Spotlight 02 – Design with Kathryn-Mae Eiland

This week, we have our second spotlight post: Design with Kathryn-Mae Eiland! Kathryn is a 2nd Year Master’s student at the Entertainment Technology Center. She is pursuing a career in Graphic & Web Design, User Experience Design, Game Design, and much more! As our Design lead, Kathryn plants out many aspects of our game — what our tracks should look like, what power-ups we’ll have, and many other details crucial to development. Kathryn also manages our multiple dev teams, making sure they’re still on task and the project is progressing smoothly.

We will continue using the Q & A format so we can dive in Kathryn’s design process and see how she thinks through important game decisions. 

Q: What is your philosophy when you design?  

A: “When I design, I try to start off by understanding the subject-matter as best I can. This allows me to get the details more spot on. This means immersing myself in the real-world content as much as possible. I pull just about everything I know from past experiences in work and school. Lessons from Game Design with Jesse Schell and working in Barbara Chamberlain’s Games Lab Studio have kept me immersed in the space of game design to the benefit of all the design work I tackle.”

Q: What inspired your design choices?

A: “For this year’s buggy game, I looked first and foremost at what was made last year. It provided a great starting point, especially since so much of last year’s team was returning. Then I looked at all the other popular racing games I could get my hands on. Forza, Crash Team Racing, Mario Kart, and even Steep (a snowboarding game) were the most useful contributors, but there were many others I played through as well.”

Forza Motorsport 7 Xbox Game Pass release fills the Horizon 3 gap -  SlashGear
Forza, designed by Ben Thaker-Fell

Q: How did you start planning?

A: “I first met with last year’s designer for a great handoff, then with Tom and Trento to better understand the goals for this year’s buggy, then with all the team leads. I started planning by making a list of what I felt was working in last year’s buggy game and what we should iterate on, then I got a feel for the entire racing game scene —  learning more about CMU buggy racing in the process. I also had friends test out last year’s game as well and share feedback.”

Title screen for last year’s Buggy AllStars game

Q: Were there any specific ideas you knew you wanted to incorporate? Maybe things you added on a whim?

A: “Everything feels pretty planned out to me. Nothing I can think of that was on a whim. One aspect I knew I wanted to incorporate was the steep nature of some of Pittsburgh’s streets. I wasn’t sure how, but I just knew I wanted to. Where I am in New Mexico, there aren’t really steep roads like that, aside from in the mountains, so that aspect really stood out to me.”

Early Prototype of Track 2’s steep twists and turns

Q: How do you decide what goes into a game and what ideas are shelved?

A: “I proposed quite a few ideas early on to get the wheels rolling, so to speak. But after that, most changes are primarily based on playtesting feedback. We started with internal playtesting, but now have moved out to friends and family, and soon we’ll be testing with the general public. We tend to make most of these decisions in our Friday class with all teammates there to voice their opinions and suggestions. And sometimes, I, along with other team leads, make final decisions just between us instead of the whole class.”

Scraped design pitch for a CMU Numbers Garden track

Q: What’s your favorite design piece of this project?

A: “My favorite thing designed for this project, so far, is the explanation doc for our second track’s aesthetic. It was created at the request of our Art Lead, Eric Yu, when he needed more information about the style direction. I think it has been one of the more useful pieces of documentation I’ve created. It utilizes three of the concept pieces Vivi made for this track, but I think a lot of the design “juice” comes in with the details and a readable layout. It is surprisingly difficult to remember to include some details (such as the fact that Gates should be exaggeratedly tall) when you know and feel the track in your head, but haven’t actually articulated it yet to another person.”

Track 2 Concept Art by Vivi Nguyen

Q: Any final thoughts on our project?

A: “My final thoughts are really corny, but I am loving being a part of this team. I feel a lot of pride from the excellent quality of work our team delivers each and every Friday. Our share-outs inspire me to “up my game.” It’s that awesome feeling you get in a race when you think you’ve hit your limit, but then you end up right next to another runner and you feed off each other’s energy to propel you both forward. There is a comradery there that can’t be beat.”

Early sketches of power-up items

Closing Remarks…

Kathryn has been an incredibly hard-working design lead, helping make sure we all stay on track. Thanks to Kathryn’s guidance, dedication, and tough decision-making, we are confident that this year’s buggy game will be the best one yet!