular one in designing and handling these hero interactions?

League of Legends is one of my favorite games. I’m a big fan of reading patch notes, and I try to design with as much attention and passion as the people over at Riot Games. LifeSpark Arena really stays different from other MOBAs with it’s smaller team size, more arena based map design, and heavier emphasis on lore.

Thanks Boka, 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

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The Making of LifeSpark – Engineer Alex Cordova

Donna - Sparkpoint Materials Concept

 

Engineer on LifeSpark Arena – Alex Cordova

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 Alex! So what do you do here on LifeSpark Arena?

I am in charge of one of the small sub teams of engineers so I get to work with the engineering lead (Kaleb) a lot as well as my team. A lot of the engineering related tasks that I do are centered around music as well, so I sort of serve as a bridge between the engineering team and the composer (Ben).

So what does it feel like being a bridge between music and engineering? Was that a new experience for you on LifeSpark?

In a way, yeah, it was largely a learning experience for me. I have a musical background so I really enjoy being able to combine my engineering skills with my musical knowledge on a project like this. Most of the technologies that I have to use for sound and music related tasks were new to me though, so that took some time to get my head around. The musical background definitely helped expedite the process though.

So you mention a musical background, care to expand upon that for our readers? How did a musician get to engineering?

Well I started playing music in elementary school and stuck with it through Jr. High and High School marching band and concert band. So I’ve spent a lot of my life playing music and it serves a unique role in balancing out my engineering side. I currently play bass drum in the USC Trojan Marching Band which is a large part of my life here.

A lot of people find video game design a demanding field, how do you balance working on LifeSpark with these other priorities in your life?

Well I would certainly have to agree with it being demanding. Honestly, I just love doing what I do. It can be pretty demanding at times and when its crunch time for classwork, LifeSpark, other projects, and marching band all at the same time it can get pretty…exciting. But I find all of these things very fulfilling and interesting and, although it can really suck sometimes, I enjoy working on things I care about. I mean, how much can I complain? I make video games at the best school in the world (unbiased opinion of course) and play for the greatest marching band in the history of the universe. I’m living my inner 10 year old’s dream.

Well then Alex, since you are living the dream right now, what is the greatest experience or challenge you have gotten from working on this team, as opposed to those other activities?

Definitely having to work with so many other people. From an engineering standpoint especially, a lot of new challenges get added when you work in a team of 10+ people. Both from a technological standpoint of dealing with version control and collaboration softwares, as well as from a practical standpoint of just having to interact and collaborate with other engineers, artists, designers, producers etc. Its something I’ve never done before but its been an extremely valuable experience. It can be hard dealing with all the additional overhead but its amazing how much work a team of so many people can get done, and how polished of a product we can create.

Thanks Alex, 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

The Making of LifeSpark – Designer Alex Smith

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Designer of LifeSpark Arena – Alex Smith

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 Alex! So, you are a designer here on LifeSpark Arena. What have you been working on for the team?

I have been a jack of all trades: quality assurance, map design, balancing, demoing for people outside the team, pretty much anything that needed doing that day, hour, or minute.

So, as a jack of all trades, how has LifeSpark pushed you to improve each of these different talents?

With only a few people on the design team, I didn’t have a safety net to do the work for me if I failed, which has been a big change from the sterile classroom environment. it was weird for people to ask me to “populate the map with the new art assets.” The first time Bryan Edelman, the Lead Designer, asked me to do that, I had no idea what any of those words meant. I just had to translate them all into English and then get it done.

Then which responsibility on LifeSpark do you enjoy most, or have you enjoyed learning the most?

I came in specializing in lore, writing, and world building. After working on the project, I have come to love diving deep into map design. At first I took the pre-designed assets and put them in square grids with little variation. Now I’m doing all kinds of cool stuff with them; changing scale, rotation, and position. I delete certain parts of the assets to make completely different pieces to work with. I’ve come to see the few assets i’m given as creatively freeing, and not confining, which means I get to flex my creative muscles in a way I didn’t expect going into it.

Sounds like you have had a great experience so far working on the team. Is there any particular one that stands out to you?

For about the first month and a half of the project, I experienced something completely new every time I came into work: demoing to industry professionals, pitching to dozens of people for 8 straight hours, populating a map, and more. I had heard of all of these things before, but had no idea what they meant in practice, and certainly had no idea what to do for any of them.

As great as all those things are, my favorite thing I have experienced so far would have to be brainstorming. Zyda, Sinjin, Bryan, Yale, Boka, you, Kaleb, Sydney, Collin – all of these people are so intelligent and so passionate about games. I love sitting around the table and trading ideas with them. One day we spent 45 minutes slaving over the minute details of UI design, something I never knew possible but absolutely loved. It was awesome.

Thanks Alex, 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

The Making of LifeSpark – Audio Lead Benjamin Young

Sydney - Southwest-Flavored Desert Environment

 

Audio Lead on LifeSpark Arena – Benjamin Young

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 Ben! So, as Audio Lead on LifeSpark Arena, what do your responsibilities consist of?

I’m responsible for anything you hear out of the speakers when you’re playing LifeSpark Arena. Music, sound effects, voice overs- I’m responsible for making them all work together to improve the game experience.

You have a pretty extensive background in audio for television and other platforms, what makes games a different experience to manage audio for?

Films and TV shows are the same every time you watch them. They are linear art forms; the take the same amount of time and the emotional arc stays exactly the same. Games are non-linear and the game experience changes at least a little each time you play the game. With that in mind, I have to create an aural atmosphere that changes in response to the player in real time. I basically have to compose music that can rewrite itself according to what is happening in-game and make audio that is programmed to respond to the players’ actions.

What are some inspirations you have for this changing style of audio design, in games or in other media?

