September 25, 2017 Student Spotlight: Greg Lyons
Greg Lyons

I loaded up Youtube, threw on a tutorial video, and opened up Unity.


Okay…I threw up another Youtube video:

Virtual Void,

How can I make a game if I don’t even know what this vocabulary means?

I ventured over to the Unity manual and was greeted with the same frustrations. Have you ever tried learning a foreign language by reading from that foreign language’s dictionary? In other words, learn Spanish from reading a Spanish dictionary? Not fun. That was my initial experience with Unity and game creation. Then Playcrafting came along.

My own class was led by Eli who was accompanied by Bill, and both were a pleasure to have instruct the course. Along the way, they helped me get over my initial frustrations with Unity and motivated me to keep going while equipping me with the skillset to learn, develop, and implement game ideas on my own. Overall, the Playcrafting Unity course helped me by providing a learning environment with more experienced people that could help me understand the vocabulary required to code in C# and for Unity. To return to my foreign language analogy, it so much easier when you have actual speakers to talk to, rather than only reading from books or watching videos.

Perhaps to some of you reading this, the vocabulary for coding is second nature, but I have a background in English, literature, and creative writing, so while the game design and creative principles are familiar to me, the terminology is completely alien. To everyone else like myself, I would like to say that with some determination, this course is immensely helpful in overcoming the initial language humps of game design and coding.

My favorite part of the class, if you haven’t already guessed by now, was the face time. It’s quite motivating to be in a room with like-minded individuals who are willing to learn. The meetings themselves were structured with instruction and introduction to new concepts in the first half, and then an open work session in the second half. Many of us, including myself, were lost in the first half of the class, but the second part was there to help us clarify the concepts and to help each other out.

I won’t say it was easy; the class was jam packed with information and eight weeks is not a lot of time to work on multiple projects, but despite these limitations, my classmates and teachers inspired me, and it was a joy to attend each session.

Games, During and After

During the course, we developed multiple projects, but for me, these projects were more learning environments than actual games. For the first project, I set out to learn vector movement and object pooling. For another project, I aimed for colliders, collisions, and physics in Unity. Another was to learn player movement, and so on. Eli and the others were okay with deviations from the plan because, after all, the purpose was to learn Unity and I was still fulfilling that purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, I had to make numerous iterations of the above projects. None of them were done well the first time, but through getting it wrong and by keeping it simple, I was able to diagnose the problems and discover their faults.  At the time, I was still learning the basics and concepts of coding and Unity, so it was through setting these target goals and iterating until I was satisfied that allowed me to grasp some of the key fundamental concepts and language that I was missing.

During these projects, I started to work on a side project that incorporated what I was learning. If something was finished and I liked how it worked, I put it in this side project, which was to become the beginnings of my ‘Cyberpunk platformer’ that I am still working on today.

My Personal Game

My Cyberpunk platformer is a 2D platformer that I describe as a Mario meets Mirror’s Edge.

You can play a 3 level demo from your web browser by clicking here.

The Cyberpunk platformer has typical genre mechanics such as jump, double jump, wall climb, walk, run, and duck. The vast majority of this project has been on my own, using what I’ve learned from Playcrafting and elsewhere to build the engine, which uses a custom physics engine that employs raycasts for movement and ground detection. For the sound design, I’ve been collaborating with someone I met in the class, which has been great.

I hope to release the Cyberpunk platformer next year. In terms of game mechanics and engine, the game is whole, but it is still lacking art assets, both visual and audio. I’m creating all the visual art assets myself (the character is my own pixel creation), so this is the largest time investment right now. I could outsource it, but I ended up trying to create pixel art and turned out enjoying the process and creation, so I’ve also spent much of my time creating sprites. My new-found inspiration for game art is something else that I can attribute to Playcrafting, without the class I wouldn’t have gone down this road.

The overall story for the Cyberpunk platformer is that you are an older sister performing hacking deeds to make money so your younger brother can pay the C.O.L. and make it to the ‘city’, where he’ll assumingly move up in the world. So, if you hack enough things and sell them, then you can pay the C.O.L. and your brother makes it. If you don’t, you can’t pay the C.O.L. It’s pretty simple and my plan is only 3 levels with 2 opposite endings. I’ve built it so that it’s pretty easy to add new levels (micro transactions!), but I want to keep it at 3 levels so I can release this thing before 2020.

Collaborative Games

As someone who likes to dabble into multiple projects, I can’t have only one project going. During the class, our final project consisted of working as a group to build a game; our group game became known as Pirate Rammer. The best way to describe it is a point and click pirate ship ramming simulator. Another way is Destruction Derby but for boats.

You can play a prototype straight from your browser by clicking here.

My classmates worked on the boat spawning system and the art assets for the game, while I worked on the collisions. It was one heck of a problem to solve the player’s boat from sinking after being rammed, but I sort of figured that one out (and sort of is usually good enough!). I imagine two ways to go with this project: single player or multi player. For single player, I can include a ship select screen, improve the AI, and give gold when destroying ships, so players can buy better ships. For multiplayer, I would have to rework the camera system and learn multiplayer controls, but I wouldn’t need to deal with boat AI or spawning logic. It would basically be a ‘4 boats enter the arena, one comes out’ type of game. Maybe a Domina but with ships?

I also have a Dog Catcher project that I’m helping my nephew build. This is me passing my knowledge on to others. In the future, I would like to teach Unity and coding. Oh, did I mention I was a teacher by profession? That’s my day job, so I would like to combine my teaching skills and Unity. This game is my first Unity teaching attempt and also, it’s with my nephew, so it’s just a fun thing overall.

And finally, The Blind Runner game, which I’ve teamed up with another member from the class to help build, a game built particularly for the visually impaired. I am not the lead on this project, but I help diagnose and fix coding errors. Can you imagine? Three months ago, I didn’t even know what the heck vector meant, now I’m helping others diagnose and fix their games!

Many of my projects can be followed on my account, my Instagram account, or at my personal website. I’m always looking for individuals to collaborative with, so if you’re interested in any of the projects or have one of your own, feel free to shoot me an email!


Quick Questions

1.) How did you get into games?

I played them.

2.) You’re part of the first manned mission to Mars! You’ll be gone for 5 years and can only bring 3 games to play alone or with your 3 fellow astronauts. What are they?

I guess this removes any modern-day game that requires online authentication, so Blast Chamber, Power Stone 2, and Gold Medal Challenge ’92.

3.) What would be your dream game to build?

Something like The Last of Us, but no zombies.

4.) What do you love best about the game community in SF?

Everyone seems to have a collaborative mindset and is willing to work with others on various projects.

5.) Choose 5 words to describe your experience making games so far.

Invigorating, challenging, inspiring, revealing, ‘sineful’.