By: Matthew Randolph, Game Design ’21
I work at a small Indie studio known as Power Level Studios founded by Danny Forest. The company was founded in 2013 and released a game titled “Unreap Commander” in which the game pinned players against each other in an RPG style setting that heavily relied on strategy. Danny has hired freelancers that have created art assets, aided in programming, and design as a method to construct a high-quality game without needing to hire full time employees that an indie studio couldn’t financially handle. After the launch of Unreap Commander on April 24, 2018 the five years worth of work that went into Unreap Commander was for the public to enjoy. Since the release of Unreap Commander, Power Level Studios has recently released a beta of the single player game “Soul Reaper” on October 31, 2019 set to release on February 4th , 2020.
I joined the team September 6th , 2019 as an intern for Power Level Studios working on Soul Reaper. Being a part of a small indie studio Danny, the other three fellow Champlain College interns Tyler, Ryan, and Griffin, and I are working at a studio space know as Gameplay Space where many indie developers work while having a space to claim as their own while working on their projects. I was brought onto the Team to balance the game, provide documentation for game design, analyze testing data, and do a lot of the smaller stuff that helps the team complete their tasks.
My first task was to create a game design document that covered what the game was about as whole. Soul Reaper had an old school RPG style of gameplay with new and unique twists to combat, world exploration, how the player can forge the best teams, gear, upgrading loot, to become the most powerful Reaper in the Vault. I had to document and thoroughly cover in brief paragraphs how players can travel to each level, how players can save their progress at progress points, engagement with enemies in each level, row bonuses in combat, how to acquire and upgrade souls and gear, how to manage your squad/party, how to upgrade the player’s character (Soul Reaper), monster stats, soul recipes that players can use to make their squad stronger, save points, and how the combat system works with Soul Reaper’s mechanics.
My second task was to create a game flow document that showed how everything is connected finding holes and problems of the game easily. This task along with my first task are never truly done since the game changes throughout development and new systems require documentation.
Most of my tasks, however, usually involve balancing the game using spreadsheets and testing. Soul Reaper uses the same engine and a lot of code from Power Level Studio’s previous title Unreap Commander, which balancing a game for multiplayer is different than balancing a game for single player. With single player games balancing for progression and for one player is easier yet it has its own challenges with it. So, while using the spreadsheets that were given to me and creating new ones, I have balanced new loot items, added new soul gear recipes, created starting teams and gave them all proper stats, and assigning teams for the Reaper Shards.
Some of the miscellaneous tasks that I do to help the team are reviewing, analyzing, and documenting user feedback from the test session we did, uploading missing art assets, helping the team with minor level design tasks, adjust enemy locations in levels to allow better access to other levels, fixing minor coding issues, and implementing new code.
This internship has given me not only insight to what it’s like to be a part of a game development team for a real upcoming game, yet it has also made me connect a lot of what I have learned from college and being able to apply it in a real job setting. Some lessons/takeaways I have learned from my internship at Power Level Studios are the major differences in working in an indie studio rather than a Triple A studio, how to communicate with a game development team in a more professional game development environment, how important being in the work place is be rather than working from home remotely since I have been able to connect with the team more and help solve gameplay issues, and finally spreadsheets/documentation I knew was important but now I fully know from a professional environment how critical every word can be.
Some of the most unexpected challenges I have had was coding, using source tree, and uploading my new changes to branches. Danny has helped me understand his code and how to implement new changes for various monster stats, loot stats, enemy squads, teams, other miscellaneous features, etc. I am not the greatest programmer so learning from Danny has helped me tremendously perform my tasks on the programming front. Finally using source tree has been a real challenge since I am not familiar with the format that the team uses to upload changes to the game. Before starting at my internship, I thought for uploading new changes I would just be uploading my changes directly onto the main branch we are using. Yet, the way that we upload Matthew Randolph SAP-390-01 changes to the game is more efficient. Instead of only one of us uploading at a time on the main branch and worrying about many possible issues, we each upload to our own separate branch that is only contains the new changes which Danny can sort through and apply our changes without any merging issues. Learning how to upload my new changes that I have been tasked with just takes time and practice.