Category Archives: Radical Game Design

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.

Radical Game Design: Make or Break the Box

A snapshot of the current level in my Unity Build.

A snapshot of the current level in my Unity Build.

My conference project focuses on the player’s decision to either fit in someone else’s box, or to make their own metaphorical box. To fit in, they must commit to other’s ideals even if it’s to an unhealthy extent. To create themselves, they must pick and choose (or choose not to choose) what they agree to commit to. I got the idea from the eccentric culture on campus – students often push themselves so hard to accommodate others that they forget to accommodate themselves. For example, many students will tear themselves apart whenever they make a mistake like forgetting correct pronouns. They forget that mistakes are okay and allow people to learn and grow as people. This game is a physical representation of that pressure to fit in and over-commit yourself to make others happy. The game itself says a lot with simple drawings. The image below depicts the entrance to a dorm building with stairs leading to the blue player’s dorm as well as posters on the wall.
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The entrance to the Blue Player’s dorm room.

The posters represent the various clubs, events, and petitions that overwhelm the walls by the sheer amount. The color itself are bright and cheery in order to keep the energy of the game light and humorous. The actual content of the game will have silly conversations that highlight the ridiculousness seen on the campus. For example, instead of students feeling guilty and helpless for being born into a privileged group (“Oppress the oppressors” is a saying found on campus) They can be empowered to take action in situations to change reality for the better. One situation that is playful is when the player encounters a Pink NPC next to the stairs leading to a pink door (their dorm). The Pink NPC barrages the Player with “Stairs don’t care! Say no to stairs and build a ramp instead. Sign my petition and make a difference!” The player can choose to complete the quest to build a ramp, or can choose to simply tackle a different quest.
The Pink NPC standing next to the stairs leading to their dorm room.

The Pink NPC standing next to the stairs leading to their dorm room.

As for the color scheme, the game utilizes the concept of “wayfinding” to persuade the player to click on certain objects in the game. For example, the blue door is the blue player’s dorm room! Another thing to note is that this game has been revised a few times. From the sizes of the art assets to coding hiccups, it has lots of room for improvement. Even now, the story needs a more clear overarching goal with tangible smaller interactions that the player can see helps or hinders their journey through the game. Overall, the game is progressing slowly but surely.
The old Paper Prototype version of the current level in the Unity Building.

The old Paper Prototype version of the current level in the Unity Building.

For the future, I’d like to add a splash screen to better convey the goal of the game. So far, the image below depicts the paper prototype version of an idea for the splash screen. Radical 005We’ll see how far this game will go!

Radical Game Design: Wild Tales

The outside of the saloon in the first level.

The outside of the saloon in the first level.

My game is about a cowboy in a movie set of an old west movie. Players progress through shooting various scenes in the movie with freedom of choosing how the scenes play out. Their previous actions they take dictates the actions they can take in future scenes. For example, helping the bandit early on could mean not being able to talk to the sheriff later on. After shooting the scenes, players get to see what kind of movie they’ve made at the end.

The idea came from the development process of the game. At first, I wanted to make a game about the pressure to conform to a role in front of other people. After researching the old west genre, I decided a more interesting theme to explore would be the dissonance in the escape and immersion popular entertainments promise and the stereotypes they actually show.

To bring out this idea, my game puts the player in both the shoes of the producer and the audience of entertainment. After the players decide on the type of movie this is going to be about, they are forced to consume it. Through this, I call attention to the decisions made for us by the producers of the media we consume and the stereotypes they reinforce. I purposely break immersion with the movie sets to call out the lack of immersion breaking that encourages consumers to passively consume media.

The start of the level shows the main character and the director.

The start of the level shows the main character and the director. Note the contrasting colors.

Early on in development, I made a paper prototype to test out some of the ways I could explore this idea within a game environment. My paper prototype was based on an earlier idea of the game where players had no choice but to conform to stereotypes. I learned that the traditional gamey elements like quests and dialogue options were too distracting. By stripping my game of some traditional elements, I was able to bring out the focus of my game.

Testing an early iteration of my first level.

Testing an early iteration of my first level.

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The inside of a building that isn’t in the current game build.

Through that process, I was able to iterate on various ideas that resulted in what I have now. Currently, I have just the first level partially built. The NPC encounters in the first level are the director, bandit, saloon girl, and sheriff. The director sets the scene of a cowboy looking for a place to stay. The rest of the NPCs each represents a “type” of cowboy the player could play. They all offer a solution for the player’s problem. By choosing the align with the bandit, saloon girl, or sheriff, players will have decided on if they want to play the bad, carefree, or good cowboy respectively. Throughout the game, players will be given the options of staying with their alignment or straying away from it.

Currently, I’m working on getting my first level to run with dialogues and traversals smoothly. I’m still establishing some of the base codes of the game. Once that is done, it should be a matter of writing and building out the rest of the game.

Regarding the aesthetic designs, I’m using bright colors to contrast the muted and dark color scheme of the western world. The various movie set objects in the game should stand out with their industrial and bright colors. I’m contemplating on potentially changing the colors of the game to show the player’s current alignment with the type of narrative they’re on the path to create.

The color of the buildings in the town blends in with the orange sky in the background.

The color of the buildings in the town blends in with the orange sky in the background.

One of the design challenges I face is to find a way to convey choice. In a traditional game, a choice is typically presented with a drop-down menu describing the various actions players could take. However, I wanted to reinforce the idea that in real life, our choice and actions aren’t always going to be laid out for us. To do this, I’ll be applying the design strategy of presenting players with options before the choice. For example, in the example of my first level, players naturally encounter with the bandit. The bandit provides the option of stealing a key from the sheriff. However, to choose that option, players will have naturally encounter their two other options before being given the ability to make the decision. Once this pattern is established, I plan to have more obscure options players can take to communicate the idea that our choices about personal identity require exploration and are not always the first option presented.

While I haven’t fleshed out the full story of the game yet, I plan to keep my game fairly short in order to encourage replay attempts. I think the message becomes the clearest when players become more conscious of their actions and consequences. By having two gameplay experiences, they have a different result to compare to. Some may argue that the intended replayability makes the game’s choices less meaningful. However, I think the players’ own curiosity to explore the various options in the narrative is exactly the mindset I want them to have. The curiosity to explore the options is more important to me than living up to the consequences of the actions.

Early on in the game, the impact of the players’ choices is not immediately obvious. It’s not until later in the game when restrictions are placed on the choices they can make are the results of their actions obvious. At this point, some players may feel a bit of frustration or guilt in their lack of freedom. I think this is positive for the game because it encourages people to replay the game. However, they will always end up with a coherent narrative where the cowboy is reinforcing some sort of stereotypical narrative. If the lack of control at the end takes players out of the immersion and gets them to think about how they’ve constructed their narrative, then I will have succeeded in getting my message across.

Sprite art of the director.

– the director.

I didn’t plan for the game to be so reflective of some of the things in life I’m working through right now. The process of creating this game is forcing me to look deeper at some of the influences (both positive and negative) I had growing up. I hope that this experience will not only help me grow personally but also result in a shareable product that inspires introspection for other people as well.

