Ph.D. Adventures!

Honoring My Accomplishments (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 6)

TLDR:

Decided to write. Caught up in grading for TA/TM responsibilities. Got very important house issues resolved. Helped kiddos with their schoolwork.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I considered skipping this week’s write-up because even though I did a lot, it wasn’t anything I felt I wanted to report on, and those things I would like to report on I didn’t get to. However, some weeks are just like that and I believe IT’S PERFECTLY OKAY! I want to acknowledge my accomplishments and honor my efforts.

There were several days last week that I woke up and knew I would just be on from morning until bedtime and that I didn’t have time for my self and goal dailies nor my workout. Some weeks and days are just like that! My advisor was clutch in helping me being able to manage my workload by taking on one of my shepherding teams for the VR course.

  • Research: read up on conceptual models and have considered a few for my theory.
  • TA: Completed grading of first large programming assignment — The professor thanked me for my hard work
  • TM: Did a bunch of assignment grading, course organization, project shepherding, and student calming.
  • Got our house warranty people to take us seriously. I requested a new representative who would take care of us and be professional and polite and now we get to work with their sales rep whom we’ve had very good experiences with. He got the important things taken care of for us right away.

I’ve been helping my daughter with her schoolwork, like helping her study for a test late last night. This last week I helped her make a board game and we both independently named it “Kittyland.” She’s a fairly good designer so I mostly helped her organize her ideas and get started. Here is her game design sketch and final product:

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Look into the publishing venue Rogelio mentioned to me last week.
  • Do grading for TM and TA
  • Return to my dailies and working out
  • Honor my accomplishments
  • Put these todos on my TODO board!

Roadblocks

Right now I feel good, but I now motivation is difficult.

Learning how to organize my time so I can do my research, TA/TM responsibilities, goals, help with kiddos’ schoolwork, work on my projects/hobbies, and still have fun. I think I’m starting to hit my stride, and then I have to deal with a house crisis, or a kiddo school task. Being the mama is a lot of work. I’m kinda tired.

Here’s a serious roadblock though that I think is important to discuss: I have been very sad, dare I say depressed, this past week. I broke down and cried multiple times. There are some people in my house that are also very sad, possibly depressed, and as the leader I feel a responsibility to help them as much as I can. They are of course responsible for their own happiness, but I have felt it weigh very heavily on me this last week, and it made me very sad. It’s a roadblock because it’s important to deal with these serious emotions and that takes time too.

Ph.D. Adventures!

Joyful Movement (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 5)

TLDR:

Found a whole bucket load of papers on cognitive load and cognitive load theory. It will take a while to dig through and find some key papers, but I have some ideas. Had a great conversation with Rogelio about how to model and talk about the theory. Started working out! My daughter started M-Th school yesterday and it’s been great so far!

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I had no idea when I went looking for cognitive load papers that I was going to open pandora’s box! My goodness! Loads of research! The hard thing will be just locating the paper(s) that will explain the theory and be a backbone for mine.

Rogelio and I talked a lot about creating models, something visual that explains the theory, and taxonomony, something verbal that we can call these things we know about but don’t know how to discuss. So I’m going to be doing reading in other areas to find vernacular that we can borrow from.

There is a LOT of grading I have to do this week. It is a little overwhelming and… if I’m being honest, grading isn’t my favorite task. It’s why I don’t want to ever teach a writing or reading and essay writing course: it takes so long to grade and you don’t always get a TA.

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Read up on types of models
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
  • Continue with self and goal dailies, as well as working out
  • Do grading for TM and TA

Roadblocks

Motivation and time to grade. :/

Doing the hybrid and homework thing with my kids takes up wa-ay more time than expected. My husband and I discussed homeschooling the kids this year and I told him that if that’s what he really wanted me to do I could do it if I dropped out of my Ph.D. program, because I know from spring semester that I would not be able to keep up. He is supportive of me pursuing my Ph.D. so we put the kids back in school (the best decision for the mental health of our daughter, and myself, I believe). But they are still home, or have been, more than 50% of the time and the teachers haven’t made it easy for us. So I feel I am constantly behind on everything. I’m really stressed, but only about keeping up with grading. Also, we are all struggling, and my professors have been giving me things to grade on days that I don’t have time to grade and asking me to prioritize that grading that day is a little much to handle, so I don’t. Might get me in trouble, but I can’t do everything.

Extras

Adding in the Movement

Been loving my self and goal dailies so much so that I felt I could make the time to workout again, finally. I know, it sounds terrible, but I didn’t have the space in my home, nor the time or care to really make working out a priority last year. It is really nice to be working out again and I have a much healthier attitude about it than ever before I think. It’s okay to not push myself to injury, I can still enjoy myself, and it’s okay to miss a day, or two (or three!), because I’m doing my best and I give God the rest. It’s been really energizing, and reenergizing, to move in a way that makes me happy and honor my body by taking the time for joyful movement again.

