Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Location

This past week was the week of Thanksgiving. I think I gained five pounds in the culinary wasteland that is this period of time. Regardless, I enjoyed being home on Cape Cod with my family. I took this opportunity to go back to a location that's special to me. This is the place that I went to fifth and sixth grade. It had the very short and easy to articulate acronym of BHMCPS. Which, of course, stood for Barnstable Horace Mann Charter Public School. Since I studied there, they have changed the name to BUES or Barnstable United Elementary School. Probably for the best.
Middle school was an awkward time for me. I was the kid that everyone wanted to copy homework answers off of. I was also the kid that had friends in every social circle, not fitting into any one specifically. I was also a girl who dressed exclusively in men's clothes and had short hair. Some teachers had the audacity to ask me if I liked "girls" or "boys" better. Or if I wished that I was a boy. These questions always made me extremely uncomfortable and I never answered them. My gender expression became an oddity that even adults felt necessary to challenge.
This field and track was the first place where I was able to experiment with different pronouns and a male identity. I joined an after school lacrosse team where I was the only girl. All of the other kids on it were older and didn't know who I was. I was frequently read as male as a child, so naturally that's how they categorized me. Every practice they would address me with "he/him/his" pronouns and call me "Billy" (which my birth name sounds remarkably close to). I never corrected them because I felt so at home. This is why I'm choosing to recreate this location in "Bound." It was the first place where a repressed identity was validated and I engaged in physical activity.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Metrics

Any good designer should be able to back up their decisions with data in a spreadsheet. In fact, designers who make decisions out of personal preference or spite are not designers at all - they're just creators or people with ideas. They're not refining something based on the needs of a particular audience. They're doing the equivalent of writing a journal entry. Which is fair - we all have our own methods of processing. But, why am I rambling on about what I consider to be good design practice? I recently put analytics into "Bound." This is the single most important thing a designer or developer can do in order to understand how their game is being received. In this post, I would like to touch on the different metrics that I'm tracking and why I chose to track them.

(Here I've used an image of the dashboard for a demo game - I don't want to make IRB mad at me for featuring my actual playtest data.)

First of all, the analytics SDK that I'm choosing to work with is GameAnalytics. Mostly because I've worked with it in a professional setting before. But, also because it's extremely easy to implement and has this fancy dashboard that you see above where I can look at usage data in real time. I'm mainly using it to track the amount of time players spend in different sectors of the game and what keys they press at what times. Each session will also record the minigame values that player was playing with and the player's ID so that I can pair their analytics data with their survey response.

Most of this information is to help me determine minigame difficulty. I know that, for example, if no players are pressing any of the breathe keys - they probably aren't noticing that there is a second prompt. Or, if the time they spend playing the minigame is only ten seconds, and they didn't press any keys, then players probably didn't understand the mechanics of the minigame. I m also tracking how much time players spend walking around the environment before the minigame. If players are spending too much time there, it may indicate that it is unclear where the player is supposed to go next, or there is something distracting about the environment.

I do have concerns about using GameAnalytics. The program itself is heavily geared towards tracking usage data. Things like daily active users, average FPS per play session, average play session length, etc. I only care about the custom events that I've created. I hope that it won't be a major pain in the ass to extract the data that I'm interested in. If not, I may just have to write my data directly to a .CSV file. The old fashioned way.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Ugly

The image above is the very first iteration of the game's environment. It consists of all the Unity Store assets with the tag "school" or "parking" or "street" that I could find. I wanted to get a sense for scale and also see what was available to me in the form of free assets. I also needed a physical space to start implementing functionality that I had promised at the conception of the project. The game has only been in development for three weeks and I am the sole developer. On top of that, I'm not a conventional or classically trained artist. All things considered, this is perfectly acceptable. It's certainly functional and serves its purpose. It's not even what the final game is going to look like.

I'm embarrassed of it and I don't want to let anyone else touch it until I stop seeing how ugly it is. In game development, that really isn't an option. You have to test your game at every opportunity to make sure that it's conveying the right message, players aren't misinterpreting elements, and that it's engaging. So, I'm posting this heinous screenshot in an attempt to overcome the way that I'm feeling.

I think that I'm finding it really difficult to separate myself from this project. The content is so personal and delicate. I feel an immense amount of responsibility to represent the experience perfectly. To make something beautiful, stunning, and provocative. I don't feel like I'm living up to the standard that I set for myself and that feels supremely shitty.

Friday of this week is my first opportunity for official playtesting. Here's to tricking myself into feeling excitement, rather than feeling dread.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Story

"Bound" is only designed to be a few minutes long, yet it tackles an intensely complex and emotional subject. I only have the amount of time it takes the player to navigate to the track to give context; to invest the player in the character that they're controlling. So, I put a limitation on myself of a maximum of ten lines of introductory dialogue. This is enough to convey what I need, but not so much where the player feels like experiencing it is a slog. After beating my face repeatedly against my keyboard, here's the content that I came up with.

  1. "Do not under under any circumstances, wear for more than eight hours a day."
  2. "Do not wear during strenuous physical activity."
  3. That's what the package told me.
  4. Then, later when I googled it, the internet told me the same thing.
  5. So, I said "Fuck it!" and now I'm here. Where I went to middle school like... Eight years ago.
  6. Wearing this binder that I'm not supposed to and running shoes that I haven't touched since I came out.
  7. Everyday after lunch, I used to fly down this sidewalk and up those stairs to the track.
  8. My friends were never able to catch up with me so they would just lean back on the chain link fence and watch. Flashing me a thumbs up when I blew by.
  9. I want that again. So badly.
I got away with only nine lines of dialogue. Ha! Take that, past self! While this is NOT the final version of this text, I'm moderately happy with it at this stage of development. It conveys three important things to the player; the main character is wearing a binder, the main character "came out," the main character used to love running. My fear is that people who know nothing about the trans community will be totally lost. If you don't know what a binder is to a transguy, do the first four lines make the sixth line comprehensible? Will the player be able to infer that the main character "came out" as trans? Only playtesting will help me answer these questions. I do think these lines excel at showing the player the situation rather than telling them.

Once the dialogue is finalized, I plan to record and voice act them. I'm definitely not experienced in this way, but I have the authentic voice of a transman and can't afford to pay any professional talent. It's incredibly important to me that an underprivileged voice is featured.