Radical Games: Borrowing Post-Mortem

borrowing_11“Borrowing” is a top-down pixel art game that involves stealing from your neighbor’s house. The more you steal the more you learn about your character, but the more strangeness occurs in both your neighbor’s home and your own. As of now, I have the majority of base art in the game (not including art that would be involved for any currently planned or unplanned events) and movement, collision, and transportation between maps all up and running. Like a lot of my classmates, I was fairly surprised at how easy the sprite art for my game was to make. I purposefully adopted a very simple style – wanting to use as few and as solid colors as possible, while also limiting myself to 16-bit – as a challenge, but it turned out to be a huge advantage. In contrast to many of my classmates who got hung up on perfecting their art, I found that I could pump out a few simple textures very quickly and be very satisfied with the result. Looking ahead, I see only a few modifications I would like to make with the art itself. Being in set in a universe much like our own was very helpful in this regard as well since I had a lot of real life objects to reference and even take colors from directly if I wanted to as shown below. borrowing_9borrowing_8 As I mentioned in my second post, coding has certainly been the hardest part of this project for me. The video tutorials were very helpful in getting my game off the ground very quickly, but it was a bit more difficult for me to find ways of extrapolating from those lessons and doing something new with them. My time also was certainly not managed very well, especially towards the end of the semester, and I would very likely have a solution to my problem (in this case not being able to pick up and put down objects, the main mechanic of the entire game) if I had dedicated more time to sitting down and cranking out some code and/or looking up solutions to what I want to achieve even if it didn’t work. A failure is still a result and a way of pointing out how not to do things in the future, after all. As far as inspirations go, I probably can’t say much that I haven’t already said. Jason Rohrer’s Passage was an incredible piece to refer to when it came to abstraction and mechanic-as-metaphor; Every Day the Same Dream was a great piece of moody monotony; Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment is a game that I wish I could play over and over again for the first time every time I play, it’s the exact inverse of what I’m going for. borrowing_10 Designing games is entirely new to me but playing them isn’t, so I was surprised on multiple levels on how well I did in some areas, how poorly I did in others, and what I learned through being in this class. My professor seems to think that I’m pretty good at designing a game, but I have a feeling that’s the kind of compliment that she gives to all of her students. I honestly couldn’t tell you what makes my game “work”, but I think there may be something to be said about its simplicity. A majority of my classmates’ games dealt with either more than three maps or had about three very large maps, though there were a few others that had two maps or three maps of about my size, and I want to believe that in all of those cases that being able to design with economy of space in mind, especially when working on a project for only a single semester, is a real advantage. My main (only?) mechanic in “Borrowing” is very simple too: pick this object up here, plop it down there, rinse and repeat until you have nothing else to pick up and plop down. Getting to a place where I’ve done something simple that, in a “final product” state, is hopefully engaging is pretty nice feeling. But that’s just what I feel like I had trouble with: being engaging. My initial test of the game had the player run around to want to do other things, and it’s here that I found how difficult it can be to balance directing a player with information while also keeping them engaged while also not holding their hand. What I found out – something that was repeated to me quite often by my professor – was to give players what they want but not in the way they want it. Let them open that box and let the contents get popped out. Let them interact with those objects as much as they want. But when their back is turned, let them know they’re being watched. Or remind them that they’re not safe. There were a lot of really constructive suggestions in this vein and I was incredibly appreciative to hear what they had to say to get me into that space where I’m now comfortable with not only getting my player engaged but having some fun on my end and screwing around with their head a bit. I honestly wish I could show off what I have in mind with this kind of stuff in class; I think it would have been very fun.

Borrowing: Consequence vs. Calculation

borrowing_5As of the second State of the Game session, “Borrowing” is behind where I want it to be but still acceptable for what can be done in a single semester. There were no major advances or setbacks, but managing other schoolwork while attempting to figure out C# code has been difficult. My main source of difficulty has been constructing the borrowing system, that is, being able to interact with an object in the blue house, display a dialogue box with text and an option, use the player’s option to either leave alone or remove the object that was interacted with, and then being able to put it back down in a corresponding place in the yellow house after another interaction and small set of dialogue boxes. This should be very simple in principle, but getting my head around Unity terminology though C#, neither of which I’m familiar with, has proven very difficult. There’s a good amount that’s keeping me interested in the project, however. The end is in sight as far as laying down the main mechanic into the game goes, and having that done would be a huge milestone in the overall development of the game. I also found myself reinvigorated by the comments and suggestions made during the second paper game playthrough, but more on that later. Finally, it just so happened that I came across a free indie game called Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment that really inspired me. It’s a short first-person game where you do as the title says: pack up your things. As you interact with your junk, a sentence or two pops up where you reminisce about the object. There’s a bit of inventory management involved while packing since each object takes up a certain amount of space and not everything in your room can fit in your boxes; you have to decide what to keep and what to junk. It was a nice little bittersweet piece that I enjoyed the atmosphere of – a mix of hopeful nostalgia and melancholy – and that’s something I hope to get across in “Borrowing”, though, of course, in the latter you’re unpacking and there’s (hopefully) a much more foreboding ambiance. I didn’t have any questions going into the second State of the Game; I felt that what I had concerns about (mostly mechanical tidbits that were addressed in my previous post) had been addressed, and I wasn’t too surprised that the players were interested in wanting a bit more detail in the environment, especially the outdoor area, and text boxes because the game as it stood was very straightforward and there was not much room for critique. Changes after the second State of the Game are not incredibly substantial. I’m interested in seeing if I can play around with dialogue text color and perhaps tinting of rooms. borrowing_6borrowing_7 The battle between calculation and choice/conflict is an interesting one when it comes to “Borrowing”. In some sense, the game is entirely about choice (choosing whether or not to steal the objects in the blue house and then choosing whether or not to open the boxes in the yellow house) and one hopefully feels conflicted when being presented with these choices. It’s difficult for me to say where player calculation comes into play unless it’s the calculated decision that the game isn’t worth his or her time anymore. Ideally, all three maps – the yellow house, the blue house, and the street – have either conflict, choice, or both. The player must be both faced with choice and conflict in the blue house (again, the stealing is ideally both a choice the player finds they do not necessarily have to make as well as something of a moral conflict (or maybe they have fun with it and this is something of a critique that can be made, hmm…)); conflict must be faced in the yellow house (the Twilight Zone sense of unease is something that I’m going for in this case; the idea that anything can be in the boxes and anything can happen to the objects that are pulled out of the boxes, ideally to mess with the player and make them nervous to open the next one or wary of what might happen next was something that really struck home during the second paper game session); and conflict is something that I would absolutely like to present in the street (a car that follows you, a single person who walks up and asks what you’re doing, etc. would be a great way of presenting player conflict and heightening the dread or paranoia that comes with the acts you perform).

