VR Development of Todd Damnit (Part 4): Testing, Showcasing & Accessibility

Roughly three weeks into my one-month VR development journey, I was able to quickly conduct four playtest sessions at Gamma Space. This was a few days before I recorded and implemented the final dialogue with my VO actor, so there was still robo voice at the time. The game played from start-to-finish, so that was a good time to start getting some feedback.


Playtesting Before Showcasing

What I then realized was that it was going to be hard testing out a VR experience that relied heavily on audio. So basically, I could not hear what the players hear. I asked for the testers to try to think-out-loud, but most of the time players were listening to the audio… so I guess they were immersed enough that they didn’t want to talk out of the experience? I’m not sure. I had a visual cue of players successfully attacking Todd the ghost with a 3D model of him pop up for a second.  To indicate when the player is able to stab Todd, I’ve designed it so that when the lights turn off, and dramatic music starts playing, the player is able to stab Todd.

ghost glitch wip.gif

Visual feedback of successfully stabbing Todd. 

Here’s some of the notes I’ve jotted down from each of the testers:

Tester 1

Behavior during experience:

  • This tester wanted to poke instead of stab Todd. She would slowly move the controller towards where she think Todd is, and when she saw him, she’d sweetly say “poke!”
  • Smiling throughout experience.

Feedback after experience:

  • Hard to hear music I’ve placed to indicate that’s when player’s can able to stab Todd. Crank it up!
  • Lighting needs to be more dramatic and obvious if it’s to be used as a visual indicator the player is able to stab Todd.
  • Todd’s dialogue help indicate when to stab as well. When he says “Come at me!” you know you can do that.  Narrative can help this tremendously.


Tester 2

Behaviour during experience:

  • Laughing at start and throughout.
  • First time stabbing ghost, she screamed pretty loudly and was surprised. Afterwards said with an evil tone “Ahha, I wanna mess with you!”
  • “Hiya!” was said when stabbing.
  • Flailing arm around the entire time Todd was moving. Tester though she could stab when he’s moving (player can’t, Todd is immune when he’s moving).
  • Eventually started stabbing through the entire game and moving around the space, instead of staying stationary.
  • Freaked out Todd’s voice was closer to her so suddenly (this is when players can stab Todd).

Feedback after experience:

  • Colour-coding the walls helped with player alignment.
  • Could not figure out that Todd was placed in the centre of the walls.


Tester 3

Behaviour during experience:

  • Lunged right into Todd, a perfect strike.
  • Then proceeded to lunge at all directions all the time. Eventually stabbed Todd when the trigger box finally became available.
  • Laughing.
  • Continued to stab at all directions.
  • Continued fierce lunges.

Feedback after experience:

  • Floor was a little high-up. Probably something to do with scaling or the camera position.
  • Voice-over was hilarious (at the time this was robo voice) and interactive.
  • Player wishes that when you stab Todd, he moves to a different location instantly rather than stay where he got stabbed.
  • Add SPX or audio cue when player successful stabs Todd.
  • Add reverb/mix channel to Todd’s voice when he’s hit.
  • Player felt that he had to stab right away, thinking it was a time-sensitive event. Which is why he kept trying to stab all the time.
  • Player had a dilemma: He wanted to listen to Todd, but he also wanted to stab him. Is this a good dilemma to have?


Tester 4

Behaviour during experience:

  • Player was ready to stab in the intro office scene. He was in his stabbing pose, ready to lunge.
  • “Yeah, fucking Brad!” player agreeing to Todd’s profanity.
  • “Whatta foul-mouthed ghost.”
  • Thought Todd was above him.
  • Rotating around, walking around room.
  • Player did not lunge or try to stab ghost. Did not know when he was able to do it. Kept waiting around for a cue. Had to tell player he can stab now.
  • “Got you, bastard!” Game encourages player to use vulgar language.
  • Decided to “scan” the room like how one with use the controller to set up room-scale in VR. Holding the controller out and outlining the room to find Todd.
  • Then started to stab all the time, constantly.

Feedback after experience:

  • Cue to stab is needed.
  • Particle effects, lens flare, or a glow could help determine when the ghost is nearby.
  • Colour or pulse effect can help let players know there is a spiritual presence.
  • Floor is high-up.


Iterations Needed

Because that week was the last and I had to focus on getting the recordings produced, edited and implemented, these iterations were not implemented before Damage Camp. What to work on next is:

  • Players shouldn’t be told to stay stationary. How can I design it so that players will know to remain stationary in the centre and are welcome to lung forwards?
  • Lighting, music and other visual cues need to be more obvious to let player know when they are able to stab Todd. Most players think they can stab him at anytime, even when moving.
  • Visual cues to help hint to player they need to stab in the centre of the walls. Or should Todd’s positions be placed diagonally in the corners of the room?
  • Add more dialogue lines as cue help player know when they are able to stab him.
  • Adjust floor to avoid player disconnect or motion sickness.


Set Up Flaw & Emergency Design Implementation

Setting up the day before the showcase, the game was all well and functioning. Except one thing that I anticipated early on, but it still proposed a problem at the party. And that was of course, the audio.

Because the game relies on spatial audio and the player needs to hear in order to play the game, the venue was echoing everyone’s voice so it was very loud. Again, I predicted this would happen, so I bought expensive noise-cancelling headphones. But even with that, the computer’s audio couldn’t go any louder, so the noise-cancelling function could not work as well because it needs the audio to be loud in order for it to work. Even with just around 6 people in the room setting up and talking, it was really loud. So I had to quickly come up with some sort of solution.

In my game I designed it so that Todd is quieter when is immune because he is moving around the player from a further distance. That way when he is up-close to the player (vulnerable), the player knows they can stab now. However because it was hard to hear the immune dialogue, I decided to boost up all the audio files so that everything is at 1. So now, the distant quieter (immune state) audio is now at the same volume as the stationary and close audio (vulnerable state). Basically, now the players would be unable to tell when they are allowed to stab Todd because the volume for all the dialogue lines was the exact same.

I quickly decided to throw in a dramatic light effect to help with this. I threw in a few nodes into uScript to do the following:

  • If Todd is close to the player and vulnerable: Turn ON a pink spotlight underneath the player.
  • If Todd is far away, moving around and immune: Turn OFF the pink spotlight.

This was an emergency design decision thrown in last-minute for the party. As long as the player doesn’t have a tough time understanding the game, that’s all that matters to me.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset  Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Game set-up at Damage Camp.


Night of the Party

The night before the party, I forgot to leave a build behind on my computer, so when I arrived late to the party, I had friends huddling around my computer browsing through my Unity project trying to find the correct scene file to play. Whoops.

The event was to celebrate our success in creating our first VR prototypes, (and be one of the first artists to showcase work at TMAC!) so I did not have to worry about playtesting… but I wanted to anyways. So I conducted very informal playtests here and there throughout the night. Jotting notes was too much work that night, so I decided to easily film people playing to understand their actions, behaviors, facial expressions and movements.

Playtester playing the game at the opening party. Note how player tries to stab at all directions and had to squeeze headphones in ears to hear better. 

Before someone wanted to play the game, I had to made sure to state various things before they are given the headset in order to provide them with an optimal experience.

