Collaborative Unit Project
An original game concept set in a fictitious world. To Bee follows the aftermath of a devastating hurricane, as players take control of a remaining bumble bee, ushering the journey of restoring nature to the world. Once introduced to this bleak, barren land, players gather pollen through interaction with surviving flowers in order to re-pollenate the virtual world.
Falling under the Zen game genre, To Bee boasts a minimalistic yet visually pleasing art style, accompanied by a harmonious serene soundtrack. Initial inspirations were primarily drawn from Thatgamecompany’s Flower, a game stripped of complex game mechanics with the intention of evoking positive emotions in players through the use of art, sound and life. Along with other games alike, such as Flow and Journey, all titles exaggerate a surreal experience where their beauteous worlds are the plots’ centrepiece.
As a Collaborative Unit project, a coalescence of academic backgrounds have contributed individual expertise to produce a unique gameplay experience. Consisting of seven ual students: Hisham Jarad and Sophia McPolin of Game Design, David Edwards and Mesha Bruckner of 3D Animation, and Tim Heron, Rafaella Binder-Gavito and Emmanuel Neill of Sound Arts.
- To create a simple, minimalistic game experience, including the absence of on-screen HUD or UI
- To build an immersive game space, where players change the world through interactions
- Emphasise the surreal visual aesthetic, by including vibrant colours and a consistent theme of game assets
- Build on my current skillset in both Unity; including alternative Unity plug-ins, and C#, to produce my first complete gaming experience
Design and Collaboration
- Contemplate the scope and limitations of various project ideas, determining the academic courses to collaborate with; as disciplines such as VR and AR are too advanced for my current capabilities. Thus, choosing 3D Animation as a clear prerequisite to bring my existing project ideas to fruition
2. Draft a design proposal for a Collaborative Unit Project, To Bee, for potential 3D Animation collaborators, reaching out via email and presenting an early-stage concept of the game
3. Assemble a small team, including another Game Designer; Sophia McPolin, and 3D Animators; David Edwards and Mesha Bruckner. Implementing a shared online workspace; consisting of a WhatsApp group chat, a Discord group and a shared One Drive file, necessary to organise both in-person and online meetings to further brainstorm ideas, concepts, and mechanics for To Bee, including the theme of hurricanes
4. Assign roles and delegate workload accordingly:
- Hisham, Director & Game Designer – Game Mechanics (inc. Camera Operation)
- Sophia, Environment Leader & Game Designer – World-building and Pollination Mechanics
- Mesha, Producer & Scribe, 3D Modelling Artist, 3D Animator – 3D Modelling and Animation
- David, 3D Animator, UI Artist – Title Screen and UI Animation
- Construct a small-scale prototype to test Player Movement, Wind Zone feature and Camera Controls
- Establish player movement via a C# script that utilises Unity’s axes settings. Torque and force were both added to the script to produce fluid movement upon player input. A Third-Person perspective was achieved by parenting Unity’s Main Camera to the player GameObject and adjusting orientation
3. Implement Wind Zones by using a Box Collider and a C# script, resulting in an exerted force that pushes the player in certain directions. Strokes of wind were created via the addition of a manipulated particle system allowing visibility of Wind Zones
Creating the World
The Unity Asset Store was used to find pre-made assets that satisfied the project’s art style. Assets used can be found using the following link: https://assetstore.unity.com/packages/3d/environments/fantasy/azure-nature-167725
- As the Environment Leader, Sophia had creative reign over the world design and feel. The game world was to be set in a valley; therefore, the terrain was plotted around a large body of water. Elevating the encompassing land to generate inaccessible mountains, which would act to limit the game space for players to explore, in-line with the game design scope discussed during initial group meetings. The lake was to be a guide around the space for players to subconsciously follow due to how the world was introduced. Dividing the world into three distinctive terrains: Open-fields, Lake/Grass area, and a Forest. The world was brought to life by adding pre-made assets, together with their animations. It was noted that the world size was reduced to aid performance and to limit the repetitiveness of pollenating the world
2. After persistent testing and refinement, a growth mechanic; used as a result of pollination, for plant assets was established. Consisting of a C# script that would manipulate the scale of any given game object, resembling the growth plants. An additional, but later scrapped, growth mechanic was also made, this involved the generation of foliage along a player’s movement pathway
3. Triggering the plant growth mechanic was achieved by parenting all plant assets from a certain section to a parent cube game object; a replacement for the yet to be made Beehive asset, attaching a Box Collider and a C# script, activating the growth mechanic upon player interaction. A pulse-like particle system was implemented to animate once the script was activated
