Help A Buddy - Design Buddies Game Jame

Help a Buddy - Design Buddies Game Jam 2020

Platform

PC & Mac Application / Web Browser (WebGL)

Tools

RPG Paper Maker, Photoshop, Pixilart.com, Premiere Pro, Google Docs & Drive, Figma, Notion

SCOPE

1 Week

ROLES

Jason D - Narrative Design, Environment Design, Game Trailer
Kyle T - Programming, Environment Design
Wendy C - World Map, UI Concepts, Environment Design
Emmanuel O - Tutorial / Onboarding
Katie M - Character Art / Personas

OVERVIEW

Help a Buddy is a video game concept created during the Design Buddies Game Jam. The game focuses on the player performing volunteer tasks for elderly citizens around the city. The elderly citizens are confined to their homes, during a Covid-19 outbreak. Completing tasks results in volunteer hours, that go towards graduation.

Help a Buddy - Laptop

Game Jam Honorary
“Most Wholesome Game”

The Challenge

Design Buddies Game Jam

Design Buddies an online inclusive community of designers of all backgrounds to connect, share resources, and participate in virtual events. 

  • The theme for the game jam chosen was to centre around the concept of “Community”.
  • I’ve wanted to participate in a Game Jam, but most required school enrollment.
  • I wanted to take this opportunity to apply some of my Game UX knowledge I’ve learned in the past few months.

The Solution

We're Team DB! A simple logo.
  • Team DB (short for Design Buddies) comprised of 5 members.
  • Our work backgrounds were all UX & UI Designers. We decided to share the role of UI and UX work,  We eventually divide up other areas we felt comfortable taking up.
  • When the theme of “community” was revealed at the Game Jam launch event, I instantly thought about what my hometown has been dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Could we develop a positive take for the player to take a role in the battle against Covid-19?

Research & Process

Narrative Design
  • I shared how my home town has been dealing with Covid-19.
  • I also shared my experience of volunteering to create PPEs (personal protection equipment) with 3D printers for our healthcare sector.
  • I also shared the story of a local long-term care facility that I volunteered for back in public school; it was severely hit by Covid-19.

“What if you played as a student in high school, who volunteers their time to help out the elderly during Covid-19?”

It was important to not isolate all seniors as they are only in a long-term care facility. This is where we started to flesh out levels and locations throughout our game.

RPG Paper Maker
Game Engine

Our team had no full experience with working in game development software. Especially the popular ones; Unreal Engine and Unity.

Although I had minor experience with Unreal Engine, it was introductory when learning how AR/VR content is created. 

 

The organizers presented alternative applications to create video games. 

  • We came across RPG Paper Maker, and looked up demos of previous games that were made.
  • The games that were shown were reminiscent of some of the games we’ve played in past console generations.
  • We chose RPG Paper Maker for it being available to work on and export on PC, Mac, WebGL.

 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons from Nintendo
Comparative Analysis
  • A game that was really trending during Covid-19 was Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. We admired its depth of life simulation scenarios.
  • A major focus for our game was the player challenges to overcome and build relationships with the non-playable characters (NPCs).
Earthbound by Nintendo
Tearaway from Media Molecule
Visual Design

With RPG Paper Maker, we looked into the pixel art design creation. As well with its papercraft 2D/3D look it made us think of two distinctive art directions.

  • We opted originally to strive for a 16-bit look like EarthBound by Nintendo.
  • The other game we looked at was Tearaway from Media Molecule.

We decided to keep the art simplified for 16-bit, as we didn’t have enough to investigate further the 3D look capable in RPG Paper Maker.

Affinity Mapping

Help A Buddy - Affinity Mapping Volunteer Tasks

As we started listing out the tasks, we developed an affinity map of the possible options and grouped them accordingly. We felt some of the tasks would be based around the elder’s home environment, and which tasks would require travel to other locations on the player’s map of Buddyville.

  • Two of the tasks were to focus on conversation types; light and heavy. This is where the player can engage in dialogue to know more about the character they are helping.
  • The player continues to develop a bond with the character by volunteering.
  • They take notes to use for a side quest assignment, as part of their volunteer hours.
  • Player creates a blog series on a website sharing the stories of others living in Buddyville.
  • This will expand the social network of the elderly and open up the player to new locations of elder citizens needing help.

Journey Mapping

Help A Buddy - Journey Mapping of Gameplay Task

We crafted one of the objectives the player would have to perform. This lead to developing a journey map to help acknowledge the game’s immersion and possible conflicts the player might encounter.

Personas

As a group of UX designers, we took our experience in crafting personas as a way of developing non-playable characters (NPCs) for our game. 

