What Divides Us is a story-focused adventure game that combines simple choices, interesting dialogues, and puzzles.
The game story is focused around the year 2050 when humanity developed advanced AI and is now trying to test its abilities by mixing it together with humans and evaluate their behavior. The purpose of this is to make the AI learn human behavior when they're in danger during the experiment.
You play as Lexie Trickett, an ex-secret services agent who becomes a part of this experiment. Your role is to solve the murder mystery which occurs in the building and then escape from it. To do that, you need to solve puzzles, beware of the AI and make a decision on whom you trust.
As the lead designer and content developer, I have worked collaboratively with a freelance programmer to develop a demo of the game.
Creating an interesting and insightful story with well-developed characters and world.
Re-arranging already known and popular game mechanics to fit them into the story to avoid ludo-narrative dissonance and give purpose to every action in the game.
Planning the gameplay mechanics and fitting them well into the dialogues, to don't "lose" the player on long sequences of dialogue.
Creating interesting levels with a very basic and minimalist art style.
Creating a space which wouldn't overwhelm the player and give the ability to explore, but at the same time won't be too hard to move around.
Designing the story and narrative parts, such as the Journal, to make sure the player will get soft hints on how to progress in the game.
Designing modular rooms which would be able to be re-used later for different parts of the map.
Designing very simple User Interface for all necessary mechanics in the game.
Unreal Engine 4.19
Unreal Engine, Photoshop CS6, Autodesk Suite (3ds Max, Maya, Mudbox), Substance Painter, Marvelous Designer
7 months, 2018
Gameplay designer, level designer, 3D artist, prototyping, narrative design, UI design, graphic designer
STORYBOARDS & NARRATIVE DESIGN
During the design process, the story of the game needed to be examined and shown to people to obtain feedback. During the production of narratives, plenty of things might be unclear, especially for someone who isn't the creator. It was very hard to visualize everything and people usually don't like to see a wall of text. Nobody ever had time to read that. To break this barrier between my story and other people I needed to come up with an idea. This also become my dissertation project, which I finished in my final year at university.
In the beginning, I created a simple storyboard which looked like a comic book with all of my design decisions and how the story goes in the game. Later, the project started to evolve in different forms.
The whole project was rated with a First Class, which leads to the conclusion that using visuals to present ideas was a very good move. I could not only explain the story in short, but also give the overall feeling of the game – by placing the action of the comic in the whitebox of the level, but also some of the characters – by presenting them in a simplified way. Graphic design decisions also helped to portray the overall feeling of the story. Also, all of the design decisions behind the first planned "tutorial" of the game were shown – in some cases, they covered the dialogue, which is also showing that dialogues for the game are ready, but in that dimension, they're not that important. They would be re-written by someone else later. What is important is why they're there and what does it mean to the game and experience.
Later, the project got shown on Degree Showcase 2018 at Confetti Institutes of Creative Technologies, where I got a lot of excellent feedback about the idea and the whole form. This leads to major improvements and generally changed the way of showcasing my storyboard.
The project started to being prototyped in AR - which was the main research for my dissertation. I wanted to see how AR technology could benefit the game design techniques, mostly in the case of transmitting the ideas using visuals. I created multiple pages, which had some sort of AR functionality, to for example showcase the characters, like in previous comic, but this time add a little bit of a backstory and a moodboard.
Then another functionality of the system started to form, which was a storyboarding tool. I brought my scenes to life using AR technology and showcased them to people. Every scene (as video shows) is basically animated storyboard - it shows the characters which could be identified by their colours. It's all animated and also there is a text, which describes what is happening in the scene. This system not only helped me to plan out how potential scene could be shown in the game (in the case of a frame, shot) but also let me show this to other people and discuss my idea, by moving the marker around and show different perspectives. Over the time I was showcasing the whole project and test it's potential, I also got a lot of feedback regarding the whole narrative. The whole system got a lot of positive feedback through my dissertation testing.
