Category Archives: Game Studio

TheCave_Ernest

The Blob — Post-Mortem

This project started with a remarkably lofty idea. One that, I think, came from the right place but ended up not really helping in any real manner when it came to developing my game. In my initial artist statement I aimed to “Model Mental Illness in Video Game Space.” This is impossible, and way outside of my skill set. So I think my Senior Thesis failed in this regard, but in many other ways succeeded. I could not, at the end of the day, hope to model mental illness, but I could reflect elements of it through art and through mechanics and ultimately illuminate something deeper to the player about life and living with a complicated and messy brain. In many ways, this project was not only a lesson in game design but a lesson in patience and respect towards art and its ability to communicate something meaningful. For the purposes of this post-mortem, I’ll be breaking down the process into three categories: Early Attempts, Artwork, Mechanics, Code, Sound Design, and Closing Remarks. More than anything, this project was a learning experience, and although I did complete the project and intend to continue to refine it, this year of work with Angela has helped illuminate more about myself as an artist and developer.
Blob_Yard_Jump_All_260p Section One: Early Attempts In the early stage of this project, I wanted to create a game that could offer something to the world. Something that would allow for those who did not have mental illness to begin to understand some of the nonsense rattling around my head and others. This proved rather difficult. Almost a hindrance in many cases. But with the early art references made (a collection of 25 paintings, 25 pieces of art from video games, 25 sculptures, and 25 drawings) I set out to make a few proof of concept images that would later help develop the cut out background style used in the project. IMG_1084   Along with the testing of photo cut out images, I kept a journal of sketches for early character designs. Originally the project was centered around a house with rooms, each containing a mini-game with a character representing an aspect of mental illness. This idea didn’t pan out. But one of the characters, Clarence, ended up being the inspiration for both The Blob itself and the static in the level “Ernest” in the final project. A lot of the early advances on the art can be seen in the final project. The Blob was sort of born out of a mix of broken ideas, but a lot of them ended up sticking. IMG_1085   I think a big break through in the process came about two months into the project. I’d created five maps, that all are featured in the game, and then decided to narrow the project to having just one main character, The Blob, that would be more metaphorically representative of mental illness. In addition, it was around this time that I abandoned the idea of coding in Game Maker Studio and switched to Unity. I was way more comfortable with Unity to begin with and I’m glad of the choice. IMG_1086   The real final idea for the project came after many rounds of paper gaming, and eventually during second semester I settled on adding two more main levels to frame the ‘take-care-of-the-blob’ levels that really helped the overall feel. TheBlob_ItemsAndStuff   The project changed a lot from its inception, but I think its roots really helped the final version. I learned a lot in the first few months and made many many mistakes along the way, but overall I think the stumbling was instrumental in narrowing down the design of the game.
ST_TheBathroom_1920p Section Two: Artwork The artwork is comprised of many digital styles. Originally I feared hand drawing the project, and it certainly led to many hiccups in the process, but with practice and patience I figured out the right style. In the end, I mixed several different styles: cutout, hand drawn, and photo, to create the maps, characters, and objects. I used many stock images then digitally altered them to create some of the objects in the world using the same cut out technique I used for the backgrounds. Basically, in Photoshop I took the object (be it digitally sourced or hand drawn, there’s a mix) and added different colour filters then used the cutout filter, followed by the glowing edges filter, then the chalk and charcoal filter, then finished it all off with whatever texture filter I felt suited the object. For instance, with the Heart Cursor that appears over the character in the Spoons scene, I used a plastic wrap filter after a cross stitch filter to give it a circuit board like effect. I settled on pinks and greys for the colour scheme. I wanted the game to have a really unified tone in spite of the wildly different areas visited. In addition, I aimed to have certain objects reflect other objects in different areas and worlds. The blob itself was chosen as a character because of