Game developer of many hats. MFA Thesis student. Part-time vocal synthesis guru.

Thesis Blog

Warning: not all blogging is directly related to thesis, although most of it is.

Post-GDC Winddown

So things got a bit hectic during the week and I never found time to sit down and blog. The irony of it is, I feel pretty good and ready to jump into work, even now when the “post-conference depression” should be setting in. Now the roadblock I face is a bit simpler: where on earth do I start?

Big questions I have now:

  1. What is the (specific) plot of my character’s story? What are their goals, what do they want, what is affecting them in the environment and world?

  2. Would it be better to create that story in a realistic setting, staying somewhat true to life, or to abstract things into a more fantastical setting? What are the pros and cons of a more figurative approach over a more literal one?

  3. What exactly do I want my gameplay loop to look like? What are the interesting mechanics I’m missing out on right now? What is the player’s method of interacting with the world?

  4. Are all of my values at play still weighing properly into my design?

4, as it turns out, is still fairly on point, as most of my clear points about my values were what not to do in my design. The only things that don’t apply anymore are those specifically referencing puzzles, and the two characters working together. Instead, now, I have a stronger element of working with yourself, and a long-term message of self-acceptance and self-care. I think I’ve taken my focus a bit more closely to the self-stigma, now, but I’m fine with that. It’s possible that I actively need to replace one of my values (cooperation or equality) with another, more suitable value as my design shifts, but I think most of the principles are still applicable.

(Also, please ignore these ugly graphics I made for my grad review… I am not a visual designer.)

valuesatplay_paraLLels

This second chart is a little closer to what I need to utterly recreate, rather than just slightly edit. While the same factors play into creating emotional and empathetic states, the way in which they need to do so will have to be overhauled from what worked for paraLLels. Even then, many of these elements, such as the shifting dialogue and character acting, will probably stay alive in my new game concept.

empathy_paraLLels

For 2, I’m currently leaning toward a more figurative setting because I’ll find it more visually interesting to work in, but I’m going to need to talk through these three questions with some collaborators and peers in order to find satisfying answers to them.

What I do know about my narrative is:

  • The main character has a focused goal, one which is personal in nature.

  • There are two supporting characters, one who also has a mental illness and one who does not, who are good friends of the main character and act as lenses for examining the way mental illness affects relationships, and the way stigma happens between people. There is a third “supporting character” in the form of the main character’s mother figure, who never appears on screen but sends messages/calls in an attempt to be supportive.

  • The main character is haunted, literally or metaphorically, by a shadowy creature that lives in their home and is constantly weighing down on their shoulders. It is a part of them, representing their illness in visual form, which they must learn to live with. I might play with the player’s instinct to engage in combat to show them that fighting yourself is more pain than gain.

  • As the main character comes to take better care of themselves and engage more actively with the world around them, the monster shrinks in form and becomes less threatening. This is the secondary goal of the main character, which might even be more important than their primary goal in the long run.

  • The player is presented choices, in some capacity, for how the main character should live their life, including aspects of self-care and what I would call “basic human functioning” that can be difficult under the weight of depression (maintaining hygiene, eating, exercising, etc), as well as how to approach their long-term goals.

While I envision some degree of resource management for the mechanics, this doesn’t answer the question of the actual method of interaction for the player. I hope to find some solutions to these questions this weekend, while I’m off from work.


Unrelatedly, I went on a hike the day after the conference ended. This may not seem too spectacular to some, but it was a pretty big deal for me; I don’t know when I last walked that long, or spent that much time surrounded by nature. I grew up in the South, in a place fairly suburban, yet I was always close to the wilds, and my summers were spent in the woods and lakesides. As a kid, I climbed trees to watch the sun set, went camping in the summers… and as an adult, I’ve become adverse to leaving my home most days.

Yet, it’s interesting. I felt, while hiking, that I had reclaimed some part of me that was long buried. The reason I long for aesthetics with grand trees and sweeping vines, ruins of modernity overtaken once more by tall grass and thick moss—it calls to my childhood, to something simpler. I climbed a tree, I sat atop a tall cliff face and watched the ocean spray. It was all incredibly freeing.

None of this has anything to do with anything, but I wanted to record this sensation somewhere. My legs might have been worn out, but it was worth it in the end.

thesis, personal, gdcLou Carroll