The general consensus of our team members is that we did not know what we were in for when we submitted our game design document to our Dare to be Digital correspondent.
We came up with a great plan: make a puzzle platformer for Android phones that allows the user to manipulate gravity in the game world, customize their own character, and contribute to a robust community centered around the game.
With three java-wizard programmers and two experienced 2D artists and game designers, we knew we could pull off a fantastic game.
The research into what the competition really is, however, did not happen until after the deadline had passed.
“What country could we end up in? Scotland?! Sweet! We get to showcase the game in a public setting at the end of the summer? Super-sweet! Our school foots the travel and housing bill?!? This is definitely starting to sound like the best competition ever. Too bad we’ll probably never make it in…” Just to be clear, our team leader, Andres Castro, insists he has never for a moment doubted complete victory.
Despite a general feeling of estrangement from this competition across the Atlantic, we embraced our acceptance email and made our way into the heart of the action. Ever since then it has been a whirlwind of reality checks, hard work, and quick learning. Surprisingly, the first and most important thing we had to learn is exactly who we are working with, and by that I mean ourselves.
The most obvious way to divide our group, and the categories by which most people choose to classify team roles, also happens to define our prior relationships: our three programmers, Andres, Jeff Bernard, and Michael Strain, knew each other through their major, Computer Science, and shared classes. Our two artists, Andrea Benavides and Nic Vasconcellos, knew each other through the Computational Media program at Georgia Tech. Our beginning was unconventional: four programmers got wind of a Dare information session, joined forces, and then recruited Andrea through a professor (thanks Brian Magerko!) who only knew that some guys needed art done for a video game competition.
However, one of the programmers had to resign to a Microsoft internship (who can blame him? Congratulations, Gaurav.) Andrea enlisted Nic, and our team was born. Luckily we have found that we actually get along quite smoothly.
Communication is easy and fluid, we share a laid back and easygoing vibe, and our senses of humor mesh quite well. For example, making a list of 94 questionable but hilarious game taglines, including but not limited to “Hella Umbrella: Different stuff happens depending on what you do,” and “Hella Umbrella: [Expletive] gravity, how do you work?” is something we are immensely proud of. (Come by our work station; right after we make you play test our game, we will definitely show you the list.)
The only heated argument we have engaged in so far was actually between Nic and Andrea about background parallax, which is to say that it was not very interesting (or even very heated, for that matter). Andres, Michael and Jeff seem to revel in giving the artists a hard time about asking for features by acting like things will be really hard and time-consuming to implement, only to turn around and perform their black magick, which often equates to getting the job done in one line of code. Nic and Andrea seek retribution by making really obnoxious hot pink placeholders whenever possible. You can call it passive-aggressive; we call it good clean fun.
Besides lucking out on a great team dynamic, we have found that our position as competitors in Dare to be different and better from what we expected. We are often labeled “The American Team”, and are extremely proud to be the first representatives of our country and our school, Georgia Tech, in this international game development challenge. We are also “finalists” in what is arguably the most highly regarded, high-profile, high-stakes competition in the computer game industry for the up-and-coming, and we will be sure to milk that for all it is worth on our CVs.
Most importantly for us, however, is the fact that we are here to be saturated in an industry that is difficult to become a part of. Nearly every day we receive invaluable one-on-one feedback from industry veterans; dedicated resources we never could have obtained outside the competition.
It is the access to that knowledge so early in our budding game development careers that is going to help propel us toward our ultimate dream: to make beautiful, kickass, life-changing games. We are not here just to spend the summer abroad; we are here to take advantage of an opportunity so huge it is sublime. The resources at our fingertips are unlike any other, but they do not just come from the Dare staff, sponsors, or mentors. They come from our peers as well; the friendliest and most welcoming group of people we could have ever hoped to meet.
It is staggering to find so many talented, bright, and highly-motivated people who are all working toward the same goal as we. Not only does that make for great parties on the weekends, but collectively we are the makings of the kind of ambitious, energetic, self-propelling community that any industry dreams about. We all want to win a BAFTA, it’s true, but there is a deeper desire to simply make great games that bonds us respectfully and joyfully. Some of the most encouraging feedback we have received has come from our peers, and it is the least we can do to attempt to return the favor.
It is the halfway mark of the competition, and we have already learned so much. The game we pitched at the beginning of the competition is really coming together; while somewhat different than we had originally imagined, it is vastly improved. We have a much better idea about what we do not know, what we need to learn now, and the huge leaps and bounds we are going to have to take before we can even begin to fulfill our ambitions.
It is going to take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make the transition from “The American Team” to “The Team That Made A Game You Will Never Forget”, but all that is more than OK, because beyond all else we know that we are honored to be here, and we could not be more awed or appreciative.