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Student Postmortem: The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

An Edward Gorey-like, silent film-inspired art style and the looping of recorded game play mark the USC student game The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and, in the latest feature for GameCareerGuide, the team
March 27, 2008
An Edward Gorey-like, silent film-inspired art style and the looping of recorded game play mark the student game The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. The quizzical work was made by a handful of students at the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media master’s program, who took direction from strong faculty and professional advisors, including Doug Church, Jonathan Blow, and Tracy Fullerton. A new postmortem of the game on GameCareerGuide.com exposes the ups and downs of the game’s development. Matt Korba, the lead designer and artist for the game, reveals in the article that he and the other student developers had to fight to limit the scope of development and keep the game as a 2D side-scroller in Flash. It’s rare to hear of students trying to contain the scope and teachers pushing the technological boundaries; but Korba explains the dilemma: “In addition to being my thesis project, Winterbottom spent a semester as an Advanced Game class project that for the first time ever joined the schools of engineering and cinema. Before the fall semester began, we had a meeting with the lecturer who was spearheading things on the engineering side to approve our project plan. When he discovered we were planning to make the game in Flash, he strongly advised against it, stating flatly that Flash was a poor engine for a game. He suggested that we build the game from scratch using Ogre 3D, as many of the student engineers were familiar with that program and because programming a 2D game would not provide a ‘valuable’ learning experience for the engineering students. Against our better wishes, we complied. As the class began, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to get most -- if not any -- of the functionality of Winterbottom working in Ogre by the end of the semester. A separate engineering team was added to build an Ogre-specific level editor that would suit level-building in both Winterbottom and another student game project. This became a disorganized mess. We wasted a month on this path. The level editor itself wouldn’t be ready by the end of the semester, and 3D was a terrible idea for Winterbottom. We decided to press on with the Flash build outside of the class. … To satisfy the requirements of the class and be granted engineers we had to develop the game in XNA. This was our compromise with the course instructor after many arguments about whether Winterbottom should be in 3D. Due to the perseverance of our student engineers (who learned a new language), we ended up with an awesome demo of a stripped down version of Winterbottom running on the Xbox 360 at the end of the semester. Meanwhile, our high school wiz kid Asher Vollmer was tinkering away, coding the Flash build. Even though the XNA build was technically superior, the Flash build suited the game better because we could implement the core gameplay faster and easier. It turned out to be very fortuitous that we pressed on with the Flash build because it got us into the IGF and is now what the game resides in. But managing two development cycles simultaneously taxed the teams enormously and nearly broke all of us.” The postmortem, which contains photos of the team and images of the quirky art style, is available now on GameCareerGuide.com.

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