Things Keep a Changing!

My daughter started M-Th school and I have to say that it is going great. She liked that her older brother didn’t start that this week because he got to walk her to the bus stop. Thank goodness because she forgot her mask and older brother had to run, neigh, SPRINT home to retrieve her mask before the bus arrived.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of Jr and High School, those schools won’t be starting M-Th school until November. However, I think it works out better that at least it is my son home and not my daughter as she needs more in-person contact for her happiness, and my son will do better at home without his sister constantly distracting him, and visa versa. So it all works out.

Game Dev Adventures!, Ph.D. Adventures!

I don’t wanna! (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 4)

TLDR:

PICKED A DIRECTION FOR MY RESEARCH THIS SEMESTER!!!!! I am going to work on writing a theory paper. I’m really excited. I also started doing 5 (instead of 15) minute goal dailies and continued my 3 minute self dailies which have really helped me manage my mood and stay a lot happier. I joined the GradSWE committee.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I realized late in the week that I didn’t want to do an assignment from my advisor, Dr. Rogelio, so it stopped me in my tracks on all things research. Finally, I decided to just start working on my research by doing what I want to do, doing something is better than nothing, and I got myself organized and started to get to work on my theory paper! It’s been so much FUN! I feel that my math degree was a long time ago, so I don’t remember a lot of details about how to solve specific problems. However, I am very good at how to solve problems and write proofs. It feels like I get to write one long proof which sounds very fun to me.

I had a math professor tell us that mathematicians spend months, even years or decades and a whole lot of paper trying to solve a problem, and then when they do they come out of their closets, he mimed a mathematician pointing to a paper, and they say, “See, it’s easy! It’s only six lines!” I’m in the closet phase of the research paper. That’s the fun part.

I also started programming again on a game which my Dad commissioned me to make back in 2014 (I made five whole dollars!). I made it in Unity 5, so I wanted to bring it up to date. I haven’t been able to get it updated to Unity 2019 LTS (Long Term Support), however after a week’s worth of work I was able to bring it up to 2018 LTS, though I am getting two errors in that version the game still works. It was quite the process. I tried porting it directly from 5 to 2019 but it was packed with errors. So then I ported it to 2017, made some updates, then 2018, made some updates, and finally last night I ported it to 2018 LTS, and made some updates!

My next step is to download an older version of 2019 and see if I can get the game working in that version of Unity. If I can do that it should be a much simpler task to update it to 2019 LTS. If that doesn’t work quickly I will be moving on to programming some new features for the fun casual game. I just heard about a competition that Unity is running and I might need to update it to 2020 even. It is unclear right now what I need to do for it, but I’ll make the changes as necessary.

I also took some time and drew out several design pages for the game. There is a lot I could add. So my next step on that one is to pick the most important features I want/need to add to the game, an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) if you will and implement them so I have something to submit to the competition.

I didn’t have a strong desire to participate in SWE, but when I heard about GradSWE, and after talking with the president, I decided to join the committee. I’m excited to see where it takes me.

What’s next

  • Do the programming assignment from my advisor
  • Theory paper:
    • Find papers for background information
    • Continue building my list of mapping items
  • Continue with 3 min self dailies
  • Complete all items on my 5 min goal dailies

Roadblocks

I just need to do something I don’t want to do. I am kind of tired of writing algorithms that already exist in every game engine I will ever use, when what I really want to be doing is programming gameplay. I’m not saying it isn’t valuable to program these things, I’m just saying, I don’t wanna! Ha ha!

Extras

5 minute goal dailies

I just couldn’t get myself to even start on 15 minutes. It just felt so daunting. With six items on my list (research/writing, game development, learn interesting topic, challenge programming problems, a fun crafting project (I have a whole bin of started and want to start projects!), and then do ANYTHING F-U-N), doing 15 minutes each is 1.5 hours.

After not even doing a single thing on my list I finally decided to just start with five minutes, which would mean I would complete them all in 30 minutes, and voilà! I started on them! The idea is to spend at least five minutes and then up to 15 minutes on each item. However, I ended up spending 15, 30, even 60 minutes or more on the first two items and so found myself only getting to one or two of the other items on my list. But as the other items on my list were less urgent for me to get to, it was a good start!

The BEST news!

My daughter and son have been going to school on Mondays and Wednesdays and have been remote the other days. Well, next week my daughter starts M-Th in-person school, and the following week my son will be doing M-Th in-person school as well. I’m super excited! My daughter said she was more excited than me, but I’m not so sure… 😉

Ph.D. Adventures!

