Unboxed Beta - A Look Back

The day finally arrived and left, the day of the Unboxed Beta release! I am so excited that I have been able to dedicate time to this project and make it something truly meaningful. In just a few more months I will be able to call the game complete and just wait for people to pick it up, enjoy it, and be come "Unboxed". I hope anyone with access to a Vive gives it a shot :). Soon, the website should show the locations that we will be bringing Unboxed in case you want to demo it and don't have access to a Vive. To start, our next demo location is The Big Indie Fest @ Reversed in Vienna, Austria. We hope to see you there!

In celebration of this release, I would like to share with you an entry from when I first started Unboxed as a solo-project. I keep a personal development journal and this entry was written right after I found this "control" angle for inspiration and created a failed prototype that did not reflect my design. Its fun to look back on the creative process, I hope you enjoy!

October 2017

"For one of my classes this quarter (Game Design Workshop with Brian Schrank), we are focusing on one project for the entire quarter with the goal of developing games for game designers - a group of people who appreciate games that use new and interesting mechanics that advance the space of game development and the chosen median forward.

I really appreciated how this class began and how we approached this concept of "make a that other game designers will appreciate" - which is incredibly broad as far as starting places go. In order to tackle such a feat one must research and reflect on oneself and experiences to determine not only where the spark of inspiration is coming from (or can come from) but also evaluate what has been successful in appealing to game designers in the past and how this can be applied to that inspiration. On the inspiration side of things, there are several different avenues and ways to find and determine an inspiration source and not everyone's process will be the same. For example, one might be heavily motivated by interesting mechanics so they may spend their time researching games in that space. For others it might be reflecting on recent experiences and use those emotions or struggles as the framework for then designing. This is a concept that is embraced much more in the MFA program verses my experience in an undergraduate program. In the undergraduate track, though we were encouraged to submit work to festivals and to do this sort of research and inspiration reflection it was not a required part of the process. This is because the undergraduate program focused much more on "get in there and make stuff and iterate so you can learn the tools and process and get ready for the real world" which definitely did its job in that goal. However; now at the graduate level - there is much more emphasis on inspiration and "what feelings do you what this game to invoke", "what art style is driving your decisions". Its a lot more about self discovery, research, and well... incubation. My professor, Brian, allowed us the first week and half of class to research and explore in order find inspiration that really spoke to us and to come into class with a few ideas to take to the next level.

I spoke about the different inspiration methods people follow in my previous paragraph, going off of that note I would like to explain my creative process. I am heavily inspired by the human experience and pulling from feelings and feats I have tackled in my lifetime as a springboard to come up with mechanics that have some sort of emotional or meaningful pull behind them. That being said, for this class, I started my inspiration with the idea of meditation and mindfulness because very recently I incorporated regular meditation into my daily routine. Since that has become a regular occurrence in my day for the last couple months, I have felt happier and healthier and the world (and all the craziness that is life) has seemed much more manageable. I wanted to focus in on that feeling and show exactly how much being mindful and being present can make the world beautiful. Additionally, as I am a big fan of how games do not need win states to be meaningful or to be games at all it seemed like the perfect inspiration to create somewhat of a "mindfulness" playground. However; this is all I started with -  I had no direction to begin with other than that (which as I mentioned I like to pull from emotions and upon reflection I don't think this was the strongest emotional standpoint to begin from but more on that later). At this point, all I knew was I wanted to develop something for the HTC Vive (as Virtual Reality is where I do believe my skills will make the most impact in the "meaningful play" space) but at this point I had no idea what exactly my game was going to say other than it just generally promoting mindfulness through mechanics.

As I did not have a lot to go on, I spent additional time researching mindfulness. I researched what mindfulness does to your brain, I researched the various mindfulness techniques, meditation techniques, and also the general subject of relaxation. Additionally, I played tons of games (both VR and not) that promoted this idea of calm or a "flow state". From that research, I decided that this project would be something interesting to try to create an experience with LeapMotion which is a device that will allow you to bring hand motions/gestures into your game. What better way to feel mindful than to be using your hands to manipulate the environment?

I went further down this path brainstorming the space for the game. I knew I wanted the hands to manipulate the environment but I couldn't think of a good reason why that would promote mindfulness further. I went through a million scenarios and landed on something arguably too fantastical because it involved magic and the player having this feeling of power. However; the art style and the game space was not my concern at this point I just wanted to prove that LeapMotion was the right technology for what I wanted to do.

I went into prototype with LeapMotion in which I had never used before (much less developed for) and found that they very recently updated the SDK used to create these experiences - in which there did seem to be some significant improvements based on my research. That being said, the documentation was extremely limited so I spent a good amount of time trying to get the detection and the core mechanics to work the way I wanted. Unfortunately, even with all that time - though I did get the core mechanic working - it did not feel good, nor did it feel powerful. You were present in the moment for sure but only because you had to focus on making the correct gestures in the correct view of the camera to accomplish the programmed events. The sensor itself was decent, but still jumpy. This was something I could have definitely looked past but not something I would have wanted any users to experience as it would add frustration instead of this feeling of mindfulness. Additionally, I was still getting stuck on what would actually be the art style. What would actually be happening in this game that could represent mindfulness in a meaningful way?

From here, I did a lot of reflection on my research and my experience prototyping and discovered that mindfulness does not need to be the theme of my game at all. There is something else that could be a stronger drive. I came to this conclusion through my reflection because I realized that you can promote mindfulness in games by the mechanics you choose to implement without that being the core point of the game itself. Several games are able to get users into their "flow state" and many of these games don't have this as the core message behind the game. Though it was sad to realize that my first initial inspiration was not as strong as I wished it would be (nor was the technology I wanted to use to promote it), it was also a really powerful process for me. I now know that I want mindfulness to be a theme in most, if not all, of my games because that is something I believe is important for the world right now. People need escape and they need to be able to be at rest in a way that they can truly enjoy the experiences they are having - I want to give that to them in my games and creations.

So that put me back to the drawing board. Though I won't explain the entirety behind my creative process because that would make this blog post way too long, I will say that further thinking about why meditation has been so helpful to me and specifically what techniques from my research speak the most to my practice, I was able to come across a more powerful idea to represent. An idea that is very present in the foundation of who I am and also the emotional journey I am on. Control, the need for control but also the need to relinquish control so that you can enjoy life. It is a tough balance to strike and the balance will not be the same for everyone but I am really excited to explore this idea and move on to prototype number two. Stay tuned for my next post for an update on this creative process!"

Trynn