By Gurman Sahota, May 13 2019 —
At the end of the winter semester, the Game Design Club at the University of Calgary created their newest game titled Conner Crawford. Sitting down with some of the club’s executive team, the Gauntlet had a chance to discuss what it takes to make a video game in a semester and what it’s like trying to balance everything in order to do so. To learn more about the club or how to get involved, visit the Game Design website or stay tuned for Clubs Week in the fall.
The Gauntlet: How did the idea of the video game come about?
Caelum Sloan, creative director: I wanted to completely design a game before the club started before the first month. I knew I wanted there to be a twist. At first, [the character] was going to get trapped inside the video game, or bring someone out. But the main goal was to explore and learn something through environment and eventually I changed that to become time travel — then I got interested in time travel paradoxes and just filled the game with those. Then it was more about building the character Conner Crawford. He’s mostly like me as a kid — I just went off my own history a lot. I think I think it was fun. I wrote the story before I wrote Conner and the puzzle and then I filled in the puzzles with what we call flavour text, which are old quips or insights he says about the objects, and it’s about the game.
G: Is a game per semester a goal for the club? How did you do it?
Safeena Meghji, 2D artist: We’re thinking we might want to do a full year [of creating a game]. I personally enjoyed making Conner Crawford a lot more because it was planned out. And it was just easy — you just had to build all the assets and everything.
CS: With some pre planning, [we put out the] design front and members can still be involved in that process. We just do it online instead of during club time and then we have team leaders really try to break down just single tasks. That way a member can pick that up and complete it or maybe drop off part way through, but we know where everything is. And it can just be done in little snippets, which helps utilize the number of members we have.
G: Can you walk us through the beginning and end of the game?
CS: In December, I started early concepts. Around January, we had it locked down a lot more. And I was working with [Zahra Ghavasieh] on some of the concept art. Come around January 20, we had the game design document, which I call the Bible of the game —it tells you everything to do. So that was when we started development. Mid- January, [we] would get together every second week or so and we’d work for two hours. So I had all my execs write out to-do lists for their members, and then just watch the items get ticked off.
G: How does music factor into the video game-making process?
Mickail Hendi, composer: I just wrote music and then I sent it to Caelum and if he liked it, he told me he liked it. If he didn’t like it, he was incredibly helpful and sent tons of links to other songs with the vibe that he was going for. It was very guided the whole time. I knew exactly what I was going after.
G: How did you produce the music for the game?
MH: When when you’re a music student like me, you have access to the Interactive Arts Media Lab. It’s a room with like 20 computers and keyboards [with access to] garage band on all of them. You can just add a whole bunch of different samples of instruments you can use. And so for this one, I used a string sample and a harp sample at one point — there were a few organs, there were a few drums, things like that.
G: So for the art, how does that work with the development of the video game?
Zahra Ghavasieh, lead artist: The art was the face of the game. All Caelum gave me was a little sketch of how he wanted the room to look like and a little square, isometric point of view and then I filled it in with the little details.
G: What is the synopsis of Conner Crawford?
SM: Conner is an 11-year-old boy. The story is that you’re basically playing as him and he goes back into time. He gets trapped in back in time and in order to return to the present, he needs to figure out a set of puzzles.
CS: But he’s afraid of causing a paradox. So he needs to get out before his past self sees him.
G: So what medium do you use to play the game?
CS: You give the game a download if you’re on PC, Mac, or Linux. The game is completely free, and it’s also open source so anyone who wants to build off of it can continue the game, learn how we did it and research it. All the code is open. Every comment we made, every piece of art is available for people.
G: Was that a conscious group decision to make it open source?
CS: It really helps with group work that everyone can easily jump on it. It also helps to make [the game] the club’s because copyright-wise it becomes very difficult to decide ownership. So we just wanted to give it to the student body and our members. We want to benefit everyone.
G: What else can someone who’s looking forward to joining the club expect?
SM: [The teaching sessions the club] provided helped me understand how assets and everything are incorporated and how a game is built using both code and an engine. That’s what new members probably should look forward to because they can learn whatever they can when they’re in the club.
G: How can someone get involved with the Game Design Club?
CS: We have two-track membership. We run a preliminary membership, where people can try out the club, see what they like. It’s totally free and you can be a member in almost every aspect. And then we had our year-end event be only for full members. We also bring food incentives so people come to our meetings, and that’s usually on the full memberships only — that’s a $5 membership. It’s pretty simple. If you want to get involved with our club, you can look at our website, we’re on Facebook.
G: Do you need experience to join?
CS: No, we try to be really open for everyone. That’s why we have the teaching meetings — we want people to be learning how to do new things. We just want members more than anything, people who are invested and interested are way more helpful than people who are not investing interest in even if they’re incredibly skillful.
Edited for clarity and brevity.