Conference Project Post-Mortem: Master Cube

d1fd2907396e9a36752890bc8745a4c8 Master Cube is a game about an unlikeable man named Davis that uses the story of a hero’s journey to point out the flaws in typical game protagonist behavior. Davis is a man with no friends, that argues or mocks anyone he speaks to, but lacks the ability or skills required to leave his small town, and so he is stuck as a store greeter. If he tries to leave work early, he won’t be able to return for the rest of the day to get earn money, but will be able to explore the town more and do more odd jobs for different townspeople per day. These tasks will be typical fetch and deliver quests that will be purposefully repetitive. If Davis tries to leave the town the guards will not let him because he is too weak and ill-equipped to handle the outside world. The guards say they’ll take a bribe, but it is a steep price. After speaking to the guard, a strange figure in a robe and wearing a paper-mache cube head will beckon him over. The strange robed man tells him he’ll pay the bribe for Davis if he signs a contract that he will find the Master Cube’s domain in the next week for perish. He is presented with two options, earn an honest living slowly and painfully in town through work and odd-jobs, or sell his soul to a cult for an easy way out to a real adventure. If he works his way out he will have more time to explore and be able to return to town and live his life normally. If he takes the easy way out his time will be limited and therefore more goal-oriented. Once in the world, it becomes clear that Davis is not ready, and the only safe place will be the cult headquarters. From there, Davis’ selfish behavior will take him far until he’s finally able to realize his dream of being important. He is able to complete the trials of the cult and sabotage them for others, until he is confronted by the leader of the cult for having more affinity for the Master Cube than him. He defeats the leader in a debate and is brought into the realm of the Master Cube by sacrificing the other members of the cult, and everyone in his hometown. In the Cubeiverse, Davis converses with the Guardian of the Master Cube, and debates it to death. Finally, Davis speaks to the Master Cube, who agrees to change the entire universe in any one way to Davis’ liking. Davis asks the Master Cube to make everyone adore him, for him to be the hero of this universe. There’s a great flash, and Davis finds himself back in town. He is able to walk around and converse with the townspeople and explore the world, but everyone in it now is Davis. IMG_20170502_145539 In the dev cycle I’m working on implementing the mechanics of play into the build of the game, and finalizing the overall large outdoor world and adding collision and interactions to that. Overall for this game making the sprites was easier than I expected it to be, and sticking to a single idea was harder than I expected it to be. The game ended up falling to feature creep and a lack of a written narrative and so the game right now is all over the place. The Unity work was also rather difficult as the YouTube tutorials I felt were so specific to making a specifically generic RPG that trying to find online resources on how to do anything else was either too advanced or hard to find. At this point I’m honestly just going to bin this project and in the future write out the design of the game before going into art development and such because without a solidly thought-out plan this entire thing just fell apart into a mess of ideas that don’t all fit together and most of my time was just spent rethinking the beginning of my game over and over and over again without making any progress on how the mechanics, level design, or narrative of the game would work after the beginning, and in the end the beginning changed so much that a lot of what I thought would be the core element of the game changed over and over.    

Master Cube: “Consequence vs Conflict”

My dev cycle is going rather slowly, the amount of art assets required is a bit overwhelming and the scale of the world I want to create is much larger than I anticipated. I’m often running into the issue of “feature creep” and will at some point need to cut a lot from the game in order to make it a more cohesive play. Not many major advances, my most major advance is the outside of the Cult HQ is essentially complete and I’ve redesigned my player character. The most major setback is adding to many ideas of features for the game and I’ve really over-complicated it. The idea of creating a game where the player wants to join a cult because they think it’s a good idea, and the result of it is it ends up destroying their relationship with the world. People read into the character what I designed them to so that was nice. Simplify the narrative in a way that makes sense and doesn’t draw attention away from the critical path and concept for the game. The player has the most autonomy when he leaves the town and joins the cult. There’s also the most conflict/choice in how to leave the town, join the cult, what to do in the world. I think I must over conflict and choice to leave, join, and how to interact with people in the world. Whether or not they want to sacrifice everyone to meet Master Cube. I don’t think I should offer choice in whether they’re allowed to leave work on the first day. The player will also have to complete the trials of the cult upon joining.

Radical Games: Master Cube

d1fd2907396e9a36752890bc8745a4c8 Master Cube is about a young man named Davis. Davis is a store greeter sick of his work and the people in town. He envies the heroes he sees pass through the store, taking what they please for their quest. Davis has very little for him in town, and tries to venture outside but the guards won’t let him, they say it’s too dangerous. He can leave if he can pay off the guards by working tirelessly as a greeter for hours and hours, the thought of which makes Davis want to blow his brains out. A robed figure calls out to Davis and promises to pay the guards for him if he signs his soul to him. He agrees and is told to seek out the great cube center, in the forest. He travels to the center, and is initiated into the Master Cube Society. To do so he completes 3 trials and then is sworn in by the leader. The leader tries to kill him for aligning with the cube better than he did. Upon defeating the leader Davis is summoned to the cube dimension where the master cube will change the universe for him in one way. Davis chooses to make the universe a universe where people will like him, and the cube makes everyone in the universe him.   IMG_20170306_155223 My game is radical because my goal with the game is to make the player feel that joining a cult is their best option.  Most people view cult members as aliens or freaks that must have been insane to give in to a cult’s ideology. I want my game to play with the idea that anyone could be put into a situation where they view joining a cult is smart of them. The life of the character Davis is unfulfilling, and players play games to fulfill needs. Basic needs such as wanting to have fun, or needing a distraction from every day life. This game initially does not offer the player what they want in the world to proceed or explore the world, and the fastest way out is to join the cult. Development is tricky. I’ve never been an artist with visual arts like drawing or painting and so the art design aspect of development has been tough if not overwhelming at times. Getting everything to look and feel right visually can be very frustrating. Luckily I’m used to using programs similar to Unity so that portion of development has been smooth. Unfortunately development rarely gets to building in Unity as the art still needs work! The ability to make pixel art that looks anything like what I want it to be has been the most surprising about my abilities to make the game. From paper game in class I’ve learned that my ideas are clearer than I thought they were visually, but I need to learn to better express my ideas so as not to confuse people as to what’s going on or going to happen. The biggest way my game says a lot with a little is the design of the player character. One look at him and you know he’s miserable and bored with his life and the people around him. I’m also trying to get the player to feel the way the character looks in the rather small space of a simple town store you’d find in most RPGs but rather than being the hero that comes and gets cool gear, you simply greet the heroes as they come in. The player can clearly see that there are others more important than themselves and so hopefully they will want to be more like the heroes and quickly realize how nearly impossible it is to do without some sort of outside help, or rather extreme patience.

