I am co-curating, with Brianna Shuttleworth, an exhibition of art/games inspired by Fluxus scores, surrealist games, instruction art, etc. The exhibition will be held in two locations during the weekend of July 27–29, 2018 in St. Louis, MO. One location is a popup art gallery. The other is within Pixelpop Festival. This is the first exhibition in The Flow Gallery, a series exploring the intersection of art & games.
This summer when I spoke at PixelPop Festival, I went to a talk by Mike Lee about developing games for Amazon Alexa. He was working for a game studio that created a sort of “choose your own adventure” interactive radio play. Silvia and I have been writing a series of radio plays, so I was intrigued by the idea and decided to learn how to develop for Alexa.
I needed a topic for my trivia game. Naturally I chose Sherlock Holmes, since I had just finished reading the whole Holmes canon. The tutorial suggested that the most successful trivia skills have over 100 questions, so I got to work writing them. This probably took up the biggest chunk of time of the whole project. It was a challenge to not only come up with 100 questions, but three incorrect answers for each question.
<w role="amazon:SENSE_1">Bow</w> But then there were words from other languages, like the famous German word RACHE written in blood on the wall in A Study In Scarlet. Alexa (or maybe SSML in general?) does not support the use of German phonemes within English language text. So I had to approximate it as best I could with English phonemes, which, as it turns out, is not very accurate.
It was actually pretty fun to figure out how words are supposed to be pronounced that I had only read and never heard. There are some things that Doyle just made up, like The Mazarin Stone. My go-to source for pronunciation was the Jeremy Brett Granada series, in which I learned, among other things, that Mazarin is pronounced as in the French. I was surprisingly able to recreate this pronunciation fairly well with English phonemes.
Another issue I had was Alexa overdoing the upward inflection at the end of the sentence to indicate questions. I tried to fix this by replacing the question marks with periods. This fixed the inflection, but created another very curious issue that I tried to debug for hours to no avail. For some reason if there are any periods in the text of the question, instead of reading the four multiple choice answers, Alexa will say the letters “Q” “U” “E” and “S” in a random order. The bug was reported here, but the issue was closed without being fixed. Hopefully it will get some attention from the tutorial developers.
Overcoming the pronunciation issues and a few other minor bugs, I published Sherlock Holmes Trivia in the Alexa Skill Store in November, and so far I’ve had almost 250 unique users. I’d eventually like to add some more features, like different levels of difficulty. It is a rather challenging quiz, but I hope you’ll give it a try!
My most recent VR project is a simple Simon-esque game in which the player must select floating orbs in the correct sequence in order to pass through a dungeon. This was the fourth project for Udacity’s VR Developer Nanodegree. I enjoyed this project a lot because there was more emphasis on designing a good user experience. I got to put my UX skills to use to create personas, draw sketches, conduct user tests, and iterate on the design.
One of the first things I did was create three personas of different users who might be interested in this game. I already wrote about this in a previous post, where you can also download the persona template that I designed. You can click the images below to see them bigger.
I made several sketches throughout the process. I haven’t make all of the sketches a reality yet, but I have a clear idea of what I want the final experience to be like. I added several bits of backstory to the game to make the player more invested in completing the puzzle.
Working in Unity
I created the game in four stages, with user testing and iteration after each stage.
Create the environment (3D models and lighting). Do user testing for mood and scale.
Create the UI for starting and resetting the game. Test for scale, placement, legibility, and clarity.
Add camera motion and program UI buttons. Test for speed and comfort to avoid simulation sickness.
Program game mechanics. Test for playability, understanding of rules, and overall experience.
User Testing and Iteration
Below are videos of my first playtest and my most recent playtest, so you can see the progress made so far.
Some of the things discovered and fixed from playtesting included:
Some people felt too short. Adjusted the camera position and the overall scale of the environment.
The UI was much too close to the camera at first. Repositioned it farther away.
The start UI blocked the view of the dungeon, so it was really disorienting when the camera started moving. I fixed this by making the UI partially transparent.
The camera motion was too fast. Slowed it down to create smoother transition into dungeon.
The positioning of the orbs was too high to be able to comfortably select the top two. Repositioned them to be more in the line of sight.
And these are some things that I haven’t fixed yet:
There is a glitch where the back wall of the dungeon changes color when you look at it.
Some people do not recognize the “Simon-esque” aspect of the game, so they don’t know what to do when the orbs light up.
The negative feedback sound when you select the wrong orb is not clear enough.
Here is gameplay video of the game in its current state, as of Oct. 1, 2017. For some reason the screen recording software did not capture the ambient environment sounds.
Incorporate all the story elements to give players more choices (see sketches above).
Program a lose condition if they select the wrong orb too many times.
Program different levels of difficulty.
Create either clear instructions about how to play or hints if the player gets stuck.
Animate the orbs to move out of the way upon completing the puzzle.
Once you have collected the key, you can unlock the door to the temple, winning the game. The project required the use of C# scripting to track the state of the key and door, and to create the effect of collecting objects (animation, sound, and destroying & creating objects).
Udacity provided the starter project files, which included prefab maze walls, temple, coins, key, etc. I had to design the maze and place the walls, coins, and key in the scene to make a playable game. I also wrote scripts to create the interactions in the game, such as the sound effects and animation upon collecting coins, tracking whether or not the key has been collected, and animating the door opening. You can read all the requirements on the project rubric.
At some point I plan to come back to this project to make improvements, such as
Create a UI to track and display the number of coins collected.
Make the key collectable only after finding all seven coins.
Create “floating” animation for coins and key.
Make sound effect for trying to open the door without a key.
I’ll be moderating a panel on Teaching Game Design this weekend at the PixelPop Festival. The panel is Sunday 8/6 at 10:00am. Come check it out if you are in St. Louis!
“Have you ever thought about teaching a game design class? What and how would you want to teach the next generation of game makers? Many of us in the game design industry are self-taught, but what place does game design have in higher education? Join four designers who have taught game design courses at local universities as we discuss some of the unique challenges and joys of teaching game design, and things we’ve learned from the process. If you’ve been considered teaching on the side, this is a great chance to learn more about it.”