4. Pollen was represented by a golden particle system emitting from Flower assets throughout the game world. Using a player-attached C# script, a bool was created in order to track once a pollenating flower had been interacted with by the bee, subsequently activating an identical particle system to emit from the player, a visual cue to advise that the pollination mechanic was now active. Using Unity’s tagging system to register the relevant collisions, deactivating the player pollen particle system. Further tweaking to the tag system ensured certain unwanted interactions were prevented, for example, pollenating a beehive when the player is “unpollinated”
5. During a second group meeting, it was mentioned that ruins were a desired asset to be included in-game, thus, Sophia found a pre-made asset and implemented ruins into the game; found here: https://assetstore.unity.com/packages/3d/environments/stylized-ruins-191107, which doubled-up as navigational landmarks for players. With the world created, 3D assets provided by the Animation team were ready to also be implemented into the game
6. Final touches to the game include adding non-player animal assets to the environment. Their animations help bring a more life-like feel to the end result of this particular game world
All 3D models and animation were created using Maya; by Mesha, utilising a 3-step process: concept art, constructing 3D models via rigging, producing 3D animations. Concluding each stage by collating feedback from group members
- Tasked with designing the interactive flower used for pollenation and the playable bee, initial models were sketched and provided to the group for a consensus to be made
2. 3D models were built for both key assets, along with models for other useful game objects used to populate the world. All team-made assets were designed to match the existing art style
3. Animations for both Flower and Bee assets were produced by taking advantage of Maya’s Rigging feature previously used to construct the 3D models, importing and exporting via the One Drive allowing proficient implementation of each asset into the game world
4. David also produced other animations for animals to be included in the game scene
5. Title Screen and Credits UI were both constructed and animated in Adobe After Effects by David, using constant feedback from the Game Designers to refine the following aspects: Design, Font, Colour and Particle Effects
The To Bee Collaborative Unit group had been introduced to three Sound Art students mid-term: Tim Heron, Rafaella Binder-Gavito and Emmanuel Neill, to assist with the Sound Design of To Bee.
- Introduce the Sound Design team to the game concept by presenting the design proposal, initial prototypes and having a brief discussion of the team’s current aims, performance and vision
- Assign roles by splitting and allocating the workload accordingly:
- Tim, Music Composer – In-game Music
- Rafaella, Sound Designer – Game Sounds and Sound FX
- Emmanuel, Sound Designer – Game Sounds and Sound FX
3. Tim was entrusted with composing two contrasting soundtracks for both Barren and Pollenated areas of the game, termed Desolate and Hopeful, respectively. Tim was advised to ensure the music looped to allow for continuous playback during gameplay
4. The remaining Sound Team generated a file accessible on the To Bee One Drive containing an extensive amount of possible Sound FX examples, a general consensus was reached between group members for which sounds to use in-game. Group feedback helped refine the sounds, as constant ideas were put forward. Each relevant audio file was implemented to add an additional element of realism and immersion to the game. These included: a buzzing sound for the bee, sounds for pollination including a pulse-like sound effect, soft wind sounds for Wind Zones, and a hurricane sound for the To Bee’s opening sequence
5. Both Desolate and Hopeful were stored as audio files within Unity and attached to Box Colliders that would help switch between the two. The idea was for the Hopeful soundtrack to play once an area of the game was pollinated. To achieve this the Box Collider would scale up; similar to the plants, once that specific locale had been pollinated
Utilisation of the Unity Cinemachine suite helped improve the existing camera perspective, along with the Timeline feature to produce professional title and credits sequences
- Unity’s Timeline feature allows the production of a showreel-type sequence to create in-game cinematics. Placing several Virtual Cameras within the scene; each accommodating a distinctive angle, and switching between them; a portion dictated by player input, a minimalistic yet polished title sequence was achieved. Ending with an Activation Track of a C# script to load the following scene
2. Title animations were imported as PNG files, therefore to create an animation all files must be physically added to the scene. Having this PNG sequence as a child to the camera allowed for implementation, followed by simple axis orientation to achieve the ideal shot
3. An identical process was used to produce the ending credits sequence. However, the use of different camera types, such as the Dolly Camera and Virtual Cameras that target the player, allowed for more stellar cinematography. The vision for the ending credits was established early on during initial group discussions. Upon game completion, the credits were essentially a cinematic sequence of camera shots following the bee’s journey home, achieved by a manually created animation consisting of moving the bee between different points within the scene
Playtesting & Feedback
- Players appreciated the environment growth mechanic as a result of their exploration and gameplay, as it was described as “rewarding”. Players admired this as the game’s key feature The environment growth felt rewarding and the particle effect was satisfying. Players responded very positively.
