A light-speed PC game being developed in Unreal Engine for a major indie marketplace.
Role: Game designer and producer
September 2014 – July 2016
What I Changed
Particle Rush began as a very successful prototype at the Centre for Digital Media in the summer of 2014, attracting interest from several publishers after 12 weeks in the Advanced Game Design workshop.
Its development team asked me to help create a narrative purpose for the game, so as to give the player a hook, a reason to play, and a taste of the the depth and engagement gamers expect from a large-scale title. This was more of a challenge then it sounds: the game’s player-character was a photon, a sub-atomic particle of light. But… sentient.
I worked with the team to create a backstory for the photon and its mad scientist creator that could be communicated within the game’s light-speed mechanics, mostly using sound and occasional narrative interludes inspired by games like Portal.
The result is a game that feels like Tron meets Pac-Man but way, way faster. It was critical that the arcade feel that worked so well in prototyping be retained, and so I didn’t have a lot of space to write. Instead, I created some tie-in materials in wiki format that could both guide the game’s design and potentially be used to draw fans further into the experience, and as the game moved into production, I began working with Unreal Engine’s level design tools to help craft levels that would funnel the player along a lightning-fast but open-ended story arising from the second-to-second hide-and-seek that made the game so thrilling.
Particle Rush is straight science fiction. There are no magic swords or stern commanders here–just what the player is experiencing and a world filled with light and danger. Existence is fleeting when you’re quantum-sized. One choice is all you get.
What I Learned
Particle Rush was a great opportunity to work on a high-functioning production team as a writer. I got to work with new tools to actually apply my trade in practice, which also means I got to make a whole new series of mistakes very quickly, and learn from them even faster with a great group of teammates.
Prior to Particle Rush, I’d never had direct responsibility for a gameplay feature. I had to learn not to be hesitant in owning it. I was able to remain open to story suggestions and gameplay ideas, but I also had to move the story forward on my own, as everyone else has other demands. That meant I needed to be confident in pitching internally and I had to work on being as clear as possible with story communication and ideas. Production moved fast so I summarized the narrative into material and formats quickly digestible by a team with varied backgrounds.
As the project developed, I did more and more production work, coordinating between game design, narrative, and the level asset pipeline. This was a role that was missing on the team and it took me a while to remember my CDM training and bring forward some tools that helped us keep track of everything better.
Finally, Particle Rush was been a chance to work with the amazing Confluence software for documentation. While this is a treat for keeping things organized it did take some getting used to and some good back and forth between me and the project’s tech lead to work out the best formats for design documentation.