NFTS Games – UKIE GameJam 2015 – Team It Starts With a Square Interview

Since last year, while I was part of another site’s team, I came to know of the NFTS Game Development Courses and the students’ amazing titles. Earlier this year I had the opportunity (and the pleasure) of attending the Graduate Showcase and the imagination and creativity on display blew me away. Since then, I’ve kept a close eye on what NFTS and its students are up to, hoping for any chance to talk to them.

During April, UKIE held their annual GameJam and of course, NFTS students joined the fun. As soon as it ended, and the students were back to their usual routines, I quickly got in touch with Tony Evans, the NFTS Games Coordinator and had him pester them on my behalf. I had questions about their experience working on these “Identity Crisis”- themed games and I wanted answers!

NFTS sent two teams into the GameJam: Team “Ipseria” and Team “It Starts With a Square.” Yesterday we had Team Ipseria, so today we’re talking to Blaise Imiołczyk, Claudio Pollina, Laura Dodds and Sam Browne, members of the 2nd team. Below you’ll find the interview with its members. You’ll find similar answers in a couple of questions, especially on the game design question. I was very interested in hearing how each of them would speak of their project and their approach to the design.

Could you talk a bit about yourselves?

Blaise Imiołczyk: “I’ve been playing games since before I was able to walk (my father had an arcade games saloon) and after high school I started computer science studies. After a year, I changed to games development and after I finished the course I decided to continue the learning process, this time focusing on the artistic aspects, hence why I applied for games design and development course at NFTS.
I appreciate many genres. I am mostly story-driven player but that story can be presented in any way. I mostly looking for stylized games, that’s why I am more into indie scene right now but still enjoy many AAA games.”

Claudio Pollina: “I’m a big fan of RPG Games, I grew up with Final Fantasy games, Legend of Dragoon or with MGS and, in general, I’m into games that have really good stories. I joined NFTS program because I want to write for games.”

Laura Dodds: “I have always loved playing games but my first experience of video games was at the age of 6 when was introduced to Tomb Raider.  I was attracted to the course at the NFTS because it gives us the opportunity to work with creative and talented people studying a whole range of disciplines in audiovisual media.  I was also impressed by the depth and breadth of the course.”

Sam Browne: “My name is Sam Browne and I’m currently studying in my second year of the Game Design Development course at the NFTS.

“My mother’s grandparents upholster chairs in High Wycombe, historic for its furniture and my other grandparents were fine artists so I had a colourful childhood growing up around art and around design. I would not associate myself as a gamer but as a storyteller and my love for the medium comes from the amazing way it lets the audience experience a story and not just observe it.

“I have many Games that inspire me for different reasons. Journey for its sheer beautiful design, Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver for its story and world building and the Majesty of Colours which inspired me to write on morality in Games. Brothers A Tale of Two Sons for its blending of mechanics and story, Sword and Scorcery for the way it deals with gender and telling a great story, Moutain for its desire to make us ask questions about the medium, the list goes on and on.

“I have a real fascination with the way Shadow of the Colossus is put together and I keep finding myself being pulled back to examining the design of that so if I had to pick one game that’s inspired me most I’d probably say it was that.

“I studied my BA in Games design and theory at Newport in South Wales and became really interested in moral choice in games and how mythology fits in with that. I felt I wanted to be challenged further after completing the course, especially technically.

“The NFTS course is right at the front of the industry which was my original attraction. The course really teaches every aspect of game design from the legalities of setting up a small studio to actually sitting and nailing the code that makes the wheels turn. It’s a highly challenging, highly rewarding course that keeps up with the ever evolving industry that is games.

“I was very fortunate to be one of the first three Prince William Scholars which is a joint scholarship between Bafta and Warner Bros which has not only enabled me to finance the course but has also allowed me access to industry mentors and workshops. This has had a huge impact on my time at the school and my development as a designer.”

Team It Starts With a Square - NFTS Games

Blaise Imiołczyk and Claudio Pollina

What game development area would like to focus on in the future: coding, art, design, etc?

Blaise Imiołczyk: “The future is really vague at the moment. Although I am a good programmer, coding is not something I’d like to do for a living. I’m finding myself suitable to any of the game production stages. I like diversity and being multidisciplinary, so again the indie scene may give me that experience. I do not exclude however working for a bigger studio for a while and then maybe set up my own. Who knows?”

Claudio Pollina: “Storytelling. Kojima style.”

Laura Dodds: “I would like to develop my skills in all areas of coding, art and design.”

Sam Browne: “Not an easy question to answer, I really do enjoy every aspect of making a game, it’s a great experience and here at the NFTS you are encouraged to generalise but free to explore specific areas if you wish, it’s a very agile course and I’ve benefited from seeing games from different points of view.

“I’m really passionate about how story and games come together so design would be where I hope I end up but I would not want to work without coding games myself and being solely design. I have a huge desire to get all of the bright and crazy stories in my head out there for others to tinker with, break and interpret.”

How was the Game Jam experience for you? Was this your first time?

Blaise Imiołczyk: “It was indeed my first games jam. I really enjoyed it. The brainstorming was really constructive and productive. The mix of second and first year students from our course was really a great team to be in. Everyone learned a lot.”

Claudio Pollina: “It was my first time in a game jam and I really enjoyed it. It’s incredible how much you can do in just 2 days. It’s also incredible realize how much you can’t do in 2 days.”