Radical Games: Rescue

Rescue in its current form is an attempt to subvert the common RPG adventure trope of a hero rescuing a princess, but has been through numerous iterations and pivots such that numerous aspects of previous versions of the game appear in this most recent version. This history is long, complicated, and largely irrelevant, contributing to arbitrary aspects of the project. As it stands, the game is about a mother attempting to rescue her daughter, failing, and needing to be rescued by the supposedly helpless little girl. Village The inspiration came very soon after finishing LISA: The Painful in early February. My initial need was to create a game about a parent willing to do anything to save their child. This led to the character design of Isha, a middle-aged war veteran who is the mother of a small girl named Gemma. While initial aspects of the game revolved around the conflict between the Verda (Isha’s species of green skinned people) and humanity, I eventually dropped this idea in favor of trying to work off the medium of adventure games like Zelda and Mario, as it lay more within my areas of expertise. Because of this however, aspects of the previous world such as the Verda and Human conflict remain as backdrop and partial catalyst of the game’s events. The way I wanted to challenge the hero rescue damsel in distress narrative was to have the natural hero (Warrior character) be rescued by the small child. Since Isha was the main character of my previous idea, I made her the typical warrior character by virtue of that being what she was before. The idea was that the player would become comfortable playing as Isha and slide into the usual rhythms of an action RPG. However, once the actual quest began, Isha would be captured and the player would begin controlling the imprisoned Gemma. From there, the player would discover that Gemma had reality altering powers, able to tear holes in existence, and would go on to save her mother. Woods  Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 7.51.52 PM This section in particular during the paper test revealed several problems in the design I had laid out. Foremost was that when control of the characters changed from Isha to Gemma, it was not clear that that was simply meant to happen as an established event, not a mechanic that the player was in control of. Because of this, the player believed that the point was to return to a more powerful body, since Gemma seemed helpless and died anytime she came into contact with guards. This revealed both that the player felt mor e kinship to Isha (partially expected given the structure and my intentions) and that the player did not realize Gemma had any powers aside from running. Much of this was a symptom of oversights on my part that did not adequately inform the player of their abilities. What was positively revealed was the idea that the player wanted to chase Gemma, who in the beginning flees from the player, reinforcing the idea of following/rescuing the “princess.” However, I’m not sure that this adequately illustrated the relationship I wanted to express. State of the game was also fairly positive, but again showed mistakes made in character design (misunderstanding the age of Isha) and the pallet of objects blurring together at times. The art otherwise has been part of the easiest of this process for me, which I found exceptionally surprising as I have no real art education. While I’ve drawn for fun before, I’ve always found the details that I mess up too marring for me to really care what I’ve create. The abstraction of pixel art however, has made me feel exceptionally good about the kind of work I can produce. I feel this is well represented in the game. Aesthetically I wanted to go for darker, earthy tones, because the original idea was to try and make the Verda seem folksy, and slightly other, but in a natural way. I also then wanted to draw attention to certain characters by using slight deviations in these colors. One of my original Verda designs thus had bright purple eyes, at odds with the dark green of his skin. I also wanted this earthiness to contrast with the humans, who I planned to put in lots of pristine, white, clothing, evocative of the Roman Republic.   FullSizeRender-1   FullSizeRender Development up until state of the game felt very smooth, exciting, and pointed towards a specific goal. Since then, because of revisions, expansions, and downscaling, I feel that things have slowed somewhat to a near stall as I try and figure out connections between the things I had already decided I wanted in the game, while maintaining the structure I had envisioned. The path forward is a continuing distillation of what I’m trying to express, while retaining the impact fulness I want to create. In terms of art, I have a number of assets and environments left to build, as well as more animations for the characters and the world.

Radical Games: Mila

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 7.16.36 PM Mila is about a little girl (the titular character), who, lonely and estranged from her father, leaves her home to search for him. As she moves forward, the world becomes colder and more unforgiving. Winter trees give way to concrete skyscrapers. When she finally makes it to her father, she finds not a kindred spirit, but a cruel CEO who sends her back to her ramshackle house. She makes her way back to her father again with the intent not of reconciling but of freeing the workers she saw along the way. I was influenced by top-down RPGs like OFF and Undertale, which use a sort of 3/4 view to create a sense of depth and dimension, and Sword & Sworcery EP for its abstracted pixel art style. My intention was for Mila to be a bright spot in a dim and (literally) gray world. I took narrative tone inspiration from Russian novels and games like Spooky’s House of Jumpscares, The Stanley Parable, and Papers Please. I want to create a dismal setting permeated and slowly saturated by hope. I’m attempting to translate this through color and character design. I also plan to include friendly NPCs based on “ugly” animals, such as the star-nosed mole and turkey vulture, to create a reversal of the common Disney-esque trope of a female main character befriending cute woodland creatures. Mila is also ragtag and disheveled for this reason. My state of the game focused on translation of idea through visual aesthetic, and this was mostly successful; even without more than one map or a narrative, players gleaned that Mila was searching for something important to her, and that she was  a very hopeful character in a dreary world. I received some feedback about tile texture and made some adjustments accordingly; the workshop was very helpful in figuring out how to make certain textures (concrete, asphalt) read to a player in game space. Players also commented on Mila’s lack of a mouth, which I had intended as an artistic abstraction but which read as a conscious choice to show the character as quiet. I chose not to change this aspect of Mila’s character model because I don’t think the observation of her as quiet is incorrect and I am fine with the character being viewed this way. paper1   The paper game stage was very helpful for me in figuring out the layout of my story; I settled on a relatively linear progression mostly because of time constraints in the development process, but also because I felt it could get my meaning across simply and effectively. Players progressed mostly the way I expected them to, although I did receive some unexpected feedback about the presence of combat in the game, which led me to nix combat for the most part and look for other ways to portray and resolve conflict. Players thought that Mila attacking enemy NPCs broke an illusion of her “goodness” and that violence was unnecessary in the game. paper2 Development has been rocky less in terms of problem with code and programs but more so in terms of decisions about art assets and narrative choices. I’m currently struggling with the decision of whether or not to use dialogue in my game at all. I think dialogue in english might make the narrative feel less universal or more contrived. Players in the paper stage seemed to expect it, and without completed visuals I wasn’t sure how to express the narrative without it, but I would prefer to use pictures and scenes to illustrate meaning rather than dialogue.

