Devlog #2 – Designing virtual interactions in a physical space

Hey you! Last week, I talked about our design challenge and phrased it a bit like this:

How do you design an engaging and immersive game world using the real world around you?

This challenge guided us throughout our early production stages and gave us something to look back at if we found ourselves stuck on a particular problem.

One of these problems was arguably one of our more interesting features.

One concept that went pretty far into production was a monster hunting game similar to Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. One player would be the hunter and could see the monster and attack it, while the other was the veteran and knew how to defeat the monster based on a manual we’d give them. We tested the concept and found success in making it fun an engaging, but we hit a practical problem; what’s stopping people from playing this game on their own. MR lets users see the game on top of the real world, so one issue we found was that the player fighting the monster can also just hold onto the manual and fight the monster. Another issue we ran into was that for the non-MR player, fighting a monster is more fun than reading a book so is it actually fun to be the non-MR player. The team knew we had to rethink things and
during one of our meetings, I proposed something to the team:

Instead of fighting the monster, what if you were caring for it?

Prior to this meeting, we had talked to our contact at Shadow Factory, Keiran Lovett, and he suggested we should focus on UX. We took this to this meeting and tried to step away from mechanics and goals. The intention was to make the game feel more like a sandbox experience where the focus in more on emergent gameplay as opposed to set rules and win conditions, which is when we landed on the monster pet care game idea. We eventually iterated it further so that the monster turned into multiple spirits, or will-o-wisps, that the player can interact with and play with.

Despite sounding pretty simple, this decision was actually incredibly difficult and came with its own risks. At this point, we were far into the semester with a playable alpha looming over us 6-7 weeks away (not including a week where the majority of the team would be in Montreal) and changing our game could prove to be incredibly risky.  We had a couple of arguments, long awkward silences, and debates over Naruto characters but in the end, we made the call and went forward with our plan to change our concept.

So was it a good call?

It’s certainly too early to say, but the project’s been making considerable progress from that meeting to the time I’m writing this dev log. From that point, we managed to do a bit more testing with the new concept similar to our early testing, including some digital prototypes like the one seen here.

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One early parameter we set for ourselves when designing for this game was:

The spirits need to feel like creatures and not objects

What this means is that the spirits need reactions to player interaction. We want to sell the player the idea that when they put on the headset, they are viewing an unseen world that exists on top of our own. In order for this narrative to work, the creatures that reside in this world need to feel alive and responsive. This parameter has helped our design processes and what interactions the player can take with the creatures. 

As I mentioned, our playtesting style is very similar to what we have been doing before. Testing this way is effective because our interface is the player. We need to design a game that makes interactions feel as natural as possible. By doing physical prototyping, we are bound to real-world concepts such as physical space and gravity, grounding our design ideas to them. With that being said,

How do you prototype ghosts?

As far as I know, ghosts aren’t real, and if they are I’m not sure how to acquire them for playtesting. However, balloons are real, and ribbons are real, so combine the two and you get:

Okay, so it’s not perfect, but it did get us the kind of movement we wanted for the wisps, which looks like this

Cool! Now we had an idea of what kind of game the player would be taking part in, the important question that would follow would be what interactions are fun to do with them?

Me and three other team members sat down and brainstormed a list of ideas we would like to explore, which I later transposed into a chart in our GDD that looks like this

Where we are now

Officially we are out of pre-production and production is in full force. We currently have some digital prototypes and we received equipment that allows us to have the freedom of movement we want, so we should be testing that very soon.

As for our next steps, we are looking at exploring more interactions with the wisps and producing digital prototypes we can test externally. We plan on going to malls and testing there. As of now, our artists are currently working on first passes on the creatures we have tested externally with students at the school.

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