Story time

The story telling in shared house was very much done through notes, symbols, and objects. I was trying to create an experience that would let you learn as much as you wanted to about the character or as little as you wanted. But of course, this came with challenges. I didn’t want to create a game that you would always win by just not interacting, so I had to make an effort to spark the players interest, something much easier than it initially seemed because people just like to find stuff out. This was instead a problem with trying to make them feel guilt for discovering parts of the character that they didn’t want to see. However, I did try and spark the players interest by offering them small pieces of information about the character in spaces that weren’t invading the characters space. For example, the note to Lloyd acting as a window into the character before entering the room, as well as the two notes to the player from Zeke inside the players room. This also came with an invitation into the room to borrow vhs tapes. Letting the player feel ok with entering the room, but this may have made them feel too comfortable about being in the room. But now that the player was interested in the character, when they entered the room, they can see a link to something mentioned in the note to Lloyd, the NES still on. Seeing this makes the house feel more alive and active because it appears as though someone was here recently. It also was a little joke to show that even with the note, Lloyd doesn’t pay attention, giving character to both Lloyd and Zeke. The next things they see is pretty much the whole room, except for things around the corner. The player then has the option to investigate one of the things that they can see or to look around the corner.

 

If the player chooses to investigate the shelf of vhs’s they can see a variety of tapes, but not the one that Zeke mentions in his notes. These tapes give character to Zeke because they are mostly B movies or cult favourites. The player can then move on from there knowing more about Zeke’s interests. If they investigate the Whiteboard they can discover that it was recently Zeke’s birthday, and they can find a card from Zeke’s friend, mentioning a larger group of friends named the Herd. This characterised both Zeke and his friends as people who enjoy community. On the floor by the whiteboard there are two textbooks for biology and entomology. These tell the player what Zeke is studying and might be interested in. Beneath the TV there is a report card filled with bad marks, showing that Zeke might not be very successful in his studies. On the bedside table there is a postcard from a friend of Zeke’s who is in Rome, this tells the player about Zeke and his friends. He misses the person who sent the postcard because it is on his bedside table where he can read it at night. Just below this postcard in the drawers, there is a BOYZ magazine, which can show what Zeke may be more interested in reading at night. This is more hidden because it is in a drawer where people have to make a more conscious decision to find it. To see any more of the room, the player now needs to go around the corner. When entering this side of the room, they can see the shelf at the far end of the room, the drawers and the desk. On the desk there is a todo list, which characterises Zeke as someone who gets distracted and needs a list. This todo list combined with most of the sticky notes tells the player that Zeke likes to doodle nonsense. The is an in tray on the desk filled with scrap paper, underneath this however is a draft letter to Zeke’s crush Antony. It is mostly hidden by the scrap paper, but showing enough to make the player interested. Over on the Pc there is a stocky note that shows the combination for the lock in the centre of the room, along with a few other little things that further the doodling. On the shelf there is another report card, this one with much better grades, the original intention of this was to show that Zeke hides his failures but keeps his successes close to his work space. But it could be interpreted in many ways because they lack details such as dates. The code for the lock appears on both the report cards as the second half of Zeke’s id number. On the shelf there is also the copy of ReAnimator that Zeke mentions in his note in the player’s room. This is on the shelf to make the player explore more about the room to find it. Next to it there is also two pictures and a note. The two pictures are of Zeke and his brother skateboarding. Showing that Zeke has a good relationship with his brother and enjoys Skating. The note is a letter to his parents. This letter is kind of abstract and requires more information to interpret fully. It is a reaction to Zeke’s fears about coming out to his parents, he believes that they would not accept him due to their faith. He then references the fact that they are divorced and can’t even love each other. He references a bible verse Matthew 7:3 talking about hippocrates and how they shouldn’t comment on him when they aren’t perfect either. This is all in his head of course, as he is a character that writes things down before he says them when he is afraid or nervous. In the drawers there is only one drawer with interesting things. This is a bible accompanied by a note that expresses Zeke’s feelings about his faith conflicting with his sexuality. This shows a lot about Zeke, obviously. On the floor next to the shelf there is a note that describes Zeke’s confusion with his label, and shows his small journey to fitting with the label bisexual.

