July 22, 2016 Student Spotlight: Deep in a Dark Forest
Christian DeLuna
Christian DeLuna

My background with games started in 1996 back when I was 6 years old. Twenty years later, I’ve had the opportunity to research and develop a few analog game prototypes while completing my graduate program. However, I always wished I had the ability to develop my own video games in order to bring to life my own conceptions. The Playcrafting 8 Week Unity course got me started in the right direction to making my wish come true.

Before discussing my final deliverable for the course, I think it would be helpful to discuss the steps needed to get to the point of where I was capable of actually producing a final deliverable. Full disclosure: my background with digital is that of a product manager. Essentially, I work between creative and tech types in order to produce digital products. I have had some prior coding experience prior to this course, but certainly not enough to feel comfortable enough to call myself a coder. In converse, by no stretch of the imagination would I call myself a designer. As I was soon to learn, designing and developing a game solo requires a lot of both skills. Fortunately, I also learned that Unity is both an accessible format for learning a little bit about both.

The first two weeks of the course were spent primarily in Processing. js in order to introduce the class to working in a graphical user interface (GUI). In addition to orienting myself with the graphical coordinate system, this work allowed me to rewet my feet with some rudimentary coding. By the end of that two-week span, I was able to create the pretty picture seen below.

house

Now that the class had a relatively well-informed sense of working in graphical space, we were ready to begin our dive into Unity. For our first project, we were tasked with creating a room in order to begin our transition from 2D to 3D space. The gif of my room can be seen [relative position]. I will always remember it as the first 3D experience I ever created. (And what a glorious one it was.)

room

After our initial forays into 3D space, the class took us back into the 2D realm in order to develop a better sense of game design and mechanics development. Our first project theme was Flappy Bird (or as we lovingly dubbed our creations, Crappy Birds). This project helped us develop our player controller and camera tracking skills and gave us our initial glimpses into obstacles and game over states. For this project, we created the initial version in class and then were tasked with creating a new version from scratch at home. For the first iteration of my project, I decided to take on a dark woods theme with some hints of ravens and Poe. For my redesign, I adopted a Dali theme in which I took the artist’s paintings as the backdrop for the game. A number of the elements in the painting serve as “hidden” obstacles that the user can collide into, promoting proactiveness on the player’s part to better understand the subjects in the painting. (Side note: my academic background is in educational game design).

poeBird

daliBird

The next project we worked on was the 2D Space Shooter (a la Asteroids). For this project, I decided to go full crazy rather than educational. Ultimately, I ended up with a space dragon cruising down an asteroid-filled corridor while shooting ice balls to blow up whatever obstacles get in his way. It was a good lesson in projectiles, destroying objects, and particle effects.

spaceDragon

Our last tutorial project heralded our return into the 3D realm. This project was a bit more free- form but imparted the basic understandings of jumping, shrinking/embiggening, raycasting, animating, and a number of other functions. This project also went full crazy with a healthy helping of memes and a splash of darkness. A few gifs could probably convey more about this bizarre experience than I ever could.

memes

darkness

Armed with all of the skills we had acquired over the previous weeks, our class finally turned to our final projects. I elected to work on a 2D side-scroller as I wanted to place more emphasis on the narrative of the game, a task I found easier to implement in a flat, mechanics-light environment. The working title of the game is Deep in a dark forest. In the game, the player plays as a forest creature who the player finds traveling through the woods. The player is tasked with navigating through the continuously scrolling level while collecting flowers that fall from the treetops. A UI element displays a countdown that goes down every time the player collects a flower. When the countdown reaches certain values, a voice in the woods communicates with the player-character to learn more about what brings it to the woods.

darkForest

As the reader can see, this is a very simple game—the only mechanic the user actively engages in is collecting flowers. The experience is also only 10-15 minutes at maximum. As mentioned though, the brunt of the experience is in the telling of a short story. I must note that this project was an initial foray into a larger game design concept.

My personal interest in game design is to develop games that help convey internal emotional states, especially in relation to mental health disorders such as depression. In particular, I have an interest in exploring the question “can games promote empathy for mental health disorders in individuals who have not experienced the ailment?” The first part of my graduate studies were spent investigating this question and the Learn Unity in 8 Weeks course has helped equipped me with skills needed to explore that question.

Deep in a dark forest draws inspiration from early concepts I had for an action/adventure RPG that uses a side-scroller experience for dungeon exploration. The narrative focuses on the story of a forest creature, similar to the one in Deep in a dark forest, whose tribe is afflicted by some mysterious disease of the mind that inhibits their capacity to engage in regular activity. The player character is the only one still capable of functioning in the village but the disease is slowly beginning to onset in it as well. As the character, progresses through the game, the disease begins to manifest itself more and more so in the player-character, impairing both the player and player- character’s ability to act and maneuver through later levels. This game is ideally to be a more subversive title in its exploration of mental health. It is not a game about an explicit real world disease, but instead will portray the difficulties of living with a disease and the strength required to keep moving on a day-to- day basis.

This game is still very much a work in progress and is currently a for-fun, solo endeavor. It is still in the very early stages of conception with envisioning the game world and devising the mechanics still the main priorities. With my newly enhanced understanding of how many moving parts are required for producing even a short game experience, from assets to coding and everything in between, I do not envision a release date at any point in the near future. However, I am at least thoroughly elated by the fact that I now have the ability to even begin working on a game thanks to the Playcrafting Unity course.

Quick Questions

1. How did you get into games?

Back in 1996, my parents gave me my first video game console—the Nintendo 64. I was 6 years old and have been a gamer ever since.

2. You’re part of the first manned mission to Mars! You’ll be gone for 5 years and can only bring 3 games to play alone or with your 3 fellow astronauts. What are they?

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Classic. I’d bring all the Zeldas if I could. Transistor – The art, music, and feels will keep me going forever. Pathfinder or DnD – RPing for the long haul. Which one I’d bring depends on how creative I’m feeling.

3. What would be your dream game to build?

The potential capacity of games to change mindsets has always excited me. I am most interested in developing a game that depicts the experiences of individuals with depression and researching if it fosters empathy, especially in relation to other media.

4. What do you love best about the game community in NYC?

The diversity of interests is something you can only find in large cultural hubs like NYC. It’s fascinating to see and hear about the projects everyone in the space is working on.

5. Choose 5 words to describe your experience making games so far.

Challenging Eye-opening Interdisciplinary Empowering Fulfilling