Radical Games: IV

Screenshot (3) This semester I’m setting out to make a game that comments on the medical industry by using mythical allegory to explain some of the horrors that occur. To that end, I plan to construct a fantastical world in which the player must constantly give payment to “insert giant deity name here” in order to keep their Family Member alive. While I have not fully worked out all the kinks in this plot the main mechanic involves repeatedly taking things from either the land or yourself to keep your Family Member alive. The initial game was planned to include the main character venturing far out unto the world, but given the amount of time left in the semester, it is unlikely the whole story will be finished. Instead, I will be working primarily on the first main area The Island, The Siren’s home. The game is radical in that it works to take things away from the player rather than give them things to help them advance. The game gets harder, not because the world becomes less forgiving or more difficult but more so because the world takes so much from you that you may not be able to continue on. It also plays with conventions of myth and works to subvert what most people relate as happier narratives. Also, as a side note, all characters will have gender neutral pronouns. Part of me loved the mysticism and unity it presented in a game like Sword and Sworcery to have the gender of characters be slightly ambiguous. I took a lot of inspiration from the game What Now? and from Lisa. I wanted something dark that didn’t really make the player ever feel like they were winning. Going forward yes, but winning no. This game is meant to encourage a somber reflection, and I think both What Now? and Lisa really capture that. In addition, the art was heavily inspired by Scottish mythology as it has a lot of strange depictions of creatures and realms. Also slightly Lovecraft inspired but not by a huge margin. Development has had a number of hang ups. Particularly in the art department, but the story has also been somewhat troubling to finish and develop. While the main mechanic is okay at this juncture, during the paper game I saw many flaws in its scope and how players would typically use the main mechanic. The primary mechanic used to be “Accept Payment” but now that’s changed, will get into it further down. As I mentioned earlier, I had to spend a good deal of time learning value in order to make both sand and the interior of rooms a bit more shadowy. However, after several separate tile maps, I eventually got something I was proud of, then came the water, which quite honestly I still haven’t gotten to the point in which I’m satisfied. Screenshot (4) State of the Game taught me mostly that the world needs to be inverted. What I mean by this is that many thought the water was stone, like the walls of a cave, and I need the water to be lighter to look a bit more like water. Also, the player character needs to have a white border or something to make them look less flat against the sand background. Have yet to approach that experimentation, but hopefully just a white fill behind the player will suffice. Other than that, I didn’t learn too much from State of the Game. Essentially I heard what I needed to hear and many commented that they thought the protagonist looked quite good as well as the entrance to the Siren’s home that I spent a good deal of time making. IMG_0083 Things got a little dicey during my paper prototype. Essentially none of my main questions were answered and instead I was greeted with a glaring problem: people apparently didn’t care about much of the surrounding world. Mostly due to faulty development on my end, I seemed to leave out some key focalization in the paper prototype and consequently the player played the game somewhat contrary to how I envisioned. This is to be expected and must be remedied. One piece of advice that stood out was that I seemed to have a lot of assets and the world didn’t seem to immediately change in a way that felt impactful enough on the player. IMG_0087   What I came to decide was that the world and scope of the game was too immediately large. Also the wording of the main mechanic needed to be altered so that something might actually effect the player more than just the world. This I’ve decided to illustrate by changing the primary question from “Accept Payment?” to “Give Payment?” altering essentially the entire power structure of the game. The player must always give to receive passage in the game. Whereas the first question put the power of “G-d” into the Player’s hands, this puts the power into the systems hands, the worlds hands. IMG_0089 The game relies on simple story, simple mechanisms, and easily digestible and familiar art to establish a mythic realm of sorrow and burden. The game’s aesthetics work to address the concept of Payment, Guilt, and Debt through abstract symbols, one single line of text, and images. The aesthetic works to emphasize how it must feel to give everything and still have it not be enough and to have to accept that there are some points in which nothing may save or help a loved one.   Cheers, Chris Haehnel      
    Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 4.15.34 PM   Nazi Punch:The RPG is a hands on probe into the ethical dilemma of who it is or isn’t okay to use physical violence against.  The goal of the game is to provide the player with a myriad of options as to how to approach “combat” with traditional physical violence being only one of the many choices.  The goal of the game is to be a think piece that makes people probe deeper into their moral stances to find more nuanced understandings of their own self-imposed ethical guidelines.  You play as Jacob Liebowitz, a Jewish twenty-something living in a small New Jersey town.  You go to work, you buy groceries, your days are finite. The routine gets a wrench thrown in the mix when right-wing rhetoric begins to seep into your home town. Alcot_big_NoColl Is it okay to punch Nazis? That question is at the core of this game. The environment and the player character are meant to ground the player in a very real world as an attempt to make the question less hypothetical and more theoretical. Every secondary element serves this backdrop.  The notion of finite days, of limited time is meant to make the player question the weight of their actions in a world that changes on a day-to-day basis.  It’s meant to make you feel as though idly standing by is the losing stance.  Beyond that level of incentivization though, the player is free to choose to spend their days however they please, whether that’s arguing with internet trolls, or it’s saving up enough money to move by working full days. Just like real life, there are no rules of engagement on the social battlefield. The inspiration for this game came from the intense debate online about whether or not punching Richard Spencer was ethically sound as a course of action.  It was a question I myself initially grappled with.  In my own experience with the question, I found myself enriched by a deeper understanding of the ethics of violence then I had previously, and the aim of the game is to bring that to an audience.   Mechanically the game has two major wellsprings of inspiration.  One is the 2d RPG genre, games like Earthbound and Super Mario RPG, or more recently, Undertale.  The main mechanical grounding comes from these roots, and as a player, you function along these lines.  The second source of inspiration was Papers, please and it’s ability to use time and financial resources to put pressure on you as the player.  Grappling with necessity on top of the ethics gives them a grounding layer, they are no longer what if scenarios but instead they are divergent paths: do you prioritize your short-term needs, or the long term health of your cultural homestead? Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 4.16.40 PM Development is going fairly well, and the art resources for the game are coming along.  The main source of frustration on my part is finding a way to create turn-based combat without inserting a clunky UI.  In my prototype I was able to write out samples of what the conversations might sound like, and give the players choice within that. It demonstrated how the combat might work in the theoretical, and people seemed to respond relatively well to it.  As a way of making entire areas playable, I may create a twine file to serve as a stand-in for the combat system, and create a series of locks and keys, with the locks existing in the game proper, and the keys being at the end of the twine combat encounter.  In that way then, the game can respond to those encounters without them ever taking place within the Unity file itself, thus bypassing the UI bottleneck I know find myself at. If you had told me that the art would be the easiest part of the game to develop and enhance, I would’ve balked at you.  I have never been a particularly talented visual artist, but in working on this game I’m finding that my limitations were mostly mechanical: I have tremors that make it very difficult to draw a straight line. In Piskel these problems disappear, and I’m finding my aesthetic sensibilities to be keener than I had realized. IMG_7520 My state of the game went fairly well.  People understood the level layout for the most part, and they grasped what I was going for.  There were no serious elements of confusion where the visuals couldn’t guide people towards an understanding of utility. The paper game more than anything taught me the importance of secondary narrative threads accessible aesthetically within the world.  Every design feature needs not only a general narrative purpose, but a specific one. In building it out to a larger game, I think I’ll have to go slower, more purposefully, about designing future areas, and redesigning the central map. IMG_7526 The central goal of the aesthetic in this game is to present a world that is, visually at least not at risk.  Trees aren’t dying, buildings are holding up.  The threat and the emotional stakes are provided by the conversations, and eventually the appearance of threatening characters.  The world does not visually change to meet their appearance, just like the real world.  The central escape that this game provides is that it lets the player work out the ethical quandaries set forth at the outset in a safe environment where they can really engage with them, rather than letting the fear of real-world physical or verbal violence stand in the way of a greater, more nuanced assessment of bigotry in America. IMG_7523 In that way then I think character design is what is most meant to convey large narrative threads in concise imagistic detail.  The trump supporter and the internet trolls both have clear visual markers as to who they are as people, what they stand for, what they believe.  They don’t need back stories because it’s all explained in their appearance.  As more enemies pop up, I hope to continue that trend.  Every encounter should happen in a way that you as the player understand your circumstances from the outset. By the end of the semester I hope for a strong, playable vertical slice of the game that conveys the larger scope and narrative future that the game has to offer.  The meat of that work will come in the form of writing dialogue and narrative development on an aesthetic level.  The tile sets I have so far are the majority, and only a few small interior spaces are left to be created.  Overall I’m hopeful that by the time the semester comes to a close, the purpose of this game will be realized in its encapsulated form.  

