Development Blog – Week 6

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Week 6 saw quality of life developments, brainstorming for the future, and finally getting our project in front of our target demographic.

Below is a video of our current build. From here, we will break down the additions, changes, and thoughts thereof:

Chapter 0 / Overworld Map

To start, it is clear that the introduction sequence received some editing. The mouse pointer now gives feedback on-click, while the text itself is new aesthetics. The backgrounds for said text, which work with our color scheme, help the text pop that much more and aids in garnering the attention it needs. In addition, the ties to Inanimate Alice are even closer now that the font we are using is identical to the one used in previous episodes. The glitch effect is now more focused on the ba-xi players themselves rather than distorting the whole screen and, by consequence, the text. This glitching effect will serve us greatly as we plan to apply it to numerous objects throughout the experience including keywords within the text.

Another major change comes from the implementation of the overworld map and some visual cues associated with it.

The addition of the overworld map allowed the introduction sequence to be tied into Chapter 1 through interaction. Each of the smaller black processing chips serve as chapters. As one can see in the upper picture, a chapter will flash to indicate the player’s current progress (or where they need to go to advance). Solving more puzzles within the chapter creates more circuits throughout the motherboard eventually leading to the lower picture in which everything is connected. Just as Alice is fixing her player’s damage by eliminating corruption in a narrative sense, now we are able to see a physical and ground representation of a fantastical concept.

However, the introduction sequence still has some work to be done. Some assets as well as text require upgrading to give it more polish. Sound effects are in the process of being implemented to drive that Inanimate Alice sense of ambiguity and mystery home even more. Most importantly, changing some colors and editing interactions will allow for the introduction to be a tutorial in how this experience will operate on a mechanical level. Taking advantage of every opportunity in this sense will allow for a much better experience overall.

Programming

As always, the team’s programmers have been hard work making sure everything is implemented. Specifically, strides were made to finish the first puzzle of Chapter 1 (as seen above with the actions of placing code in the computer). Finishing this puzzle also ensured that the inventory system is completed as well. With so much done, it was time to move to the second puzzle.

A quick prototype was mocked up for this puzzle with placeholder art to test these interactions:

With the foundation in place, more can now be built up. Next steps on the programming side include amplifying the inventory system by providing more details on the object if the player hovers their mouse over a said object, building out puzzles 2 and 3 for this chapter, and adding in more art assets.

Art

Great steps were done this week in pushing out not only necessary art assets but also ones that were high quality. For instance, more objects are now seen in the world that not only have key functions in our experience but also harken back to previous Inanimate Alice episodes while serving as a “trip down memory lane” for our protagonist.

Many art conversations revolved around keeping our visual language consistent throughout the experience. This is touched upon in the paragraph above regarding the introduction sequence but is now really crystalizing and more art is being discussed and created. For instance, a core question was always how do we represent digital attributes in these grounded environments? While we are always working towards that ultimate cohesion, seeing our Code Blocks in the build itself helps solidify these ideas and conversations.

While more narrative moments will aid in explaining these cubes, it is exciting to see bigger and bigger steps being made.

When it comes to art’s next steps, the key concept of polish and refinement still stands. the introduction and Chapter 1 will continue to receive attention while puzzle 2 will begin iteration. Finally, tackling the big aspect of visually representing “digital corruption” in our world will also be on the schedule.

Design / Narratative

Since Chapter 1 was outlined a few weeks ago, the team pressed on with how Chapter 2 will operate, specifically with the idea of “changing an object’s texture” in mind. To this end, brainstorming sessions occurred and will continue to be iterated on in the coming week.

On the refinement side, our writer met with Ian from the Inanimate Alice Research Group to discuss voice, tone, and receive overall feedback on the textual and narrative side of the project. While the direction and vision is still solid, more drafts are required to make sure everything fits just right.

Writing narrative and in-game text wasn’t the only written work that was done this week. The team started to draft a list of ideas facilitators and teachers can do outside of the experience to drive learning objectives home and bridge the education from digital experience to classroom setting. These activities follow the major principles other teachers have utilized when bringing Inanimate Alice episodes out of the computer and into the classroom. This document will continue to live and grow as we add to the list and get educator input on it.

Playtesting

Speaking of educator input, we were fortunate enough to have our build playtested this week! 11 students, ranging from 12-13 years old, were all able to get through our experience thus far and give us critical feedback necessary to continue forward.

However, getting ready for the playtest required some creative thinking. Not only were the students not allowed to be recorded, but they were also not allowed to install anything on their computers. To make matters more complicated, we learned that the bulk of student’s computers are Chromebooks which run on their own unique OS and therefore would not be compatible with the PC build we were striving for. Therefore, the team was forced to think creatively when it came to getting the experience in the hands of students for this playtest and future ones.

The solution turned out to be more simple than we initially thought. By exporting a WebGL build, we are able to utilize a hosting website such as simmer.io to allow our Unity project to be run online by anyone with the link. While there were some tweaks to be made (as the match from PC to WebGL is not 1:1), the process proved to be a success. With a hyperlink to our build accompanied by a pre and post-experience survey, we were ready to test.

The data we received proved interesting as well as comforting.

Interest in STEAM subjects was already remarkably high for this class. Fortunately, our experience did not deter their interest and even served to raise it slightly. In addition, students seem to find that their perception of coding changed afterward, and not in our favor. Digging to the root of this change will be a priority.

When it came to the designs of the puzzle as well as the narrative, it appears that we are on the right track. While we will strive to get those numbers better, it is a great boost to our confidence to see that students ultimately enjoyed the experience by being engaged and interested while not succumbing to the difficulty of it.

In short, Week 6 was filled with new advancements and new discoveries. The team plans on moving forward with current designs while using this and future playtest data to course-correct when necessary. With more students to playtest with and clients who are confident and proud of our progress, we plan on entering Week 7 and our Halves Presentation strong.