You may have noticed the increasing irregularity of the dates on my blog posts. If that and the last post weren’t enough of an indicator, my team and I were under some serious stress right before presenting Super PAC Bros! to our fellow students and the faculty of the college. It paid off, though- our team managed to pass the cut, allowing us to recruit students and continue into the next semester.
Well, we would’ve, if we hadn’t voluntarily withdrawn.
Apparently, we were the first team to ever make this decision in Champlain College’s history, so naturally we got questions from a lot of people about what lead us to it. Looking back, it felt like there were two main areas that were contributing to this outcome: the first being the conditions under which we were passed, and the second being unsuccessful in recruiting other people.
We started getting hints of trouble over the Thanksgiving break which immediately followed the cuts. My teammates and I started talking to people whose teams were cut for the purpose of convincing them to join our team. When responses started coming back, though, we got a large amount of “maybe”s and “no”s. A couple of people told us plainly that they weren’t interested in working on a political game, and a couple of others said so while being quite rude about it. Even if the majority of people mentioned wanting to work on another team more, we started being concerned about this pattern: was it our game’s politics that were pushing people away?
When we got back from break, our professor told us something else that worried us: we had been given a “provisional pass”, meaning that we’d be held under closer scrutiny next semester, with the risk of being cut if we didn’t meet certain expectations. The faculty had felt that our game hadn’t taken a deep-enough look at the political process that we were trying to make fun of, wanting more of it to be expressed mechanically. In addition, they felt the fully 2D art style was too crude, reminiscent of a Newgrounds game, and our professor strongly suggested that we convert the game into a 3D side-view.
I’m fully aware of my shortcomings on the design- one look at the front page of my portfolio will tell you I’m not really the best at systems. A large part of this semester was spent figuring out what a systems designer does (I’ve never had a class for it, but I’m taking one next semester), but a couple of the systems I thought would help fill that gap had to be held back on due to time limitations. The most prominent case was that Disclosure and LLC system I wrote about, which I felt would’ve been the perfect first step in overcoming these provisions. But I needed another designer, someone who was more specialized in systems, to take over that responsibility, and everyone I had approached about that had said “no”.
In addition, switching the game to a 3D art style is not a one-artist job, and we were also coming up short there. Another aspect of this issue was that there were only 14 artist throughout our year (whereas designers, programmers, and producers were all around 20 to 22). Not only did no artists want to join our team, but they were highly-sought after, making securing one that much more difficult.
I went and talked to the Dean of the Game Division on my own time, and asked him if pulling our team out was possible. He said yes without hesitation and, after I explained my reasoning, he mentioned that the students in our year seemed to be prioritizing what they wanted to work on, rather than what was best for the community of teams as a whole. Apparently previous years were more willing to negotiate and discuss who they’d be willing to give up, whereas the draft we were currently in was acting inflexibly. He phrased some of his comments in a fairly harsh way, but it was clear that it wasn’t just me who felt an abnormal amount of flippancy from others.
I raised the idea of withdrawing to my team and, after an emotionally intense weekend of discussion, we decided to act on it. I still think the idea was for the best- in order to get the people that we required, we would have had to argue that we needed people who were already emotionally committed to other teams more than the teams that were expecting them. And while I think the faculty would’ve been sympathetic, it would’ve created animosity between us and the other teams, and we would’ve had people on our game who weren’t fully invested in it. It’d be fighting selfishness with more selfishness.
I’m not sad about the decision, either. Even though we didn’t really get “cut”, it’s pretty much the same experience. I think going through that process is valuable, too- in the future, I can say that I’ve been integrated onto another team. I was even selected to be on a team with people I’ve worked with before in the spring, on a horror game, and they even cited an article I wrote in their research. Bit ironic, yeah?
Super PAC Bros! was supposed to have this really punk ethos behind it, of looking at a political system critically and saying “we don’t want to be subject to this”. So in the situation we were in, I think that we did the last punk thing our team could do was look at the draft system in our college and say “we don’t want to be subject to this”. And I’m still proud we did that.