  • Stand in the centre of the space. Stay stationary throughout the game, however you are encouraged to lunge forwards to stab the ghost.
  • Due to the loud environment it will be hard to hear the audio. Try to listen carefully to pinpoint where it is coming from.
  • When the pink light is lit under you, that means you are now allowed to stab the ghost.
  • Aim for the centre of the walls. The ghost is not in the corners.

I did not want to state the last one… but for a better play experience I had to. Some players were spending so much time stabbing at the wrong area that Todd stopped talking, which means they lost his position and got stumped.


Informal Conclusions

Very similar to the previous playtest obviously, but some other things to note:

  • When Todd is vulnerable, players kept stabbing at all directions, because they could not figure out where he was due to the volume of the party outside of VR.
  • Most players squeezed the headphones into their ears when not stabbing to try to hear the dialogue and pinpoint Todd’s location.
  • Because this was a casual social event, players were not comfortable expressing criticism or feedback. Almost every person after playing said something among the lines of “That was soooo cool” and quickly proceed to leave.
  • Players were laughing and smiling.
  • Players found enjoyment in the dialogue, most expressed their condolences about the unfortunate audio situation.
  • Bystanders were recording others playing the game and enjoyed watching.


Potentially Making It More Accessible #A11y

Recently, I went to the Game UX Summit hosted by Ubisoft Toronto and learned a tremendous amount of content in regards to how to make one’s game more accessible through game, UI and UX design.  Bryce Johnson, a designer at XBox, talked particularly about how to make a card game accessible to a player who is blind or has low-vision, and even presented videos of how this sort of gameplay would look like. Later on in the summit, there was a panel that even included Steve Saylor, a blind gamer. Hearing from a user at a panel was heart-warming and really helps put this into a better perspective.


Inclusivity & Accessibility Panel at the Game UX Summit in Toronto, ON. 

With this VR game, it heavily relies on audio. The player needs to listen to where the ghost is in order to figure out it’s location, and then proceed to attack. Even there will be more visual cues to help players out, the game seems like it has the potential to be playable by a player who is visually impaired or blind. Obviously, I cannot make assumptions as to how this sort of user would interact with the game. So in the future, I hope to have the opportunity to find a tester who is visually impaired or blind to be able to see how they play this VR experience, and to iterate on it’s design to make it more accessible towards this audience.




VR Development of Todd Damnit (Part 3): Prototype Development & Recording

Let me just front out and say it, I’m not the best coder. I only had about one month to develop my prototype on the Vive. So to prevent myself from pulling out my curly hair and raging at what the hell is wrong with my syntax, I decided to do visual scripting.


Visual Scripting, The Saviour

In the past I’ve used Playmaker in my first year of college. I was hoping to go back into that tool, but the price was $65 USD, which calculates to about $80 CAD. So I looked up other — free or cheaper — tools I could use, and found uScript. This tool had a free learning edition, a basic version for $35 USD and the full version for $135 USD. Sounds good to me.


Learning version of uScript available for free on the Unity Asset Store.

I started diving right into the tool, experimenting with it and looking at their official documentation. I found the documentation to be helpful when it came down to getting an understanding how it the entire tool works, but I was not getting enough information on what sort of nodes were available. Fortunately, I found a YouTube playlist by Brent Farris that goes over the basics and even covers some common nodes one may come across using. I highly recommend checking out this playlist if you are interested in using uScript!

There’s are shit ton of nodes in the tool, which is fantastic, but also extreme overwhelming because it was hard to find the right one I was looking for. I spent a majority of my time searching up my questions in uScript’s forum, which helped me a lot.

Here’s how my node map started off looking like for the main gameplay scene.


Early process screenshot of developing the game’s system, and dialogue tree using the visual scripting tool uScript.

Basically here is what is going on:

  1. Start Todd’s Dialogue instantly. He is immune and moving around the player.
  2. Turn on the Right Trigger’s collider and play Todd’s rambling dialogue at that location. This is where Todd will be located for the Intro Round. He is vulnerable and the player is able to stab him.
  3. If the player stabs him (Player’s controller enters Right Trigger), Todd will react to being attacked with a reaction dialogue line. Also, the Right Trigger turned it’s collider OFF.
  4. After the reaction dialogue is said, Todd will go back to moving around the player, immune, to give the player time to get ready for his next move.
  5. Todd is now located at the Front Trigger. Turn on Front Trigger’s collider and play Todd’s rambling dialogue from there. This is a new round,  so he vulnerable and the player is able to stab him again.

After a few days and over 250+ nodes later, the game turned into this:


First complete draft of the visual scripting map of the entire game. 

Oh boy.

Overall, my experience using uScript was great. I hardly run into any problems. When I did, it was usually something stupid like forgetting to save my node map before going into Play Mode. I’m definitely going to look into buying the Basic version of the tool.


Developing for VR… Without VR

The VR setups for the SPF90FPS program was at Gamma Space in Toronto. I was welcome to come in any time to work on my game there which was awesome! However, I could easily develop at home when I don’t necessarily need to test with VR. Working from home also means less time commuting and more time developing! I would go to Gamma about two times a week to plug my game into VR to check to see how it functions and plays.

So at home I don’t have VR, so I created my game using a third-person controller at first. Whenever the player hit the right Trigger Box, the dialogue went off. I was able to play a complete run-through of my game, and it ended up being around 3-5 minutes long. Which is pretty good for a game made in one month on my own. Later, I went to implement it into VR at Gamma. I come home and the project file crashed on startup and was broken. Thankfully I had a backup of the game before I implemented all the VR packages, so I was able to keep working on it at home. ALWAYS HAVE BACKUPS FRIENDS. ❤ HEY YOU READING THIS, BACK UP YOUR STUFF NOW.

The following week I head back to Gamma, this time leaving backup files on the computers there, and also re-opening all my updated files with the VR content onto various different computers to make sure it didn’t crash. Luckily, it didn’t and I went home to a working VR project file! Yaaaaaaay.

The game prototype using, at the time, a third-person camera. This was the VR file brought home successfully. What a momentous day it was. 

Once I got VR working in my Unity project file at home, I decided to switch over to a FPS camera instead — since VR is first-person after all! Over the weeks I would create a new save file and bring it to Gamma and toggle to the VR camera. I got to spend hours there testing in VR and adjusting content that I wouldn’t be able to do at home, so I made sure to have a priority list and backlog of what needs to be done first before heading home.


Creating Dialogue Placeholders

Because this game is mainly audio, I had to have audio in my game in order to prototype it properly and get a better sense of it’s timing. I had friend interested in doing temporary dialogue to help out, but unfortunately I realized it would take up too much time to work on something that will not end up in the final game. So I went to www.text2speech.org, to get some robo voice dialoge of my writing. I typed in my dialogue lines and it created audio files in a automated robotic voice. It only took about 20 minutes to get all the lines produced, and I was able to quickly drag and drop them all into uScript. Only bad side was… I felt so uncomfortable typing in all my foul-mouthed disturbing dialogue into an online converter. And then later on, I found out that Adobe Audition has a new feature that does exactly that… offline! So I’ll be using that for future projects. The more you know.




