In our project, Ra Light, we have the player act as a mummy who has been trapped within his tomb for a nonspecific, but probably long, length of time. They then awake and the game begins. There are three levels that the player must navigate in order for this mummy to escape the pyramid. For our game we decided to try to teach people around the age of a child going to middle school about some of the properties of light.
In the first level the user begins the level next to their sarcophagus, facing toward a closed door. The user must explore this floor and find a light source and connect it to the sensor next to the door to have it open. “Words alone cannot solve the problem, for there still must be some way of knowing what action and where it is to be done.” (Norman) The interaction with the different kinds of objects are described with images nearby so that the user will have something to go off of when first trying to understand how the game is played. This fits in with the Egyptian theme as hieroglyphs are a pictographic language that are supposed to be able to tell a story without the viewer needing the ability to specifically read the text.
“Test; analyze; refine. And repeat. Because the experience of a viewer/user/player/etc cannot ever be completely predicted, in an iterative process design decisions are based on the experience of the prototype in progress. The prototype is tested, revisions are made, and the project is tested once more. In this way, the project develops through an ongoing dialogue between the designers, the design, and the testing audience.” (Zimmerman)
For level one we had many people play through it during testing in various stages of completion, and received a lot of good feedback, concerning the starting location of the player. Instead of starting them by the light source as we originally planned, we now start them looking at the exit because people during play testing had trouble figuring out the goal of the level at first.
On the first level the player first is introduced to, and explores the reflective property of light, through the use of mirrors. In the second level the player explores how light is connected with wavelength, and in the third level they combine their knowledge in addition to platforming. Because of this staging of difficulty and the open way that we are presenting this material for exploration the player mainly experiences two of Lazzaro’s four types of fun: easy, and hard fun. Easy fun from how they discover and explore the properties of light and have different ways of solving some of the puzzles, and hard fun from how they have this overall task of escaping the tomb, and when they get to the end it opens up into a bright light at the top of this epic tower.
Not all puzzle elements are used in each level, for example in the first level the mirrors along the wall behind the light source are pointing in a useless direction. On the second level the user can just extend the bridge and jump over the spikes if they are agile enough, and then get around the mirror puzzle by moving the currently used mirror slightly toward the entrance as to dodge the wavelength modulator and still activate the door sensor. On the final level, there are a many light sources that go nowhere and mirrors that are not useful toward puzzle completion but add aesthetic value to the level. These additional objects are available for the player to use creatively and explore the properties we are presenting them with, as well as increasing the level of critical thought needed to complete the puzzles for each level.
According to Norman, “In the world of design what matters is: if the desired controls can be perceived [and]… If the desired actions can be discovered.” During one of the earliest play testing sessions we were shown that the picking up interaction that we planned on using was not only buggy but not what the players wanted, so we shifted our design to eliminate this kind of interaction in favor of pushing. By adding the recognizable base to our moveable objects (mainly mirrors) the player is able to much more readily pick up on some of the more basic interactions in our game. The pushing mechanic was received very well as the testers quickly recognized the interaction and discovered its availability. They then took this knowledge that they gained from their encounter with one of the mirrors, and were able to apply it to the rest of the objects with that kind of base.
Another design choice that the group consciously made was to make our mummy’s gender neutral. This allows players of all kinds to relate more easily with the mummy and put themselves in its shoes (or foot wraps). All that the players are able to see of the mummy are two cloth covered mummy arms extending forward into their vision which they use to push the objects around the map.
We really focused on trying to get the feel of being a mummy in a tomb down instead of them just going through a puzzle game based on light. The iconic sarcophagus, Ankh’s under each of the mirrors, and the yellow brick texturing all appeal to the visual sense of being in an Egyptian place, yet it felt lacking until we added the music. When the background soundtrack, the mummy noises, and the dragging sounds were added it really brought the environment to life. The stone dragging noise added weight to the blocks that the mummy was pushing and the opening of the stone doors. The mummy noises gave the user more awareness of the character that they were playing, and the soundtrack for each level added to the ambience of the scenery. Once we added these elements to the game the people we had play testing the game had no more issues with how we presented our theme.
Norman, D.A. (2004). “Affordances and design.” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html
Lazzaro, N. (2004-2005) “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story.” Self-published white paper. www.xeodesign.com/whyweplaygames.html
Zimmerman, E. (2003). “Play as research: The iterative design process.” http://ericzimmerman.com/files/texts/Iterative_Design.htm