The Craziness Continues! (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Weeks 1-3)

TLDR:

Moved into a new home (Week one)! Unpacked (Week two-three) and got sick but then got better. 🙂 Did TA/TM stuff. Need to pick a direction for my research.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

My accomplishments for school are strictly for my TA/TM positions where I’ve done miscellaneous tasks for my professors and completed some grading.

I moved into a new house (happened at end of week one), have completed 10/15 tasks on my goal sheet for the house (including hung pictures/artwork!), and I am all unpacked, my kids are nearly unpacked also.

I am also finally feeling better!

What’s next

  • Pick a direction for research and start moving in that direction.
  • Start doing a minimum of 15 minutes of writing on school days (M-F)

Roadblocks

I’m still unsure whether choosing to TA was a wise choice and if I should have chosen an hourly research position instead. However, I think I should just be glad that I have a good Professor who supports my academic, professional, and personal goals and stop second-guessing myself. So far I’ve enjoyed TAing and learned a little bit too. So… I guess I just worked through that roadblock.

I am unsure what direction I should be going for my research, though I have several ideas. I need to pick one and start with it.

When I talked to Munzer he told me that we all feel unsure of our next steps in research, so that made me feel better. 🙂

Extra: Self-Care

Something that my first year as a Ph.D. student taught me is that I need to make time for self-care. During Spring 2020 semester that meant waking up and playing games for an hour before classes and work. This semester it means something a little different. This last week I created a 30 minute morning self improvement schedule. It includes three minutes of meditation, working out, reading a self-help book, affirmations, gratitude, scripture study, journal writing, prayer, etc. I get quite a few things done in those 30 minutes and it improves my mood so much. Even after an argument with my daughter this morning, which would usually keep me reeling for hours afterwards, I quickly brushed it off and was able to work on other things. I’ve made several tweaks to this regimen, but just doing it is what is important! It’s so nice to start my day off with meditation and end it with gratitude and some fun reading!

I also created an hour routine for doing self-care and goal projects which includes: research/writing, game development, a fun creative project, and learning a fun topic (something I just want to learn that may or may not have anything to do with school or research). I want to start implementing that starting today. Will need to report on that next week.

Cool Stuff!

Summer Camps — Continue Learning Resources

Hey, kiddos!

I loved having you in my camps. Below you’ll find the resources I mentioned for continuing to learn. Keep creating!

Beginning Programmers

More Advanced Game Making and Game Design

Youtube Channels on Game Development

Unity Game Engine

  • Unity Learning (projects and tutorials from Unity)
  • You can also access Unity Learning from the Unity Hub > Learn tab
  • Unity on youtube

Blogs

  • Gamasutra (advanced, blog for game developers)
  • NancyGames! (You’re already here! Game design, developement, and meaningful play)

 

Experimental Games, Game Dev Adventures!

Making “To Save or NOT to Save…”

Play this game! Instructions on the portfolio page.

GameCapture_Achievement

To Save or NOT to Save is an ethical dilemma game where player decisions create game-world consequences which the avatar is forced to experience. Careful your decisions! They are not free!

Inspiration

This was an experimental game made in a week based on a theme from the board game mechanic of push-your-luck. 

I’m not a fan of push-your-luck games (though admittedly there are a few I enjoy). I came up with a few ideas, but they were even duller than the versions of push-your-luck games I didn’t like. None of the ideas excited me or seemed thrilling. As the game was for an assignment, and I could “free pass” once in the class I thought about using that up for this one where I felt so dispassionate about the theme. But I wanted to challenge myself. I thought about an experimental game made by a previous experimenter, Sydney, in which she combined two genres she didn’t like either (idle clicker and match three) which turned out fairly interesting. I thought then, “What would a cross between push-your-luck and a runner look like?”

What I Did: Lucky Running

My first thought was, “What if you were a runner and had to pick up a bunch of somethings as you ran, but as you picked them up they obscured your screen? How about that something was bunnies (because they’re cute!) you need to save, and if you don’t pick them up it kills them?” When I pitched the idea to a friend she said she’d just kill the bunnies. So I thought, “Fine. Kill the bunnies, but blood splatter is going to obscure your screen anyway!”

Either way, you end up with a covered screen the longer you play. The only difference is that the bunnies don’t go away after you’ve picked them up, but the blood splatter does go away slowly over time. If you want your screen to be full of blood you have to keep killing. So evil!

To add depth to the ethical choice presented to players to save or kill the bunnies: I added judgments based on their behavior.

