The Great Emu War

The Great Emu War is a fun, frantic couch-competitive experience loosely based on a historical incident that took place in Australia in 1932. Steam release planned for the end of 2018. The game is built around an asymmetric battle between flocks of emus intent on trampling wheat fields and the truck-driving human soldiers trying to stop them.

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Development: 3 months with a contributions from 22 student developers.

My Role: Lead Designer and Project Manager. I also did a great deal of gameplay programming, including the emus’ flocking behavior, which I will talk about in more detail below.

The initial inspiration for the project came when Diana Benocilla (Art Lead) and Alex Huffman (Animation Lead) ran across an article on the “Australian emu war” of 1932. This lead us to envision a couch-competitive experience in which players took sides in the conflict. The emu side would play like the game Pikmin, with players piloting swarms of rampaging emus. The human experience was initially envisioned as a third-person shooter, but due to scope considerations I changed it to play like battle mode in Mario Kart, i.e. driving a vehicle and using power-ups.

That brings us to the second major factor in the projects development, our short production timeframe. We were all graduating at the end of 2018, so we set up the UE4 project at the start of September and had our build approved by steam at the start of December.

This meant that we had to be smart in the way we approached the project. Our artists and programmers needed to get to work right away, so I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time or leeway to experiment with the design. It was essentially a sprint to get the game into a fun, working state as quickly as possible so that we would have time to polish it. I accomplished this by taking easy wins, were I could, i.e. relying on game elements already known to be fun and grokable, like Mario Kart battle mode, and avoiding mechanics that could not be tuned within our limited timeframe.

As a technical designer, I managed the overall structure of the gameplay system code. My production strategy was to get the game to a minimum viable product as quickly as possible, and then add more content as time allowed. For example, I created a common interface for all power-up blueprints, which meant that each power up could be worked on in isolation, without the need to modify the central system. This gave me a lot of flexibility in task scheduling, since whenever a programmer was waiting on a dependency in their main task, I could assign them a power-up implementation task from our backlog.

Besides overseeing the code structure as a whole, I also implemented the flocking system that controls the motion of the AI emus. I’d been interested in flocking after attending a talk by the developers of Horizon: Zero Dawn. The semester prior I’d done some experiments with the BOID algorithm, aimed towards making the flocking formations look more imperfect and organic. I’ll probably do a separate post about those experiments at some point.

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The Great Emu War is out now for free on Steam. We also have some great concept art for the game, which we are slowly converting into merchandise designs for Tshirts and other accessories. Currently these are available at: society6.com/thegreatemuwar, and potentially other printing sites in the future.