its ease to draw, though, I will admit it took some experimentation. One cannot simply expect to draw a boneless being without running into some trouble. This took more practice than I thought it would, and as it turns out, I am not very good at drawing gelatinous beings. The art process was definitely the most time consuming. I spent quite a while learning a lot of new tricks and techniques as well as some file management/export information. One huge problem I ran into with the art was in the export. I had not drawn the main images to the appropriate scale during first semester and this resulted in me losing a lot of time and spilling over into winter break with the art when I really wanted all art done by January. Ultimately it wasn’t a hard fix, but it took some editing and file resizing to fix. Next time I know to start in a more ‘normal’ aspect ratio instead of the weird size I had at the start of the project. I think much of the problem came from taking photos and translating those to a format Unity would be okay with. With the art pushed back, I started to draft some other paper games and quickly realized that the game would be bigger than I originally planned. After some further planning, I finished the art (with the new knowledge of proper file sizes) with little consequence all by mid-February. I’m surprised with how good my art turned out. I had some issues with self-doubt many times during this process, and the art brought it out worse than the code or the other processes, but once I got over that hump, the game started coming together.
TheCave_Ernest Section Three: Mechanics For the main mechanic I started wanting to develop a point-and-click and I did that. The mechanics were never meant to be super complicated. Originally I had some ideas for puzzles that you couldn’t win but ended up changing to have a more narrative approach to the mechanics. Most of the story would be told visually but in completing small tasks that really only relied on a click. Sound and visuals would all signify the change or success in game. The only other addition was to add certain ‘buttons’ that would appear over interactable objects. These allowed me to tell story without much extra art or animation. Just a simple cursor appearing or disappearing could communicate anything I really needed to in this game. The implementation of these mechanics did end up proving rather simple once I studied up on some code.
ST_TheDoor_1920p Section Four: Code The code of the game is a bit of a mess, but it works. I started coding the game after completing all my art around mid-February but the code didn’t really ‘take off’ until a few weeks after. I had some initial problems learning how to make everything work, but enough time with the book Mastering Unity 2D Game Design and the official Unity tutorials helped pave the way for a comprehensive code. It’s nothing super fancy, mostly just a hodgepodge of true/false statements and a Game State Manager to help keep the game recursive and on an endless loop. Most of the code relies on OnMouseEnter/OnMouseExit effects to denote interactability and then the switching of variables with OnMouseButtonDown. Its rudimentary but allows for the basics of a point and click. If I were to code it again, I’d try to get a bit more global in my code, as I ended up having some pretty redundant scripts. But as a first attempt finishing a real game, I think I made the code work for me.
Spoons_bedroom Section Five: Sound Design While I didn’t get the sound design quite to where I wanted it to be. The version of the game I completed this year had some minor development. I implemented mostly a few sounds attached to clickable objects. Lots of static sounds, and loud or jarring phones/other noises comprised the bulk of the sound effects. Later on I’d like to work on this more in depth, as I began to see the true possibilities that sound lends to a game. I didn’t really approach sound until late in the project, but it’s given me some inspiration for my next project and I’m excited to see what I can do with sound in the future. Both for The Blob and for other projects.
TB_Bathroom_Pour_260p   Section Six: Closing Remarks My Senior Thesis truly has felt, at its core, like a culmination of all my work up into this point. The project is messy, but interesting and I think touches on some really human elements and experiences of mental illness. I’m remarkably proud of all I’ve learned and put into the project this year and in some ways can’t really believe I actually completed the whole project. Many thanks to you Angela. You’ve helped me in so many ways, and I’m so thankful for your confidence in this project and in my abilities. I’ll likely continue working on this well into the summer and hopefully bring some of what I’ve learned this year into my older projects and complete them as well.   This is Kit,   Signing off.    
ST_TheBathroom_1920p

