Initial Idea conception
From the get go, we decided that we wanted to create a game. This was probably because all three of us created either more application based programs or hardware based programs in the previous project and thus wanted to try a hand at the other side of the isle. We figured however, that we did not just want any old game but a game that had meaning. Games are an art form that has transcended just pressing buttons. They can spread messages, Ideas and Ideals. There were many good examples of games such as this already out in the industry. Some of the most telling ones would be JRPG games such as Nier Automata (Square Enix, 2017) and Bravely Default: Flying Fairy (Square Enix, 2012) that uses its narratives to discuss heavy themes and issues. One game that we came across was Mandagon developed by Blind Sky Studios in 2016 . It is a simple platformer game but it clearly talks about loss and sacrifice through its narrative. Playing the game we are greeted with a calming sense of solitude and we instantly realise that this was a personal piece of art. After one of the members in the development team experienced the loss of a family member, the team created this game to help them cope with it. Needless to say, it was a powerful piece with simple game mechanics. Also, the game was developed by a four man team.
We knew however that games need to go further than simply address an issue through its narrative. Other mediums such as books and film already fill this niche. What makes games unique is its ability to immerse and interact with the audience. Games could not only conduct storytelling through its narrative, but also through play and its game mechanics. This video by Extra Credits addresses this issue best.
Just saying, Extra Credits is a wonderful channel that provides wonderful insight on game design and the art of design in general.
Initially, we wanted to create a platformer game that deals with anger and frustration. We were inspired by our own experiences playing platformer games as kids, restarting levels over and over again and getting frustrated but for some reason still pressing on. We eventually scrapped this idea as we found it daunting to code a platformer game.
Afterwards, Claire found the basecode for an Asteroid game and we decided to run with it.
After discussing and keeping in mind “Storytelling through game mechanics”, we realised that an Asteroids game, where the player takes control of a solitary ship in space, is the perfect premise to talk about depression. The solitary nature of the game (how it is a single player game) reflected how when someone is depressed, they usually prefer to be alone.
Finding an Idea and Running with it (Design)
We realised that the overall feel of the game would be important in delivering the message and we opted one that was calming as we wanted the game to help players cope with their depression. For this, we were inspired by a truly beautiful game, Child of light ( Ubisoft Montreal, 2014), and decided to go with poetic narrations and water colour aesthetics.
From here Alina created the gorgeous backdrop which sets the mode and tone of the game.
We decided to add levels to the game is this will help is bring the player through a journey. It was a rudimentary form of narrative through poetry, but the message is still primarily communicated through its game mechanics. We decided to add four different levels to the game, as this was a number which was manageable for us to design around and it was the perfect number to deliver our message. From this we planned out the level design itself.
We did not want the levels to simply get harder or in fact just easier as this was the most basic form of level design, instead, we wanted each level to convey a different feel, a different chapter within the journey itself. We did this through the backdrop design and the poetic narration.
For level one we knew that this was suppose to be an introduction to the game. Instead of designing in a way that directly implores the player to play further (an easy level), we decided instead to try to dissuade the player from playing through a poem that puts them down. This is a reflection of how when one goes through depression, it would always feel like the world is against them, how taking the first step is always difficult. On top of this, player would have very low visibility as there is a vignette surrounding the image, the player will thus die very quickly. It would be frustrating to try and survive the first level of the game, because the point here is not to survive. We are not meant to stay at level one, but to move on. When we are in a slump, failing at anything might seem like the end of the world, thus in our game we make it such that you have to fail (die) to move on to the next level, for in life we must move on when we fail.
Music obtained is copyright and royalty free. Music: Memoir of Solitude by Borrtex and obtained from: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Borrtex/
Level 1 Poem
Now when you die in level 1 (which is what you are suppose to do) you will suddenly be created by a textbox that asks you, “Why do you play?”. For you to continue to the second level, you will have to enter a password and this where the second part of our game mechanics come in.
With Pokemon Go (Niantic, 2016) suddenly taking the world by storm, it puts to light the potential of alternate reality games to get people to move and get out of the house. This we found was a nice mechanic to get our players who are depressed to move and get out of the house. It is has been proven that you are susceptible to be depressed if you are forever confined to the same small space for long periods of time and thus we thought it would be healthy to get our players to move. We did not manage to actually code this part in, but we imagine it to be like Pokemon Go. In the second part of the game, the player will have to use an app on their phones that detects other players who play this game. They would have to meet that player and do something nice(eg, say something nice, or give them a hug), the other player can then acknowledge that something nice has been done through his own app and this will give the player the password to go on to the next level. The player that unlocks the password for the other player would also get incentives, maybe points to unlock new cosmetics or songs.
For this level the password to ” Why do you play?” is ” I need help” and the answer to ” Why don’t you stop” is “It will be okay”.
And from here, the player can move on to level 2.