Radical Games: Borrowing

borrowing_1The elevator pitch for “Borrowing” goes something like: you play as a little yellow man who is moving into a home in the suburbs that’s way too big for just himself. By unpacking, you take part in the yellow man’s kleptomaniac tendencies, uncover his peculiar obsession with particular pieces of popular art, and learn a little about his past. It aims for a balance between dry, sardonic humor and a Twilight Zone-esque sense of unease. Ultimately the game is about plagiarism and was inspired by a moment where I was publicly accused of stealing the plot of a famous film for a short story. In designing a game where you control a man who habitually misconstrues and rationalizes stealing for borrowing, the point isn’t necessarily for the player to feel sympathy for the yellow man so much as believe that stealing is the correct way to progress and therefore be complicit in his actions. In a fully completed version of the game, it’s conceivable that there might be multiple end states: one in which you’ve fully unpacked and furnished the house with things that aren’t yours and get caught; and a second where you’ve fully unpacked without taking anything at all, with the game’s design hopefully leading the player naturally towards the former on a first playthrough. The game has its roots mostly in the mechanic-as-metaphor styled abstraction seen in Jason Rohrer’s Passage, perhaps with a bit of the inquisitive exploration of molleindustria’s Every Day the Same Dream. borrowing_2The original intention for the aesthetic of “Borrowing” was to be reminiscent of old-school Atari games. I wanted to challenge myself by using a very limited amount of colors for each sprite, relying on the shape of each object to convey what it was more than its texture and detail. I feel I’ve accomplished this in some ways – the two houses, for example, are limited to four shades of yellow or blue each and have no heavy detailing – reached mixed results with others – the yellow man himself and the home interiors in particular – and completely abandoned this idea in others, as with the lawns and sidewalk. I still find myself a bit more attracted to the low detail aesthetic and would hope to continue it as more art is made. There may be something to be said about a “blander”, more empty world that uses swaths of color to define itself rather than a richly detailed one. Perhaps the yellow man, dull and unoriginal as he is, sees the world this way and so is shocked (and maybe the player is, too) when he sees the richly furnished insides of the blue house contrasting so starkly with the greater suburbs and his own home, but I feel that’s something of a stretch. State of the Game was based mostly on aesthetic development and focused in on the outdoor environment and the yellow man’s design. While I agree that the more detailed sprites for the exterior were more pleasing than the simpler ones (the solid green lawn sprites in particular hurt my eyes when the character moved), I’m still interested in finding some kind of compromise between the more highly detailed sprites that are used now and the less detailed work that’s found elsewhere in the game. Comments on the yellow man I found particularly helpful and amusing, and it was in his design that I saw the biggest drawback of attempting to adopt an Atari-like style. Though many thoughts tended more or less towards what I had intended for him – an average Joe, busy businessman kind of look – the simplicity of his design and restrictive use of color legitimately can make his hat look like horns and possibly does give him a more shady, sinister look. I was specifically fascinated by the latter, especially knowing what I wanted him to do in the game. He stands as he did during the State of the Game for now, but I’m not opposed to redesigning him in any way. borrowing_4 borrowing_3Going into the paper game, I was interested in seeing how it was possible to encourage the player to steal more than just the initial item required to open the boxes. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that some classmates’ first thoughts were to steal the items in the blue house, though I would hesitate to believe that that inclination was a direct result of the game, its design, or even the player’s/observers’ “gaming instinct” so much as the fact that it was readily observable in the paper models that each piece of furniture existed on its own and was therefore collectible rather than being drawn into the environment and inaccessible. The way I had originally thought to encourage the player to steal furniture from the blue house was for them to finish unpacking a box, then revealing a text prompt from the yellow man to go into the neighbor’s home and steal the corresponding piece of furniture i.e. by unpacking the box with books in it, the yellow man would indicate that he wants a bookshelf. This design does not account for a player who is disinterested in completely unpacking a particular box (the prompt from the yellow man was technically never reached, though I allowed the stealing mechanic to be unlocked and take effect anyway) and could be solved simply by having less objects in them if I wanted to keep this kind of design. The actual contents of the boxes are more or less obscure depending on how much background knowledge the player has about historical examples of actual and alleged plagiarism, and that’s something I’m willing to embrace, though having some kind of flavor note that tells the player that the yellow man is collecting pieces of supposedly plagiarized art would definitely be a plus. I was happy to see that the found flavor notes and plot hook items were capitalized on by the player (albeit at the encouragement of the observers) and the given connections between the notes and theme of the game were apparent. In a case where the player found more of these (again, probably a fault on my part from putting too many objects in each box), I feel that the theme of the game would have soon become apparent. In general, development is coming along quite nicely so far. The initial tilesets for both the interior and exterior areas of the game are entirely completed, and spritework has moved on to boxes, furnishings that can be borrowed, and the items that are unpacked. At a continuous, casual rate, I can see the majority, if not all, of the initial spritework completed sometime between a week and a week and a half. From there work on the code for picking up and placing down movable objects would commence, and I would be content to meet that milestone by the end of the semester.

post-mortem: a silt choreography

Coming upon Open Studios this week, my game is at a point of playability. It is an environment. diamond hole 2 The final challenge  in building this game to be at a point for playability involved getting collision on the diamond portal to trigger the scene change needed to create the visual effect of the fog obscuring the landscape of the scene. (Slitting the encounter, as it were– the instruction provided on the main menu). While I had hope to have music prepared by this point, this will have to wait. Going forward: I plan to research on how to incorporate text and hypertext.  Look into different methods of incorporating into the code (Markhov chains or otherwise). The poem that underlies this work has to continue to permeate it. And other possibilities that I’m not even aware of yet! (Particle systems! As you said, Angela.) I will keep learning C#. And coding in general. As well as Unity. Moving in a slow/accelerating drift with this knowledge / this kind of work. I will keep incorporating what I’m thinking and how I’m learning to “listen”, thinking of gaming/the environments one can make in terms of proprioception/somatics and “listening”/perception itself in relation to pensive spectatorship/participatory spectatorship + stayng attentive to the political potential / tasks that go hand in hand with being in a position to construct an interactive dream with procedural rhetoric, keeping in mind that

“Listening is not a natural process inherent to our perception of the world but rather constructed by the conditions of the spaces and times that engulf us” Lawrence Abu Hamdan (Tape Echo) (Rubber Coated Steel, artist from Lebanon).

The challenge: To be always building and unbuilding.

project proposal: a silt choreography

photo-2 Early concept art for the game. This is an early sketch of how the text of the poem “A Silt Choreography” might read visually at the representational level.  MARCH 2016 CHECK-IN: post one for class Radical Game Design.  Building in Process I am still in an early stage of building this game, making sprites in Adobe, et cetera. Have found myself working slowly in Unity. So this is where I am: still filling the gap between what I know about the engine and being able to put this game together!

Ethic

If it can be, I want this game to be an experiment in choreography. I’ve been thinking about movement as a form of incitement; as a political act. I’ve been thinking about how we perceive our own flight as a political optics, and hopefully also a haptic. I was interested in developing a game that careens towards a different kind of sight, one that encourages and facilitates a soft gaze, one that prioritizes / embodies a different kind of perception, undergirded with the rewards of moving towards something other than progress. I’m interested in eventually (and maybe not in this first attempt) building a game interface based on haptic (rather than representational/optical) cues.

Influences

This game is inspired by ideas in haptic visuality theory. This game posits a kind of movement (proprioceptic) which departs from something like a  formal gameplay style, which relies on the fixed subjectivity of the player (subject-object duality) to create flow. I want flow to be interrupted / disrupted in this game in order to break up the “given.” Influences right now are Apichatpong’s film Cemetery of Splendor (2016), in which Apitchatpong uses layering techniques of incongruous text and image to say a lot about the violence of representation as crafted by colonialism, neoliberalism, capital and the Western eye. I’m also looking a the Heavy Industries project / Young-Hae Chang. link to Heavy Industries. Thinking about how text can drive a game. I’m Mona Hatoum’s work Measures of Distance as an example of a film that employs this haptic rubbing. Also, Fred Moten’s recent body of work from his talk “The Blur and Breathe Books” which is making the rounds right now. link to the talk at NYU this past February. A game designer who already implements these kinds of techniques within the video game medium is Bill Viola, whose game ‘The Night Journey’ incorporates blurred vision and prioritizes slow movement within the game space.

