Game Projects, Etc.


Originally my graduate thesis project at USC, I recently began work on a new version of this 3D adventure game. Through the exploration of Telmahre Castle in different time periods, players will gain a deep understanding of the main character, Tobias Rosseau: Who he is, what drives him, and how he can be saved from the prison he's created for himself (or defeated, if the player so chooses).

This project is still in the very early stages of development. Current work is focused on digital prototyping in Unity, paper prototyping the core mechanics, and further developing Tobias' backstory.

God of Commerce

Ancient people worshipped a variety of gods, believing their sacrifices would ensure prosperity, fertility, success in battle, and more. But perhaps we still put our hope in these gods today. “God of Commerce” is a short film and game that explores this idea. A chief executive calling himself “Commerce” smugly proclaims all the benefits he provides, claiming he can satisfy “everything your heart desires…for a price”. But then the transmission is interrupted by the Resistance, who claim that there is another way…

Winner: Best Church Promo, International Christian Film Festival (2014, Irvine, CA)
Writer/Director/Game Designer: Michael Steffen • Cinematographers: Kevin Schumacher & Tonya Lehman • Sound Design: Raphael Melgar • Music: Jason Haury • Cast: Cris O'Bryon as Commerce & Janine Walz as Sam

Light Shepherd

A collaboration between professor and students, this evangelistic short game tells the story of the gospel through a parable, where aliens guard glowing sheep against the threat of darkness.

Designers: Javier Gonzalez, Adriana DeCarlo, & Michael Steffen • Concept Art: Adriana DeCarlo

Daily Bread

When Luke accidentally volunteers himself to find a band for the college dance, he finds himself wishing for some divine advice. He soon finds a loaf of bread in his campus mailbox, containing a written message from God. The bread-messages continue each day, guiding Luke closer and closer to his goal. That is, until the last message, which tells Luke to wait.

Producer/Writer/Director: Michael Steffen • Production Coordinator: Jessica Kollmeyer • Cinematography: Infinity • Music: Poiesis • Featured Cast: David Boswell, Angie Rachelle Hauk, Jahkeim Cromedy, May Marcinek, Marty Dusig, & Mary Kirmo

Research: Cinema Band

As a filmmaker, I have often felt dissatisfied with the hierarchical nature of film production teams. So in 2012, I decided to try creating a collaborative production team called Cinema Band. This idea was inspired by musical bands where everyone participates in creative development but each plays his or her own instrument.

I recruited a team of strangers ("the band"), and then we got together to brainstorm a story which we shot over the following two weekends, with each band member playing a role in the production. Like a band, we then "toured" with the film, screening it and leading a discussion on the philosophical issues it presented.

Overall, the experiment was a success as long as the team remained collaborative and egalitarian, though we found ourselves frequently fighting a tendency toward hierarchy. I believe this approach to filmmaking would work especially well with students, and plan to employ it in a future course.

Traffic School Game

I created two game prototypes for an online traffic school (Online Management Systems). The design challenge was to create a game that faithfully taught the required traffic school concepts, while being fun and accessible to people of all ages. To achieve this, I decided that the game should not require any special skill in driving the car. So I essentially put the car on a track, so there was no danger of driving off the road. The player could choose to move forward or backward, change lanes, make a turn, signal, turn on headlights, and so on.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

At Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE), I had the opportunity to work on several major titles. Much of my work focused on reviewing design documents and playing games, making sure that the story and gameplay were consistent with Warner Bros. brands. I also provided design feedback on several games in development.

In Scooby Doo: Unmasked (Nintendo DS), part of the gameplay involved driving the iconic Mystery Machine. The main screen featured a windshield view of the road, while the lower touchscreen contained a steering wheel. In the initial version, the player would tap the lower screen and the steering wheel would jolt into position. I suggested that the player should instead gradually drag the steering wheel. This was implemented in the next build, and provided for a much smoother driving experience.

The Christmas Party

"The Christmas Party" explores the concept of “independent AI agents”. Players may only control characters indirectly by causing them to react to changes in the game environment. I created a 3D room and populated it with well-known Christmas characters who are given specific “likes” and “dislikes”, in the form of objects that may be placed in the room. Characters gravitate closer to objects they like, and farther away from objects they dislike. In this way, the player could move the characters around the room to accomplish game objectives.

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