Recording The Dialogue

I absolutely love voice directing. Getting to spend so much time designing and writing games and then finally hear your story coming to life is such a magical feeling. So of course, this was one of my favourite parts of this VR dev journey. ❤

I only got to do about two drafts of the script before realizing I have’t even organize recording sessions. So, uh, the voice recordings were literally done three nights before the party. I unfortunately forgot to put out a casting call earlier, so I quickly message VO actors I’ve worked with on Disco is Dead! — my previous project. Luckily, one was available and happy to play Todd the Ghost, and I also got my friend’s boyfriend to take on the smaller role of Brad. I was hoping to do recordings the week before Damage Camp, however one of my VO actors lost his voice! So it had to be pushed to a later and tighter date. Thankfully he healed and it all worked out! I still created a tiny casting call package and sent them the scripts and reference material. To see the scripts and reference material, check out Part 2: Narrative & Comedy Design.



Brad is a minor character of the story. To establish the VR game’s story, Brad leaves a voicemail for the player in their office before heading into the game. The voicemail states the player’s objective, which is exterminate Todd. I was lucky enough to get my friend’s boyfriend to provide the voice. Brad is meant to be a normal, typical nice guy — whose personality is highly contrasted to Todd’s profanity, thus being a foil. Todd quote “fucking hates Brad.”

Because this was only 1-3 lines of dialogue, it was not worth my time to go all the way to Gamma Space just to record it. So I found my old-school wired Sony microphone I had since high school. The cord wasn’t USB so I had to use my Mom’s older laptop, so I had to install Audacity in order to record with it. Because it was a phone call dialogue clip, I recorded it in various different ways with different phones. We recorded it on it’s own, recorded it through my friend’s mobile voicemail, and recorded it through my home phone answering machine. I ended up going with the one that was recorded through my friend’s voicemail, cause it felt more authentic. The plus side to recording it this way was that I didn’t have to spend time editing and designing the sound to seem like a phone call!


Todd the Ghost

Since Todd is the star and his voice is very very important to the game, I needed a better audio setup than a long wired-Sony microphone in my living room. Also… I needed to record in a space that was quiet and also where people would be comfortable if my VO actor screamed and threaten terrible things… without calling the cops. Luckily I got the opportunity to record at Gamma Space in the evening hours (Thanks Robby)! I got to use a Zoom H6 for recording. I’ve had experience using a Zoom H4 and Zoom H5 for past projects, so I was excited to try the newer one. With this setup I was able to record crisp audio with hardly any white-noise, pops or muffles… and thankfully no one called the cops.

Image result for zoom h4 Image result for zoom h5      Image result for zoom h6

Left to right: Zoom H4, Zoom H5, and what I used for this project: Zoom H6.

Here’s some behind-the-scenes of recording Todd, who’s voice is provided by my (insanely talented) friend Paolo! Note how highly expressive and loud these recordings had to be.


Click here for Part 4: Playtesting, Showcasing & Accessibility!


VR Development of Todd Damnit (Part 2): Narrative & Comedy Design

Many people already know that I enjoy creating narrative-driven games and interactive experiences. So when I got the opportunity to make my first VR game, of course it had to be just that. I’ve played VR games at showcases and exhibitions in the past, so I started to develop an understanding of the challenges of designing narrative in VR. The biggest problem is this:

Being place in a VR world causes the players to be driven by their own curiosity. So if there’s a narrative, players are more likely to not pay attention to the story, due to being distracted very easily.

Players can choose whether or not to pay attention to a narrative, especially in VR. However for my game, I want players to pay attention, listen and take part in the narrative.  So I designed my game so that the players need to listen to the ghost talking, in order to figure out where he is located to stab him.


Designing Fluid Narrative Flow

Todd the Ghost needs to be constantly talking in order for the player to determine where he is located, but Todd blabbers on for only a certain amount of time. So when he stops talking, the player could potentially lose where Todd’s position is. So now what?

I want the players to interrupt Todd’s raging by stabbing him while he is talking. However, one problem I noticed early on is that players may want to keep listening to him rambling on. I obviously can’t record a massive endless run of dialogue for this small project, so I had to figure out a way to finish off Todd’s dialogue without the player forgetting where he is located when he’s done. I designed a fluid dialogue tree so that Todd will spit out roughly 3 insults to the player when he is in a vulnerable state (meaning the player can attack him). After those insults, he will do around 10 seconds or so of exertions — like laughing, aggressive breathing or screaming. This audio line is meant to hint at players that he has stopped talking and that the option to attack him is still available. After that, there will be about 3-5 seconds of silence and then Todd will scream out a bark, intending to attack the player. Due to scope and time, this mechanic of Todd attacking the player if they do not attack him first has not yet been implemented. So there currently is no lose state. I’m hoping to design it so that if the player gets attacked a certain amount of times by the end of the game, they will get a certain type of ending. For example, if the player was attacked 3+ more times out of the 6 rounds, they will be killed by Todd. This first-draft diagram shows how I originally wanted the player to die right after failing to attack 3 times, however that’ll shorten the VR experience and prompt the player to restart, which they may not want to try again. Potentially having various endings based off how well the player plays the game will at least give the player a full satisfying experience.

The first-draft of Todd’s dialogue tree based off player actions.


The Character of Todd the Ghost

Todd’s character is highly amusing to me and I really enjoyed writing him. He’s a college frat who died in the basement of his fraternity. He’s a complete douche and died being a douche. A minor character I have in the game for a small section is Brad, who a typical normal guy who is used as a foil to contrast how self-centered Todd is. One challenge I wanted to take on was designing Todd as a villain you’d love to hate. Originally I wanted his character to be drunk like at a party, but I found early on that players may not want to attack someone who is this vulnerable. So Todd had to be a terrible — yet entertaining — character on purpose. He is responsible for and in control of his actions. So if he decides to act like a dick, you do not feel as bad hurting him. In order to making him enjoyable to hurt, his reactions to the player’s actions are vital. His reactions had to be extremely expressive, which is why I decided to throw in a lot of profanity and curse words.

Todd the ghost is a character you’d love to hate. Due to his expressive reactions, you find enjoyment and satisfaction when attacking him.

For this character I heavily found inspiration from Borderlands 2‘s Handsome Jack. He is exactly the type of character I wanted Todd to be, so I wrote most of Todd’s lines in Jack’s voice to help me quickly visualize and understand his character. Luckily my voice-over actor was comfortable and excited to do some very loud dialogue recording like yelling offensive content and screaming.

I sent my VO actor a YouTube playlist of Handsome Jack portraying his personality at his best in a variety of small slips (the longest being 6 minutes of barks). I avoided putting in very long videos not to overwhelm my actor, however he ended up finding and listening to an hour long video containing ALL of Jack’s dialogue lines!


Video playlist sent to my VO actor for reference.

Instead of writing the game’s dialogue in a film-styled script, I wrote and organized it into a spreadsheet instead. That way, I can visualize more clearly where and when the dialogue would play, and spend less time reading through the script. Each round is colour-coded and each dialogue line is assigned a type and a code name that is referenced in Unity.


First-draft spreadsheet of all of Todd’s lines. 

To learn more about recording the dialogue and see behind-the-scenes, check out Part 3: Prototype Development & Recording.

Encouraging Player Comedy

For this game (and practically all my games), I wanted it to be comedic. I’ve written a few research reports of this topic in the past, so taking what I’ve learned so far and implementing these concepts into my games helps me get a better sense of how we can create comedy games. And also… it’s a ton of fun.