 

As far as camera and perspective went: I found the 3D avatar in the standard assets of Unity and was a bit enamored by him. I liked moving side to side and even backward with the basic camera I made for him and knew that a basic runner wouldn’t fit this movement. So to give the sense of urgency (which also plays into the narrative of impending danger) that comes with a true runner, I added a timer. If you fall off the edge or when your timer runs out, you get passed judgment. Then the game restarts.

I spent more time on this 7-day game than previous 7-day development games because I stepped out of my comfort zone to try something different and experiment with styles of games I haven’t really made before. I’m happy with the end result, though it’s not my personal favorite of the games I’ve created. But it does get immediate laughs, which at the end of the day was what I was going for, and I enjoyed working on the project.

What I Learned

Something unexpected was just how fun it was to play with an obscured screen that doesn’t clear up but only gets messier the longer you play. I think the bloodiest juiciest part of the game was the obstruction to the screen.

However, the re-playability increased when I added the judgments based on the player’s behavior. In playtesting: the obstruction of the screen and killing of bunnies got quick laughs, but people kept re-playing to see what judgments befell them based on their choices.

“I love designing games that are ‘Pick up and play!'”

I originally planned on making the game a 1st person game, but after seeing this cool looking dude I was intrigued and made it a 3rd person game. Other playtesters were also intrigued by this character who clearly doesn’t fit in this world. He’s gray and colorless, while the world around him is full of color, including the effects of “his” decisions.

With concern to the perspective, I don’t believe 1st/3rd really made a difference in gameplay, but I do believe the simple camera I made did. Though the camera moved in all directions, unlike a typical 1st/3rd person camera, it didn’t follow the player in the rotation. This added to the obscurity of the world as you couldn’t rotate the camera around to achieve different viewpoints from different angles, but could only move side-to-side to possibly see between the cracks. Moving backward is particularly difficult, and it adds to the fun. Camera controls are also one of, if not the hardest mechanic for new, and even more experienced players, to master even in well-designed games. Thus a natural consequence to the player not being able to control camera angles is that it actually makes the game easier to pick up and play, which is my thing: I love designing games that are “Pick up and play!” But that doesn’t make the game any easier to master, nor does it detract from the experience. In my opinion, simple cameras add to the experience by removing a layer of complexity in controls from the player. It’s why I think side scrollers, 2.5D, and other fixed rotation cameras are so popular: it’s not about the camera! It’s about game experience.

Ideas for further development

“The level I created was very basic and meant to merely communicate a basic idea: obstruction and an ethical choice.”

Game Level Design: Adding Life

Though I think this game works as an endless “runner,” I think it would work best as a procedural level based game. With a few crafted game level pieces (and by a few I mean probably 20), and a creative procedural level creation algorithm, I think interesting levels could be made at every reload thus increasing the re-playability of the game.

Adding to the depth of the world by creating an environment for bunnies to live and hide in (more on that below) by creating a space for the bunnies to be unaware of the danger that the player is trying to save from, or add to, would immerse the player more in the world.

And of course, adding to the life of the bunnies by making them move, breathe, eat, (poop?), and react to the player based on the player’s decision. Giving them a voice through audio and reaction would make them so much more real and make the decision the player makes have that much more weight. In games like Skyrim — which presents you with ethical decisions — when you see the consequences of your decisions you feel more connected to those things: it becomes an ethical consequence and although in a virtual world, it still shapes the way you feel about the decision and even yourself.

I could add other animals or environmental threats, but I think keeping it simple would play on the thing I want to push on the most better.

Pushing on Obstruction and Ethical Choice

The level I created was very basic and meant to merely communicate a basic idea: obstruction and an ethical choice. I think the combination of choice and obstruction played well together. It would be interesting to push on those ideas combined more.

“To play on ethical decisions in games it’s not enough to merely present the player with a decision. You must also provide a consequence to that decision. Their choice must not be without consequence.”

I think the combination of choice and obstruction played well together. It would be interesting to push on those ideas together more.

To push the on-screen obstruction

I had wanted to make the placement of the obstruction random but ran out of time, but that would be the first thing I’d add. Also, on the technical side, the size of the obstruction would need to be scaled properly with the screen resolution.

An interesting idea that was pitched was actually having the bunnies take up space around the character instead of on the screen. It would still obstruct the player’s view, but I think a more interesting and immersive way.

To add interesting gameplay ethical decisions…

To play on ethical decisions in games it’s not enough to merely present the player with a decision. You must also provide a consequence to that decision. Their choice must not be without consequence.