Problem Space / Solution Space*

*From Will Wright
It is impossible to visualize the kind of world that we can live in, that we would like to live in. Actually: It is so hard to dream into other temporalities. It is so hard to try. This is not about making being seeming (Massumi) but about shifting away from the primacy of this imagining of what living should look like.

Asset List

This is what the playtest looked like: The animated asset list at this stage (left to right) runs 1) starfish / cowhand boot 2) bubble blower 3) diamond bubble portal 4) stars that turn into star trails/bleeding stars, 5) radio dial 6) series of screens 7) also *potentially* a dial to switch the screens like a channel remote (actually, this should probably be not in your control at all– in order to communicate a roving disembodied affective spatiality). On the non-animated end, the additional assets that I need to build in Adobe Animate CC/Unity are: worms, disco balls, power line, stars, the train, landscape, platform path, the water, shells, starfish.

Notes from playtest:

Discovered out that I’ll have to decide whether or not to build the game with poetry audio built in to Unity or whether I should build it with the music accompaniment. Both will end up in the game, but I think adding music with ProTools later might be a good idea. Discovered that the mechanics I had in mind are pretty simple: For example, a major part of the game involves a collision of bubbles with a diamond portal into another world. They are meant to disappear through the hole, and they will, because a collision will make them disappear. As an endless runner, it resembles pretty closely the game that we build in the tutorials. It will be different in the mechanic in that there will be a screen that is hooked up to the speed of the player. Still trying to figure out what building that connection will entail.
photo-3

Paper game playtest. Signs read, left to right: “Representation/visibility: Life as a disco, life as a rodeo”; “Screens” (the beginning of discontinuity between what we ‘see’ as a player and what we hear.

project update: a silt choreography

  (early april) Game update: Skinning, actualities   What i’m working on now  I am working in Adobe Illustrate now on final art for the game, and the assets, as well as the flow of the game itself, is unfolding into a much more simplified version of the game I brought to workshop. All the of the conceptual underpinnings and the affect of the poem/the theory remains, but it’s a simpler project. There’s something very gratifying about this stripping away until what needs to be there is all that’s left (something we talked about happening in the stages of a game design project). Impending breakthroughs -discovering I should be fading in between scenes instead of trying to change the fabulation by learning collision/sorting layers in Unity. -Currently sourcing some atmosphere (sonic), and learning how to insert this.  Building progress / growth[s] (things that are getting easier) Found using Unity for my own game in another iteration of learning a lot more instructive– Working with this material is helping the building techniques stick better. It’s been interesting getting lost (from time to time) in different tutorials’ methods, paths through the engine/Monodevelop, and realizing where the possibility of precision/elegance is in writing code, and where messiness just doesn’t even make sense. Something about working with the programs while already knowing what your goals are helps to understand why choices are made when/where (and serves memory better). Above all, I’m finding the mindset needed to do this kind of work easier to access, and is changing my work process a lot. The anxiety around the process has left for the most part and that hardiness / understanding that it’s always going to be gritty (and when it works, really satisfying) is setting in.   To reiterate, elements still needed to integrate and figure out:
  1. sound
  2. c# methods for: the cover page, the collision reaction (the kill box), the activation of the screen, the holes in the screen, the insertion of audio, which will be layered sound and poetry. the feeling of pink stone.
  3. how to work like heavy industries

The Clay – Post Mortem

Finishing up the semester and coming up on Open Studio, I think the thing I’ve learned most from this project is how hard it is to round out any sort of project that is editable. With a song, a play, a film, a story, etc., the piece is released as a whole is released often with a notion of acceptance from the artists that this, what is being sold and represented to the audience, is the final draft of the work in the way that it was meant to appear from the first day. Working on this game, I have come to realize how difficult it is to imagine an “end” to this process. Every time a milestone is reached, another one opens up, and in my free time concepts and symbols and extensions of the story burst forth at such a rate that my programming can’t keep up. If I could have had another semester on this game, it would have been totally different than it appears now – that said, I am very proud of how far the game and the world that inspired it have grown along the way.     Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 7.22.15 PM  

“The Clay” gameplay.

  If I could continue with the game for another couple weeks before the presentation, I would focus on adding menus, finishing up the splash screen (a work in progress), working on a second stained glass window, and adding a rough version of the ending I had come up with at the start of the class. I would spend more time studying textures, lights, and application of 3D objects within a 2D space in order to further bring the setting and its players to life. But overall, the finished product had progressed much more than I’d considered possible at the beginning of the semester. And working in a collaborative space where questions, concepts, and code were being passed around freely and frequently was very key in how successful I believe the process to have been.   Unfinished Splash screen  

A peak at the splash screen in progress.

The concept of individual game design was especially interesting in that it was a shot at taking on all of the roles involved in the process, many of which I had never attempted at all. Although I am involved in music, I had never before had to look at a project and write a piece that I felt captured the essence of what was going on on-screen and what mood I hoped would be resonating inside the head of the player. Scoring the project was a really interesting experience, and provided a cool exercise with adding boundaries to a process and finding inspiration within the limitations. I had a lot of fun imagining and coming up with a sound that was both hopeful and lonely, both dark and permeated with bits of light. The second new role I took on in this process was that of artistic director. I came up with the concept of a character, worked sans-tutorial with shadowing, player/object movement and animation, and worked and reworked color schemes until they captured the image I had of what this world looks like. Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 7.50.57 PM  

The score for “The Clay” in arranged in Ableton, a music production software.

Overall, I’m happy with the finished product, and plan on continuing to decorate it and sand the edges over summer break. Then, hopefully, I can release it online and continue to get feedback, make improvements, and expand the world that spawned on the first day in this class.

Radical Games: The Clay – Project Proposal

The Clay is a project inspired by simple storytelling, an attempt to combine pixels, notes, and a background story into an experience that would make the audience feel something for the characters and get sucked into the game world. The game began with a simple idea, a mental image of a little boy breaking out of a building onto a bridge with a sunset, and him panting and dropping to the ground, while a player is tapping harder and harder on the screen to get him to stand up and keep running. Over time, a story has emerged of a world complete with a population of clay/terracotta people, a set of large tyrannical antagonists, and a subplot for the game specifically is to be simply about a connection between two friends. It is to be heavily music-based, with the notes and the rhythm matching the main Clay’s footsteps and drawing the player into a meditative state. Clay concept day 1

  The piece of note paper, including the first idea for the ‘clay’,

concepts for the music, thematic elements, and the ending of the story.