I suppose most of my inspiration comes from the more cohesive games and films I’ve come across. Dragon Age usually sounds like Dragon Age every time you turn it on, and you immediately get transported to that world. I have a ton of film examples. How to Train Your Dragon comes to mind as well as Tron: Legacy, any score and sound palette that transports you to another world and keeps you there for the duration of the experience is great inspiration for me.

Have there been any particular challenges working on such a large video game team, and getting your audio vision accomplished?

It’s always a bit of a challenge to align my vision of the game with the rest of the teams’, and we all have things in mind that we feel would help the game that we don’t agree on. That said, it is part of the process, and as soon as we were all on the same page it has been smooth sailing! I haven’t had to do as much management as most of the other leads have though, I have been doing most of the audio myself, to be fair, so there isn’t much bureaucracy to handle on my end.

So finally Ben, has getting your audio into the game been a challenge for you while on LifeSpark?

Not at all! I have sort of an audio-programmer liaison, Alex Cordova, who is a badass. Half the time when I’m worried about getting something into the game he’s already done it, and the other half of the time he knows how to do it. I’m glad I don’t actually have to do any programming. That would be a problem, but that hasn’t come up as a result of his help.

Thanks Ben, 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 3/5/15 – GDC and Future Content

Alberto - Environment Concept Art

LifeSpark Arena Weekly Update 3/5/15

By Dominic Ricci

Hey everyone! Crickets chirp as the video game development industry has convened in San Francisco throughout the week for the Game Developer’s Conference. Not everyone on the team went, but our dear Lead Designer Bryan Edelman did, as did many of our colleagues and professors. A lot of cool stuff, Source 2, etc. Notably, two USC games won awards this year, Close Your and Outer Wilds from IGF. Anyway, onto the update, short as it is.

Future Website Content

As you might have noticed, LifeSpark Arena will not be putting out weekly updates for the foreseeable future. We will, however, be rolling out entirely new brands of content in the coming few weeks, including continuing our Sunday interview series. Please stay tuned as we prepare more awesome content for you guys!

A Labor of Production

With a lot of the team tired out from midterms, gone for GDC, or otherwise occupied, you could say production has been a bit slower this week. Except, it hasn’t, because our Production Lead, Collin Helstien, would have to “stop working for the team” in order for that to happen. So everyone, no matter how tired, still has a task waiting for them next week, still has their marching orders on what to do, and LifeSpark is still on schedule because of Collin taking the painstaking time to keep everything moving no matter how tired, busy, or otherwise occupied he might be. If you want the beating heart of LifeSpark, then you have to look to a gigantic team of talented people. The mind, spread out among the leads but expanding across them, however, is most certainly Collin Helstien, who has kept everyone on track with consummate professionalism. The team is better for it now, and continues to be for the future.

There is some development info, I swear…

Last section notwithstanding, plenty is still getting done on all fronts as people chug away. Large strides have been made with complete UI redesigns and overhauls for the menus and in-game interface. These will be tested and ironed out to perfection, with the Game Director himself Yale Buckner handling many parts of the design and management. Coordination with the engineering and art teams is keeping this initiative on track alongside development of exciting new heros.

Oh, and bug smashing. A lot of bug smashing.


Well that’s all for this update! Once again, keep an eye out for new content on the horizon, and check out our team interviews in the meantime! Everyone on this team has a story to tell, and we want you to see who exactly is making the amazing games out there, starting here, at LifeSpark Arena.

The Making of LifeSpark – Artist Sydney Tuss

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Artist on LifeSpark Arena – Sydney Tuss

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 Sydney! So what do you do here on LifeSpark Arena?

Well I am a 2D and 3D Artist. I work on characters, I’ve worked on 2D assets, and I’ve also modeled a few things.

So you have a wide array of talents, what would your favorite area to work in be?

I really like concept art. I like designing characters and I like putting personality into characters that could just be eye candy, just be something to look at. I really like bringing life to things like that.

What are some games or pieces of art that serve as inspirations for that?

That’s a really hard question! Games… League of Legends designs all of their characters with detail and they really put a lot of love into them. Most of my art is inspired by Japanese Collectible Card Games, (JCCGs) particularly Cardfight!! Vanguard because their art is so outlandish and outrageous and colorful. I try to reflect that in my art by making it the same.

What about LifeSpark Arena initially drew you to the project?

The chance to be on a character-centric team and game, of course MOBAs are very character-centric really was a draw for me. Winning, too, the ability to win with all of these different characters is something you can really connect with, and something that makes you really want to play, at least in my experience.

You had a part in the design of the Deliah character, with Game Director Yale Buckner. How did you find adapting someone elses’ design and style compared to just making a piece of art yourself?

Obviously it is a lot more difficult. Especially when you want to make something completely your own, and someone else already has a concrete idea of what they want you to draw, sometimes it feels like fan art. I tried very hard to make these designs have my own touch, while maintaining the direction that Yale wanted to take with the character.

What is your favorite thing about making art for games, versus making art for other mediums?

Game art is useful. Game art is something you can connect with, it’s not something you just stare at on a wall or there you go your kitchen is bit brighter. No, it has a use, shape, and function and in a game you can really bring art to life. It becomes part of a world, whereas the art, sculptures, or whatever else in your house are just sitting there, not doing anything.

Awesome, well finally if you were to give the single piece of art or area for LifeSpark Arena that is your personal favorite, what would that be?

You’re asking me to pick from my kids! At this point, it is the character Delia. I really like Delia, I like how her design turned out. I tried to bring strength to her, and I feel that comes through. The process of creating concept art for her was hard, but it was fun. Edana would be my other favorite, another character in the game.

Thanks Sydney, 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

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