Alexander Douglas (above center), a senior and recent graduate of the Media Arts and Science undergraduate program, took home Best in Show for his game, Labrunner, at the 2019 Vector Conference held at Eastern Kentucky University in late April. Vector is a game conference held in collaboration with EKU Gaming Institute and RunJumpDev that celebrates local developers and features networking with peers and industry experts in game design and development. Douglas received a $250 check for his award.
Douglas’ development team included Torrie Dearduff, an IUPUI alumna, and Noel Keith, also an MAS student. Dearduff textured most of the background and was the character modeler on the project, while Keith was in charge of various sound effects and all of the music in the game.
He minored in Informatics at the IU School of Informatics and Computing after choosing to focus on 3D modeling and game design within the MAS major. “I felt that if I was going to go into an artistic field I might as well go into the field I was most passionate about and interested in. That’s why I chose to focus on 3D modeling and game design. I had gotten a bit of game design practice throughout high school and had always envied the ability to create 3D models digitally,” Douglas said.
Douglas had multiple roles for the project as lead project manager, lead Unreal Engine (Epic Games) manager, background asset modeler, character animator, and audio composer. He did everything in Unreal, including coding, level-design, audio mixing, and animation mixing. Douglas says he learned an immense amount of skills from this as an independent study and learned even more in game design as a Capstone project. Most of the background models for Labrunner were modeled by him during his independent study version of the game and were textured by Dearduff. He was also in charge of all the animations for the characters. Douglas rigged the skeleton to the character models of every character in the game and did animations for all of the non-human creatures; all the human character animations were taken from Mixamo.
In the first iteration of Labrunner, which he had done for an independent project, Douglas says he unfortunately put too much focus on the tech side of things and less on the design. This led to a highly functional but uninteresting experience through 15 procedurally generated drab levels. So, for his Capstone project he decided to revive his independent project and this time focus on the issues he had found with the first project’s design and throw nearly all his efforts into the design of the game.
The first biggest issue he had to face, design-wise, was how to eliminate the confusion of a procedurally generated level. Next was to fix the grating platforming sections the game had. And the third biggest issue was the pacing of the game. Douglas says he revolved everything around these three aspects and turned Labrunner into what it is today.
He credits Travis Faas, lecturer in the Media Arts and Science program for allowing the Labrunner project to exist. “He gave the green light for me to start with this as an independent project several semesters ago, despite the fact I had only taken a few game design courses. To add to that, despite the lackluster feedback of the original design of the game, he allowed me to improve upon this project for my Capstone,” Douglas said. Faas also guided Douglas on aspects to focus on and how to manage his time, and gave insight on expectations after graduation. Douglas also appreciates Albert William, lecturer in the MAS program, for his knowledge in 3D modeling, texturing, and animating.
Douglas is hoping to market himself to as many companies as possible in Indiana, saying that because media arts jobs are not advertised as much here as in LA or Seattle, he will need to get his name out there. His advice to others is to “Be aware of the skills you yourself have as a gamer and design, not to test those skills, but to teach those skills to others. Designing to test those skills will come when players fully understand your game.”
Labrunner is about a janitor who is working in a secret underground government facility that has been taken over by a mad scientist. The janitor (the player) is being held captive and is forced to run through a series of challenges for the mad scientist’s amusement. The game plays as a first-person-shooter, with an emphasis on platforming, shooting, and a light emphasis on puzzle solving. Watch a video clip of Labrunner.