Before I go into how I designed the player-centered comedy, let me tell you about how the name of my game came first. It’ll come full circle later!

When it came down to naming the game, I was stumped. I had a previous game idea years back that was called “Todd Damnit,” and that was somewhat similar to this game. So I decided to just name the ghost Todd for now, so if I couldn’t think of a better name, the title made sense. I kept saying my game was a ghost-stabbing game on social media and around Gamma Space, so I really wanted to call it “Ghost Stabber VR.” That way, players know what they are in for. Back on Disco is Dead!, the game’s name doesn’t highlight the fact that the game is about slapping zombies (literally). It eventually got known as the zombie-slapping game, but if the title actually contained the words “zombie” or “slapping,” would it have helped players quickly grasp the context of the game? So should the game’s name highlight the mechanic or not? I decided to ask Twitter for help. With that, I got an answer… and lots of really fun puntastic suggestions!


Results of the Twitter poll for game’s name.

So Todd Damnit ended up being the winner, which was slightly pleasing. Later on after some quick playtesting, I realized that Ghost Stabber VR would have not been the best choice. Why? Because it would have put into the player’s head that they are only obligated to stab ghosts. Limiting a player’s fantasy — specifically a player’s comedic fantasy — will cause all players to have relatively the same experience. One tester wanted to adorably poke the ghost with no force and found enjoyment through that by being the Ghost Poker. I found that players did not just want to stab: they want to poke or lunge or jump attack. I was really happy to see this because it means that the game is open to comedic expression, meaning players can be a comedian and have their own personal experience.

Hell, players in my game can hump the ghost if they’d like to.

Having a simple open-ended mechanic allows players to create their own comedy.

I actually originally wanted to design the attack/stab mechanic so that players need to put in a certain amount of force in order for it to count. That way, it can stop players from accidentally touching the correct trigger box unintentionally. But because this would restrict player creativity in how they’d like to attack — and also because I’m not the best at coding — I kept the mechanic simple. In order for the player to attack Todd successfully, these conditions need to be met:

  • Todd is stationary and close to the player, meaning he is vulnerable.
  • One vive controller must hit the correct trigger box he is in.

That’s it.

Even though players can still accidentally hit Todd due to their positioning, there can be other solutions to prevent this from happening, such as re-positioning trigger boxes.


Click here for Part 3: Prototype Developement & Recording!

VR Development of Todd Damnit (Part 1): Goals & Conceptualization

In the last two months I was fortunate enough to be selected to take part in Dames Making Games‘ first VR intensive program called SPF90FPS. Spending one month conceptualizing and the other in full development, I was able to have a fully playable prototype of my 5-minute game — titled “Todd Damnit” — at the opening party of DMG’s first conference, Damage Camp.

The premise of the comedy horror game is simple:

Time to stab ghosts in VR! As a paranormal exterminator, you are sent down to a fraternity basement to exterminate an annoying ghost named Todd.

Because the enemy is a ghost, the player cannot see him. The game is designed specifically with spatialized audio. So in order for the player to attack Todd the Ghost, the player must listen to the him rambling in order to pinpoint his location.  The game plays with the HTC Vive on Steam VR.


My Dev Goals

When I first pitched my game idea in SPF90FPS program application, I stated I wanted to create a small VR game that had a disembodied voice yelling at the player’s actions constantly. Basically, I wanted to do The Stanley Parable in VR.

With this in mind, I had created these goals:

  • To create a short narrative-driven game in VR, not just a narrative “experience.”
  • Want players to pay attention to the narrative.
  • Have a simple mechanic to drive the player through the story, providing agency.
  • Mechanic is open-ended enough to provide comedic player expression.
  • Character reacts to players’ actions.
  • Have one simple goal that’s easy to understand and accomplish.

And of course:

  • Explore and learn about spatialized audio!

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VR workspace.


Starting off fresh with a new notebook, I drew visual maps of how I wanted to design this game that doesn’t rely much on visual cues. It’s hard to visual a game that’s mainly driven by audio, so I had to constantly keep drawing up maps and diagrams to get a better understanding of how it should potentially work. I drew this everywhere. On the bus, train, at work, at Gamma Space, and not just in my journal either. I drew it on receipts and any sort of paper I could find. The diagram was permanently stamped and infused into my brain.

I drew this diagram everywhere like alien-like crop circles.

Prototype diagrams… everywhere!


Choosing Which VR To Work With

During very early prototyping stages, I was using the Oculus. Eventually I learned that my game does not play that well with this VR set, particularity the controllers. In my game, the player will have a dagger-like weapon to attack the ghost. The Oculus controllers are slightly rounded and short, and the grip does not re-enact gripping a dagger. It was uncomfortable and I felt disconnected with the weapon I was holding, because my brain could not register that I was really holding a dagger.


Image result for oculus controller     Image result for htc vive controller

Left to right: Oculus controller vs. HTC Vive controller.

So I quickly made the switch to the HTC Vive. Its controllers felt more natural, and seems to support better and more fluid body movements for the player to attack Todd the Ghost. I’ve also personally had a better experience playing VR with the Vive in the past, and found that I hardly got motion sickness using it.


Click here for Part 2: Narrative & Comedy Design!

Disco is Dead! — GDC Marketing and Showcase Exposure

Within the final month of development, it’s now marketing prime time.

Through I Need Diverse Games, Dames Making Games and the GDC Narrative Summit, I was able to attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Conveniently, GDC was taking place during reading week, so we did not miss out on any meetings.  Going there is obviously the perfect opportunity for networking, so I wanted to come up with a way to advertise Disco is Dead! despite the fact that the game is incomplete. A few weeks before the conference, we did not have enough time to produce more art and most of the cutscene art was planned to be started until after reading week. So I had to act fast. Business cards would have been the cheapest and easier route to go, however it was also harder to design those within a short amount of time. I wanted to offer something to attendees that would be fun, memorable and practical.

So I decided to make stickers!

Stickers had exactly what I was looking for. They’re enjoyable, make a better impact and they are more likely to be used than thrown out. So I designed two stickers that had the first images of our player-characters, Reggie and Kenny. One of the challenges was to figure out how to incorporate the title of the game without sing the logo, since at the time we were considering redesigns.  So I added the title around the stickers, giving it a patch-like feel, and also included the characters’ names to help establish these characters outside of the game.

Something I was indecisive about was adding the game’s twitter handle. I definitely wanted to include it like how a business card would, but at the same time, I want people to enjoy the sticker the way it is, and not make our advertising approach noticeable.  In the end, I finally decided not to include it. Sure, we would have gotten more followers, but I didn’t want to make us look like try-hards. Fortunately, our twitter did get more followers from GDC because of the stickers. At the conference I handed out about a hundred of my personal business cards. That card has my personal twitter, which links to Disco is Dead!’s twitter. So handing out my business card and a Disco is Dead! sticker exactly worked hand-in-hand, since people can find out more about the sticker by using the information on my card. IT almost seems like they were on a like a treasure hunt, making the experience of finding our wacky gem of a game more unique and special. I’m very happy I chose to spread awareness of our game with stickers, because it put a smile on everyone’s face when they received it. Especially drunk people. Actually, pitching our weird crazy game to drunk people got over-top and expressive reactions!

Here are the stickers we printed. We’ve printed about 48 of these and only handed them out to anyone we’ve mentioned Disco is Dead! to.