Good

I could add making it more difficult to pick up bunnies the more bunnies you’ve picked up (even adding the chance of accidentally dropping them and killing them that way), could even make player slower the more bunnies that are collected. But on the flip side I (with the basic game addition of slow-moving pace for the bunnies), to make it easier to save them the bunnies to come to the player. Screen obstruction could increase by making the screen could become lighter and brighter the more bunnies are saved. If you manage to save all the bunnies (Is that a challenge?) it could be a fun bright-out moment! The player could further witness what they’ve saved the bunnies from: or what they’ve left the bunnies they were unable, or unwilling, to save, were left to.

Evil

On the reverse, after adding a base slow-moving pace for the bunnies, I could make the bunnies faster and even attempt to avoid the player the more bunnies the player killed, especially when the player is clearly intentionally killing bunnies. As an additional threat, the murdered bunnies could come back to haunt the player. Player’s insanity could increase shown by a blurred screen, tinted red of course. The more insane, the blurrier the screen. If you manage to kill all the bunnies (Is that a challenge?) there could be a red-out moment with the player witnessing what they’ve done.

Conflicted

A lot of the game results are based on the difference of choice: a scale if you will, between these ethical choices. But what if the scale was basically equal? The bunnies become unsure to trust you or hide from you. Maybe some of the bunnies you managed to already save try to get away, maybe some you haven’t come to you. And your insanity is the highest because of the conflict. The screen could glitch with black and white and red. I mean, you got problems, so it could also become increasingly more difficult to control your avatar and his decisions as your insanity takes over!

Platform Porting

“I think… the biggest issue with mobile games [is] when the game designer/developer doesn’t design gameplay mechanic input specifically for the device they are targeting.”

I think this would play well on mobile devices, perhaps better than on the PC where players are looking for more immersive, longer gameplay. This game is more about a quick experience which most mobile players look for. But to play well on mobile the controls would need to be modified. I think that’s the biggest issue with mobile games: when the game designer/developer doesn’t design gameplay mechanic input specifically for the device they are targeting. But with a few purposefully designed tweaks to gameplay mechanic input, I think this game would work beautifully on a tablet or phone.

Possible mobile gameplay mechanics

  • Maybe a single tap rotates through the speed of the player (stop, walk, run), OR add a single speed uncontrolled by the player in the forward vector (for the direction the avatar is facing)
  • Drag to change the direction of avatar movement
  • Make the quick time event a quick double-tap (if using a single speed), or a swirl.
  • Jump (unnecessary in this very basic, experiment of concept level, but would work well in a platformer with either crafted or procedural levels) could be a quick swipe.

 

Experimental Games, Game Dev Adventures!

Making “Tech Escape: If You Can!”

Play this game! Instructions in the portfolio.

DankRoom

Inspiration

Theme: Feature a Keyboard

I was tasked with making a game featuring a keyboard. After several failed experiments I realized the game I wanted to make wasn’t so much about showing a keyboard in the game but having the avatar use a keyboard in the game. A gamebook was the perfect solution!

A few weeks back my boss suggested I make a game about trying to exit from Vim properly. The idea intrigued me so I filed it away. When I was tasked to make a game featuring a keyboard this idea came back to me.

Development Journey

I struggled a bit with making this game. I kept playing with 3D objects in Unity, but never really made a game. I thought about making different games, but I knew that I really wanted to make a game based on the Vim idea. It wasn’t until I realized that I didn’t need the player a keyboard in order to feature it that I finally came across the right game engine: Quest. Even then I ended up choosing the wrong game type (text adventure), but it was because I felt that a gamebook was too simple.

I had envisioned a game with open-ended input. But when I realized that that was really just making an infinite multiple choice, I realized that simplifying the choices didn’t break the idea of the game: to tell a story. And that was best suited in the gamebook type.

After that, the game came together rather quickly. I have always enjoyed writing (if you couldn’t tell by my blog), and was even a professional writer and editor for a while. It was nice to get back to something I enjoy in a creative way and be making a game at the same time.

As far as narrative goes I was really aiming for the player to step into the shoes of a dumb character.

Cool Things I Learned

“…It’s important to use a game engine that is designed to support the type of game you are aiming to make.”

I think the biggest thing I learned is, don’t shove a game idea into a specific game engine/platform. That was what was holding me up the most. My game simply didn’t fit into Unity nor a text adventure. Which the first felt strange to me as I’ve never made a game before that I felt wouldn’t work in Unity. Now that’s not to say that I couldn’t have made the game in Unity, but I think it’s important to use a game engine that is designed to support the type of game you are aiming to make. Once I found the correct engine the game came together quickly and I got to play with what I really wanted to make!

“To feature something in a game you don’t have to actually see it!”

To feature something in a game you don’t have to actually see it! This stretched my mind! I got stuck on the idea of showing a keyboard in my game, but when I finally stepped back and let the avatar be the one to see and use the keyboard that’s when I hit gold.

