Author Archives: Anna Schlenz

Union Town!: Post-Mortem


What aspects of your game changed the most over the semester?

Originally, I had planned my game in a way that wasn’t really radical–it didn’t give the player the opportunity to choose their path. At first, it was just going to be the player could talk to the coworkers and do favors for them and that was it–but as my story developed the manager became more included and now the way the story of my game will play out is that the player has the opportunity to unionize or get a raise/promotion. There’s a genuine choice to be made between two seemingly good options, not just “unionize or don’t.”

What parts of the game stayed pretty much true to the original idea?

From the beginning I knew that I wanted cigarettes to be the social currency of the workplace. I wanted the player to use cigarettes to get to know the coworkers and build solidarity levels–the cigarettes also bring a playfulness to the game which I think makes the horrible workplace more fun.

How could you have used your paper model to save time?

The paper game was very helpful in figuring out how conversation would work. The first time we ran my paper game my conversations kept falling apart and they weren’t set up properly, which was helpful, even though it was at first frustrating. The paper model showed me how I needed to structure the conversations within the levels to ensure that the player would understand the goals of the game.


Paper Game

What surprised you about your abilities to make your game?

Honestly, everything about this semester surprised me. I was very overwhelmed and a little afraid at the beginning of the semester–but I couldn’t believe that I managed to keep up with the class. Coding was a fun and engaging puzzle to figure out and of course I got frustrated but I am really proud of myself for getting conversations to work again after they broke for about three weeks after spring break.

What was easier to do than you might have expected?

Animation was easier than I was expected I think. It was super tedious, yes, but once you break down the steps it is easy to figure out to build the assets to move in a realistic way. Setting up the animator and controller in Unity was definitely more difficult, but overall animation was a more manageable task than I had expected.


Walk Cycle Sprite Sheet

  What was harder?

Though I already mentioned that I was surprised at how quickly I picked up some aspects of coding, that definitely doesn’t mean I thought it was easy. At the very beginning, learning the differences between very basic types of functions and variables seemed impossible to me. I didn’t know what any words meant and I kept a notebook to remember the definitions of all the terms the textbook referred to in the chapters. That was a lot of work, but after the first few chapters the hard work paid off and I felt somewhat on top of the code.

How important was time management on this project?

Time management was definitely important, since it was always a stressor if I had worked on something up until the last minute but then some aspect of the game broke and I had to come to class with a partially broken game because I didn’t leave myself time to debug and unravel all of the error messages that would pop up when I would try to play my game.

What would you have done / chosen to do differently?

If I had the opportunity to start over with what I know now, I would maybe attempt a to build a more linear story for my first game, as what I have set up now feels a little ambitious for my first game. I think if I had a linear story line with sequential levels, it would be a lot easier to build and I could devote less time to figuring out the logistics of the story and more time to expanding my understanding of C Sharp and the Unity engine.

Union Town!: Event as Narrative


How is your game story radical?

My game is radical because it teaches the player about labor organizing and the power of solidarity. The player has the option to put their head down, not get to know their coworkers, and listen to the manager to get promoted, or build relationships with their coworkers through giving them cigarettes, picking up shifts, and learning about their lives to unionize them. They have to make decisions about whats more important: the illusion of upward mobility or solidarity with other members of the working class that builds collective action.

How have you used events in your main and secondary level to express your game story?

2018-05-14 (1)

Old Worker suggests labor organizing to player

In the first level of the game, the player is introduced to an old worker who was recently fired from the restaurant for trying to organize the workplace. This worker sets up one goal for the player: unionize the workplace. They explain that its a risky job but that the player might be good at it, and it can be done by just talking to coworkers. Then, (this isn’t built into the game quite yet) the manager comes out to talk to the player and explains that if the player keeps their head down and does their job, they might get promoted and made employee of the month in due time.

In the second level, the player talks to their coworkers and learns about their life and hardships. While the manager isn’t listening in, one worker, after the player gives them a cigarette, tells the player how difficult it is to go to college and work full-time because the manager refuses to coordinate the work schedule with their classes. Another worker can’t find child care for their daughter while their at work and is often late to shift because of it. The workers only tell the player these stories after the player bums them a cigarette or they feel a certain level of solidarity with the player.

How have you used hitboxes and triggered animations as expressive elements?

I didn’t get a chance to include this in my game build, but I was planning on including hitboxes throughout my levels that would trigger a smoking animation, so any time the player collided with the hitbox they would pause, face forward, and take a drag of their constantly lit cigarette, no matter what level they were on. This would bring levity to the game and give the playable character a deviant personality, showing that they don’t really care about the rules anyway if they’re willing to smoke indoors in their workplace.

How have you tried to surprise the player?

I’ve tried to surprise the player with the places they can find cigarettes in the game, like among trash bags and in the refrigerator. This adds a kind of scavenger hunt element to the game, since you need cigarettes to get the coworkers to talk to the player.

2018-05-14 (2)

You found half a pack of cigarettes!

Is your game entertaining? In what way?

I hope my game is entertaining. I tried to make it entertaining! I aimed to bring a levity and playfulness to the dull and depressing life of the fast food industry. I wanted to show that union work and getting to know coworkers is what brings life to the workplace, and I tried to show that through the artwork and the walking animation. The aspect of the cigarette scavenger hunt also makes it fun because that’s just a funny thing to include in a game.

Conflict and choice in the Game.