The Blob — Initial Artist Statement

Hello, hello! Kit here, in this first post I’m going to address my initial goals and concepts for my Senior Thesis. For all my thoughts on the entire process, please refer to the Post-Mortem.    I set out wanting to make a Point and Click game. Inspired by some early adventure games, like Darkseed, Myst, and King’s Quest, I wished to use the basic mechanic to delve deep into more psychological quandaries. In this attempt, I wanted to establish a game that could act as a sort of reference point for someone without mental illness to begin to understand some of the feelings behind it. While this endeavor did prove remarkably lofty and basically impossible (see Post-Mortem following this post), the initial inspiration came from a longer to bridge some gaps in understanding.   I started with a collection of images, wanting to begin the project with a very concise art style. I knew I wanted to hand draw the art from the beginning and use my skills as a photographer to make all the backgrounds using digital tools like Photoshop to get the desired effects I wanted. In addition, the art would be far more emblematic of childhood iconography. I took a major inspiration from Darkseed in terms of the art, and wanted to implement a precinenium to frame the work and the action of the scene as well as provide buttons to interact with.   Overall the project started with a goal in mind, and as I will mention later in my Post-Mortem, this did prove to be a difficulty to overcome. But I think the initial impulse towards the piece remains in the overall work despite how much both the art and world changed in development.   Here is my initial pitch statement as well: “It’s my aim to take some of my own experiences and detail the internal struggle with anxiety/OCD/mental illness. I wish to encourage empathy and compassion towards the spaces and communities inhabited by those with mental illnesses. To that end I aim to use fantasy and myth as a means to distort the colloquialisms typically associated with mental illness in an effort to destigmatise neurodivergence and defy the usual assumptions made about those with anxiety/OCD. This story will use a combination of audio, visual, and game to provide the experience of anxiety to the user or “player” of this story. I will implement the use of a point and click style adventure to tell this story, focusing primarily the characters and their worlds as realms that explore interpersonal communication and address humanity as first and foremost a social creature. To that end, the art of each level should reflect the character represented, the quality represented, and most importantly the mental illness/illnesses presented. The mechanics should represent actions or responses to stimuli within the world of the game. As Hyper Light Drifter (as an example) seeks to remind the player of mortality and the struggle of dealing with heart disease (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/02/hyper-light-drifter-heart-disease-inspired-alex-preston), so too should this game reflect the world of mental illness-specifically highlighting through narrative-the stradegies many individuals must use to simply get through each passing day.”   All the best, Kit Haehnel!

Game Studio: Solar post-mortem

  

title-screen

Solar Main Menu Screen

Solar is a project that has gone through many changes over the past few months. Initially I wanted the game to be a Metroidvania game with a timed mechanic that encouraged progression rather than backtracking. The initial concept had the player travelling across the galaxy while being chased by a powerful enemy (who would serve as the game’s final boss).

The player would be required to explore multiple planets in order to find items and upgrades that would help make the final encounter with the boss fair. Since being constantly chased was a core mechanic of the game, the player would have to be efficient with the amount of time spent on a planet and with the amount of fuel consumed when travelling from planet to planet. This is where collecting fuel, in addition to the aforementioned items and upgrades became an important task.

ship-with-crew

The ship serves as a hub from where the player can choose a planet to explore

Over time however, after multiple meetings with my professor Angela Ferraiolo, I was convinced that colonialism should be the main theme of Solar’s story. Incorporating this into the game proved to be a lot more difficult than I thought. Colonialism is the practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country (in this case, planet), occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. So how can this be represented in a 2D platformer like Solar?

The first thing I did was make the collection of fuel the primary objective. The player would have to find blocks of raw minerals spread across multiple planets and combine them to make fuel to power the ship. To ensure that there is never a shortage of minerals, the player can choose to leave one of his crewmates to occupy a planet that holds a particular mineral. This way the player is notified whenever more raw material is available. The consequences of doing so would be made apparent upon returning to a planet the player has “occupied”. For example: Pewhiusium is an element available on Pew-Oria; a quiet and peaceful planet. The residents of Pew-Orian are known to be simple in nature with very little need for conflict as there has never been a shortage of Pewhiusium (which the Pew-Orians consume as their primary source of nourishment). If the player chooses to leave a crewmate on this planet, after enough time passes, and depending on which crewmate is chosen to occupy the planet, the residents of the planet will either become hostile or die out completely.

planet-one Pew-Oria, with a block of Pewhiusium

combat

NPC’s currently are passive; only doing damage upon player contact.

As I move forward with the development of Solar, I want the player to realize the repercussions of doing this and have the player’s actions culminate into something significant and of consequence. I have yet to figure out what that will be. I have decided to put a hold on adding more mechanics and focus more on the atmosphere and visual elements of the game as I feel that doing so will help influence the narrative of Solar. I have been hesitant to use blocks of text for exposition and hope to use the visuals and gameplay to tell the story instead.