Playtesting for Exposure

Post-GDC with only a few weeks left, it’s time to apply to showcases. Our game was designed to be played at showcases exclusively due to our unique controller set up. Currently, I’m working on a new updated trailer that will show off our newer controller designs as well as our polished art and gameplay. Since we want to show our interesting game to the public, we did some public playtesting at Gamma Space before GDC.

Gamma Space held their monthly Play Games With Friends event in February, and we decided to bring our game out for a test-run. Only our level designer, creative director and I were going, and unfortunately our UI lead (who made the controllers) could not attend.

Which meant we had to set it up.

Of course, this being our first time trying to set up without our UI lead to help out, we spend about 45 minutes trying to assemble it together properly. Our game plays well when players are standing rather than sitting down, which means we prefer a bar-height table so taller players are not insulted or excluded. However, for this session, we had to use regular height tables, which does not offer the best playable experience. We tried using a long table but that proved to be weak with our controller rigs. So we resorted to a round table. We initially thought it wouldn’t clamp down on a rounded surface, and surprisingly we were wrong. The next step was to connect the wires to the right controls, which took some trial and error through testing on Notepad. Soon, we got some testers wanting to play, and as they played, some parts of the controller weren’t functioning properly. Throughout the night (and with so much pressure on us) we recreated some of the foil tape tabs that helped connect the circuit together. Eventually, we recreated so many of the connections, that the controllers started working perfectly and the game was running smoothly. After about 2 hours of panicking, the game was working and we got a few more testers the enjoy the game without interruptions or technical difficulties. With this experience, I learned that we need to have practice set ups for future events, time ourselves, and think of every possible thing that could go wrong and prepare for it. It was a really good night in the end. We got lots of great feedback and even got ourselves some Disco is Dead! fans!


There have also been plenty of moments of failure when setting up. Such as when we have guests visiting our labs and we are unexpectedly told to set up our game for them. Through these failures, we are taking notes and making checklists of what needs to be done when preparing for future showcases like Level Up in April. We are even trying to find our own table that fits our exact requirements (in height and stability) for the controllers so we can offer players the best playable experience.

Disco is Dead! — Bringing the Story To Life

Cutting Down the Script

The game’s entire story ended up being 47 pages — which is way too long. Our story will be told through mainly comic-book styled cutscenes, which requires A LOT of art. We only have one artist, so the script and storyboards need to be cut down to a more manageable amount our artist can complete. Many of our team mates, including myself, will help with colouring the finalized cutscenes. Before we ask our artist to start on storyboards, our UI designer will focus on designing the storyboards and minimizing the amount of cutscenes. Currently, I am meeting up with her each day to look over and evaluate her storyboards, making sure it’s cut down enough and the story is still pure. We are aiming to finish the storyboards and cut down the script by Monday.

Organizing VO Auditions

Now that the story is just about done, it’s time to start looking for voice-over artists to bring our characters to life. I made an casting call package that has descriptions of the game’s characters as well as some sample scripts. I advertised on a few Facebook groups, and got got handful of responses. Additionally, I’ve emailed some actors who have offered assistance to the animation film projects. To be honest, organizing this casting call and future auditions isn’t easy breezy. I’ve given a deadline until Wednesday of this week for VO artists to contact me, and many start messaging me right away, just when I finished creating the audition package. So really I wasn’t prepared, because this is the first time I’m organizing and communicating with actors. However, it is very exciting! Right when some actors started contacted me, I had to figure out their schedules, but I can’t just ask them what time they’d like to do it — that isn’t professional. I already know that we are planning on holding the auditions on Monday the 22nd, but how do figure out what time the actors should come in at? Should we hold all the auditions in one block? What if some can’t make it? All these questions and concerns were occupying my brain. So I quickly booked out the room we we’re going to use for most of the day, just in case. Most of these actors are students at the school, so they’re all classes. Instead of book a huge time block for auditions, I thought of 4 different 30 minute time blocks throughout the day. — one in the morning, two in the afternoon and one in the evening. And, I made these times a half hour after a typical class would end at. So for example, one of the audition times conveniently at 6:30-7:00pm for those who end class at 6:00pm. I sent off a message to all the actors to pick from these time blocks and let me know who they would like to audition for. As I received all their desired times, I would put this information in a document schedule. The auditions were around 10 minutes, so that way I can have 3 people in for each time block. On the last day of accepting responses, I messaged all the actors their official time block, such as 6:40pm or 6:50pm so no one is stuck waiting. I ended up being overbooked since many responded later, but I wanted to give them a chance. Some of the actors even asked to send in tapes since they could not make it. So I gave them until Monday, the day of the auditions. Most of the actors who messaged me ended up showing up to the auditions. There were only two that had to cancel last minute and two that didn’t show up at all with alerting me. When one of the actors was late, it caused a chain-reaction and everyone had to wait longer, or got confused as to who was going next.

Conducting the Auditions

The auditions went really well. I honestly expected not many people to have the talent we were looking for our wacky game, but I was AMAZED. The talent was over the top for many of the roles, especially the theatre students. Everyone that auditioned said it was their first time doing voice-overs, so it was more laid back and casual. Unfortunately, two of the auditions didn’t end up recording. The recorder must be pressed twice to record, and those times it was only pressed once, which previews the audio. Once the auditions were completed, the next day I edited them so I can cut out any unnecessary parts of the auditions. I also asked for one of the actors to come back to re-record his audition. I called a meeting and showed the auditions to the entire team to hear their opinions. By the end of this week, our sound lead and I will be making the final call for who will be casted, and we will alert those selected as soon as possible.

Focusing on the Buddy Cop Genre

Afterwards, I will be implementing the recorded placeholder audio (that our team voiced for earlier) in the game. This’ll help see if there should be any script changes before we do the final recording session with the actors we’ll pick. Also, we plan on doing a narrative playtest by testing out the cutscene gameplay. We’ll need to have recorded dialogue so players can play the full experience. During this narrative playtest, we want to see if the players are understanding the story and their character, see how they interactive with it, and also see what they think of the transition between cutscene and runner gameplay. Our game is in the buddy cop genre. So we want the players to feel like buddy cops themselves through the story and gameplay, and hopefully enact off-screen conflict. Having this as our focus can make the co-op aspect of our game much more engaging, and the sooner we test this, the better.

Disco is Dead! — Narrative Design & Writing The Complexity of Designing a Lovable Yet Slappable Character

Ever since the beginning, our team wanted to have a third-wheel character that the players would potentially hate and they would love to slap him. Through our slapping mechanics, this would be allowed and encouraged.

This character is Chad.

Originally, we pictured this mid-age man as a low-life nerd who spends his time playing the very popular game at the time — Dungeons & Dragons. He envies Reggie and Kenny (the players) and tries to be cool just like them but fails. He is annoying and creepy, so Reggie and Kenny always shoot him down. In the end, Chad is the mastermind of the zombie outbreak — a revenge plot for not being accepted by the players.

This idea had one big problem. He’s a nerd, and nerd that wants to fit in and have friends. This character is lovable — not hateful. Personally, I would NOT want to slap this guy, I’d let him join us. And with the huge impact of geeky video game culture, society and — of course — morals, no player in their right minds would want to slap him.

