Week 7

Workin’ (hard)

It wasn’t a very glamorous week here at the Prism office, but it was a productive one. With an established design and a prototype that by all indications was on the right track, the team forged ahead and continued to refine and iterate, building on what was already working and starting to layer in some complexity.

Story continues to be a focus. With the forest facing an impending crisis due to climate change (what hot-button issue WON’T we touch?), the wise owl and the majestic wolf reach out to the earnest fox about inspiring all the forest animals to come together and build a dam. (Where are the beavers, you ask? We are asking the same questions.) The catch is, of course, that the fox is a nocturnal animal and will have to navigate the forest during daylight hours, which will present challenges to its sensory capabilities as well as putting it in unfamiliar and confusing social situations. Will the fox be able to survive and help save the forest? Well, duh. But it’s how it gets to that point that will be the meat (no animal pun intended) of our experience. Through the sensory and social experiences the player (and fox) has, and in conjunction with a discussion facilitated by teachers afterwards, we hope to make a real impact on how children understand people with autism.

On the programming front, it was a sobering reminder that a small bug can be be a big pain. At one point, when we were trying to playtest one of our new features, the latest build was unable to load in a web browser. The progress bar would fill up about three quarters of the way and then just hang there, without ever loading the game. It took nearly an entire day for our programmers to ferret out the culprit—it was an XML-related issue that was solved by creating and using a TextAsset field, which probably has something to do with text assets, judging by its name. At any rate, the bug was vanquished and playtesting could proceed.

We playtested internally at the ETC to allow our fellow students to test out our soothing mechanic that was discussed last week. Our classmates had their first opportunity to see our game in progress and navigate the fox around the world and attempt to self-soothe when the sensory overload kicked in. The results of testing were interesting, if inconclusive; while some responded as we hoped, one of our testers actually luxuriated in the distorted imagery and unpleasant soundscape, and wished there could be more of it. We definitely intend to test this mechanic out with target age children as well before we make any final decisions on its utility.

By the end of next week, the team intends to have several of the in-game scenarios near-complete as we head into our mid-semester break. Onward and upward!