Heidi Erwin Cartoon Sun Drawing
heidi erwin
Abridged (Capstone Game)
Puzzle game about riddles and grief.

WHEN:  Spring 2021
WHAT:  My capstone game project as a Game Design and Development concentrator at Brown University.
SKILLS:  Game Design, Unity/C#, Art (Illustrator, Procreate).

Important Links
The game design document can be found here.

The Github repo can be found here.

The Google Drive folder with art assets + project documentation is here.

The itch.io page with the playable game be found here. Password: jeff

Game Screenshots

This Project as a Capstone
This project ties in the four categories of my concentration:

1. Mechanics (the technical CS elements of building the game)

2. Dynamics (incorporating psychology behind how people interact with systems and what makes a good puzzle)

3. Aesthetics (the narrative and artistic components of the game should mesh with gameplay and support the overall message)

4. Theory (How does this game fit into the existing game landscape? How does it combine existing ideas in the world of games to create something new?)

Almost all of the courses I've taken contributed to this project, but most notably: 1. the computer science courses I've taken that will help me build this game (e.g. CS18), 2. the art courses I've taken (e.g. RISD Digital Illustration, VISA 0100), 3. psychology courses (e.g. Human Factors, Visualizing Information, Psychology of Creativity), that informed the player decision-making side of the project, and 4. courses like Digital Media and ARCH 0785: Of Dice and Men that inform the themes this game chooses to explore.

I started by considering what the player should take away from this experience. I had two main goals:
1. Fun “aha!” moments that arise from thinking outside the box.
2. An experience that induced some (if minimal) emotions around topics of recovery and grief.

Target Audience
Next, I defined a target audience for the game so that the experience could be tailored to a specific taste. The audience of this game includes: riddle lovers, people chasing the “Aha!” feeling from a satisfying twist, TED Ed riddle fans, people who enjoy logic puzzles, Brilliant.org users, Professor Layton players.

What Makes a Good Puzzle
In making these puzzles, I have tried to abide by the principles for good puzzles described in this Game Maker’s Toolkit Video.

1. Puzzle should be effortlessly executable once the player gets the catch. The difficulty should come from mental work of solving the puzzle, not the physical coordination of executing the solution.

2. There are clear rules of the game world that govern what the player can and can’t do.

3. Good puzzles often start with a “catch” (there’s no way I can do what I think I need to do), followed by a revelation (“OH there IS a way within the limits of the game world that I can achieve thing X.”).

4. Avoid solutions that leave the player thinking “Oh. I didn’t even know I could do that :/”. In other words, there should be some moment before the puzzle where the concept is introduced so that the player knows how the game world works and that they CAN use that concept to their advantage.

Creating the Puzzles [CAUTION: Spoilers]
I wanted to create puzzles that challenge player assumptions and include double meanings of words (the latter simply because I enjoy wordplay and double meanings). To do this, I decided to structure the puzzles of the game around three tropes of classic, old-school RPGs (think Pokemon, Earthbound, etc):
1. The player character can only face one of four directions (North, East, South, West).
2. The player character cannot move their head to look around.
3. Elements of the environment cannot be shaped by the player (e.g. in Pokemon you can't use a charmander to burn down a building in the world).

Riddle #1: "Down you go until you find what's left."
Solution: In the southwest (down and left) corner of the troll's house, the next clue is written on the wall.

Riddle #2: "Some questions are hard to face, but there are answers
you can look up."
Solution: To get your character to see upwards, you need to lie down in the troll's bed.

Riddle #3: "Open the door."
Solution: Take an axe from outside and literally break open the front door.

Each of these riddles plays off of the respective RPG trope in the list above.

I went for a simple art style (given that the scope of this game was across only 12 weeks) with vivid colors to evoke a sense of whimsy similar to that of Goodnight Moon (pictured on left).

I decided on a color palette that would look softer, more like a faded storybook than the to the neon 8-bit arcade aesthetic often seen in old-school RPGs.

Initial character sketches:

Character art:

Environment + prop art:

Sound & SFX
Special thanks to JD Calvelli and Zackary Entwistle for creating all of the audio of the game!

This has been a weird year; I probably don't need to explain why. I remember feeling excited about eventually making a really polished senior capstone back in sophomore year when my concentration was first approved. The end product I ended up making is not that. Despite a lack of polish, however, I think some of the concepts in this game are strong: twisting expectations set by existing game tropes and thinking outside of the box to reinterpret language.

Huge thank you to Jeff Huang for supporting and advising this project, my independent concentration at Brown, and my general game development pursuits both in college and beyond.