Let me start off by saying this. A TON has changed with the game’s identity as well as the team dynamic since my last reflection post – both for the better.
In Step 2, our game was decidedly a camera game where we focused on polishing the polaroid camera feel and function while in VR. We were entering un-explored waters in terms of what gameplay could use this camera, and what should justify its existence. This led to a big issue that needed to be solved for us to move forward into Step 3.
Context And World Building
In Step 2, we were trying to justify the camera’s existence in any way possible. This made our Step 2 pitch have some elaborate back story that ended up being confusing and not representative of what the real gameplay showcased. (Taking photographs and attaching lenses that change the player’s perception of the world around them.) We had to go to the drawing board as a team to really boil down the essence of the experience that we want to deliver to players.
The mechanic was there – and it felt amazing to play around with. Much like Portal has its portal gun, we felt that we had developed something unique and innovative with the camera.
Initially going down the route of puzzle games, we ended up yet again at a dead end much like with previous iterations of the concept in Steps 1 and 2. Although puzzle games are a fun genre, they really wouldn’t utilize the camera and the photos that are taken in any consistently meaningful way. Not only would we have to design puzzles in each level, but we would also have to force a reason for players to use the camera often. It didn’t feel like a natural leap for the player to use this camera as their primary tool; especially considering we knew the physical photos printed out of the camera need to be valuable in progression.
After a few weeks of everyone scratching our heads, we had the eureka moment. “What better way to use a camera than to find and take photos of hidden objects in a scene?” we thought to ourselves. Thus, our Step 3 concept was born. It took what we loved from Step 1 and 2, which was the camera with world altering lenses, and allowed it to make sense given the types of things a player would do with a camera in the world.
Our game ended up having multiple fun and interesting layers. We visualized this as a stacked pancake.
- Take photos
- Complete objectives
- Attach lenses
Who’s Our Audience?
Now that we know what our game is going to be, we needed to rethink our target audience. In Step 1 and 2, we just assumed we’d be making a game targeted towards the existing and pretty hardcore virtual reality gamers. This market is not only broad, but is also hard to penetrate. As a small team with a non-action genre game, it would be hard to enter this market with a high purchasing rate.
I was trying to figure out where our game would fit in the existing VR landscape when I realized it actually is a pioneer paving the path for an entirely new audience. I did some more research into the existing demographics of VR users. I discovered VR is primarily an 18-24 year old market. This age range primarily plays action games; thus our hidden object VR game wouldn’t appeal to most of them. The amazing thing to find was that people 25 years old and up primarily play casual games. This audience typically doesn’t have VR and in most cases has never experienced it before. With our game, we are able to open up this new technology to an underserved market.
Scrapbook Or Photo Frames?
A big design decision that had to be dealt with was whether we use a ‘scrapbook’ to store objectives that is carried with the player, or use a more traditional approach where photo frames are hung in the virtual room with the appropriate item text inside the frame. The scrapbook was a left over idea from Step 2, and a decision needed to be made whether that fit the new context or not. After thinking about it as a team, we knew it would make sense contextually. The issue then was how hard it would be to implement and if it was easy to use.
Since our target market is those who are new to VR, we realized this added an unnecessary complexity to the otherwise simple and intuitive controls. For a player to have to reach behind their back or to their hip to retrieve a book would not only be inconsistent but also wouldn’t bring the familiarity a less experienced VR player would expect. For this reason, along with the complexity of programming a scrapbook, we scrapped it for the photo frame system where the objectives are plastered in the room and representative of the particular level the player is in.
Managing Project Scope
During Step 3, we had to make key decisions to limit scope strategically in order to deliver a polished experience for the end of the semester.
Key scope management tactics:
- Focus on the camera and environment
- No focus on environment narrative
- A simplified game loop
- No puzzles to unlock/reveal new items
Following these key principles, we are able to scope appropriately and embrace the simple nature of our concept.
Thank you for reading about Step 3 of our game! We are excited to present our work to the Champlain College game faculty and to fellow students to see what they think.