Underwater - Postmortem
For our first project, we have created an underwater swimming simulator where players could experience different ambiances of areas to perceive the vast stretches of ocean. Player’s identity first started off unknown but assumed as a human, however at the end of the game, the player realizes that he is a fish in an aquarium. From this simulator, we would like to evoke various feelings from players and teach the moral, which was inspired by Chinese Literature: Zhuangzi - A Crystal Stream in Autumn. It is about narrow-mindedness where quotes said, “You cannot explain ocean to a frog because their world is a pond,” and “You cannot explain ice to summer bugs because the only adhere to summer,” hence, the moral is to break the boundary and see the bigger world. This literature ties to our concept of the naive fish that does not know it's identity. Our group first approached to the underwater concept by finding an old Korean tell-a-tale, which was about the underwater world. As we progressed to analyses the story, we realized that it was too complicated to connect the concept to out game, therefore we changed to the various different ideas, and finalized with a ’fish in a tank’ concept. While we were developing the game, we were mostly learned the techniques by ABZU. It helped to understand the overall view of the ocean: an underwater atmosphere, bubbles, opaque water, sea creatures, terrains, and water sound effects. Amnesia The Dark Descent also helped our understanding of creating a mysterious atmosphere, since mystery played a big part in our game, such as sound effects and music.
Despite tackling an underwater environment with no prior experience, I believe our team was successful in doing so. During the first stage of our project, we looked at various video games involving underwater environments. One of our biggest inspiration was ABZU by Giant Squid Studios, due to the obvious similarity in theme. We studied and integrated our understanding of certain techniques that can create a believable underwater atmosphere through the specific use of fog, lighting, color, texture, and asset designs.
While there were several problems regarding the player movement in our game, the playtests helped define our player movement to better suit the underwater environment. We were aware that the player movement was critical to the walking simulator genre, thus we constantly made adjustments to the function and variables up until the last moment. Notable elements that were later added were the idle camera animation and vertical movements that stay true to the Y-axis of the map.
During the early stages of our project, we acquired a new team member, Harris Tsui, who had considerable knowledge in modeling and texturing due to his experience in modeling elective classes. Harris proved to be greatly beneficial to our project, fleshing out various concept arts regarding assets designs, mapping, and texturing. Generally, acquiring another member balanced out our workload and raised the quality cap of the overall assignment.
As for our workflow, we were successful in diving our workload and meeting deadlines. Each member was enthusiastic and ready to contribute to the project. In fact, while we assigned specific roles for each member in the early stages, we eventually became liberal in tackling various tasks for our game regardless of pre-assigned roles. Members personally volunteered for tasks depending on their strengths and interests.
For the most part, our overall experience working on the project was positive. There were no major complications regarding both the project and relations among the team members. Developing the game and receiving critiques throughout the process certainly improved our understanding of walking simulators in both technical and conceptual aspects.
We also have obstacles and struggle to perform certain features and atmosphere of the game.
The scene transition is too slow, and the cut off of the background music breaks the game into two parts. There’s a pretty long wait between the cave and the lost city scene, those two scenes will be better off together without a cut scene transition. The music is also cut off during the wait, which makes it worse to achieve the feeling presence of underwater.
The shape of the cave looks too much like a “square tunnel”. In order to make the game feel more immersive, it is important to compare and adjust base on a real underwater cave. And those water caves never have flat corners and smooth surfaces. The contour needs to be more organic, and the shape of the exit needs to be better than couple geometry cuts. I missed this part and created based on my memory and imagination. The path can be wider and breaks into different directions. As of now, it seems like the cave is artificially designed to lead the player to a dead end that transitions to the next scene. It makes it feel very deceiving.
The background noise of human conversation at the aquarium is too subtle, I can barely notice it when we presented the game at a 15-people capacity classroom setting. The noise is designed to help the player to discover that he is a fish, and the environment he went through is in an aquarium. The noise is barely noticeable, and they don’t sound like conversations that would happen in an aquarium.
The cave doesn’t have a bump map. The cave would have been more realistic if there’s a bump map in the texture set. A bump map simulates bumps and wrinkles of an object, which is essential in a cave scene to simulate the rocks and stones on the surface.
The fish animation needs to be improved and better utilize. As of now, the fish barely has any purpose and meaning to the game. A creative idea is to set the big fish’s position to the player camera’s position with some offset after the player enters the lost city scene, and the fish would just follow the player and lead him to the discovery of the aquarium.
We were struggling to achieve the underwater atmosphere. Jhun added the fog and Youjin added the background music, and we have successfully addressed this problem. We also adjusted the player movement: gravity and movement differ between water and air setting. Without a fast start and a quick stop, the player movement felt more like underwater. It would have been better if we connect those two scenes (objects) directly instead of having a transition.
One of the lessons we learned was the importance of planning and having a clear outline. Even though we did not run into any problems or disagreements when dividing the workload during the actual process of creating the game, we did not plan for the timing of each process enough that we have to shortened the game. Since we took a while to plan all the details for the game and its narrative before starting to make it, we might’ve unintentionally decreased the time to actually make the game. Therefore, this led to nothing being able to execute our exact plan. Still, we also learned how to solve the problem of not having enough time to execute everything by deciding on which part is more important and focusing on creating the more important aspect of the game first; so while we couldn’t follow the exact plan, we still had the finished version available to play. In addition to the bigger lessons that we’ve learned, there are many things in the game that we wish to either improve of change next time. One of this being the transitions of the scenes. We could definitely do the transitions differently and decrease the jarring feeling that they gave by changing the music volume and fading them in and out more smoothly. Also, connecting the scenes together into one scene to smoothen out the in-between transition would be something we could’ve tried as well. Moreover, by adding more scenes, or even cut scenes, it would make the game flow more coherently, resulting in a more polished feeling to the game.