 

Lastly, there was the chest. Inside there was 4 objects, a tape two notes and a picture. The tape was called Sex in Chains, a silent film from German 1928. The picture is of an ex girlfriend, Marsha. This is signified by crossing out the name in a heart. The two notes were a break up note from Marsha, and a draft coming out letter to Zeke’s parents. These being hidden away shows a lot about Zeke and what he is willing to put on display and what he hides. He doesn’t want people to know he isn’t over Marsha, but he also isn’t ready to tell people his sexuality.
There was so many secrets hidden in the room that most people wouldn’t find them. This means that each person constructs a different image of Zeke. They aren’t being told things about Zeke, they are learning themselves.

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Analytics n stuff

So during this project, we got a lot of our feedback through analytics, but what did we learn? Well, from investigating the analytics I discovered a few things. One major things was that people did not know how to use the combination lock. So my initial concerns about people not being able to find the code for the combination lock were not a large problem, the issue was people working the lock itself. Because they didn’t know how to use the lock, they would just brush over it and never think of finding the things inside. To fix this I created a new game tutorial in the menu that required you to use a lock before you can play the game. Another thing that we discovered from the analytics was that people like to throw things in vr, a lot. This really distracted people from the purpose of the game because they didn’t read the text on objects, they just threw things about. To help stop this, we really limited what people could use and stopped them from moving larger objects, but this didn’t entirely fix the problem since they could still throw things. This is always going to be an issue in new VR games, people are mostly interested in understanding the physics. One way we may have been able to fix this further would be to stop the throw force from being added. This would make throwing things really unsatisfying and disappointing but may have frustrated people. Finally, one thing we weren’t able to learn from the analytics is what people couldn’t read and used the UI interaction to get clearer text. This is because the UI was not used in the end because it was going to take too much time to get working properly. From what is seen from watching people play and talking to them afterwards, there wasn’t anything they couldn’t read. I could have gathered better detail if I had used a survey, but it’s a little too late now. All in all, we learnt a fair bit from the analytics, we were able to make sure that people could find the things that we wanted to, and were able to minimise the distractions in the game. We would have been able to refine our hand written text more if we had our UI system working, but it wasn’t an important element of the game, and it still worked well without it.

Shared house post mortem

Shared house was made to express an idea of home and what home means. This idea is that home is a private place filled with personal things and information. But, instead of expressing the game as the players personal space, the player is invading someone else’s. To do this and to deliver the feeling well, it was important to make the player feel like an invader. The way I tried to do this was by filling the room with secrets about it’s owner. These secrets were varying in severity, some being somewhat harmless and others being almost devastating if they were to be spread. Another important part of the game is trying to make the player feel like they are playing as themselves in the world, rather than someone else. Part of doing this was to make the game in VR. This let the player be in the space themselves and rather than embodying another character or person, they embody themselves. This was accompanied with a few other things to try and let the player feel like themselves in the game.

 

Construction:

 

Room building

Building the room was a key part of the games development, since the game takes place almost entirely in the room.  I started this by thinking of an interesting shape to make the room. I chose an L shaped room to create a space that didn’t instantly tell you everything about the room, but instead made the player interested in the rest of the room when they enter. It was also important to have the room in proportions that make sense to people, so that the room feels like it’s part of the house rather than any other type of building. Once the room was set out in shape, it needed to have furniture. I placed the bed in the far corner so that the bed can be seen from all points in the room. Putting the tv and a shelf next to the door, with a couch across from them. Then around the corner I placed a desk against the far wall, some shelves on the at the end of the room and a set of drawers across from the desk. This allowed for a flowing path past all the key locations to the point where I placed a key item for the game, making the player see everything first and travel to the end of the room, then turn around and see more on their way back out. The players room and the hallway were designed to fit the main room and also furnished to block off areas that wouldn’t be used. However, the rooms initially were not built with windows, so they did not feel anywhere near to a house. More like a bunker. So I placed 3 windows in the full structure, two in the player’s room and on above the desk in the main room. The rooms looked like this in the end 

