Development Time: September 2018 - April 2019
Team Members: 4
Aaron Sutton - Game Designer & Producer
Marina Pimentel - Character Artist & Animator
Matthew Murchison- Environment Artist
Nicholas Phan - Game Designer & Technical Designer
Contract Workers: 1
Carson Mackie - Sound Designer/Composer
Created and updated GDD
Designed superpower functionality (telekinesis & time freeze)
Implemented and adapted time freeze mechanic through Unity Asset Chronos
Designed game level
Designed and implemented UI & UX facets
Implemented SFX and foley
Wrote, designed, and implemented game
narrative, dialogue, and dialogue system
Established team schedules, tasks, and deadlines
Coordinated and organized work between the team and remote contract workers
Prepared, facilitated, and set up meetings, presentations, and playtest/demo sessions
Created and arranged game documents
Unity C# MonoBehaviour
Chronos - Unity Tool
Version Control - Source Tree
Spirits was completed over our final year as our capstone project in the Honours Bachelor of Game Design, at Sheridan College. The goal of the capstone project was to showcase all of our skills and knowledge that we have developed over our four years in the program.
Spirits is a game where you take control of a psychic who uses their telekinesis and time manipulation powers to save their friend who has become infected with "psycho-rabies". Spirits was designed to be a 5-10 minute gameplay demo.
The challenge that came from our design idea was to:
“Make the player feel extremely powerful through the use of impressive superpowers, and make them feel vulnerable through overwhelming gameplay situations”
We wanted to make the player feel as though they were in Grand Theft Auto with a rocket launcher. In Grand Theft Auto, you can blow up and destroy everything in your path but as your destruction continues, the cops are going to increase their attacks and eventually overpower you. We want our player to experience this same feeling, raw power in the beginning, with slowly ramping forces getting thrown at you until you just narrowly escape.
Our team started development on Spirits by trying to make something that wasn’t entirely unique, but was immediately relatable to themes and trends that have been seen in TV and movies. We settled upon making a game that dealt with superpowers, similar to the media giant that is Marvel, was set in the 80’s, and has supernatural elements, relating it to Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Stephen King’s “It”.
By looking into popular media and trends, we had an ability to draw an immediate connection between our players and our game, and use the hype surrounding them to promote our game even further.
Core Design Pillars
Our three pillars we chose that guided all of our design decisions were:
Retro Nostalgia - an aesthetic that reminds players of the 80’s. Even if the players aren’t from the 80’s, our aesthetic should reflect what they imagine it to be, and be relatable to their childhood.
Dynamic Combat - placing the player in situations where they must constantly rethink their strategies. One option that you used before, shouldn’t feel safe to use in the exact same way for a second time.
Power Struggle - switching the player from feeling powerful, to vulnerable, then back to powerful again. The player should have the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.
If our design ideas did not line up or reinforce our core pillars, then they weren’t important to our game experience and were often cut.
My Development Highlights
Consistently, after every playtest session, we would discover that our telekinesis power did not feel as powerful or energetic as we wanted it to feel. My job was to keep tweaking this ability and adding more life to it until it finally got reached a stage where it was both its function and purpose was clear to the player, and was exciting to use every time.
For example, our first designed reticle consisted of a standard circle that took up as little UI space as possible in order to not distract the player during gameplay, while still providing enough information to fulfill its purpose. Unfortunately, our playtest sessions determined that our original design ended up being more distracting than a more standard reticle. Playtesters were often confused, wondering if they were constantly using fine-aiming techniques that are commonly used in shooters.
I solved the reticle issue by designing our reticle to fit with our psychic eye theme, making it larger, and having it react to the player interaction. This helped make the reticle feel more integral to the experience that we were designing, and made it seem less like a confusing fine aiming was being used. I also added markers to tell the player how many objects were in their inventory as our original plan to have only diegetic UI was unrealistic.
On top of this, constant satisfying feedback was needed to beef up our superpowers. We did this from making the telekinesis power more floaty and energetic, adding particle effects, and creating object trails.
Game Narrative + Voice Acting
One of my larger tasks for the game was to design a way to fit our entire narrative into our 5-10 minute demo. It was an interesting challenge to take on as:
Narrative games are difficult to present at conventions
Telling a full story arc within a short 5-minute play session can be challenging to pull off effectively
In order to meet these two requirements, I decided to take it upon myself to design conversations that our player and the boss could have upon reaching different points within the gameplay.