So I suggested that this guy should be a complete douche. He was popular and cool — the high school jock. He got himself laid by a lot of chicks and treated everyone poorly. Until one day his friends just lost respect for him and bailed, like the typical conclusion of teen flicks. Due to this, Chad never learns to be a nice guy, and continues to being a low-life jerk. When funky cops, Reggie and Kenny, enter the picture, he wants to hang with them to be cool once again, even at his mid-age.

This too, doesn’t seem realistic. Why would he try to be cool as them? He’s bullied people so he would probably just make fun of Reggie and Kenny. And having this mid-age jerk start a zombie outbreak doesn’t make much sense. He clearly would not play Dungeons & Dragons — or at least would not admit he once played it!

This brought up a big question:

Do we want a character that envies the players? Or tries to tear them down? Envy makes the players stronger and more confident in their actions. However, tearing them down offers more conflict.

Our goal is to create a character you would LOVE to slap.

We kept brainstorming more traits:

  • He’s the ace cop?
  • He’s a sycophant?
  • He’s an arrogant intern that ruins everything?
  • He’s clumsy?
  • His looks are horrendous: comb-over hiding baldness, crazy eyes, raised eyebrows, gap tooth, punchable face?

A narrative designer on our team suggested looking at The Incredible‘s character Buddy/Incrediboy/Syndrome. He tries hard to be accepted as a sidekick to Mr. Incredible, but is constantly turned down until he snaps and plans for revenge. This can work really well, but again, the players will most likely want to recruit a sidekick to feel more powerful, not turn them down.

Image result for incrediboyImage result for syndrome the incredibles

We seeked advice from our production advisor. He suggested working with a cliche character to make it visually obvious that this guy is terrible. Like making this character a complete opposite of our player-characters Reggie and Kenny. And what’s that obvious opposite? He hates disco. He’s moved on from that dead trend and enjoys rock n’ roll or maybe he’s preppy. Either way, there is a clear indication what type of guy this is without having to establish so much. Also, if we want to make this guy likable, he has to be funny and entertaining.

You can see where this is going; Chad is too complex.

We needed to move on and I needed to have the draft script completed. So I wrote it out, with Chad being just a typical annoying character. We had a table read with our production advisor and it went really well. Our relationship with the Reggie and Kenny was great and Chad was funny. However, if we removed Chad from the game, no one would notice a difference. Which is a good and bad thing. If we need to cut him – that’s fine. But, knowing that he’s not doing anything useful seems like a huge waste of development time.

It was clear Chad had to go.

We decided that we do not need our original twist — of this character being the villain in the end. In fact, no one needs to really understand how this whole zombie outbreak started. As a team we brainstormed new characters because we need a character that can replace Chad. Preferably one you’d want to slap, but it should be a relationship that both Reggie and Kenny hate.

Here’s a list of the ideas brought up:

  • A young character that hates disco and is in with the times.
    • This seems the most prominent — it’s a great way for the players to hate this character right away because hopefully, the players should take on their persona as a disco-loving cop.
    • This young character can also point out pop culture things Reggie and Kenny don’t know about: zombies.
  • A female character — a total badass
    • I would absolutely love to have another badass character besides Captain Trudy, especially because Trudy is hardly in the story and it personally bugs me. However, this character SHOULD NEVER BE SLAPPED. A woman getting slapped by two strong men? Terrible. We thought maybe she can deflect their slaps — it’d be funny. But that is still attempted assault on the player’s part.
  • A character that is skeptical about Reggie and Kenny’s actions
    • This can add more hatred and conflict towards the players. This character may not believe what Reggie and Kenny are saying about “zombies” or “people getting so high they are killing people”.
  • A character that constantly narrates the story and barks during gameplay
    • This helps out with tutorials and teaching players what to do. But having this character constantly with them can ruin the buddy cop relationship we currently have and turn it into an odd group of three.

All these ideas are building blocks towards a better character. The best way to think of this character (which is not listed above) is to make he/she a foil towards the players, Reggie and Kenny. Similar to the film Anchorman, Ron Burgundy and his news team are baffled by the new co-anchor being a woman, Veronica Corningstone.

Image result for anchorman veronica corningstone

Our game is set in the same decade, the 1970s, and this foil character can work really well contrasting our disco cops. This foil character hates disco and enjoys modern times, and this character can be a  young woman. To make it more interesting, this confident and strong woman can be their new captain, similar to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s premise. Reggie and Kenny are baffled by a woman at first but quickly start to respect her… that is until they have a terrible first impression, which causes them to be demoted. This is a good transition back to our original story, since they were already assigned donut duty. Moreover, this Captain can be their dispatcher when Reggie and Kenny are off slapping zombies. So, she — a female badass — can be more included in the story.

This character is the new and revamped Captain Trudy.

Unfortunately, this “lovable yet slappable” character — originally Chad — is currently scraped. This new Trudy character offers the following:

  • A strong female badass
  • Highlights the theme of disco being a regretful trend.
  • Contrasts how Reggie and Kenny are different compared to everyone else; they are complete goofs because they still find disco cool
  • More comedy between their differences
  • She is now more involved in the story
  • Reggie and Kenny share a dislike for her

It would have been a fantastic addition to have a character the player can slap for entertainment. But this proved to be a huge challenge to take on, and our team does not have time to create all these different variations to figure out which one works. This new character is less of a headache to create. So, it’s best to continue forward with an easier character to take on.

Disco is Dead! — Narrative Design & Writing Defining the Narrative’s Theme, Story and Characters

Focusing on the Disco

In the last few weeks, the narrative has been developing smoothly and is starting to solidify. Our team has decided to focus on disco nightclub level, so we can have a vertical slice by the end of this year. In fact, the scope has now been reduced to add more quality to our levels. So, we merged the nightclub level and cultist level to make it more engaging story. Cultists at a disco nightclub?  Yes, please.

Focusing on the Same Vision

Since the narrative team composes of three people, it will be hard to keep everyone under the same vision. So to start off, I have given every narrative designer a research document template to research the following topics relevant to our game:

  • 1970s – Las Vegas, famous crimes, events, history, fads, entertainment, fashion and other media to consider
  • 1980s – Las Vegas, famous crimes, events, history, fads, entertainment, fashion and other media to consider
  • Cops – Film, televsion, buddy cops and other media to consider
  • Lovecraft Themes – Lovecraft quotes, Cthulhu,  Re-Animator, zombie stories

With this research, our team was able to learn more about these decades to grasp a better understanding of the timeline, and discover potential elements to add to the plot.

Since the narrative team has not been able to write much yet, I asked for each of them to write funny, juicy and essential moments that they would like to see in a vertical slice level. The structure is constantly being updated, but that should not stop the writers from writing interesting moments, interactive or not! Our entire team had a creative session earlier, and during that session we all brainstormed potential slapping scenarios. The narrative designers can use examples brainstormed in that session or create new ones. Once we have all our interesting moments written out, I’ll implement them into the draft script for the vertical slice level. Since now the writers are now writing, I had to make sure that we are all writing consistently. So, after constantly iterating and finding inspirations from other non-linear scripts such as Telltale Games, I finalized an interactivity narrative format formula. The game’s narrative will be written in film format through any typical screenwriting software. However, since these programs do not support non-linear stories, this formula will help us organize the game’s interactive moments:


The numerical list can help programmers quickly identify how many choices/results there are. Capitalizing the important terms can help differ the interactive parts from the rest of the script. The SLAP CHOICES / END can notify the reader that the interactivity has ended and is resuming to the linear part of the story.

