With the default game templates having been pitched during the information session, new UPGRADE members were given the following week to muster up their own pitches for games to develop. Throughout this week, we received several different pitch slides, but in the end only two pitches were able to muster a playable demo before the deadline for pitch submissions closed.
Praneel (CAS Computational Biology & Wharton Finance Class of 2024) was the first person to turn in a fully realized game concept pitch. He pitched the idea of an 2D Top-Down Open World RPG game based on a game demo completed as part of an independent project in Summer 2020. With a fully playable demo, gameplay elements with heavy overlap with pre-existing training module components, and a fully fleshed out pitch slide, Praneel’s pitch was accepted onto the game pitch voting ballot.
The second group to successfully submit their gameplay concept pitch actually submitted their gameplay demo exactly one minute after the deadline closed. This group consisted of Faye Zhang, Kevin Ma, Dineth Meegoda, Rain Yan, Jackie Li (all SEAS DMD Class of 2025), and Justina Lam (SEAS CSCI Class of 2025) who had met each other through the info session; their gameplay pitch was that of a bullet hell game with a slight emphasis on action RPG elements like dodging, parrying, and exploration. They had buckled down together to grind out their pitch slides, gameplay demo, and training module in the basement of the Hill College House dorm, or as they called it, “The Hill Dungeon.” Thus, given how complete their submission was, the single-minute late submission was easy to overlook and thus their bullet hell pitch was accepted onto the ballot.
Each pitching party was also asked to provide an estimate of what kind of labor specialization breakdown their game concept would entail (For Example: 50% artists, 30% programmers, 10% writers, 10% sound engineers). This would later be used to determine which department sizes would be.
After each of the pitches were given, voting was held. Praneel’s 2D Top-Down Open World RPG ended up winning out, and thus Praneel was welcomed onto the leadership board as a member of the Training Module Writing Team to help Edward and Di finish writing a training module that would train all departments in skills necessary for the development of this game concept. Kevin Zhao (SEAS Bioengineering Class of 2022), who had volunteered to help write the Sound Department’s training module was likewise welcomed onto that team.
Next, members were all trained in a very basic github exercise. Di had created a repository containing a single text document prior to the meeting. The exercise was to provide a preference list for which departments they would like to be a part of as a single text line addition to that document. Di and Edward had hoped to use this exercise to expose all members to the basic concepts of cloning, pulling, pushing, and resolving simple merge conflicts in git. Once all preference lists were merged onto that document, their orderings were used as weights to randomly assign members to departments based on their interests using a python script that Edward wrote.
Once everyone was assigned and any disputes relating to department assignments were resolved, departments were all encouraged to meet with each other to complete step 0 (software setup) of their department specific training modules together. With the game concept settled and the training module writing team assembled, UPGRADE proceeded into its training phase.
By some stroke of luck, exactly 28 attendees showed up to the first information session, keeping us exactly within the guidelines of the Lippincott Library.
Each presentation went fairly smoothly; Di and Edward had run it through several iterations and revisions, and had rehearsed it extensively. The presentation started with an overview of the club’s mission: to bring a game, no matter how jank, to market by the end of the school year.
Next, a high level tentative overview of the school year’s schedule was outlined, blocking out the major phases of training, development, and quality assurance throughout the school year.
After that, a QR code was shown on screen for everyone to join the UPGRADE discord that Di had rigged up the previous night with #roles functionality and the necessary channels. This would resolve the earlier issue of having no centralized manner of communication to all members of the club.
Next came the explanation of the training period and how modules would have to be completed by each and everyone before development proper could start. Di and Edward each pitched their template games, showcased their playable demos, and handed out printed copies of their (then still in-progress) training modules. Afterward, they explained the process by which members could pitch their own games.
The presentation concluded with a promise from both Edward and Di that regardless of anything that happened throughout the school year, they would see this year’s project all the way through.
Pre-Info Session Scheduling Challenges
The SAC fair had shown that interest in joining the club had been fairly high; however, this raised a concern that they had not anticipated: the room they had booked for the information session simply would not be able to hold everyone.
Di and Edward had not set up the best mechanism to keep track of who exactly that interest consisted of, having only anticipated about 10 or so expressions of interest. Expressions of interest had been spread across Facebook Event notifications, requests to join the UPGRADE ListServ, and individual phone numbers. After painstakingly combing through each of these venues, Di and Edward found that upwards of 40 people had expressed interest in coming to the UPGRADE Info Session.
