At Altitude Games, they use rapid prototyping to find the fun in our games. The question is: does it really work? Listen to Luna Cruz, creative director and co-founder explain how they prototype across different projects (from UI wireframes to giant cube combat) – where it worked, and where it failed. During their talk at Casual Connect Asia, Luna described real examples on how to make prototyping work for you across all stages of development. Luna explained,”For us, prototyping is any sharable output that you can use to make decisions.” Also, Altitude Games prototypes “as a process through all different phases of development.”
In 2014, Luna Cruz founded Altitude Games in Manila with four other friends from the games industry. Each of the co-founders brought a different specialty to their new company: business, art, game design, game engineering and platform engineering. Luna, the specialist in game design and Creative Director for Altitude Games, is responsible for making sure all the Altitude Games are fun and accessible to casual and mid-core players.
All of Luna’s previous work has been a learning experience that prepared them when the opportunity came to start the company. The first job Luna held, as game writer and producer at Anino Entertainment, taught the basics of game development. At that time there was no real games industry in the Philippines and everyone was learning on the job. Later, as game designer and producer at Boomzap Entertainment, Luna learned how to prototype and script and to work with a virtual team. Altitude Games credits much of their success as a work-from-home studio to their experience at Boomzap.
An Accidental Career
Luna admits to being surprised to be in the games industry and even more surprised to have their own studio. Instead, the dream was to become a writer; as a child Luna enjoyed writing and illustrating storybooks and selling them to relatives. Luna says, “I wanted to be a screenwriter for film, so working in games was a complete accident! Staying in this career though, is a choice I’d gladly make over and over. Watching teams learn, improve and make better games every day is what inspires me to stay.”
Since screenwriting was the goal, it was natural for Luna’s games career to begin as a game writer. An interest in game design followed when opportunities arose to design and script quests and puzzles. And Luna fell in love with creating entire experiences for the gamer. Even today, Luna would love an opportunity to write for a sci-fi PC RPG and create entire worlds.
Finding the Solutions
Every day, designing games brings new problems to solve, but finding the solutions is what Luna enjoys most about the work. It could be that a level isn’t fun, a UI screen is confusing or a designer is having trouble making a decision. And Luna describes, “I enjoy thinking of all possible solutions (or helping the designer come up with them) and hashing them out with the team until we come up with the right one. Prototyping helps us get there faster.”
The creative process for Luna depends on what the project for the day is. If it is a story, Luna steps away from the computer and writes on paper. For designing a new project, Luna opens Balsamiq to make mockups of the UX directly on the screen. No matter what the problem, there is always a tool to solve it. When a creative block occurs, the best remedy is a change of scene. Luna’s father, who is a writer, said, “Just stand up and do something else. Don’t force it.”
Altitude Games have discovered that the most challenging part of game development is retention. When they release a game that they know is good, and it is well- received and highly rated, but the retention numbers are low, then “trying to figure out what’s causing it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And it’s hard to fix something you can’t identify.”
The rewards come when gamers love their games. As Luna describes, “It’s amazing to get gushing letters from people halfway across the world. We never expect it; it’s still a pleasant surprise every time.”
Last March, Luna spoke at Google’s Women Techmakers 2016, describing all the ups and downs as a game designer. The feedback was amazing with female students saying they had always wanted to be game designers but circumstances had discouraged them until they heard this talk. Being in a position to influence and inspire other women is what Luna feels makes all the work really worthwhile.
Designers who would like to work for Altitude Games must have more than talent and skill, their most important attribute is grit. This is what keeps a designer working on a difficult problem or posting game after game on the app store without expecting an easy hit. Communication skills and intelligence are also very valuable in their virtual office environment, but without grit, Luna maintains, a developer won’t succeed.
Luna admits to being hard on designers, insisting that they get the balance right, think about the player first or fix their UX. But the feedback seems to be positive for them as they continue growing into their roles as designers and leaders.
The next important trend Luna sees coming in the games industry is virtual reality. Although this is something Altitude Games intends to incorporate, they haven’t done it yet. As Luna says, “That probably has to change soon.”
Pure Strength of Will
Much of Luna’s free time is spent keeping fit and active to balance the sedentary nature of work life at Altitude Games. After training Krav Maga for four years, Luna became certified to teach last year and now is an instructor of civilian Krav Maga for International Krav Maga Federation Philippines.
The most difficult experience of Luna’s life was the nineteen-day Civilian Instructors’ Course for IKMF, which tested physical, mental and emotional limits. No matter what happens now, it is never as hard as that experience. As Luna says, “If I passed CIC, I can do anything!” Passing the course was only possible “through pure strength of will – believing I deserved to be an instructor even though people said I didn’t.”
No wonder Luna looks for team members with grit!
Don’t Give Up
And to people who would like a career in game development, Luna emphasizes the importance of determination and persistence. “Making a game is HARD. Making a game that succeeds out there is even harder. When the going gets tough and things seem impossible, don’t give up. Just open your mind and think of another solution to the problem.”
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.