Focusing on the Story Concept

Not only do I work with the other narrative derringer,s but also communicate with everyone else on the team, including the level designer, artist, UI designer and programmers. Not everyone on the team knows the story, or has the take to read the script, so I made story concept guide that the entire team can use to understand the narrative. This guide is meant to be clean and simple and so far includes:

  • Settings – Description of the setting, maps, list of backgrounds needed for cutscenes and reference photos.
  • Characters – Brief description of characters, concept art and a link to the character design docs.
  • Key definitions – Key words that are relevant to understand the story
  • Spelling/grammar guide – A place to reference how characters should speak, such as 1970s slang, and the formula to write interactive scripts.
  • Record of choices – A list of choices with their consequences to keep track of interactivity and non-linearity.

Focusing on the Characters

In the original game, the characters’ personalities were not discuss, so they both seemed to possess similar personalities. However, this does not work that well in the buddy cop genre. The two somehow need to have opposite personalities to develop better conflict. We definitely wanted these two to both love disco and both have a hatred for a certain NPC character, currently named Chad. So I developed character design documents to figure out what characteristics, attributes and traits can make these two characters different.

Reggie – He’s cool, tough, confident and says the best one-liners at the right time. His way of working and thinking is more logical. However, he has a high-temper and hates being disrespected because it is humiliating to him. Despite looking strong, he eventually discovers he has a high-pitched scream once confronted by a zombie-like epidemic.

Kenny – He’s witty, creative, and makes a ton of jokes. He’s not as serious and spends more time enjoying every moment of his job. He acts over-confident in his actions, even when it goes horribly wrong. He can be easily startled and is terrified of the sight of blood. Once he confronts the zombie-like outbreak, he will be constantly screaming in terror through the bloody and gorey situations they go through.


A huge factor I personally wanted  to implement was diverse characters that are different gender, race and sexual orientation. When it comes to gender, unfortunately, the player-characters should remain male. If the two player-characters were female, they would not look tough if they just slap zombies away. Keeping them males that can only slap makes it more enjoyable to watch and not judgmental to laugh at. That does not stop me from designing a badass female though! And that character will be their captain, named Trudy. She will be not be a sex icon, have no love interest, wear appropriate uniforms and modest clothing, and will take her job as a captain very seriously. Even though our player-characters are male, that does not mean they are going to be white. Reggie has a African-American background,  Kenny has an Asian background, and Captain Trudy will be Latino. A character named Chad – an annoying character that tries to join the players on their case and is eventually revealed to be the mastermind villain – will be a white character, so that way the game can quietly nudge the players to notice that the diverse characters are, for once, the main characters. Although the game takes place in 1979, an era of racial discrimination (and even today sadly), there will be no mention of gender, race or sexual orientation discrimination. The game will also allow the players the freedom to express their player-character’s sexuality though slapping choices and will not be punished for it. The two player-characters can even be an item themselves!

After the NPC human characters are finished, I will develop the zombies with the lead game designer, level designer and artists to create the zombie-like enemies. In the meantime, there is one character that is taking a long time to develop, because of his complexity – and that character is Chad. How can we design a character that is encouraged to be slapped by the players – but is still lovable – and make his reveal as the villain unexpected and yet it makes sense? I will be conducting a separate case study about how to design his character.

Disco is Dead! — Designing a Narrative for an Arcade Game

Let’s Revive This Bad Boy

For my team’s capstone project, we will be continuing forth with our earlier sprint week prototype, Disco is Dead!, to further develop it as a portfolio piece and demonstrate it at game showcases. One of our biggest challenges is to turn this arcade cabinet game into a non-linear narrative-driven experience. I will be the narrative director where I will be working and guiding the narrative design team, composed of three people.

To start off, here’s a quick backstory from our original prototype. Disco is Dead! is an arcade game where the player(s) take control of two manly hunks who slap zombies away with girlish screams, all set in 1970s disco. Here is the trailer:

Let’s Expand the Story!

The premise of our revised version is generally similar to our older prototype. This time we can expand the world and dive deeper into the characters. Now, the two protagonists will be cops. Yes, we’re making a buddy cop video game, and it’s fantastic. Surprisingly, there aren’t really any buddy cop games video games that provoke the same relationship portrayed in famous buddy cop films, like Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour.

So I did some research. I read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, a very good book on film screenwriting. He shares the formula on how to write a buddy film:

  • The two main characters have very opposite personalities, resulting in continuous conflicts based on their choices
  • The two opposite characters are forced to work together, and use their differences to resolve the main conflict.

Originally, we had it so that these two cops are already established best friends; a bromance even. But after learning and realizing the differing personalities is what makes buddy cops so great and hilarious, our first draft will needs some re-adjustments. We can still get away with them established as work partners, but the players should be the ones in control of the relationship themselves. This can even hype up the conflict between the two characters, and offer more argumentative slapping choices for the players when in disagreement or perform an act of betrayal.

Snyder concludes explaining simply, that a “a buddy film is a love story in disguise”. I highly agree with this logic and I want to take that even further. Personally, I want to bring in diversity in race and sexuality. So there should be moments where the player is open to interpreting what sexuality their character will be, such as letting the two cops go in for a smooch.

Let’s Design the Non-Linear Story

Even though the game is going to be narrative-driven, the beloved slapping mechanic is hands down the core of the game. However, the narrative can work hand-in-hand with the mechanic. By brainstorming interesting scenarios where the player has to slap (or not to slap), it can really brighten the slapping mechanic’s essence. Most of the non-linearity will be based off the slapping mechanic, thus making it a bigger sensitive weapon.

The non-linear aspect will not be drastic. The game will only have a few different endings, and the choices will not completely alter the story line. When we showcase this game to potential employers, some may not be able to replay, and thus they can miss out on all the work contributed, making all of that a waste. So, our game will use the illusion of choice to make it feel like the player is altering the story drastically, but really isn’t. In a way, this non-linear game will be linear; all the choices will lead back into one path, similar to how Telltale designs their interactive stories. That doesn’t stop us from adding in some one-liners and jokes!

Our older prototype was flexible when it came down to who players. It can be a 1-player experience by using both joysticks, or 2-player experience. Since our game is now going to be buddy cop genre, it makes sense to make a good 2-player mode as opposed to just 1-player. Unfortunately, there are no narrative-driven games that actually work well a 2-player experience. For most of these games, it is designed as a 1-player  experience, while the 2-player component is added in afterwards. However, I would like to take on this challenge; I would love to be able to play a story game with a friend and make choices together. Our game, as proven in our prototype, showed that the two players can create their own conflict outside of the game. If we can focus on designing an experience where the game encourages the players to create their own personal conflict, such as being able to slap each other if they are in disagreement of a choice, we can produce a memorable 2-player story experience.

Let’s Think Visually

Despite my focus being in narrative and writing, I still like to think visually. In order to start working with the narrative, I need to understand the structure.  So I got my cork board and started organizing it, colour-coding and pinning up index cards. As I assembled the board, I noticed how large of a scope the board can support. 42 beats to be exact, which is enough for a feature-length film! Since our game should be no more than 20 minutes of story, I cut it down to 20 beats. Even that is still quite long, but it will work for our first team meeting. I want this game’s story to focus on quality over quantity. If the game is too long and not intriguing, no one would want to continue playing it. Focusing on the short and sweet moments is essential.