“There’s a difference between a bad player and a dumb character.”

There’s a difference between a bad player and a dumb character. I think the hardest part of designing and writing this game was the balance between the player playing a dumb character (what I was aiming for) and the player feeling dumb (not what I wanted). I think in a couple spots this could have been improved. For instance, I could have allowed the player to select the correct choice, but the avatar still messes it up. Or instead of giving correct answers each time, I could have given just part of the answer, letting the player pick the part that is right, and allowing the character to mess it up. This was a fun challenge, and since the game is entirely text-based the game design had to come out in the narrative after the choices were made. That’s also where the narrator comes in.

I wanted the narrator to break the fourth wall, so to speak, to add humor, but also to show the player that they are different from the character they are controlling. I felt very quickly into making this gamebook that I was writing a story similar to the game The Stanley Parable. That was the feel I was going for in this experiment.

Ideas for Future Development

I like keeping this game in the text version. So I would fill it up with more narrative. The quest engine also allows for adding audio and images, even videos. I think it would be neat to add those in as well. I think the biggest design detail though would be to keep that distance between the player and the avatar while still allowing the player inside the character’s shoes.

If I made it graphical (which I would do after filling in more of the narrative to test out more ideas in an easier to develop and iterate environment), I would have physical things that the player could do (like pound on the keyboard), visual payoffs (like cool effects when answering correctly), and adding some eerie music, and of course some creepy critters…

Experimental Games, Game Dev Adventures!

Making “Prideful Eyes”

Game download and play instructions in the portfolio.

PridefulEyes_Splash

Inspiration

Theme: Pride

(as in the most deadly sin)

This is the first time that I was given a theme and couldn’t come up with a single idea! Literally! I could have spent the entire week just trying to come up with an idea! When I asked my Dad what kind of game with pride I should make, he suggested a game about lions. Thanks, Dad.

Luckily a game idea that my brother had pitched me last year came to mind, just like it does every week when my bro says, “Why haven’t you made my game yet?” Well, I still haven’t. But his game pitch got me going on this game.

Development Journey

I started with the main character. Since you were a shadow that means that light destroyed you. So light was the prideful enemy.

I also chose to go with a simple camera again. This was a slight variation of the camera from To Save or Not to Save. I did play with making the camera rotate, but I found It distracted from the lights, the theme (pride), and made me a little dizzy. That last one aside, I really liked the idea of thinking you only need to see what’s in front of you, but if you’re not careful the lights come from behind and get you! It made the gameplay more fun with this simple camera.

Initially, I had a bunch of blocks that you could move around to stay hidden from the light (being hit by light = death). But in the process of game development, and with my level design, I soon found that it was more fun to use the blocks to mutually destroy the light.

Next was the light. I wanted it to look dark without being dark so I made it red in a dark blue reality. I also wanted the player to see the light in effect searching for the shadow to destroy it. Originally I had it shooting out four spheres — one in each nautical direction. The plan was to have the main light rotate (you can’t tell, by it is rotating the entire time), and have it fire out these search spheres every 0.5-6.5 seconds. Then a happy accident happened: to track the search spheres I made them children them to my mother light. Since the mother light is rotating, once the search sphere shoots out it begins to rotate around the center on an ever-increasing outward projection: a circular movement outwards. The effect took me quite happily by surprise. If I had been intending this behavior I’m not sure I could have achieved it, but this happy accident gave life and interest to my enemy light in a way I could not have predicted.

I wanted the whole feel of the game to be dark. Not creepy, but strange to the player. Light, which normally gives us hope, and life, the enemy. As a shadow, your very existence depends on light, but too much light and you are nothing. So rather than use a nighttime sky to place my character in a world, I thought, “Why be in a world at all?” So I added a galaxy skybox to make the game feel unworldly.

Cool Things I Learned

On the scene reload my scene was very dark, unplayably so, and got darker each reload. This is because I had a lot of dark, baked lighting. Layer that all on top of each other and it keeps getting darker and darker. The solution is to turn off auto-generated lighting. This youtube video was helpful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-aUMLdIxRY

Childing objects is an easy way to get cool effects. Since my child lights were ever moving forward in their forward direction, and the parent is always rotating, it gave a fascinating, yet simple to implement effect with very little effort, and no math involved.

Ideas for Future Development

There is no winning with pride.

Once you destroy all the lights you have destroyed yourself. I would add a blackout. There is no winning with pride.

My brother suggested particle effect moving in towards the center light so the player has a feeling that they can move into the light – I wonder if these effects are instead shadows that only get destroyed when they touch the light.

