For my undergraduate senior capstone, my partner Alvin and I were given the freedom to pursue any kind of passion project under the guidance of a faculty professor. We were always passionate about exploring augmented reality (AR) technologies and video games, and as a duo we thought it would be exciting to design something collaborative.
We designed and built Don't Panic!, a collaborative AR game pilot that requires two players to rely on partial information and verbal communication in order to beat the game.
We took inspiration from game mechanics in games like Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes, where each party of players have different clues and have to communicate together to fill in the blanks. So, our concept became a game where two players control balls to dodge lasers in a grid with the catch that each player only knows where half of the lasers are going to show up.
At it's core, collaborative games are fun because it requires both players to put trust in each other and share a commitment in a constrained, fast-paced environment.
So we put this to the test. We wanted to design our game with the focus on delivering a fast-paced experience and commitment-based gameplay. We did this through first creating an analog version of our game and conducted different time-based tests with participants to gauge game pace, communication style, and difficulty.
Side note, the phone screen screenshots here were for testing purposes, the game was actually built for iPads.
We wanted depth of field to be a constraining mechanic of the game, so we purposely made it a bit difficult for players to see which cube their balls were in and where lasers were going to hit to encourage players to look around and shift their position to see and communicate. This also added to the fast-paced nature of the game as it required players to rapidly look around for clues.
Originally we wanted to involve hand tracking so that players could move objects with their actual hands. However, tests showed that this was constraining because players felt awkward holding iPads with only one hand while trying to keep their other hand in frame to move objects. Also, we ran into a bunch of bugs trying to implement hand tracking so we had to scrap the idea and go with more traditional button layouts.
We treated our AR game as kind of a transition into a new medium, and wanted to pay homage to retro games. Game sounds were crafted and designed to mimic 8-bit sounds, and I created these sounds in FL Studio and Serum.
Once we had a working version of the game, we had participants try it out. While they enjoyed the game, they weren’t exactly sure how the game worked unless we told them specifically. From this feedback, we aimed to try to create a tutorial experience before players played the game, but at this point there was only about a few days left until the show, meaning that whatever instructions we created could not be tested before putting it out there. In the future, this is something we want to address earlier in later projects but we were blocked by the amount of time it took to code the game.
Our game was displayed for participants to play at our senior design show.