Research and project thoughts for Fall 2019 Semester
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
This blog post's goal is to address what type of research and project I would like to work on this semester. However, I feel that in order to address those details, I first would like to focus on how I can realistically scope my project, and learn from previous missteps in project scoping.
Previous projects this year
My first game was a group project made this year in Unity called The Lost Cosmonaut. The plan was for me to contribute with writing, level design (using pre-made 3D assets), and lighting to support the team leader's concept. However, my teammates did not anticipate how time consuming game development was, and I ended up taking on the project as a solo developer. In order to get the game playable in time for an event, I cut out most of their design ideas, and cut out virtually all of my writing ideas. I was very happy with the storytelling I did through (basic) level design and lighting, but I was very unhappy I had to cut my entire story outline. The project was too large for me to flesh out as a solo developer.
After that, I continued as a solo developer. I started creating prototypes for games in Unity that incorporated full motion video. In theory, I saw an opportunity to use my background as a filmmaker to have complete control over telling my own interactive stories without needing a team. However, I started to find a lot of inefficiency in working with video. When working with 3D models, I could easily adjust any aspect of my environment in realtime. With video, it was much more time consuming to have to re-record, re-edit, and re-export video files if I needed to make any changes to any segment.
I believe I am currently too inexperienced to properly plan and map out an interactive video project yet without a lot of time consuming reshooting. I also have been enjoying working in 3D.
These experiences bring me to where I am today, where I am experimenting with using interactive fiction tools such as Ren'Py that allow me to quickly embed placeholder visuals, audio, and write out text. This is appealing to me because it allows me to quickly prototype my ideas in ways that can be conveyed to others. I could see this being useful to either recruit additional team members to build an actual game, or to pitch the prototype at pitch events.
That being said, I would absolutely love to able to build out levels myself for my ideas. I can only rearrange existing assets in Unity currently, but my longer term to-do list is to learn Unreal Engine and Maya. I want to work in the industry, so I want to learn Maya moreso than Blender. I'm pretty sure learning level design for a game I am simultaneously writing/designing will be too much to take on in one semester, though.
The actual project elevator pitch! (finally!)
Putting aside scope, I am very interested in a game tentatively titled AirBNB Murder Mystery. It is a quirky first person 3D psychological horror game where the player must use real relaxation techniques (i.e. meditation, deep breathing, etc) in order to stay sane through a disturbing and disorienting journey inside an AirBNB apartment they are trapped inside of. Instead of focusing on combat, the game will focus on adventure game style mechanics that encourage environment exploration and puzzle solving.
Okay, so why the hell is this guy trapped inside an AirBNB apartment?! (Story setup)
You play as a highly anxious individual named Charlie who struggles with panic attacks. He is currently traveling far from home in order to attend a weekend of workshop seminars teaching relaxing meditation techniques.
Charlie is also struggling financially, and so he is spending his weekend in a cheap shared AirBNB apartment space. He has one key to one small private bedroom, but then shares the rest of the apartment with multiple other AirBNB guests.
The weekend starts well, until Charlie returns from the first day's seminar. He finds the key to his private bedroom doesn't work anymore - he is locked out! As he travels through the eerily empty apartment, he realizes even the front door is now jammed shut!
Charlie calls the AirBNB host, David. David tells Charlie he can arrive in 45 minutes to fix and unlock the doors for him. However, for Charlie, being left alone trapped inside a stranger's home is terrifying! He starts to hear strange noises and bumps from the floor above him, and works on calming himself down.
Charlie takes a shower to calm his nerves, but something seems off about the hot steam coming out of the shower.
He changes the shower's temperature to cold, but the 'steam' only continues to intensify and fill up the bathroom. He realizes what he is seeing isn't steam, but gas coming out of the shower.
He starts to hallucinate a disturbing creature (and/or shapes) directly in front of him in the shower. Naked and screaming, Charlie runs out of the bathroom into the kitchen. However, the same gas is now coming out of the kitchen sink and filling up the room.
Charlie continues to hallucinate the same creature coming for him, and the more gas fills the room, the more real his hallucinations become.
Eventually, Charlie digs deep and uses his relaxation techniques to calm himself down. The monster lunges at him, but instead of running, Charlie stares directly at the monster and takes a deep breath. The monster appears to attack Charlie, but Charlie is unharmed. After a long pause, the monster starts to dissipate in a cloud of gas. As the gas dissipates, the kitchen returns to normal.
As Charlie collects himself, he gets a call from David. David says he is delayed on his way there, but guides Charlie towards an unmarked door with a keypad in the kitchen. Charlie enters a code David gives him, and the door opens into a pitch black entryway. Charlie wonder if it is a small closet? A bedroom? More gas?!
Charlie refuses to go in, but David convinces him it's just a small closet with all of the backup keys for the apartment. If he walks forward, a motion sensor should turn the lights on, and all will be well.
Eventually, Charlie agrees and walks through the door into the darkness.
BAM. The door behind him slams shut. A click is heard of a lock engaging on the door's keypad. After a moment of silence standing in the dark, a bright light turns on, illuminating the new room.
The room is circular and massive in size. It defies logic how it could possibly connect to the AirBNB apartment.
Along the walls of the large circular room are numerous doors. Above each door is a plaque with a person's name on it. You start to hear banging and screaming from behind the doors, of people asking to be let out. You realize you are one of many AirBNBers who have been lured into a trap.
David starts explaining he has a job for you to do. You were the first person to ever survive his gas without passing out, so he wants you to start investigating the rooms of the trapped AirBNBers. He doesn't explain why, or what he wants you to do, but he says "As long as you can handle the gas, you'll be fine." And if Charlie is successful at helping David, Charlie might be allowed to leave this experience alive.
Charlie surveys the doors surrounding him, and decides upon which one to open first....
As initially mentioned, scope is my primary concern for any idea I have. I know this project is ambitious, so my current thoughts are the following -
1. Create an interaction fiction version, as mentioned, using Ren'Py or other similar tools using stock images to illustrate the visual concepts. (Like I have done in this blog post)
2. Spend the semester learning to build levels that would support my story and game design document.
3. Create a vertical slice that focuses on the relaxation mechanic. Use existing 3D assets and focus on creative ways to 'relax'. Working in VR could make this mechanic very fun. Downside is that this work is more programming centric, which is not my primary area of interest.
4. Work on something completely unrelated to this project, and leave AirBNB Murder Mystery as an option for my second year thesis project.
No matter what work I do, my goal is to create narrative driven projects with my own unique voice.
I am heavily inspired by designers such as Nina Freeman. While her games on their own were not major commercial successes, the critical acclaim her work received propelled to her getting noticed by companies and getting hired in the industry. I want to similarly create work to create my own 'brand', so to speak, in the hopes of becoming noticed by innovative narrative driven studios. Whether through narrative design, writing, level design, or other related avenues, I want to be part of a game's storytelling process.