During producing narratives for the game, I was looking for many other possible ways to make this process easier. I believe that the idea I come up with truly helped me to design this production's narratives and show it to people to get feedback. Plenty of design tools I come up with and showcased earlier helped me through this process. My ideas and this project were seen by industry professionals who were coming to my university for many events and they all seen potential in it. I believe that those ideas and my creativity will only benefit my future workplace and help not only me but also the others.
At the beginning of the game, the character has to face some kind of a tutorial, which will teach them how to use all of the game’s mechanics. Using items is very simple in this case since the player needs to hand in their non-disclosure agreement to first NPC. This is the beginning and this mechanic is shown to the player.
PICKING UP ITEMS
Later, the character can pick up the items as well. However, this feature appears in the game later but it's still a part of the demo and "the night before", which is just some sort of a tutorial for the whole game itself. The character can pick up an item by pressing F, then the game runs a lot of checks to make sure that the player has all of the needed items to progress.
During the game, talking to other characters is crucial - this is how the player meets them, explore the story and progress. After every major point in the dialogue, a short description appears in the character's journal, to conclude and give player hints on what to do next.
Journal's purpose is to help the player understand the world more, by reading the protagonist's thoughts. Also, if the player would decide to turn off the game, the next time they play would be way more smooth. Throughout the game, characters might say something potentially important. For example, someone could be talking about a mysterious event going on somewhere and one of the characters will say that they are is going to check this later. This information won’t appear anywhere as a "formal quest", but will appear in the journal and the action will be executed in the game. This way, the story could progress even more or completely change its direction.
During the production, a simple gameplay chart was created as a reference and a guide to planning dialogues and narratives. This sort of practice was very helpful to get the basic overview of the game and then based on that create the dialogues which needed to correspond to each other. This sort of tree was also helpful in the case of programming the game and communicating the ideas with other parts of the team. Diagram let us understood better the choices and the fact that sometimes the player would have some extra options to do (like in the beginning) and they all need their own dialogues and narratives.
Gameplay chart was some sort of the map while designing the whole production.
Designed by myself, the utopian HQ follows the style which was presented in many games before, such as Mirrors Edge. Everything is clean and minimalistic, which also resembled the feeling given by a freshly finished building which hasn't been "populated" just yet by any kind of posters or dirt. The HQ is clean and very plain. Also, there is almost no soundtrack in the game during the tutorial. There is a lot of foley planned to be added, such as something like "light buzzing", which would show how empty and cold the whole scene is. Later, as the game progress, another effect and different soundtrack would be added to fit better the whole situation.
There was a lot of designs going on for the HQ, however, one of them was agreed to at the end, which put all of the required rooms in a more logical position.
Later, as the scene was progressing, more design decisions were done, such as populating the area with some sort of green elements. However, sometimes they will appear as holograms, which makes the whole facility appear even scarier and cold, and also presents the fact nothing there is natural, real - beginning from human AI and ending on plants and trees that are just pieces of technology. However, this feature would be added later, after the demo. By this, the HQ would start to change and "glitch", to give the player some sort of the anxiety and show how dangerous and unpredictable the environment it.
The top floor is mostly designed to be Utopian, blank, modern and minimalist, while lower floor – laboratory, which doesn't appear in the demo – is planned to be more like a scene from a horror film. Many unnatural looking objects will be found there, such as capsules which contain an entire human body, many laboratory equipment etc. Additionally, there is a power-cut downstairs, which means that it will be very dark and the only light will come from the protagonist’s light-source. This will leave a big chance to create many interesting shadows.
Leading the player in this world also have its challenges. To make sure the player won't get lost, there is also a light system which ensures that player would know which doors are open and available to them. This is mostly done with other levels on mind, especially later when the laboratory will be up for exploration.
Also, the level is enriched with some signs on the walls, to make sure the player would know how to get to specific places on the map which are for example mentioned in the journal. A similar thing happens in real life too - there is always a lot of signs on the walls of the building