For level 2, the vignette widens a little and we are greeted with an image of a child lonely and alone. For this level, the narration tries to dismiss the player’s efforts as something inconsequential. This is a reflection of how when one is depressed it feels like no matter what he does, it would not surmount to anything. Also by now we should realise that the narration is not actually a representation of society but more of our own inner thoughts, the dark thoughts that prevent us from getting out of depression. One thing to not is how the voice for the narration changed. We thought that it would be nice to have the voices of the whole team for the narration and it sorta add an inclusive aspect to the game. It shows how your deepest darkest thoughts could take many forms and how anyone could suffer from depression.
Poem level 2
After the player dies in level 2, he once again is greeted with a password entry field asking the same questions. Once again, the player has to go out and do something nice to progress through the game. This time, the password to the question “Why do you play” is ” iamtrying” and the password to “Why don’t you stop” is ” thongswillchange”.
For level 3, the tone takes a sharp turn. The narration here is now clearly trying to put the player down, telling him how he is worthless and such. This is a representation of how when one is depressed, he is not only toxic to the people around him, but to himself too. The music here is more dramatic, as if fighting a boss. By now the player should realise that he is trying to go against the narrator, and by association, fight against his deepest darkest inner thoughts.
Music is copyright and royalty free. Music: Beyond by Rose Bugden.
For level 3 this time when trying to get the password, there is a twist. Instead of doing something nice, the player would need to find someone to play with him as player 2. The password to “Why do you play” is “irefuse” and the answer to ” Why don’t you stop” is “tolistentowhatyousay”
For level 4, once again there is a drastic change in the narration. This time, it is not a representation of the player’s deepest darkest thoughts, but instead the player’s own voice. The player here takes a stand. The mechanics also change. Now there is a player 2. The player can still click and shoot, however this highly inefficient. With a player 2, there players will be able to shoot an extra overpowered stream of bullets. Now at this point, the player has unlimited lives, the goal instead is to reach a score of 100. This is a representation of the player ascending his grief and depression. It shows how we need someone to help us most of the time when are in a slump.
Music , Eternity by Rose Bugden
Finally, after winning the game, the player would be greeted with a an endgame screen.
Navigating through a bobby trapped pyramid (Programming)
Since all of us were not skilled at programming, we akin programming to reading hieroglyphs, or trying to navigate ancient ruins. We don’t really know what a piece pf code does and we tweak it just to see what happens. Normally, things just stop working. Nevertheless, we managed to learn some coding throughout this process.
We first of all managed to learn how to code levels by creating another variable to determine the levels. We also solved the password field problem, where it would run infinitely, by tying it to another variable. Also, we learnt how to carefully work in layers and learnt how to architect our code first before using it.
Also, we learnt how sometimes glitches could improve on the game. Due to us adding more layers to the code, when the ship dies, the asteroids will glitch and create streaks. We decided to leave this in as it was pretty to look at and added interesting visuals.
Moving things forward
If we were to actually seriously create this game we would definitely want to
- Create the augmented reality aspect to the game.
- We would want to add more levels. We were hoping future levels maybe will have backgrounds and narrated poems by people who have completed the game and who have been helped by the game, as a way of paying the kindness forward
- Lastly, we would definitely like to collaborate with professionals such as psychiatrist, psychologist, councilors so that we are able to tackle the issue of depression in a careful and nuanced way.WE would also like to collaborate with actual poets to improve the whole ambiance of the game.
Honestly, I am very proud of the work that we have done. In a game, there are many design considerations to think about and that seems like a daunting task. But I think we managed to prove how by thinking about these things, it actually does make a game not only look great, but feel great. Programming is also a daunting task, but after working on the same code for numerous hours, we get familiar with it even though we might not be able to fully understand it. This just shows how programming just requires practice.
Starting out finding a source code we could work with was a bit of a challenge as there were many variations to the asteroid game and we weren’t too sure which version would suit better. Originally we wanted to use one by TheCodingTrain on YouTube but then we realised it was coded on p5.js and so we couldn’t use it. Once we found a suitable base code, breaking it down seemed a bit like reading ancient hieroglyphics and trying to figure out what meant what. Sometimes breaking down the code caused more trouble than expected. But overall it was fun, if a bit frustrating at times. I’m just glad the gameplay turned out well and looks pretty cool.
This project allowed me to see the potential and possibilities of coding and how it can be used to bring an idea or concept to life. Creating a game involves both virtual and visual aspects, and I hope our game is a reflection of that. I enjoyed the process of creating the designs for the game and seeing how they can be merged with sound and gameplay into an interactive game product. Overall, even though I was not involved in the coding, I learned that it is a viable tool that offers much possibilities for my future works.
Overall, I think we truly enjoyed ourselves trying to create this game and I hope it could someday put a smile on people’s faces like how it did ours.
Thank you for your time and have a nice day.