Abbott’s Flatland is the inspiration for my team’s game – FLAT LANDS. Abbott’s Flatland is a satirical novel that revolves around a square. The book uses the fictional two-dimensional setting of Flatland to offer pointed observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. Alongside Victorian social hierarchy, Abbott focuses on examining the physicality of dimensions, which is what FLAT LANDS mainly focuses on. Players must strategically traverse through levels by passing through different obstacles. To get around these obstacles, players must shift between the second and third dimension. For example, if a player is in the second dimension view then they will not be able to see that there is a hole near the bottom of a wall that they can pass through; so by shifting into the third dimension, the player can see the wall and pass through the hole to progress through the rest of the level.
For this project, the team was divided into roles based off of our skill set. As a result, I was put in charge of level design and art aesthetics. As we developed the core concept of the game we moved towards a game that Lazzaro calls “Serious Fun.” Serious Fun games have a meaning behind its story and mechanics. It brings excitement from changing the player and their world (Lazzaro, N.). FLAT LANDS literally changes both the player and the world with its game mechanics from becoming a square to a cube and rotating the world such that the player’s camera stays in a suitable position. However, FLAT LANDS could also be describes as “Easy Fun.” It is sort of a novelty game that brings curiosity from exploration and gives off a creative feeling (Lazzaro, N.). Players can freely explore each level and the aesthetics of the game is uncommon to most games.
As we were discussing the game mechanics and level designs, we found it important that affordances were key in making the puzzles a little more intuitive, such that players won’t get stuck for long periods of time on one part of a single level. The word “affordance” was originally invented by the perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson (1977, 1979) to refer to the actionable properties between the world and an actor (Norman, D.A.). However, for design, “perceived affordances” is a more correct term to use. Designers care much more about what the user perceives than what is actually true (Norman, D.A.). The most important thing must be achieved is whether or not the user perceives that some action is possible – or in the case of perceived non-affordances, not possible (Norman, D.A.). The team decided that the first few levels would be short tutorial levels, which meant that the last set of levels would be much more challenging. The tutorial levels made the game more usable because games require a mastery of features to achieve an objective (Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K.). As one of the two level designers, I focused on these more complex levels that involved a lot of different obstacles that players would have to get pass. These challenges would create enjoyment by taxing the user’s memory and performance limits (Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K.). However, due to time constraints a lot of the complexity was taken out.
In the construction of these levels, logical constraints were used to help the player complete each level. Logical constraints use reasoning to determine the alternatives (Norman, D.A.). For example, on level six, there is a hole where something must be dropped into it in order to open the wall that allows you to progress through the rest of the level. The only other movable object in the level is a sphere that the player must roll into the hole. The challenge is rolling the ball into the hole without the sphere falling off of the level.
As for art, different colored lighting helped create a really beautiful contrast of colors from the game objects. It provided a more appealing game space that really intrigued the audience and immersed them more into this world of dimension shifting. Signs were created to help guide and hint to the player of what they must do in order to complete a level. For example, there would be signs that have arrows on them that would depict the direction in which the player should try to go. There were also more descriptive signs that told the player an action that they would need to complete to get past an obstacle. For instance, there was a sign that depicts a ball falling off of the level. This sign warns the user of an action that they should try to avoid.
However, this design process of creating levels and making art did not originate from our initial plans. There was a lot of iterative design. Iterative design is a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a work in progress (Zimmerman, E.). Through playtesting, we were able to figure out that players had difficulty with player and camera movement. In regards to the elements that I produced, they were a bit too challenging for players to perceive. As a result, we cut down the complexity on most of the levels which ended in a less frustrating experience for players.
The final product of the game consists of six levels of increasing difficulty. Within each level, the objects that were purely there for visual appeal also changed. This change created senses of being in a new area and also added more of an abstract artistic feel to the levels. The audio throughout the game also became more complex as the player progressed from level to level. As a result, the combination of the audio and colors added to the essence of each level which created a more immersive game space for players. According to some of our playtesters, they deemed FLAT LANDS as an enjoyable and fun game. They receive satisfaction from accomplishing difficult tasks and take enjoyment from the aesthetics of the game (Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K.).
Lazarro, N. & Keeker, K. (2004). “What’s My Method? A Game Show on Games.” In CHI 2004 Conference Proceedings, April 2004. http://www.xeodesign.com/whatsmymethod.pdf
Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper. www.xeodesign.com/whyweplaygames.html
Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html
Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.”