In prior years, UPGRADE had typically held meetings in a Huntsman Lecture Hall, a room that could comfortably hold up to 60 to 90 people. However, in light of the COVID-19 precautions set up by Penn, Huntsman lecture halls remained completely off limits for the Fall 2021 semester. The only room Edward had been able to secure a booking for was the Lippincott Library Seminar Room, which could hold at most 28 people. After being told very firmly that no overflow capacity would be tolerated Di and Edward were left with a dilemma.
Given that there was no other venue to book on such short notice and under such strict COVID-19 restrictions, they decided to split the information session in two, hoping to keep the total number of attendees under 28 within each individual session. However, given the disconnected way they had collected interest forms, there was no centralized way to contact everyone to notify them of this change in plans. Di and Edward ended up resorting to the painstaking process of stalking every single person’s social networks in hopes of getting their emails. Once they had collected as comprehensive of a list as was possible, they sent out a update email with a sign up sheet to choose between the two sessions, urging those who received the email to go towards the later meeting due to them anticipating that those who did not receive the email would end up going to previously established time. Definitely not the smoothest way of handling that situation, but the show would remain on, regardless the circumstances surrounding it.
By the morning of the Student Activities Council fair, playable demos for all of the default game templates had been completed and loaded onto Di and Edward’s computers, and fliers detailing the location and time of the club’s first information session had been printed. Due to the fact that the SAC fair would not run a wire to the UPGRADE table, Di and Edward had ordered a chargeable power bank the week prior. An unforeseen hiccup in this setup was the fact that Edward was not able to charge his computer at the same time as Di. Of the three or so hours of the SAC fair’s duration, the power bank lasted about two of those hours. However, by the time both computers had died, all information session fliers had been distributed.
Unexpectedly Good Luck
Power bank situation aside, the SAC fair had actually gone unexpectedly well for the club. The prior week’s weather forecast had warned of heavy rains throughout the UPGRADE scheduled SAC fair window. The two resolved that the show had to go on, so in turn prepared both to table in-person or virtually. Luckily for them, the rain held out until exactly when the SAC fair ended; the rain that evening was so bad that all classes (and by extension the remainder of the SAC fair) had been canceled.
Di and Edward meet to establish a vision for the club’s future moving forward. At this point in time, they are the only remaining confirmed UPGRADE members, with everyone else either having graduated or uncertain about participation in club activities. Through a period of deliberation, the two decide that the future for UPGRADE 2021-2022 would be to take a game from concept all the way to market within the 2021-2022 school year. UPGRADE had never published any of its projects, so Di and Edward decided that such a goal would serve as a strong, central, guiding vision for the club to strive for throughout the year.
Following the agreement on this vision, the two were faced with the question of how to structure UPGRADE to reach that goal. In the past, several projects were helmed within UPGRADE, with each project having their own distinct and disjointed development teams. However, UPGRADE naturally faced a fairly large wave of attrition whenever the hustle of the semester picked up; with each of the projects having their own small, disparate teams, this attrition rendered progress on all projects nonexistent. Thus, it is further agreed that the club should instead focus all of its resources into the development of a single game.
What Game To Develop
With UPGRADE now being set on devoting all of its resources towards developing a single game from concept all the way to market. Due to the fact that UPGRADE would essentially being undergoing a full reset in restarting activities in the coming school year, it was decided that UPGRADE’s development project should be started and finished within that year; UPGRADE could only reliably expect to retain its membership within the confines of that academic year, meaning that any attempt to stretch the game further beyond that time frame would cause it to die. This especially held true due given the then complete lack of any core UPGRADE members besides the two.
However, as it stood, UPGRADE has no game to develop. Giving free reign to pitch any concept at all seemed dangerous for fear of someone pitching a game impossible to accomplish within that timeframe and the club voting for it. Thus, Di and Edward decided to develop three potential game premises that they thought were reasonable for a one year timeline. To prove the viability of each game, they also would put together a small microcosm of each of those ideas as playable demos, while also writing training modules that would explain how to construct each of those playable demos.
Di and Edward also decided to give members the option to pitch their own game ideas, but under the requirement that they can only pitch the game if and only they are also able to make a playable demo of their premise and help write a training module on how to make that demo. This condition was set in place in an attempt to ensure that only games achievable within a single school year would be pitched.
Due to the 2020-2021 school year at the University of Pennsylvania being completely virtual, all UPGRADE related activities were placed on indefinite hiatus. After the class of 2021 seniors graduated, Di Lu (SEAS DMD Class of 2022) would take up the position as UPGRADE’s president, appointing Edward Zhang (SEAS DMD & Wharton Entrepreneurship Class of 2023) as UPGRADE’s vice president.