a part of the Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center grad school program for a Masters in Entertainment Technology, one of the major courses is Building Virtual Worlds. In this course, we are put in groups usually consisting of 2 Programmers, 2 Artists, and 1 Sound Designer. We were then given a brief prompt, hardware requirements, and 1-2 weeks to make a virtual experience. These weeks are deemed “rounds”, and every round we were given a new team, prompt, requirements, and set off to make another thing. And another. And another.
Round 1 was an interesting one, especially since it was the first. We were all still getting to know each other both personally and professionally. This was a learning process on many levels for all of us.
The first prompt our team received was that “Character A is afraid of Character B, and the Guest (player/user) has to help Character A”. My mind raced with narrative ideas, but not so much with design ones. After all, this was unfamiliar territory in terms of hardware. Regardless, I mocked up some simple mechanics and interactions as I sat in class. Our group met immediately after class, and I started pitching away. We landed on the concept of protecting a small alien from an evil invasion through the use of a hammer to squash the oncoming hordes.
While this concept was simple enough, the hardware we were assigned proved to be one of our major obstacles. Magic Leap, an Augmented Reality device, has an extremely limited field of view. While colors are bright and vibrant on the device, the goggles work best when viewing a world from afar as opposed to going up close and examining the details. Unfortunately, having a tool such as a hammer lends itself to being up and close and personal with the experience you are in. Even after learning this, we continued forward.
At the halfway point, we presented our current build of the project to receive critique and feedback. Up until this point, the team was strictly focused on making sure the core loop (smashing things with the hammer) feel good. Having something “feel good” was a lesson in and of itself, but then the question arose of “what does that mean?” We answered that question by providing as many modes of feedback as possible when the guest uses the hammer. Some examples of this included another model for a squished enemy, sparks flying out when the hammer collides with something, a solid sound effect for said collision, and utilizing the vibration of the controller so one could literally feel the hit. From a design standpoint, this was a big lesson for me in terms of utilizing as many of the senses as possible to get the guest engaged on every level. However, some big points of concern were a potential lack of an interest curve as well as a narrative to tie it all together.
Another lesson learned during this project was the importance of a solid interest curve, which in short is a way to keep your guests engaged through the use of highs and lows. Roller-coasters are a great real-world example of interest curves, as there is sometimes a pause in the madness before the big upside-down loop. Playing with this level of intensity makes for a more fun experience overall. This was a question that lingered with the group for a while: how can we create a solid interest with the basic usage of a swinging an object? Our answer proved to be one that was tried and true: phases of gameplay. We structured our game so:
- Use a hammer to smash bugs on the ground.
- Obtain a new weapon; a blade. Use this blade to slice bugs in the air.
- Use both weapons to take on bugs on the ground as well as in the air.
In between these phases, our little alien buddy who you were protecting would give insight into the next phase. Furthermore, the action would cease as the alien was talking to the guest. On top of the structured phases and slightly varied gameplay, having the action come to a halt as the phases changed aided in creating the interest curve we needed while simultaneously providing a narrative through-line to follow.
Overall, I could not have asked for a stronger team for my first foray into BVW.
Programmers = Ram Iyer & Shengyao Xiao
Artists = Xinxiu Zhong & Mingzhi Cai
Sound Designer = Lawrence Plofker