The player is supposed to be somewhat conflicted in the game by being given the choice to not get to know their coworkers and instead get a raise. But ideally, I want the player to learn the power of solidarity and building relationships, so the reward for unionizing will be much more satisfying than the raise or promotion. The conflict arises when the boss asks you to do little tasks, and you must decided whether you’ll complete the tasks of the boss or the favors for your coworkers.

At this point, what ideas are keeping your game alive for you?

For me, the idea of building a UI element that measures solidarity levels among coworkers is very exciting to me. I want a little bar at the top of the screen that goes up and down depending on what you’ve learned about your coworkers and how much they trust you. If solidarity levels are high enough, you can file for a union election, but if they go too low, workers will quit or stop talking to you completely. This adds an element of stress to the game as it provides a tangible measure to how close you are to wining and failing.

Any new inspirations?

Undertale’s combat system is intriguing to me and I would like to draw on that for my game by adapting the combat system to be used for certain conversations. The player enters combat when talking to other coworkers and must build their levels of trust in order for them to tell you certain things and want to sign a union card. This idea comes from Undertale’s use of the combat system where you don’t have to fight–instead you can compliment you enemy or flirt with them to make them not want to fight you.


Undertale combat system

Radical Game Design: Union Town

Gal Large face My game Union Town (a working title) is about an unnamed new hire at a fast food restaurant. You play as this new hire, making connections with the other workers by getting to know them, picking up shifts, and bumming them cigarettes in order to form a union. Meanwhile, the manager of the restaurant offers you a raise and the employee of the month award if you refuse to help out your coworkers and only flip burgers. I got the idea for my game because this is actually what my brother is doing right now in Portland. He’s working on a union campaign at a fast food restaurant chain, flipping burgers and building relationships with his coworkers and helping them learn the power of the union.  Talking to him about his day-to-day life as a union organizer gave me the idea for my game. He’s having fun working on building the union, but building community in the face of corporate isolation and the trauma of poverty created by working minimum wage jobs is tough work. This game is radical because it examines this process of union building, promotes values of class solidarity, questions the ethical authority of managers and bosses. The main radical aspect of this game, though, is its promotion of radical friendship and solidarity building. Though the tactics of striking, boycotting, and other contentious means of forming a union are definitely vital to organizers, the radical nature of relationship building is an essential and undervalued aspect of organizing that I want to highlight in this game. My paper prototype played fairly well during the Paper Game class, I had some trouble creating and nailing down the interactions for each level. 39DE8656-C843-4A8A-A652-447DFA946E9D 46D13109-A7EC-46F7-88A0-326DF740FA07 E79A551F-802F-4C11-8A8B-CF893E6FCF3E I had planned my game around the player having options for response, this mistake definitely showed through during the paper game play through, and working around that has been a little difficult. But I’ve figured it out for the first level at least, where the player begins outside the back of the restaurant. 2018-03-24 (1) Here, there are three NPC encounters. The first is with a former worker of this restaurant, who informs the player of their task to unionize the workplace. He tells the player that he had been fired for organizing and warns the player to watch out for the manager. 2018-03-24 (2) Another encounter on this level is with the trashbags, among which the player finds a pack of cigarettes that they can then use to build friendships with other workers. The final encounters in this level is with another worker who is outside on a smoke break. He asks to bum a cigarette, and if the player has already picked up the pack of cigarettes from the trash, the worker continues talking and tells you about his work woes. After he finishes talking, the manager comes out and tells him his break is over. Then the manager turns to the player and tells him to not mingle with the other workers because they’re lazy etc. and that you should just stick to flipping burgers if you want to be employee of the month. These encounters work to express my game idea by first setting up the goal of the game with the former worker, then providing an opportunity to build friendship and solidarity with a worker right off the bat. The help and hinder paradigm is then seen when the manager comes out and offers you an alternative goal for the game, achieving employee of the month. My gamebuild is progressing fairly well considering it is my first game. I’ve made one level in Unity with one interaction. I am having some trouble with the animation, as it seems to be skipping when the player walks down and to the side (though not walking up, for some unknown reason).  It’s going slowly but surely, and I’m enjoying learning how Unity works. 2018-03-24 My use of color is somewhat strategic. I plan on utilizing less and less color as the player moves through the levels. In the first level, the back of the restaurant, the assets are very colorful. The layout of the level is also very open, the player can move around the road/parking lot and has to explore the level to see the other worker. This is meant to make the player feel free, able to move around and engage with the level without any visible constraints. This serves as a juxtaposition for the following two levels. Back of Work The second level is a bit more closed and a bit less colorful. I use grayscale and browns to make the player feel less free. Its rather empty (there will be NPCs in this level, however). The grayscale is meant to represent the feelings of boredom and entrapment that workers of minimum wage jobs often feel.  The third level, the shop floor, is an exaggerated version of this. It will look more like a prison or cage with less color and less room to move around. I don’t think I’ve intervened enough to make this game unconventional, so far it is pretty straightforward, but the structuring of the levels is somewhat unconventional in that it is not necessarily linear. The player can move between the levels freely, moving toward and away from the imprisonment by capitalism. Break Room 2 I think this game, though fairly simple, puts forth some big ideas about the power of building relationships when confronting capitalism. The game is not just getting union card signatures and striking, but actually interacting with other workers and forging strong friendships with them by getting to know them. In the end, it is this solidarity that helps build unions, not just old leftist tactics. This is something we can all stand to learn, leftists and non-leftists alike. Often, leftists get caught up in the glamorous, contentious aspects of organizing work, thinking that the radical work is the disruptive work. But this game is meant to serve as a reminder that radicalism also manifests in acts of friendship, and the power of radical friendship is not something to be dismissed or undervalued in the fight against capitalism.