He also wanted a way to pick up and throw objects to make it easier to destroy things. That is also a good idea, but I’d be sure to keep the free form physics too. Most games like this one limit your physics capability to grabbing the object and then moving, but I really liked the free form feel of these blocks. But it would also be fun to pick them up and throw them.

My friend suggested that the blocks could be important statues or books that the player is destroying. I like that idea. Especially the statue idea. In the game world, they don’t even have to be anyone the player recognizes as important. But statues are difficult and expensive to make. Which means they are only made for/of “important” people. Destroying statues is disrespectful to religions, cultures, nations, and your mom. It’s prideful. That’s why I like the idea: giving the shadow his own deadly pride. In pride no one wins: so I’d be careful to carry on the theme of mutual destruction.

Experimental Games

Making “The Dangerous Unknown”

Go here to download and play the dangerous unknown. 

The dangerous unknown is an experimental twist on hidden object games. I made this game concept in less than hour.

Inspiration

Theme: Hidden Object with a Twist

I literally only had about an hour to make this game, but previously I had brainstormed some simple ideas. A common theme arose: what if the object you are locating bites back? It’s almost like the game doesn’t want the player to play: because the player gets punished for doing the only thing they can: find objects.

Development Journey

I knew the game would only play with player feedback, so I set out to implement the simplest of mechanics (tapping on an object to “find” it) and then implemented audio and visual feedback.

The entire game concept is a simple 2D orthographic camera, some UI elements, and I had the concept made: a flat map with the objects on top, which switch to a “found” texture, apply blood splatter to the screen momentarily, and plays one of two pain sounds.

Cool Things I Learned

“Code doesn’t always have to pretty, but it always has to get the job done.”

-Nancy Newren, Experimental Gameplay Engineer

The first thing I learned is that I have gotten a lot faster at prototyping. It’s certainly not my best work or my best concept, but knowing I had an hour I made deterministic engineering decisions to not architect a game that I could build on, but rather chose engineering design that would enable me to make the game work. I cut decisions like modularity and optimization, and opted for simplicity. I think it’s important in development to be cognizant of best practices and to know how optimize and make code modular, but to also be aware of deadlines and all important feature richness. Code doesn’t always have to pretty, but it always has to get the job done.

As I mention frequently I love designing games that can be played without explanation. So I had a friend in front of a class play my game. From the first “bite” the entire class jumped. I think that was the most enjoyable part to me. A feeling of being pranked prevailed. It was fun. And not just for me. It was also interesting to tap on these objects and see and listen to the feedback.

But even though the game was simple, I still learned some simple things. First: it didn’t read like the player was being hurt, it felt more like the pain sound was coming from the squished spiders. To resolve this I think a squish sound that is layered with the pain sound would help. Also, it would be good if the player didn’t necessarily get hurt each time. That way the player associates the squish sound with the spider, so the pain audio must be coming from a different source. Finally, I would also stagger the audio so they don’t play at the same time, though they could still overlap. This would increase the ability of the player to separate the meaning of the different audio.

To make it clearer that it is the player that is taking on pain is a border located blood splatter: instead of having the blood splatter cover the center of the screen, have red along the borders. The intensity and amount of red then can reflect the amount of pain the avatar is feeling. This plays well in other games this way and I think would translate well.

Also, I had to google blood splatter again as the stuff I had wasn’t a good fit for this game. If you don’t have a strong stomach, don’t google “blood splatter.” Just saying.

Ideas for Future Development

Found object games are typically played as static images and you located images within the image, but I think they would be more interesting if they were almost 3D: A “static” image with moving objects that you are searching for on the screen. This would add life to the game and make for more interesting gameplay as not all the objects may be visible all the time. This could potentially add to frustration as well. But adding things like timers, or find X when there are Y (where X is of course < Y), could dissipate expectations of finding all the objects.

I would really play on the jump scare, but keep it fun. I’m not personally a huge fan or horror, but I like a good scare and Half Life will forever be one of my all-time favorites. But I think the buildup of the scare and the buildup of a joke are similar. I spoke with Jose Zagal about wanting to keep the jump scare fun and he mentioned these similarities and how it’s a buildup: you build up to the punch-line or the scare. You do it again. And then sometimes you have a relief instead: in terms of horror this would be the audience thinking that a monster is about to attack but it turns out to be a cute cuddly kitten. The buildup of anticipation is what creates the pay-off of the scare/punch-line.

