When: Nov 2018 (2 weeks)
Where: Entertainment Technology Center, CMU
Roles: Game Design, Producer
Team Size: 5
Platform: Jam-o-drum
Engine: Unity
The Process
This was the most conceptually ambitious project any of us worked on throughout Building Virtual Worlds, with interesting results. I was daydreaming up ideas prior to the round's theme announcement, and landed on a authoritarian rhythym game, where if you lost, you were black bagged and taken away. From our lottery of platforms, we were assigned to do this on the Jam-O-Drum, a four-player rhythm platform that can detect spins and drumbeats. Combining these two ideas, I went with "What if we actually black bagged people in real life?" That is how our design for this story-centered game began and ended.

We wanted to focus on the fear caused by seeing other guests' failures and consequenting black bags, but also wanted to make sure the guests weren't ambivalent toward each other. We planned our game in two phases from Day 1: the first, building up a society through cooperation and freedom, the second, that society turning on the players and enforcing individual labor and containment. We were well aware of how crazy this would be to pull off in two weeks, but went with it anyway.

Day 1 Concept Art on the Jam-o-drum
I spearheaded all initial design. The first iteration of the utopian Phase 1 involved making and sharing beats to a freeform song. Quickly we realized that we did not have the sound capabilities to make this convincing or fun, so I decided to focus more on drawing as we had a stronger art side. We let guests freely draw for a while before passing their drawing to be traced and added on to by another. The idea behind this was to encourage sharing and cooperation through gameplay. After playtesting, the strongest weakness was that players were focused too much on their smaller drums, and it was taking too long for the game to complete, breaking the interest curve.

I chose to solve this after our first presentation by making drawing occur simultaneously in the center of the screen, a shared space. Everyone enjoyed movement on a large slab of rock, and playtesting really supported this. The Jam-o-drum was just inherently fun to touch and move, and I'm glad we took advantage of that. As guests moved from each drawing stage to another, they were laughing and making fun of each others drawing attempts. We really liked this shared talk and cooperation.

Initial implementation of tracing and player collaboration.
We began designing Phase 2 rigorously after touching up Phase 1. My strongest goal in Phase 2 was to contrast the freedom and shared space of Phase 1 as sharply as possible. Taking the tracing of other guests' patterns we tossed aside from Phase 1, we reintroduced it in Phase 2 as a guide from the symbol of authority, the eye. Guests could no longer draw freely, and must trace provided patterns. Our Line Renderer implementation was slightly buggy, but worked well enough for our very short time frame.

Further, guests could no longer really look up at others and the environment, as their views were forced to stare down at their barbed wire circles to keep up with the pace. I believe this was my strongest success in game design in the entire semester. The contrast between looking up and maintaining some social presence while talking with others in Phase 1 and the isolation of looking straight down at rigid tasks in Phase 2 is very felt. I only wish that we had communicated the story entirely through the gameplay better. We resorted to adding a narrator to the game to explain the details of why Phase 2 resulted from Phase 1, and so on. Nevertheless, this one mechanic was played out well, despite the supporting structure. Plus, we finally got to black bag people in real life with this story, putting the nail in the coffin of the social dynamic present in Phase 1.

The final Phase 2, with all guests forced into their circles. The eye rotates to each new target.
The Result
We pulled off such an abstract, gameplay-focused narrative as best as we could in two weeks I think, especially on hardware as challenging as the Jam-o-drum. I managed to incorporate some of the rhythym elements of the original idea as well, with synchronized drum beats in Phase 1 required to move on and strict snare hits in Phase 2 to force guests to submit to the authority figure brought on by their gameplay. This also taught me how difficult tacked on rhythym game features can be, and really need more focus to work well. Like the story told, it is difficult to explain it in words to its best extent, so the video above illustrates it best.