From September 2010 to July 2011 I was working on a game called Castaways, which is available on the social networking sites Facebook and Hi5 as well as a standalone site. Links for all can be found at the bottom of this post. When I first arrived I had to swiftly re-engage the Java coding section of my brain as the game is written in Java using Google Web Toolkit (GWT) to hide the majority of the low-level Cascade Style Sheets (CSS). The game is a timed-activity based application set on a desert island. Initally the player has to search for food and shelter to keep their character healthy, while the story builds at a welcome pace.
After completing a brief noughts and crosses game to help me understand how Client-Server programming works, I was ready to start on Castaways. The amount of tasks I completed while working on this game is pretty big, so I’ll only describe at greater length the tasks that I feel were monumental in my coding development.
A lot of the early work I did was helping to create the user interface the player would experience when using Castaways. This generally meant reworking the look of elements that were already in the game, but using the new specification from the creative director. I also used this task as a chance to get to understand how widgets worked when using GWT, as I had not previously done any browser-based programming. Even though I was using GWT, not all the CSS was removed from the process, as I would still style some widgets, such as labels and panels, with styles like “color”, “line-height” and “background-image”.
My work on the UI continued as I was given more gameplay related tasks.
As we continued with the game, more and more features were being thought of by the team (all 5 of us had a design input), I was moved on to designing, planning and implementing the ideas. One of my first major gameplay features was the tutorial that players see when they first come in to the game. This involved me taking control of the user interface and having plenty of fun with cross-browser CSS z-index issues. This was a struggle for me to start with, because it was my first bit of large-scale design, plan, coding and testing by myself in a professional environment. I soon overcame any problems with it and completed the tutorial.
Whilst working on the game play, I got to investigate how the client-server side of web-programming works, including how to lower the risk of someone on the client-side faking actions so they can boost their stats.
In a quieter time for features, I was asked to design for an idea, which never actually made it into the game. The preliminaries for the idea did make it however. I integrate the GWT drag and drop library into the project, so I could code for swappable items in the inventory.
There were many more tasks that I undertook during my time working on Castaways, each one helped to develop my coding and professional skills.
My final task in Castaways was to create a separate mini-game called “Lucky Breaks” that was to be played daily by people and encourage customers to spend coin on the game. Because of time constraints, this was a very good challenge in task management, as I had to decide which sections of my design (based on the creative director’s mock-up) were vital to implement and which were okay to put to the side.
Throughout the development of Castaways we were on a tight schedule of weekly milestones. We were constantly testing for and resolving bugs during production, which lead to promotion of speedy and efficient debugging skills.
Sadly, the implementations of Castaways on Facebook, Hi5 and its standalone are no longer live. Setgo no longer exists as like many start-ups, whilst promising, no longer exists. The very talented directors of the company can now be found working at Behaviour Interactive in Montreal and Liverpool’s very own Starship.