Pigeon Panic
When: Oct 2018 (1 week)
Where: Entertainment Technology Center, CMU
Roles: Game Design, Producer, Programmer
Team Size: 5
Platform: Oculus Rift
Engine: Unity
The Process
For this week long round, the platform was a choice rather than assigned, too. The goal was to maximize mechanical fun. We composed various ideas for each of the potential platforms we requested and decided to go all the way once we were assigned one of our choices. The first ideas we came up with were carnival games: simple, fun, and easy to add twists to. We ended up with the Oculus + Leap Motion.

We were excited that the Leap Motion could track individual fingers rather than the assumed relatively clunkier Vive controllers or AR hand approximations. We settled on a quick pinching motion with the hands while designing around the system, mimicking a bird. This lead to subbing precise pecking for whacking, and our hybrid Pigeon-Whack-A-Mole game was born.

An alley was chosen to create a contained atmosphere and ease workload.
The gameplay loop was lifted from Whack-A-Mole, then, but with your hands being pigeons. Through testing, I identified three initial problems:

1. Finger detection was not great
2. Lack of feedback compared to the rebound from smacking physical things with a hammer
3. Excessive lag when hands left the camera view

Finger detection was easily improved by angling the board 30 degrees up. The Leap Motion, attached to the headset, had a better view then. With the other two in mind, we decided to focus on the precision parts of Whack-A-Mole over hitting anything that moves. We also still had to keep a tight playfield for the Leap Motion. We also had to support non-physical but still positive feedback on a good "whack" in the form of cute eating animations and sounds. Now, we had to refine what making the game precise instead of frenzied meant.

The final first-person game at play with an empty board and no points. The UI was static to let the player focus, and create more risk when moving your eyes from the board.
First, it lead to diversifying the "moles" into different types of food. We figured pigeons like bread, worms, and nuts, so we went with those. I first suggested a "selection wheel" system, similar to game shows, where the player would only gain points when eating the current "food of the minute" and lose points when eating other kinds. This turned out to fit well with the game being on a timer system, but was limiting player activity to how fast spawns were. I did not want the player to be limited by the game; this lowered the skill ceiling too much by relying on the spawns. We explored other methods.

The next idea was a rat that would also be trying to eat your food. It adds a risky choice where you would have to wager if you could be faster than the rat for a specific piece of food, or to just go for an easier one that was farther from the rat. In playtesting, players far and away wanted to beat the rat up with their pigeon hands. This of course lead to them wanting to spam their hands over every space all the time. I implemented the rat clogging the pigeons beak for a short while if the player were to hit it, forcing them to shake it off and reduce spam, but this didn't stop it much. We hit our weekly timer here and presented the game with this rat clogging feature as final.

Final title screen.
The Result
Overall, I'm very happy with the result of the game. The final gameplay loop can be described as a 60-second dash to eat as much food as possible while outwitting the rival rat. It turned out adorable with cute pigeon features and good sound effects to make the obvious Whack-A-Mole influence feel fresh and original. Looking back on it, I think discarding the rat rival in favor of bad "food," similar to the food wheel, that does its job of clogging one of the player's pigeon hands would be the right way to go. This would support our focus on precise pecking motions with the hands while also discouraging hitting every food item that appears. A cork clogging the pigeons beak temporarily would be great, and feels like something you would find in an alley dumpster. It would just be in the pool of item spawns, justifying a variety of items over just one type more, too. The main design challenge would be making it distinguishable enough, as it is a fairly large punishment. With that in, the game would be a test of both skill and precision, and make the leaderboard all the more challenging to top.

Team, Left to Right: Zoe Bai, me, Healthy Moeung, HyeLee Kim, Ariel Tan