Who Are You? – My Journey Into Game Development

Over the past year, I have been working on my undergraduate thesis project for my 4th and final year of the New Media Program at Ryerson University. As a member and executive of the Game Maker’s Union, I wanted to make a full-fledged game I could truly call my own. Thus began my love affair with game development as I learned about the process, with plenty of twists and turns. It eventually led to me make Who Are You?, my thesis video game. It’s grown and changed a lot through the past year and I’d like to describe my journey through the development of the project.

I’ve always wanted to make a game, but it wasn’t until I got really caught up in the Game Maker’s Union that I had the motivation to make it. While I wanted to make a game, as an artist, I wanted it to be different than most games in the sense I had more passion for experience design and making people feel things, rather than making a generic shooter or action game, things that explore what games could be. In December 2012, I researched, drew storyboards, and wrote documents on a big project I wanted to make called Media Madness a surreal narrative game about corporate advertising in the media. I pitched it to a few people to get opinions and got some input, including further research materials such as learning about Tale of Tales, an incredibly inspirational game studio I like. However, as much as I prepared and researched for it, it was far too ambitious for me as I had only created one project, my Sparky Konga application, with Unity and had little skill in programming. So, I scaled the project down but it kept losing significance to me and I eventually lost sight of the project by April 2013. So, now I was back to square one to find an interesting thing to work on for my thesis. I looked over my old project and latched on to a part about walking through surreal mansion that was a landscape of the mind. This idea appealed to me due to my own fascination with the field of psychology, so I decided to take that one part of Media Madness and focus on it.

I began thinking of ideas on how to build on this new project and did some brainstorming with Ian to get ideas for some of the game’s inner mechanics. I then took that summer to once again research, storyboard, and write pre-production documents but also to learn some animation an Unity skills to prepare me for the project. By the time classes started in September 2013, I was ahead of my peers as I had already done most of the modeling and animation of the project and had begun experimenting with Unity. I decided that the game Who Are You? would be an interactive psychology game to find a user’s true self. I began posting a series of documentation videos to show progress over several months. I even began consulting a psychology professor from the University of Toronto, Dr. Hirsh, who was invaluable to helping me nail down the psychological aspects of the game and collaborative aspect to the development from another academic field. I still wasn’t skilled enough to program it completely myself though and received help from many friends, including our own Ian and Dante. I also endured a lot of user testing throughout development, from friends, peers, fellow GMU members, and even people I’d never met and found that keeping track of their opinions through the use of surveys extremely effective in tweaking the game. After a year of work, scrutiny from professors and testers, and support from Ryerson’s Transmedia Zone, Who Are You? was finished and premiered at META 2014 and was later shown at the 2014 Level Up Showcase.

So, after all of this, what did I learn? A lot of things, such as the importance of pre-production and research and different programming ideas. I learned the stressful process of making a game and how to design an experience that tailors itself to the player. Most importantly, I learned how wonky and wonderful the entire game development cycle can be. I started with an idea that in no way resembles my original project. Some may consider that to be a disappointment, but not me. I see it as an evolution. My game grew out of something completely different into a finished version I’m not immensely proud of. People have criticized it, including refusing to call it a game, but I made this game despite that. After all, who has an authority to determine what is a game and what isn’t? In which case, what is a game? Stretching boundaries is key to exploring and evolving games as a medium and an art form and I feel no matter what, I’ve done that in my own way. I began this project not having a clue how to get it done and I learned how thanks to my own perserverance and the plethora of help I received from others and the Game Maker’s Union. Now I am confident I can make a game and eager to find my next big project.

Anyone can make a game, all it takes is passion and friends to help you when you’re down. 🙂

You can experience Who Are You? yourself on my website.
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Who Are You? is a psychological video game and undergraduate new media thesis project that challenges our perception of identity and forces the player to reflect on their personality throughout a series of questions. As the player answers these questions, the rooms change in response to their answer, culminating at a conclusion where the player receives an indication as to what their choices really meant and receive summation of who they are. Do they accept the results as who they truly are? That is a question only they can answer for themselves.

Created with help with help from the Game Maker’s Union and executives Ian Nastajus and Dante Camarena. It was featured in the META 2014 new media exhibition, the Level Up Showcase 2014, and the Ryerson Transmedia Zone.

Sparks

About Jordan Sparks

The 2014 - 2015 President of the GMU. Formerly PR and Vice-President. Original founder of the Checkpoint event and other educational events and initiatives. A New Media and Media Production Masters student with a love of art, teaching, and interactive narrative. You can see more of his work at GrindSpark.com

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