April 10, 2017 Student Spotlight: PolyDash
Dash Spiegelman
Dash Spiegelman

I walked into this Unity course with no background in coding. In our first class we learned that every GameObject in Unity has a transform field responsible for its position, orientation, scale, etc. We created a box sprite and wrote a very simple code in the update function that moved the box down a certain amount on the y-axis on every frame. We then wrote an equally straight-forward code that moved the box up a certain amount on the y-axis for every button press. Here’s what we ended up with after that first class:

And this is what we ended up with at the end of our second class:

Looks exactly the same, right? We must’ve wasted an entire class doing the same thing again? Wrong! Though they may look the same, there are very different things going on behind the scenes here.

In our second class we made that little box sprite from day 1 into an actual object within Unity’s physics system. Now, instead of simply manipulating a position on an axis we could start treating it like a real object. No more moving down on the y-axis every update, instead we gave the object a certain amount of gravity. And in place of just repainting the object higher on the y-axis every button press we now apply a real force in the upwards direction to counteract gravity. WOW!

They might look similar, but the tools we had access to from the very second class got me so excited to make the most of Unity’s powerful engine–and so I made my first game using the basics we had already learned.

Which, admittedly, wasn’t much of a game, but it was a great way to see what i was capable of. I was surprised by how much depth Unity’s physics system provided my “game”. It was the beginnings of my inspiration to do something involving geometric collisions to take advantage of those emergent qualities. Which leads me to…

The Game

“[POLY-DASH] should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

– Hunter S. Thompson

Don’t be fooled by POLY-DASH’s simple aesthetics or the fact that it’s played with only left and right keys. The game’s minimalism belies the chaos that emerges from those two simple inputs when powered by Unity’s complex physics system. You may start each level as a dull red cube moving platonically across a flat plane but by the time you reach the finish line you’ll be careening wildly about in a geometric tumult hoping just to make it to the end.

Happy as you may have been to reach the finish line on all 9 levels, the incomplete star ratings and glimpses of hidden tracks will draw curious players back to replay past levels. There they will discover new challenges and objectives; even more daring routes through the tracks they thought they’d already mastered. Upon completion of all 27 stars the truly dedicated will be rewarded with the power to slow down time at will, providing for yet further replayability and allowing for the most daring and risky maneuvers.

Poly-Dash, my final project game, was such a success! I was able to pull on a lot of the themes i had been interested in throughout the course and put them all together in one cohesive project. I’m really proud of how it turned out. Following the sound advice of our instructor to prioritize completion over perfection, there were many moments along the way where i settled for for what i was capable of instead of pushing for the ideal. By keeping my scope realistic i was able to deliver on my goal of creating a game that blended simple, straight-forward controls and movement with zany off-the-track antics.

I’m really glad i took this course and highly recommend it to anyone interested. You most certainly need to put more into it than the two sessions a week to get the most out of it, but with the right attitude it can be incredibly rewarding. Outside of the class itself, i’ve learned the beginnings of 3D modeling, screen capture, video editing, gif-making (for this blog post!) and so much more. I wouldn’t have been inspired or capable enough to do so without the support and interest of the professor and my classmates.   

Quick Questions

1. How did you get into games?

Warcraft 3 battlenet modded games

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?

Cards to play poker with, CounterStrike Source Surf maps,, Super Smash Bros melee

3. What would be your dream game to build?

If I tell ya you’ll steal my idea!

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

I’m just getting involved, but so far it seems very welcoming and it encourages people new to the field like myself to put themselves out there. Thanks for the support guys!

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

Creation, a sense of power.