These conversations would trigger when the player reaches certain trigger-points within our level and when the boss’s health would reach levels that signified a change in both difficulty in gameplay and an arc within the narrative. In order to reduce the amount of work required to implement this, I communicated to the player within the game dialogue that the conversations were taking place “telepathically” between our main characters. This served as a way to enhance the psychic theme of the game, and required no extra animations for our artists.
I wrote our script following a standard movie script layout, referencing my years in musical theatre and playwriting from high school, and tweaking the script to match up with being played in gameplay. This script also needed to communicate to other team members how the beginning and ending of the game would need to be set up and played out.
Dialogue was implemented using Unity’s built in animation editor and animation event system. Although unconventional, using Unity’s animation editor allowed me to time the subtitles effectively through referencing my document that contained the timing for each characters lines for a dialogue set, and easily call the sound clip at the correct times by just calling the animation at the correct trigger points.
Research & References
Shadow of the Colossus & God of War - Camera and Controller
The camera and controller for our game was mainly inspired by the 2017 version of “God of War”. We believed that the interaction between the camera and the controller in God of War perfectly communicated the power of the character to a player and the cinematics of a film that our game needed to capture our 80’s themed TV show vibe.
The camera in Shadow of the Colossus and God of War made the games far more cinematic by keeping the player in the rule of thirds, allowed information for the character to be communicated to the player in the third person perspective, and allowed the focus to be mainly upon our gameplay with all the information that the player needs to know being highlighted in the center. A cinematic camera was something that we believed to be extremely important to our game, and we accomplished similar results to Shadow of the Colossus and God of War by using the Unity tool Cinemachine.
The controller in God of War was heavy and powerful, while still feeling fast and smooth through each input. Although we didn’t want our player to feel like as much of a tank as they do playing Kratos in God of War, we wanted the same characterization and raw power of our psychic abilities to come across to our player on every interaction. We tried to manage this by making each input feel fluid, simple, fast, and juicy. As long as each interaction matched that criteria, we determined it a success.
Uncharted - Level Design and Dialogue
My main point of reference for developing the both the level and dialogue sequences was from the Uncharted series. Although our game feels very different from a standard shooter like Uncharted or Call of Duty, in its foundations it would be labelled as a shooter. We went with Uncharted for a reference to our level design and dialogue as it most accurately represented the type of gameplay we were trying to emulate.
In the level design we referenced sections of the cruise ship level from “Uncharted 3”. The cruise ship level integrated choke points and controlled flow between the enemy and player attacks while still maintaining a clearly built world that was functional in both its assets and metrics. Even though the level maintained principles of shooter level design to meet its gameplay requirements, the level felt extremely natural to the narrative context within the game. We achieved this same design through our level location. The mall fit within our gameplay requirements, having lots of unique objects to pick up, and allowed us to easily design the level with layouts similar to Uncharted 3, featuring lots of natural cover points and unique sections within stores in order to control the pacing of the level.
As for the dialogue, the main reference was the various triggers points within the environment of the Uncharted series, where dialogue quips from Nathan Drake play upon environmental and character interactions. We wanted our dialogue to work just as seamlessly, where when the player speaks it feels natural to the situation and is a comment upon an event that the player has just experienced.
Stranger Things & It
The Netflix series “Stranger Things” and the 2017 movie “It” had the 80’s era vibes and aesthetic that we based the look and style of our game off of, as well as the horror and “power of friendship” subject matter that we used as inspiration for our game’s overall themeing and narrative. The biggest elements within our game that you can truly see our inspiration bleed out comes from the level design and dialogue. We tried to really nail the feeling of a mall from the 80’s by referencing common components seen across both “Stranger Things” and “It” such as popular references to pop culture, styles, and materials that were used within architecture. The narrative references try to emulate the same childhood relationships between friends. This element is why we decided to make our boss a friend that you need to save as opposed to the standard evil creature.
Level Layout Concepts + Process
I started concepting our level layout by finding reference photos of malls that were built in the 60-70’s, looking at mall floor plans, and then sketching out and adapting these ideas into a layout on grid paper. These concepts then served as a basis for me to bring into Unity and begin greyboxing. Once I had successfully adapted my ideas from paper into Unity, and the game had consistent and realistic metrics, I started filling the level with assets that could be picked up and used for cover. Once the level fulfilled all of my requirements, the level was complete and sent off to our environment artist to finish modelling/texturing the greybox assets, and add some snazzy lighting.