Updated: Jun 4, 2019
Semester 1 feedback
We received good feedback about the development of game with regards to the the intended audience, the interaction of technology and build developments from semester 1. However, it is uncertain as to wether the AR application is the right output for the spell casting. We need to find solutions as to how we can use the NFC with a different output. Specifically the written feedback demonstrated that there was uncertainty about how seamless the story, NFC and AR will be. Points of importance include: the story must be engaging, the gameplay unique and novel and development of a specific art direction.
Following this we realised that we must better establish roles this semester to ensure that the game is developed to its best abilities. This has led to Rubi taking on the creative role and myself as developer. Rubi will be creating the narrative, creating an art art style, utilising the art style through branding and marketing (including social media). I will be developing the narrative into gameplay mechanics, integrating the NFC to chosen outcome and leading the playtesting. I will be aiding Rubi through my experience of graphic design, so that she can apply more uniformity to the project as a whole.
To keep up with our tasks we have created a Trello board. We have simply created the titles of things to do, doing and done to assign tasks to. We hope this will keep us on top of the game development.
Initial game development
With the feedback we have received, I have reviewed the importance of each component to the game. By reviewing these I have identified the most important aspects of Enchanted Kin's gameplay and can think about how they can be adapted into a more fluid interaction model.
3D Printed cauldron- The cauldron's purpose is to encase the Arduino & NFC shield. It acts as the location for spell-casting, with the players having a tactile interaction with it. It brings the act to life, creatively immersing the players in the experience. This is essential to the physical gameplay as well as the protection of the technology.
AR application- The app's purpose is to reveal the outcome of the spell. This also adds to the magic experience, with the AR communicating with the NFC. Unlike other AR games, the AR is in response to another output, it forms part of the gameplay. This is important to the gameplay as it is utilises the NFC as a digital output.
Arduino & NFC shield- The Arduino's purpose is compute the data from the NFC cards to the phone application. It acts as a reader and passes on the information for the game to be continued through. This is essential to gameplay as acts as a controller for players and connects the cards to a digital output.
Book of secret spells- The book contains the story of Enchanted Kin, giving purpose and context to the spell-casting. It establishes a reader, who leads the round. This is important to gameplay as it sets the story and opportunities for interactive play.
Cards- The purpose of the cards is for players to have ingredients to spell-cast with. They drive the spell-casting mechanic and are the core element of gameplay. They contain headings and figures for the addition in the spell-casting. They are essential as they drive the tactile interaction along with the cauldron.
By assessing the importance of each of the components I have found that the most important function of the game is that the magic is kept alive both through tactile interaction and digital output. The NFC shield and the cards is what connects the tactile input to the digital output, however the visualisation is not imperative. As long as a solution can be found that digitally utilises the NFC, the magic essence should come through. This also brought into question about whether narrative being worthwhile to the game. It only acts as the driving force for the spell casting. How can it be more interactive? From this we decided that the AR application output was not needed and we should explore other opportunities to demonstrate the NFC to the audience. As well as this we removed the unnecessary figures and headings from the cards, to simplify gameplay taking out the mathematic problem solving. We should also explore other opportunities to integrate the narrative so that the players are not going to and from the book, to the cards, to the app.
Game development: Component idea generation
With the game now down to its core components, we needed to find compatible outputs for the interaction with the cards and the NFC. Upon reflection, we hung on to the idea of AR for too long, the idea of using an app goes against the entire ethos of the project, removing screens from family play. We must ensure that these ideas do not include a screen.
Coming up for ideas to utilise the NFC has proven difficult, particularly without a screen output. The important aspect of this needs to be the tactile interaction. As the game already uses tangible elements, its made me consider what further senses could be utilised and how they could flow well with the primary tactile interaction. To find solutions for this, I have thought about how technology could react with different senses.
This idea was generated from how players could visualise an outcome without a screen. It made me think about what else we could do with the 3D model that is already used in the game. This created an idea with LED's and a fog mechanism. The Arduino still computes the ingredients and searches for a viable spell combination, however the output is in the form of hardware outputs as opposed to an application simulation. This utilises the 3D model to reveal the outcome of the spell, with the use of LED lights around the rim along with a fog mechanism in the centre of the cauldron.
This changes the interaction completely with there being no book output for the narrative. This see's the game becoming more creative spell casting. I then thought about how there could be a deck of event cards, with spells to complete. These cards would be riddle based and require the players to use logic of card pairing. This removes the need for lead sorcerers as it makes the game more of a family experience, making co-operative decisions about which cards to play.
This solves the problem of digital spell output for the NFC and removing the lead sorcerer simplifies the gameplay. However it removes the story interaction that we found important from Rubi's research into narrative. The introduction of a fog mechanism could also prove quite tricky hardware wise and would take a lot of iterations to perfect.
This idea primarily focused on an alternative sense to demonstrate the output. I was strictly thinking about how players could feasibly interact with a digital output and it made me think about how in games, sound also contributes to the overall experience. This led to the development of an audio centric game. In this game the system reads the narrative and gives opportunities at the end of chapters for players to continue the narrative through spell-casting. This leaves the players to listen to the narrative and are later instructed when to take part in the gameplay. This is a more intuitive interaction that picking up and going between several components.