However, this is a ‘radical’ video game design class. Most games are designed to bring the player into some sort of a ‘trance’ – what would be different about this game? The radical aspect of this game, in my opinion, is that, while being so simple, there will be no way to keep track of a score. The only thing driving the player to play the game will be whatever emotional connection they have to the character. There will be no way to measure how far they get into the ‘endless’ level unless they’ve beaten it (which will certainly require a lot of time and perseverance). And hopefully, with slow, droning music and an adequately designed setting, the trance state that the players are brought into will be one not of energy, anxiety, and hyper-awareness, but one in which their brains are opened into pathways of thought and focus that bring them into a more relaxed and real-world-productive state. Clay Form ConceptClay person concept

Concept art for the antagonist (left) and the main character (right

The game will feature assets that will attempt to work in ways that the player would not expect, but will still make sense. For example, there will hopefully be creatures crawling around the temple that the game is based in that the player can encounter – upon touching these creatures, either nothing would happen to the character, or something positive would happen that would catch the person off guard. If there are creatures that resemble broken, crumbling forms of the antagonists, maybe upon coming into contact with them the protagonist will take pity on them and give them aid. Torches, which are generally used to provide light, could be used to harden the clay and thus have a negative connotation. Generally, while providing an entertaining and compelling experience, I want the game to make subtle, consistent nudges at the player’s expectations of what a game should be.

Fade Post Mortem

I ended up spending a lot more time on coding than I initially realized it would take. Oddly enough it was in things I assumed would be seemingly simple that ended up taking the most time whereas many of the codes I thought would be quite challenging ended up being quite a breeze. For instance, creating consistent backgrounds that changed for each scene and that travelled with the player seemed like it would take forever to get working but ultimately it was just a matter of creating an object that traveled with the camera and laying an image texture over it. Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 9.36.21 PM Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 9.35.44 PM (examples of different backgrounds that travel with the player.) Meanwhile, things that seemed as though they would be basic, such as changing the code from an endless runner format to one where the player simply moves with the push of a button took an incredibly long amount of time. Ultimately what gave me the most trouble was making obstacles that moved back and forth on a set track. I had some semblance of an idea that this would be a difficult task but I did not realize it would take me literal weeks to get working. Ultimately I was able to write a code that not only moved it the obstacles but changed direction when the obstacle’s edge hit one of two catchers. From there I had to make sure that the obstacles changed direction to ensure that the side with the trigger always hit the catcher it was moving towards and thus prevent it from getting stuck. Additionally, getting the flower to work has taken quite some time, though some factors have gone more quickly than others. For instance, getting the flower to trigger a sound effect, destroy the obstacles, and stop the music did not take much work, however, getting the flower to vanish after being picked up has proven quite difficult. I am also still working on getting the flower counter to trigger one of two multiple endings which will hopefully be done in the next couple of days. Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 9.35.18 PM ( heart obstacles plus flower) Ultimately I had a lot of fun taking my basic idea and messing around with problem and solution boxes of the game as discussed in class during our discussion of Avant-garde Videogames: Playing with Technoculture by Schrank, Brian, and J. David Bolter. I had my initial idea of a game dealing with loss and memory but it wasn’t quite “radical.” However, after the discussion of the text, I came to the idea of messing around with traditional expectations of video games. Thus I changed my game to reflect this, placing tempting “power-ups” in the form of flowers that remove the obstacles but which ultimately trigger the bad ending (as signaled through musical and art shifts.) Ultimately the player must overcome their knee jerk desire to take the power-up they have been trained by other games to try to get. Instead they must take the game on at its most difficult in order to achieve the good ending. In this way, the player mirrors the journey of the protagonist and his resistance (or succumbing to) the desire to simply block out his memories rather than face them. Ultimately working on this game has been a major learning experience. I have learned not only how to mess around with traditional gaming formats to create something deeper, but I have also been exposed to many new programs that were entirely new to me yet which are incredibly valuable tools. Programs such as Unity, GarageBand, and Piskel all took quite a long time to get used to and learn how to use, but once I got the hang of them it felt like some real tools were added to my arsenal. All in all this has been a major learning experience, that, though incredibly time consuming and often very frustrating, has taught me much and left me with many useful skills. Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 9.49.59 PM (Sample of GarageBand, one of the many new tools I learned to use during this project)

Once Upon a Time Post Mortem

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 10.46.33 AM Once Upon a Time was (and still is) a project that has taught me a lot about making a video game, but more generally making anything. The first, and most important rule, that I learned was to MEASURE EVERYTHING. It doesn’t matter if your making a table, a video game, a painting, etc. make sure that you measure and scale the pieces of your project before you go about constructing it or you will inevitably have to make certain parts over again. This is precisely what happened to me, I did not yet understand how (and the gross amount of work and time it would have saved me) to scale objects. When making and then inserting the platforms into Unity, I discovered that the relative size of my platforms to my main character made the game unplayable (or at least a totally different game. What I ended up having to do was delete many of my assets and then redraw them from scratch. While it is true it was somewhat easier for me to redraw them the second time, it was easier but unnecessary. In a way there were two types of problems that I had in this game. There were the known problems (things like: I am not an amazing artist, I don’t know code well, have 0 experience), which ended up being fairly small potatoes in terms of time spent fixing them. Then, there were unknown problems (things like: scaling, getting my background to rotate). Inevitably I ran into problems that I did not know I would have at the outset of the game. I have mixed feelings about these problems, on the one hand I did enjoy the task of problem solving the unknown problems, it was at the same time a stressful task and required no small amount of time itself. That was in a large way the biggest time suck problem that I had during the game. There was also a large element of creating a game that balanced what I wanted to do with what I was capable of doing. The game’s theme is time and when creating the art and the power ups at the beginning I created many more platform sketches, obstacle ideas, and power up concepts than I used. For example, I wanted to insert a “blackhole” obstacle, that warped the time of the game as well as sucked in the player (and platforms) if they got too close. Unfortunately, I do not have the programming chops currently to code a black hole into my game (although I do have the sneaking suspicion it is not as hard as one might imagine). There were also many platforms that fit well with the theme of time, but for one of two reasons I only created three types of platforms. The first reason is simply time, since each platform is a clock and counts, the number of iterations that I had to create to create one single platform was quite large and it was unreasonable (and would have been a waste of time that needed to be spent on other things) if I had created the 15-20+ platforms that I imagined at the beginning. The second reason is that some concepts did not exactly mesh with the way the game came out as it was produced. For example, I had a shoe platform, the time concept being that the should would tap up and down like it was keeping time with a song. Another example would be a metronome. While both types of platforms are fine examples of the passage of time, both of them represent time in moments or in seconds and the platforms that I have ended up going with have a longer timeframe. Having both types of platforms would inherently disturb the manner in which the player would perceive time within the game and although that is one of the goals of the game, this would have been in a way that did not serve the purpose of the game. I spent some time belaboring the character model that i wanted to go with. My options were the rain drop and the center of the clock Emits. While I did love the rain drop because of its connection to Blade Runner and the potential it had to look beautiful (luckily I got to render some of the animations and it did look beautiful), it was simply a step away from the game. Once Upon a Time, although I have a ton packed into it in my own experience, is a very simple game and the rain drop would be a little bit too far off from the rest of the style of the game for a few reasons. Not only the complexity and fluidity with which the rain drop is rendered (the rest of the game looking quite blocky), it also did not make narrative sense without stretching the narrative unnecessarily. The picture I’ve added is a screenshot of the game as it is. The things I need to complete still are getting the other types of clocks running (only digital runs now), adding the background and background sound as well as adding the splash art at the beginning.