  • We wanted to create an inclusive representation of the many types of elderly people, experiencing Covid-19.
  • It’s important to convey that elderly people all have different lives, and that would make the player experience different situations.
NPC Persona - Gary

Name: Gary Overton (Ret,)
Gender: Male
Ethnicity : Black (African American)
Health Status: Mobility
Living Status: Single
Age: 95
Occupation: Retired WW2 Veteran Pilot
Assistance: Personal Support Worker

Backstory: Gary was born in Buddyville and has been a long time resident. Gary served in World War II as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen as a fighter pilot. Gary was married for 50 years to his wife, Loretta. She passed away 5 years ago. Their son and daughter live out of state, so they visit very rarely.

Name: Zhang Wei
Gender: Male
Ethnicity: Chinese-American
Health Status: Respiratory, Eyesight
Living Status: Lives with wife
Age: 72
Occupation: Retired professor 

Backstory: Zhang Wei and his family immigrated to America when he was 10. He taught philosophy at a university and wrote academic papers on historical topics in philosophy. He has been married to his wife for 35 years. They have one daughter who is getting her graduate degree at university. He still loves to read, but often strains his eyes and has a hard time reading for a long time. He also struggles to stay active due to his respiratory issues. 

Name: Aanya Tripathi
Gender: Female
Ethnicity Indian-American
Health Status: PTSD
Living Status: Single
Age: 60
Occupation: Former Nurse

Backstory: Aanya lived in India until she came to the USA ten years ago after she experienced an epidemic.

NPC Persona - Jane

Name: Jane O’Connor
Gender: Woman
Ethnicity: Irish
Age: 79
Health: Memory issues
Personality: kind,funny,easily startled
Occupation: Retired Florist

Lives with Daughter

Game Development

Help A Buddy - Texture Maps for Environments

We started to create our environment art adopting a pixel art style. We quickly learned that we needed to create texture tiles at a small size, to free up memory for the game engine. We used a variety of tools from Adobe Photoshop and Pixilart.com. 

The other location we decided on creating was the NPC home. We later discovered in the RPG Paper Maker community, that community members were sharing free texture assets. 

 

Help A Buddy - Classroom Environment

Due to the time restriction we were facing with the game jam, we decided to develop one path of the game, and create the locations for that objective. 

We focused on creating a school classroom for the player to use, as a checkpoint area.

Help A Buddy - World Map Design

When creating the main world map of Buddyville, we kept the design simple and open. Eventually, we would clone locations to save time on the creation of assets. We used the existing textures available within RPG Paper Maker to create the map.

RPG Paper Maker - Game Dev Environment on PC

As time progressed during the game jam, it came time to assemble our game project. Learning RPG Paper Maker on the fly brought up issues when it came to exporting game files.

 

We tried several attempts by giving the assets to one team member to compile a game build, as well as consulted the community and mentors. No one could provide us with an answer in a timely manner and thus we could not solve the bottleneck to our technical issues.

Game Trailer

We knew we were not going to have a build ready for judging for the game jam. I asked my team to let me create a game trailer using whatever visual assets we had created.

  • My team provided their visual assets, whether it be logo art, rough UI concepts, texture maps, and desktop video capture of the environments.
  • It was the only deliverable we could provide the judges for the game jam. We hoped that it gave off the impression of what we were aiming to develop with Help a Buddy.

Conclusion

Design Buddies Demo Day

Key Takeaways

Game Development Pipeline – From discussions with the group, we tried to keep the expectations reasonable. As our attention was more focused on environments, we experienced some delays in the user interface and onboarding. That resulted in shifting assistance on those areas to see if anything could be saved.

Time Zone Challenges – Our team was based in Canada, United States (East and West Coast), and Nigeria. While we were able to manage our meetings via Discord and kept in communication, working together at the same time proved unrealistic, due to prior commitments from some members.

Game Prototype – Not delivering a game prototype was a big disappointment for our group. We wanted to see at least a working build from our team, to have our fellow Design Buddies play test.

Scope Creep – We had further ideas we wanted to explore with bigger environmental challenges (introducing long-term care homes, and hospitals) or the possibility of multiplayer. That was leading too much into a scope creep,  but we remained focused on building one game path.

Results

Game Jam Honorary – Our team was ecstatic to find out that without our working game build, that our game trailer for Help A Buddy got us voted for Most Wholesome Game. 

The judges loved the wholesome take on the theme of community, for addressing the current Covid-19 crisis. The idea of the young generation helping the elderly in a time of need was very appealing and a positive message that resonated from the possibility of the game.

Independent Development – I personally would like to invest more time and resources to sit down and learn Unreal Engine or Unity. 

I plan to explore the validity of the idea with some of my friends and colleagues in the gaming industry. Possibly to help co-develop the game and release it on a bigger scale. 

We felt that this game could serve as an educational tool, to engage more students with real volunteering opportunities.