In our first meeting, the board was extremely helpful for the team to quickly understand how the story will unfold and more importantly, what needs to be included in each level and how it progresses.  For the structure, I used Syd Field’s famous 3-act structure to understand and see the bare bones of the game’s story. Each level consists of 4 beats and has a goal, and the result of completing the goal directs them to the next level.


Easily from the board’s visual, I can still see some structure and scope problems. Even before finding this out, we composed Act 2 into three distinctive levels, where no more than two levels can be scraped if we don’t have the time to do it. However, it was a smart move; it won’t be as grieving or devastating when the time comes to cut it, since no one would be too emotionally attached to the work. An idea even sparked where we can even merge the levels into one mega awesome level! In the end, as long as each act as one level, it is enough to create a compelling experience.

Now, here is the first complete draft of the game’s story progression:


Onwards to the second draft!

An little extra note I’d like to add, was that the working title I thought for this game was Disco is Dead: Slappy Seconds. It works really well; it’s technically the “second” Disco is Dead game, it’s a 2-player experience, and it really centralizes the game’s slapping mechanic. Despite being proud of my pun, I did not realize there would be a handful of people that found it offensive due to the slang’s sexual origin. Wanting to respect the opinions, Disco is Dead! seems like a great title on its own!

Disco is Dead! — A Slapping Arcade Game Made During Sprint Week Summer 2016


Disco Is Dead! is a game created during my school’s sprint week from June 20th to June 24th. The theme of the sprint was to create an arcade game for the school’s arcade cabinets. There was also a little additional competition, where my team won best game!

A Little Bit of Backstory…

When we found out we were going to make an arcade game we were very excited. However, our group focuses more on story-based games, and I’m mainly a narrative designer. Arcade games are meant to be played in quick short sessions, so developing a full-length story was off the table. Even through this was not a chance to showcase our skills in narrative, we decided to venture forth and see what we can come up with!


How we wanted to brainstorm was extremely important. We all took around 10 minutes to brainstorm individually, then afterwards present our ideas to the whole group in a round table session.

We notice all the similarities we all wanted to achieve:

  • Quick and action packed rounds.
  • Easy controls; the less the better.
  • Explosions are satisfying!
  • Make it humorous.
  • Make it juicy!

These ended up becoming our goals.

Great! We got goals. Now what?

Time to Design the Mechanics!

We continued to listen and discuss aesthetics and mechanics. One team member mentioned wanting to have a funny mechanic where you bitch-slap enemies away. There was another idea floating around where the players will be manly looking men, but they scream and react like a little girl. Putting those two together, we got manly man slapping enemies away in a girly fashion. My idea was to create a disco, to match the era of the time arcade machines were popular, a sense of nostalgia. Throw that in and add zombies, and we got a game about manly men slapping zombies away at a 1970s disco. Personally, I wanted these two “hunks” look like men who love to boogie all night long. They should look buff, but they’ll have high pitched screams when hit! Our amazing artist rendered exactly how I envisioned it:

Damn look at that fro.

Other design aspects we kept in mind:

  • We wanted to keep it at two players, and let them work together as a team rather than against each other. Teamwork is more empowering!
  • The rounds will be timed, this will add more tension to the gameplay.
  • Combos for more slapping!
  • Slapping will be controlled by the joysticks. The joysticks are the perfect controls for slapping, as one can feel like they are slapping it as they slap within the game! Simple: Slap the joystick to the right to slap a zombie coming from the right. The machine had an additional nine buttons, but our group did not want to use them. Keeping the game’s controls simple makes it easier to jump into!
  • We wanted the players to see these manly hunks they control. So having their fronts turned away the player would cause the focal point to be the zombies coming in. Yes, this would be more immersive with the zombies coming towards the player themselves, but we wanted the opposite: the focal point is the reaction of the hunks as they slap the zombies away. That’s our hook; our magic sauce.

Originally, we wanted it so that there will be eight zombies coming towards the player in eight different directions. Here is an early mockup I designed on the first day with the artist’s re-visioning implemented later:

After the first round of playtesting, we found that there was a problem occurring with the diagonal slaps. The up, down, left and right slaps were register fine, but diagonal slaps need to be hit exactly at an exact angle to count. Because of this, our programmers made the smart move to eliminate those directions and keep only up, down, left and right slaps.

My Contributions and Roles

Of course my narrative senses kicked in. Even in an arcade game, the way the environment is blocked out can tell a story. The story I designed was this:

As two manly men boogie the night away, they don’t realize they’re the last ones in the  dancing club. What gives? Suddenly, a grotesque zombie pops up and startles them. Then more undead start to rise; everyone in the club has turned into zombies! As the hunks head towards the exit, they find out they are locked inside and unable to get out! Now, trapped in front of the doors and hoping someone will open it, they must try to survive the undead by slapping them away!

Even though we initially thought we could not implement story for an arcade game, I found a way to do so!

Not only did I design the narrative, I also performed numerous duties:

  • Create organize and update the game design document.
  • Design the levels and blocking out the screen.
  • Keep our scrum board up to date.
  • Digitally painted and designed the background.
  • Re-colour frames of zombies to create different colour variations, thus more zombies.
  • Create accessory assets that fall off zombies when hit and blood explosions to  make feedback juicy.
  • Create titles, promotional image, and a trailer video to grab people’s attention.

Finding Our Real Magical Hook

At the very end, the programmer implemented a bonus mini round that takes place after every few rounds. The mini round was the hook we never initially thought of at first! This special rounds allows the two players to slap each other constantly in under a short amount of time; whoever slaps the most, wins. It was mostly inspired by the pomegranate in Fruit Ninja. When testing, this put a huge smile on the player’s faces.  It was highly amusing and entertaining to watch even for bystanders!

Another Chance at Storytelling!

When the game was mostly complete, it was time for me create a video to grab a potential player’s attention. And you guessed it, I wanted to focus on visualizing the story. This was my chance. I took all the assets, requested the artist to create a simple 2-frame head bob animation for each hunk and started working in Premiere. Before starting, I quickly drew out storyboards on the whiteboard to understand what shots are needed. I made the story with little animation; just easily and quickly moving assets around, similar to the The Powerpuff Girls intro. Unfortunately, I forgot to place and refer the media files into my Premiere folder before leaving school at around midnight. So, when I went to finish it at home, I had to re-do the entire thing until 3 am. Ouch.

But the next day – the day of showcasing – made it all worth it.

Time to Show Our Baby

Seeing my other classmate’s games, they were all absolutely amazing and I was extremely proud of everyone! This was definitely our best sprint week yet, and sadly our last. We had some technical difficulties the entire time as our game would not let the player’s slap the zombies, which was out main mechanic! It was devastating to watch, but after our programmers figured out the problem, it finally worked. It was an instant hit. Everyone was laughing and getting really into it. It was really great seeing everyone go up the the arcade machine to play our game! Everyone loved the unexpected bonus level, especially!

Here’s the trailer I made that will be played on the arcade machines:

Oh man, I’m tearing up. What a fun and wild ride! :’)