I particularly had the idea of a two level puzzle for this game: you are using your finger to squish spiders, but that can back fire, so if you find a different object to squish them with you might have some better luck. This is where the buildup comes from. There’s quite a bit of tension in the game design for a game like this: as a designer you need to keep the game predictable enough that the player can play the game, but not so predictable that there isn’t any challenge or surprise to it. There is also the biggest source of frustration for a puzzle gamer: knowing what you need to do and not being able to do it. It’s why I rage-quit The Turing Test. With this kind of puzzle game though, which would be building up jump-scare tension, it adds an additional layer of tension: that is player expectations of what should happen and whether what does occur fits within the boundaries of what the player would accept. It’s not always easy to tune all of these variables, but if you do it right it can be a very enjoyable experience for the player, even while they’re screaming.

Ph.D. Adventures!

COVID-19 Craziness (Ph.D. Year 1, Spring Week 10-13)

TLDR:

Crazy couple weeks! I went from a laid back lovely spring break and celebrating my wedding anniversary early because we didn’t have the kids that weekend (week 10) to the craziness that is the COVID-19 pandemic. online courses, increased workload, locked indoors, homeschooling my stepchildren, trying to keep up with research (which we’ve had to redesign due to the pandemic), and major depressive episodes (week 13). Man, I’m tired. 

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Eliane and I are in the middle of redesigning our research project and updating our IRB application in light of the pandemic, school closures, and recent stay at home orders. We can no longer perform our field observations as schools are shut down. I am continuing to work on the PhET simulation redesign based on our HCI and educational design theory to test in a lab study most likely as an A/B test.

Homeschooling two kids as a Ph.D. student is no joke. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish despite losing half of my days, and I didn’t quit any of my classes, However, there has been a marked decrease in performance in my most time-consuming class. I simply don’t have time for it. I have been in conversations with my professor and he has given me some lee-way, but not as much as I really need. He was really nice though and told me he thought I was doing well in his class especially considering my extra constraints since the pandemic. I am most likely switching that course to CR/NC to relieve some of the stress I’ve been feeling, which is in alignment with the advice I received from my doctorate mentor.

Eliane and Rogelio both independently sent me an email about the same fellowship which is meant to serve as an augmentation to other funding. I’m going to start working with them to apply for that.

What’s next

  • Finish up work on the IRB application. We only have a few sections left now.
  • Continue making updates to PhET
  • Apply for the SigHPC fellowship
  • Survive the rest of the semester
  • Reach out to my therapist

Roadblocks

Not enough time in the day/week to accomplish all the extra tasks that have been put on my plate since the pandemic hit the U.S.

COVID-19 Craziness, and LIfe

Homeschooling my kids has thrown a huge hurdle in my path. I spend mornings and early afternoons with them, basically not accomplishing anything of my own (though I do attempt it), and then spend the rest of the day trying to fit my stuff in, including some self-care,  and trying to get enough sleep. It’s not really working for me, but we don’t have any alternatives.

I’ve been struggling with a depressive episode triggered by the fallout of the pandemic (the pandemic itself hasn’t worried me, it’s been all the repercussions in my life and the lives of people I love that has caused it). So to look on the bright side, it’s a great time and opportunity to work on some old issues that resurfaced and to reflect on how far I’ve come! Depression isn’t a norm in my life anymore and I know that this will pass. In the meantime, I recognize it would be wise to get some professional support so I can stay safe and be the best mom/wife/sister/friend possible. I can’t do that if I don’t take care of myself.

I told Eliane I really want to focus more on games research and so I’m going to be working with Rogelio as my advisor, and that I want her on my committee. She was super supportive and I’m looking forward to having her on my committee as all my interactions with her have been extremely positive and she knows a lot about educational technologies which will be great insights to have. She was going to fund me over the summer before that conversation, but she has other students she’s working with that she may throw that funding behind now (which I completely understand and support), so I most likely won’t have a job this summer. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad, but it’s definitely an added stress. My husband is an essential worker, but if he gets sick… well, I’m praying he stays well! 

Right as the pandemic started to spread in the U.S. I (made my kids) play the board game Pandemic. As a mathematics undergraduate, I learned about the basic SIR (Susceptible, Infected, Recovered) models used to study infectious disease. I wanted my kids to understand how infectious diseases spread and that there are things that people, public health specialists, medical professionals, as well as scientists and innovators can do to help when a pandemic happens. It wasn’t much of a success the first time, however, I played again with my daughter a few days later and I am proud to say that we beat every outbreak quite handily.

In times of crisis, it’s important to focus on things that bring you hope and joy, and to find gratitude in the little moments. I love that playing games was recommended by health organizations as a way to cope with this crisis! #GamesForChange

The earthquakes that hit Utah really shook our home and did some damage. as well as really upsetting a member of my family. I feel like part of my job as wife/mom is calming down all the anxiety and stir craziness that’s happening. So to anyone who is struggling, remember the good things, be grateful for the small things, and be hopeful for the future of things, and remember it’s okay to have a bad day.

“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end!” -Unknown