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Major Project #2 - game design, cognitive process and storytelling

Aktualizacja: maj 12

As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to create a game for my final project. I started by researching the different types of video games and what mechanics/main actions they include. Of course, it's not enough to say that a game is simply "a platformer". Game developers often mix genres and they combine different attributes from different types of games.

Personally, I don't really like playing racing or shooting games, and I usually pick the one with open-world or strong storytelling behind. Considering my previous project, for which I've done a text-game with simulator and adventure elements, I decided to stick to a similar vibe. Indie games are also something that I particularly like because of the creativity and I always admire how small teams can create something so entertaining.

Deciding on what sort of a game I want to design was challenging as different genres give different possibilities in terms of design and storytelling. I had to have a strong focus on what I want to present: a game that, to some extent, would influence people.

I started exploring the indie scene, taking a look at a few high-rated examples. Hollow Knight is one of the most popular platformers from the past few years. Its aesthetic is very distinctive and the world and atmosphere draw players in and it is quite immersive. Another example can be Celeste, considered to be One of the Best Games of 2018. Again, a 'simple platformer' intrigues people with its aesthetic, interesting characters and narrative. It also challenges players in some of the levels, as they need to think of clever ways of passing the obstacles. The game Limbo is also a big influence on my project. Not only its story throughout the whole game is very captivating but also the open-ending leaves players with strong emotions. This is also something I'll be thinking of implementing to my game.

Following my research, I knew that implementing some sort of storytelling and adventure would be essential to make the game interesting. Showing a different way of perceiving the world and mixing it with mythology (which I want to do research on) requires interacting with the game and the story itself. Genres like racing, shooting or fighting games weren't on top of my list. I focused my attention more on RPG or adventure game. Adding to that my personal preferences and lack of experience in 3D design, I decided to go for a narrative-driven 2D game. Taking into consideration my skillset and researching the indie game scene, I decided to go for a platform game, possibly with the elements of a point and click game (all depends on the final narrative and if I decide to develop the exploration aspect of the game). It allows players to interact with the game easily, they also don't need to have a lot of experience in gaming to actually understand the game's purpose and mechanics.

I am this type of person whom without the general outline of the whole project struggles in the beginning. This is exactly why I had two different stories ready which were only a starting point for me. In the later stage of the designing process, I will probably mix some elements taken from both of them to create one, final narrative to implement in the game. In both of the stories, I had a short background story written for the main character to be able to create in-between animations which would be explaining the story a little bit more to the players.

  1. It will be about an injured fox lying in a den, whose unique and discolored eye has plagued her with visions of things not there, leading her to be ostracized from her family. These visions will lead her on a journey where she will meet other creatures influenced by Native American folklore.

  2. A girl, falls asleep, in her bed. As she was falling asleep, she suddenly felt like she was falling. She wakes up in a different version of a world she knows. The game shows her journey where she's running away from a mythical creature. In the end, she ends up in the room with a person right in the middle, but she doesn't know who it is even though they seem familiar. She feels the urge to touch their hand and then she was awake, but everything was white. (open ending)

Both of the stories were inspired by literature and mythology. Me, as a big fan of Neil Gaiman, especially his book "Neverwhere", I wanted to implement the idea of perceiving the world in a different way than other people. It will also corollate with my research on synesthesia I did before. When it comes to games, I took inspiration from games like "Limbo" and "Kentucky Route Zero", because of its strong storyline and dark and mysterious aesthetic. Both of these games are quite simple, as one of them is a platformer and the other is a point-and-click game (focused more on the exploration aspect).

I also did a quick research to find inspiration to better visualize my idea. As I am planning to create everything by myself, including the character designs, worlds, and in-between animations, I wanted to go for a simple 2D visuals. I will focus more on the lighting and a doodle/drawing style so that any imperfections in terms of visual smoothness won't be as noticeable.

Cognition in Game Design

The cognitive process of designing a game begins with an idea. Sometimes it is a concept that we want to translate into play; sometimes it is a gameplay that we want to turn into the concept. The process of turning such ideas into palpable material, which then becomes a game, is composed of several journeys of thought and specification back and forth between these two extremes. Filling the space in between with concepts that break down the design of a game into working parts is the core of this article, as seen in the next section.

Before jumping into a cognition strictly in relation to game design, it's worth mentioning where this term came from - a social cognitive theory (SCT) which is used in psychology and communication. It was created by Albert Bandura and the theory states that "people do not learn new behaviors solely by trying them and either succeeding or failing, but rather, the survival of humanity is dependent upon the replication of the actions of others. Depending on whether people are rewarded or punished for their behavior and the outcome of the behavior, the observer may choose to replicate behavior modeled." The social cognitive elements in CGBD are basically incorporated from Bandura’s (2004, 2006) SCT of health promotion, which outlines five elements necessary for health-related behavior change: Knowledge, self-efficacy, goals, outcome expectations, facilitators, and impediments.

While doing research, it became clear that to designing a successful game, developers need to understand some basic aspects of psychology. I found out that there are two main methods of creating a game, top-down process, and bottom-up process. Because I already started by having stories in the beginning, my process definitely reminds of a top-down one more.

Because of the whole virus situation, we currently have only remote classes and this Friday, we had the first feedback session on Slack. I briefly explained my thought process, presented my potential stories and explained what I am planning to do as my final outcome. The feedback was overall positive, most people said that the first story about the fox is much stronger than the other one so this one will probably be the one I will go for. Some of the comments made me realize that my struggle with picking a game genre is unnecessary as I can actually combine both a platformer with point-and-click elements to allow more exploration in-game.

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