Laura Dodds: “This was my first game jam and I really enjoyed it.  What I found most rewarding was that it gave me the chance to work on so many different aspects of game development in such a short time, including some areas in which I had little experience. ”

Sam Browne: “The game jam was fantastic and identity crisis was a really fascinating idea to design a game around. This wasn’t my first game jam but it was my first Ukie jam and I really enjoyed working alongside the NFTS first years for the first time. They’ve been really busy with their first project so getting our teeth into some game design together was really great!”

Would you join another game jam in the future?

Blaise Imiołczyk: “I will definitely join some Game Jams in the future. Maybe not too often as it is really exhausting but definitely worth it.”

Claudio Pollina: “Yes.”

Laura Dodds: “Yes definitely.”

Sam Browne: “I would absolutely jam in the future, like any skill it’s good to stretch the creative muscles and I love the way it allows you freedom to explore stranger more experimental ideas. It’s almost a fearless form of making games, you have very little time so you focus on the core of the game, what conveys the idea best? What is the experience and how can we get that across with only two days to build this game? I find that really great practice.”

Team It Starts With a Square - NFTS Games

Kai Oliver, Sam Browne and Blaise Imiołczyk

Could you talk a bit about the game(s) you made? How did you approach the design of a game based on ‘identity crisis’?

Blaise Imiołczyk: “We wrote down the situations in which people may experience identity crisis. There were many options to choose from, so we started analyzing them deeper, often using a square as a placeholder to describe the mental state of character. At some point, we actually realised that we could just make the game about the square surrounded by circles that don’t interact with it. The player is supposed to find a way of communication to reveal their true identity and find other squares at the end which will reveal that he is not a square either.”

Claudio Pollina: “We spent quite a lot of time figuring out what Identity crisis was meant for us and what we wanted to say about that. We asked ourselves when do you exist, and when you stop? We created the game from that question.”

Laura Dodds: “We made a 2D puzzle game in which you play as a square trying to connect with and help various shapes with an identity crisis.”

Sam Browne: “Identity crisis is a really interesting topic and also something of a hot one for games so we were all really excited to get our teeth into it. The first thing we did was to establish what Identity Crisis means. During this and almost all the game jam we used a whiteboard and marker regularly taking pictures before wiping it clean.

“After that stage we brainstormed what we thought made up someone’s identity and how this is expressed. This led to some really interesting discussions on what people use to define themselves such as music and clothes. We explored how these components would work in a game as mechanics and in turn how these would make the player feel.

“Using the mechanics we had we generated six game ideas and then discussed between us which we thought would best complete the brief. Originally, we went for an idea that was more humorous but after talking it through we realised we wanted to use this jam as an opportunity to present a game that had a positive message about identity.

“In It Starts with a Square you play as a square in a world of circles, these circles are clustered together and whenever you approach them they pull in tight simultaneously, keeping you out. The game was designed in three parts and each part gives you a different feeling, which contributes to the overall experience. This beginning part was created to make you feel different, unwelcome and alone.

“You will fade from the start of the game until you vanish entirely whereupon the game restarts. This was to show how people feeling that they do not belong with those around them can sometimes feel invisible. This actually was a really interesting point of the jam where we really got into identity and developed bigger ideas for games that positively reinforce the idea of being different in your identity in some way. Making the game abstract was so that the player could interpret the difference in any way they wish and we avoid being explicit about ways in which people can feel their identity differs such as race or gender. We wanted an interpretive experience.

“The middle part of the game is where you find pickups. These pickups allow you to send out a pulse. When this pulse collides with the circles it reveals that there are actually different shapes inside them and by pushing into these circles when pulsed you can reveal their inner shapes and this frees them to move independently around the world, no longer clustering.

“The idea behind this was that from the outside to people that feel different everyone may seem to look the same but up close we are all individuals. By interacting with the circles, you discover who they actually are. Interacting with the circles and revealing their inner shapes also stops you fading away and this was the core player loop of the game.

“The final part of the game was activated after you had revealed a certain number of shapes and was unfortunately not in the build we submitted to Ukie although we are keen to finish this section so the full experience is there. In this end section you are approached by another shape that can also pulse like you. This shape will pulse you revealing that you are a different shape inside similar to the shapes you have been revealing. We wanted to give an ending that without being too explicit would carry the message that it’s okay to be who you want to be and that to find this out sometimes you just need to interact with others like you.”

Team It Starts With a Square - NFTS Games

Laura Dodds ,Jameela Khan and Kai Oliver

Will you continue working on the ‘prototype’ built for the jam? How would you improve on what you’ve shown?

Blaise Imiołczyk: “Although what we delivered had many features we didn’t include, as they stopped working in the last moment, we are quite happy with the result and want to continue with that project, which is really nice. The intension was that player could “destroy” black circles around and reveal their inner shape and at the and there would be an animated sequence, but none of this was implemented. We also had a really nice lighting system that crashed in last hour.

“I already spent some time after rewriting the code for the game and we have now a second version, which we can develop further. We can now think more about the design and genre we want to go towards. We will see what happens.”

Claudio Pollina: “We are actually working on it. We are polishing the scripts and the Art. We are implementing the final animation that was meant to be at the end. The experience of the game in general.”

Laura Dodds: “Yes, we’ve already made quite a few improvements on what we originally submitted for the game jam.   The whole team was excited about developing this project further.  Mainly our focus has been on including certain features that we developed and assets we created during the game jam but were unable to implement due to time constraints.”

Sam Browne: “Overall I’m proud to have worked on this project. I think it’s a really sweet game and we’re eager to develop it further. It was an opportunity where we as a team got to express our thoughts on a complicated subject.

“While we are working on it further my main concern has to be my final major project which takes up a lot of my time. I would love to see the game a complete experience though so we shall see.”

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