This idea also solves the problem of digital spell output for the NFC. It also maintains Rubi's narrative and is more intuitive than the original idea. However long periods of narrative could prove to be tedious to a player.
These ideas were particularly helpful in creating gameplay systems that could interact well with the initial components. I feel that both of them would need further development to retain engagement and keep players interested. However, it has became clear that the audio based system is more feasible. For this reason I have decided that I will implement an audio based system into the gameplay of Enchanted Kin. Audio is currently used within games and tends to be used to evoke emotion, which could really emphasise the narrative. It almost becomes an of interactive story.
Integration with smart speakers
Over the past few weeks the game has developed considerably. It has enabled us to create this description of the game at this time:
'Enchanted Kin is a collaborative family card game with a shared narrative goal achieved by casting spells interactively using NFC cards. The game follows a family of wizards on the search for their missing pet dragon. The interactive card game requires players to listen through a narrative, taking on the role of a family of sorcerers casting spells to move forward in the story.
Each player has a turn leading the game where they hold the key to the spell (the known ingredient). The other players guess the other required missing ingredient, by placing another ingredient card into a smart cauldron. Players will then audibly receive the outcome of the spell. Successful spells move players onto the next chapter, unsuccessful spells continue the round to the next player. The end of the game results in the players finding out the fate of their missing dragon.'
We have additionally spoken to a few industry guests which has helped with the development of the game. Of particular note was BBC Radio journalist, Adam Rosser. When speaking about the narrative leading the game, he suggested the integration of the Amazon Echo and Alexa. He explained how Amazon are encouraging development of games for the Alexa system and how Enchanted could work well as a bridge between interactive story and a game on the platform.
This was imperative to our development as it served as spark for the project. I consulted with Rubi and we very much believe that the use of Alexa as our output works well. The interaction of voice is natural, much like voice and conversation is used during board games, it does not interrupt the interaction flow. However I must establish the viability of this platform for the game.
Amazon Alexa game viability
An important question raised by James was specifically about the percentage of smart speaker ownership. This has led me to look statistics to see the projects viability on this platform. I found that last year, over the course of 6 months, smart speaker ownership in the UK had doubled with 9.5 million Amazon echo devices in the UK last year. With this Amazon echo is the leader of smart home speakers by having over 60% of market share. This shows that the platform is growing and opportunity for the access of the game. Additionally, other smart speakers have not specifically opened up development of games on their platform to 3rd parties; making Amazon Alexa the best choice for smart speaker game development of Enchanted Kin.
Specifically looking at families this shows that within our target market (8-12 year olds) 16%-18% of them own and use a smart speaker at home. Although lower than gaming devices, this is the first year of record of ownership in this type of family media survey. Through qualitative research, I have found that children are specifically unaware of game availability on Amazon Echo devices, with them using the, for novelty purposes. This will be important to demonstrate the devices gaming abilities in order for the game to have an audience on the platform.
This research has demonstrated a growing platform, for which we know Amazon are looking to expand game products on. It also demonstrates a small amount of our audience having access to one, however due to the nature of its growth we feel that it is right platform for the game. Along with this, the interaction of screens did not work well with the tactile nature, this model makes for better interaction and for that purpose we believe that the Amazon Echo is the best platform to pursue this idea.
Amazon Echo development, Initial playtest and NFC development
With the platform and initial gameplay established, Rubi can continue and finish the creation of the narration for Enchanted Kin. Once this is done, I will work with Rubi to establish how the spells can be interacted with, for gameplay purposes, assessing opportunities for the Alexa output. This can be seen in the initial interaction section.
Our first playtest saw us test purely the narrative that Rubi has created, to establish its strengths and weaknesses. The family did not engage in the narrative, although they did provide game feedback. This included suggestions such as the collecting of cards and side quests. From this, we have found that long passages of text are not good for retaining family engagement. From this I should explore other ways to apply the narrative to an interaction model to retain engagement.
Additionally I have since been working with James to develop the opportunity for NFC output. Currently the Arduino is only able to read and print the string on the card. The game requires additional functionality beyond this. During his open studio we discussed whether the Arduino is the answer, would a raspberry pi be more appropriate? or simply using a phone as a reader? Another solution would be to pipe out the Arduino scripting to be used elsewhere on a different platform in a different language. This would be needed as the Arduino board does not have an operating system and therefore needs to be transmitted. For gameplay purposes, this would be good to be piped into Unity to create iterations of game development. James has specifically suggested piping the script to Python for use in Unity.
With these first few weeks, I have been focussed on the integration of the NFC within the game. However with the development of the interaction, I need to focus more on. I should take a step back from the tech integration and push forward with the development of the gameplay. This would have been useful to test during the first play test, which is frustrating. Yet I have learnt that with the Alexa development that the interaction development is what will be driving the gameplay and over the next month, this should be my focus.