Retro Digital: A Story of Unity

April 26th, 2011

A screenshot of the player

Retro Digital, y’know that whole ‘geek chic’ thing? Our lecturers thought it would be a good idea to take an old toy from the 80s and give it a modern look and feel in a ‘viral’ game; what d’ya know, they were right.

In a second stroke of genius our group was named the Kamikaze Spiders, quite an apt name really. It took eight arms to code and the determinism of the Kamikaze (thankfully with less suicide). This amazing group consisted of myself, Alex Lee, Ole Dean and Dean Myatt. All wonderful guys who were great the whole way through, I can recommend all of them.

That’s enough background, lets get to the actual product itself. I wrote the structure of the site while Ole designed it with his Photoshop prowess. After that was completed we moved onto the meat of the project. The game.

We went for a platformer of (relatively) epic proportions, it would probably be more at home on the PS2 than a viral game for the web but it pushed our technical and visual abilities to their limits. The game is programmed using Unity and its implementation of JavaScript (we were too nooby to learn C# or Python for the project) so it was a familiar syntax but slightly stricter than my previous JavaScript experiences.

The development process was very interesting, we found it hugely useful to have access to whiteboards in the early stages of planning and gelled well from the outset.

A screenshot of Unity, the IDE

When it came to sharing and implementing code we tried SVN, Git and (I’ll whisper this) Dropbox. As much as I wanted to familiarise myself with SVN and Git we ran into the least problems with Dropbox (possibly because it offered the least learning curve of the three). Despite my concerns that it wasn’t built for sharing code per se, it did a good job of doing what it does and kept us all in sync by and large. There was one nail-biting moment when I thought the most crucial folder had been deleted but a few clicks on the Dropbox web interface and that was sorted.

There’s a few things I’d like to have changed if we hadn’t found ourselves in a rush to the deadline. Firstly, making the site validate would have been a huge bonus. In my defense, it did last time I touched it but the final version has two errors that would be easy enough to sort out. Second qualm of the site is that the URL for the game isn’t very pretty but that’s all. The actual game has a couple of bugs that people found while playing it, it would be great to go back and fix them as none of them would be majorly hard to fix but because it’s a University project I don’t think we’re allowed to tamper with it after hand-in. Also not forcing the player to use full-screen would be the other thing I’d change, only to recommend it. The first tweet I received from a stranger about the game was that it was an obnoxious thing to do and I completely agree, one of our tutors recommended it because of the way the controls are implemented so short of changing the control system to please both, we were stuck with this compromise.

The big question is, is it viral? Well it’s had over 1,100 plays on Kongregate alone, I don’t have the Facebook stats but I’m willing to wager there’s got to be at least another 100 plays on that. It only received 2 stars on Kongregate but given the critical community I’d say anything over 1 star a win. So perhaps not viral but I like to think it’s been well received. I’d argue that you can certainly engineer something to be viral but the likelihood of it being a flop is huge. It’s all about giving it the right amount of push, finding the right community to spread it for you and just let go.

It was a great experience working in a small group for 10 weeks, and making a game is a special process, full of its own frustrations and pitfalls as you test new players and have to sit back and watch them make mistakes but overall I’m really pleased with our end product. You can play Ray here.

A screenshot of the player with an oversized Viewmaster


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Comments

Jonay said:
There's a terifric amount of knowledge in this article!