teaching machines

CS 491: Project Milestones

This semester you and your team will be dropped into a box. Calories will be dropped in one side of the box, and a game will pop out the other.

To help structure your progress, your box is actually expected to pop out four versions of your game in various stages of completion. These milestones are described below.

Prototype

Your first milestone is a prototype of your game on paper and in some digital experiments. It should allow you and your playtesters to test out the game’s mechanics, visualize the user interface and level design, and help you piece together a coherent sequence of play.

Deliverables include the following:

  • A working title.
  • A paragraph synopsis of the game.
  • Brief biosketches of the game’s characters.
  • A description of the game’s rules.
  • A playable representation of at least one level of your game, made from paper, cardboard, paperclips, and other sundries. The keyboard is a legal input device at this stage.
  • A mockup of your custom controller.
  • Some digital experiments of the game play. These should be skeletal, having no textures, fancy lighting, or intricate details. Think stick figures, squares, and circles.

The central purpose of the prototype is to fail fast—to find issues in your design before you’ve committed too much time into them and become their slave.

Vertical Slice

The second milestone is a digital prototype of a single playable screen or level of your game. Its assets are probably rough stand-in shapes and sprites. It lacks main menus, music, and other non-primary interface elements. Avoid tackling horizontal concerns; we aren’t interested in a cohesive whole at this point.

Deliverables include the following:

  • Your game’s source available in your Git repository.
  • A playable build that you can run on your machine.
  • Instead of in-game instruction, provide in the description/summary the essential information that the player needs in order to play.

The central purpose of the vertical slice is to familiarize yourself with the game engine by applying it to a contained portion of your game.

Alpha

The third milestone is an alpha version of your game. There may be bugs and incomplete features, but the all mechanics should be in place.

Deliverables include the following:

  • Your game’s source available in your Git repository.

The central purpose of the alpha version is to provide playtesters a feel for the overall structure of your game. Along the way, you will almost certainly develop tools and workflows that allow you to scale your efforts across levels.

Final Build

The fourth milestone is a build of your game that you can ship to your players for evaluation. All levels should be complete, with a cohesive narrative gluing together the gameplay. In addition to the core gameplay, sound and visual effects should be present to give your game polish.

Deliverables include the following:

  • Your game’s source available in your Git repository.
  • A final presentation at CERCA and the Computer Science Departmental Picnic.

The central purpose of the final build is to tie together all your ideas, art, and code into a package that you can deliver with reasonable confidence to your players.

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