Experience a panic attack during a wake. It’s in the title.
Panic@theWake is a game about the time I had a panic attack at my great grandmother’s wake. I created the game to try and come to terms with and share the feelings I was having during the panic attack. Feelings like being trapped, sensory overload, and an irrational feeling of expectation from the people around me. Please play with caution as I do not wish to spark another panic attack in someone else by describing mine.
I aimed to make the game replicate my feelings as well as possible. So I wanted the player to feel trapped and overwhelmed. But I wanted to make the player feel trapped by making them continue to travel through the same space. This was done with a botch PT room loop.
I didn’t plan much beyond that other than knowing I wanted the visual and audio elements to escalate. This came back to bite me in the end, as the final result was not thought out well enough.
The staring went through stages. Initially it was all the people doing instantaneous glances that would flash on and off. This was incredibly jarring but it worked for temporary implementation. I eventually changed its implementation so that the people would slerp a random collection based on a percentage chance, the movement was still quick but it was more noticeable and less jarring.
The decisions surrounding the progression were very improvised as I implemented them. I didn’t want anyone to be looking initially, but I wanted people to start glancing at the player as they progress in an attempt to convey the feeling of expectation. From what I could tell it didn’t convey it as well as it could have because the progression was not exponential but went up and down instead.
The lighting changes weren’t much as the game went on. There is a few lights that turn off, but most visual things were done through the visual effects rather than simple lighting. The only two sets of lights that were changed were one room light that turns off in a room filled with people looking at you, and the outdoor sunlight being continually cycled. The outdoor lights cycled so that the it appeared to be the same room each time. The internal light that turns off was used to try and emphasise the feeling of expectation. Like interrupting a cults ritual.
The visual effects were an absolute mess, but they turned out alright in the end. The original idea was not very thought out when the game was concepted. The original idea was to build up chaotic visual effects as the game progressively built up the sense of anxiety. But I didn’t know what effects were available. So I just added a few and played around with them initially, and then once I had decided what values I wanted them to advance to, I implemented them. They advance to a set level when they are triggered, and then once the final stage is triggered they are advanced continually, and a fisheye is started. However, the fisheye was being calculated with a sine wave, so when it was turned on, it jumped to an midwave point and was a little jarring.
The audio effects were more thought out than most parts of this game, since I knew more about what I could and couldn’t do with them earlier on. I wanted to have a crowd noise that would be consistent through each instance of the room. I also took this sound and made an echo version of it to play at the end. While I was making the game, I thought of the idea of making a sound source that circles the player, this became my shimmer source, which I used to try and disorientate the player. I also made the outdoors play calm bird noises in an attempt to contrast the feeling of the crowd inside.
The outdoors was built so it could tease the player as they continued through the loops. Showing them the calm space but making it always unobtainable. But when the player is outside, they are welcomed by the nice bird sounds that only play outdoors and the garden that is pleasant to be in compared to the indoors. This was done to let the player feel the calm before and after the panic attack, like I did.
Finally the Imagery, there was a lot of mid development decisions when it came to the imagery. For example, the table with the candles and the picture on it was originally up against a different wall and the picture was much smaller. I changed it so that the player could immediately see the table when they entered the room, no matter what door they entered through (though it did favour the first door because it needed to introduce the table to the player). With the window to the outdoors, I positioned it so that it was slightly higher up, making the player feel restricted and walled off. The player can see out but they don’t feel like they can get out. Later on, to emphasise the feeling of being trapped, bars appear across the window, creating more of a physical barrier and blocking off some of the view to the outside. Another thing that was unintentional but worked nonetheless was the height of the other people in the room. When I was actually at the wake, most people were either the same height or shorter than me, but with the people being taller in the game, it emphasises the feeling of expectation and panic when they stare down at you. At the end of the game, the player is teleported to see a view that they see when the look out the window. I did this so that they can immediately realise that they have reached what was teased for the duration of the game.
So I learnt a lot from making this game. I learnt about visual effects and did new things with the standard unity fps controller. But, I made a lot of mistakes, but that’s to be expected, I’m not superhuman. The level is a bit pieced together thanks to my poor prefab use and the progression of the stages was a bit awkward because I did not get people to playtest it. But nevertheless, it’s done and it’s published. So I have to deal with it whatever it is.