Development Blog – Week 3

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Week 3 saw a lot of concepts and thoughts finally become crystalized!

The team looked at our Metrics Matrix in order to prioritize certain aspects of the project and came to various conclusions on what matters to us.

While some of the top metrics are fairly obvious (we want to build something that meets the needs of our client), we decided to put gameplay/interactivity as well as innovation higher on the list. Specifically, our design objectives point to interactivity being the major catalyst for learning, and as such, we need to keep a close eye on these interactions and how engaging our moments can be. Innovation was one we initially had as a 3, but the team wanted to place it higher as a way to push ourselves when it comes to blending the aforementioned interactive moments and the learning that would occur.

A lot of real estate in this post so far has been about “interactive moments”, but without a framework or context for the deliverable, these are all just good ideas and intentions. Fortunately, this week saw the team really think hard about how to push these interactive and learning objectives narratively, mechanically, and in a way that would tie it in nicely to the world of Inanimate Alice. After compiling our thoughts as well as some early concept art and prototypes (to be shown soon), we pitched our product to Ian, Valerie, and Amanda of the Inanimate Alice Research Group.

In short, our deliverable will be a vertical slice of a 2D point-and-click game for middle school students aimed at sparking interest in STEAM through the usage of game development concepts taught via a highly interactive experience.

There is a lot to unpack in that summary. We went with a 2D point-and-click for a handful of reasons, but primarily because it plays to the strengths of the team. Saylee, our primary artist, is strongest in this aspect and had ideas on how to leverage different kinds of 2D art for this experience. The point-and-click genre saw prominence throughout the 90s and has many of the elements seen in Inanimate Alice; specifically, it utilizes the same method of interaction via the mouse and leans heavily on texts and images for world-building and informational conveyance. The team also saw numerous connections in the way that this simple act of using the mouse to maneuver through the experience can be leveraged to have the player learn kinesthetically about how game development methods and pipelines work.

We greatly considered our faculty’s feedback from Week 2, specifically on the importance of narrative in this experience. We decided to frame the experience in a way that ensures that it could easily be integrated into the Inanimate Alice timeline while still being considered a “spin-off” of sorts.

To this end, our basic premise involves Alice receiving a new ba-xi player (mobile device) and decides to transfer over her data from the old device to the new one. However, the transfer process goes awry, and numerous files end up on the new device lost or corrupted. Even worse, Brad (Alice’s digital companion) is nowhere to be found. With Brad lost, Alice creates an avatar for herself and dives into the digital world of her ba-xi player ready to use all of her game development knowledge at her disposal to fix her device (and the digital world by proxy) and ultimately find Brad.

This plot led to even more tantalizing questions such as what will this digital world look like and what does “corruption” look like? Even more looming, what does all of this look like through Alice’s lens?

This was discussed at length with our client, and, as many things are in Alice’s world, so too should this digital world be influenced by her past experiences. The locations of Episodes 1-5, ranging from China to Italy to Russia and London, can all play a seminal role in the landscape and architecture of this digital world. When it comes to the idea of “corruption” or “corrupted files/elements” in this world, we did some digging into how other types of media handled this aspect. Interestingly, Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse posited a great way to visually showcase this property without being too obtuse:

During this pitch to our client, we were also told about the importance of customization. Various episodes of Inanimate Alice have customization in the form of aesthetically changing your ba-xi player’s color and pattern. However, we want to take this idea of customization and choice to the next level by potentially weaving it into our interactions. For instance, can we have the player “write out” a message to reinforce this idea (even though narratively it would have the same impact as changing the ba-xi player from red to green) or even having the player pick and choose a specific texture to modify the digital world? In this way, there is a strong element of choice without the consequence.

With all of these areas to explore as well as the client’s stamp of approval on our concept, we set off to work.

Color concepts were studied from the episodes of Inanimate Alice in order to establish a clear visual language for this world and experience:

The top line highlights different tints and shades that could represent a digital world, while the bottom compiles colors often used in the aforementioned episodes.

These pallets were then combined to see how various couplings could work in creating our own world while harkening back to the source material.

Early concept art was sketched out to explore framing, usage of colors, lighting, and perspective.

In the meantime, our programmers worked on various prototypes to explore some of the more technical sides of what we will be creating.

An example of how changing a texture could impact physics.
Exploring how to create depth in a 2D world

While progress has been steady, it is now time for the team to kick it into high gear. A draft of the narrative will be worked on as well as various designs for interactions and puzzles, a plan for a Minimum Viable Product, and a tight schedule for delivering this product are already in the process of creation.