 

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Secret writing

Pretty much the most important part of this game was the secrets. They were what would convey the largest piece of the story, and what would hopefully make the player feel like an invader of someone’s personal space. To start with these, it was important to have the character set out, thankfully I had done this quite a while beforehand. I knew that the character Zeke would be bisexual, have split parents, be raised religious by his parents but is questioning it now, and be into biology and entomology. From this, I created pieces of information in rough blocks that would tell these pieces of the character in small parts. For example, when it comes to his sexuality, there was 6 different written notes alluding to this. Two of which were related to partners, and ex girlfriend and a crush. Because bisexuality is harder to express with just one relationship, I needed to show two to make it clearer. I also needed to show his struggle between his faith and his sexuality, as the two would be conflicting pieces of himself, and with his faithing coming from his parents, he would not be confident to come out to them. So I created three notes that describe his relationship with his parents, the first being a half written coming out letter, another being an aggressive not lashing out at the fact that his parents are split and can’t make comment on his struggle when they can’t follow their own faith, and the third being directed at his struggle with his faith. But the point of the notes and other secrets were to describe the character in many parts, so that the player creates a slightly different idea of the character based on what they do and don’t find.

 

Secret implementation

The secrets were one thing to write, but I also needed to put them in the level. It was really important to make them feel hidden, but also make the player know how to get to them. This was done by placing things in more obvious viewing positions, colouring things to make them stand out and a few other methods to attract the players eye to the secrets. One key one was positioned in a very out of place spot, but so many people still found it due to the signs that I placed to lead them there. This was a written note about Zeke’s struggle with his sexuality and figuring out the label that best suits him. It was placed beneath a set of drawers next to a bag, with not much light on it. But what lead people to it was a sticker I had placed on the side of the drawers that isn’t visible to the player until they go right to the shelf at the far end of the room and turn around. This sticker was my interpretation of the bisexual pride crescent moons. Most people didn’t understand the symbol, but it caught their eye enough to make them interested in the area. Once they are interested in the area, they can look down and see the corner of a note sticking out and investigate further if they wish. Another of these would be where I placed the code for the lock. I wrote the code at the end of a password on a sticky note that was stuck to the pc. The code was the end half of the password but the numbers were underlined to stand out. There was also larger images on the note to attract attention and it was a green post it note on a grey pc so it would stand out more.

 

Making the room a home

There were a few key decorations to the room to let me make the room feel lived in, and actually be a home rather than a display room. These were the posters on the walls and the dirty clothes on the floor. It was important to have these in positions that would attract the eye and fill in the large blank spaces, because to make a room feel like a home it’s important to have less perfect lines and more angles and broken segments

 

Team work

We worked really well as a team on this project. There were points where our communication broke down slightly, but for the majority, we were able to complete tasks well and within our standards. There were a few things that could have been improved if we had some better communication between our team, but that could have also been done with some more time, which is always the dream.

 

Audio

One thing that I would have loved to improve if I had time was our game audio. We only had one person doing the audio for our game, and so we had pretty limited sound effects. If I had more time or better communication skill I would have asked more people to be working on the audio. But that wasn’t the only part of the audio that could have been improved. This was the first game that we as a team had used fmod, so we really weren’t aware of what we were doing. We didn’t  devote enough of our time to understanding fmod so that we could implement the sound to the best of our ability.  Lastly with the audio, the person that we had doing the audio is much better suited to engineering audio rather than composing music, so if we were able to do it again, I would have liked to have someone who is more musically minded to work on the main track to better deliver the desired mood. But that’s getting really nit picky.
All in all this project went really well, our team learnt a lot about VR and I was able to apply a lot more knowledge about design to deliver the experience to the best of my ability. There’s obviously things I would change, but that’s the case with everything I work on.