- Players responded positively to the art style, atmosphere and overall feel of the game. Identifying the pollen particle effect as satisfying, acknowledging the concept behind `To Bee
- Restoring nature to the world deemed very engaging to players. They enjoyed exploring the different environment zones, and felt their actions drove change in the world
- Player movement received little criticism as they did not feel it to be restrictive of gameplay, being able to move in any desired direction
- There was a general consensus between players of introducing a prologue-like tutorial to the start of the game, in order to display the essential game mechanics – a consequence of the minimalistic approach to gameplay
- Player movement felt slow over long distances
- Players believed Q and E as elevation controls did not feel natural, several alternatives were suggested; such as arrow keys or mouse input. Other players believed using a controller would benefit gameplay
- The third-person camera felt basic and restrictive
- Players would pass through certain game objects; such as ruins and rocks
- A few players would miss the interactive flowers; despite their particle effects, as they would blend into the foliage
- More guidance around the world was also suggested
- Originally, the game began in an open space which felt daunting to players. Sophia decided a separate area of the world would need to be created for the tutorial section. This area would need to be small and narrow to guide players through the key game mechanics, and prevent the tutorial being missed. This was also achieved by implementing an invisible wall at the protruding end of the area restricting progression until the tutorial was complete. A Wind Zone was attached to the invisible wall, the wind strokes giving the effect of wind preventing the player to advance
2. Box Colliders were added to certain assets to prevent players from passing through, as Sophia had believed the imported assets would already have colliders attached
3. More flowers were placed into the world, including an abundance in certain areas, so they were to be easily seen. Some flowers were placed in open areas too
4. Replacing the existing Main Camera with a Cinemachine Virtual Camera, including the use of its 3rd Person Follow setting, achieved a refined Third-Person perspective. Adjusting the camera’s Drag setting allowed for the camera to slightly lag behind the player, exaggerating speed and flight, intended to improve player satisfaction
5. Implementation of small improvements, for example: refined movement speed, the number of bee hives, and testing elevation control variations
- Players appreciated the element of Wind Zones and how they tied in with the game’s theme
- The new camera received tremendous praise, with it benefitting player movement
- Player speed still felt slow, appearing heavy and sluggish for a bee
- Some players suggested that Wind Zones could be used to navigate around the world
- Players wished for more feedback when interacting with the world, however, all were advised that audio was yet to be implemented into the game
- One player mentioned more foliage types and colours would boost the vibrancy of the world
- Again, a few players mentioned that a controller would be beneficial for player movement
- One player mentioned that upon completion of the tutorial, the wind strokes at the exit were still visible, suggesting the player could not leave the area
- The tutorial Wind Zone was scripted to deactivate upon tutorial completion to avoid confusion for players
2. Due to numerous requests for a controller to used for player movement, Sophia easily implemented this as Unity immediately registered the left analog stick for player movement. Then registering the left and right bumpers as elevation controls, due to how they felt natural when playing the game
3. Using the new controller, the player speed was tweaked to the point it felt similar to a bee zipping through the world, however slow enough to appreciate the game’s scenery and atmosphere
4. Wind Zones strength was increased for an improved challenge to navigation, and to convey the theme of a hurricane disrupting the natural balance of the valley. Furthermore, the frequency and placement of Wind Zones were redesigned to emphasise the presence of wind. This was also beneficial by filling in the empty spaces of the world
Overall, I am delightfully proud of To Bee, and grateful for each group member’s input into bringing this concept to fruition. I set out to design a game with a scope that allows me to test the limits of my design and development capabilities; I have had the opportunity to extensively improve my skillset and learnt valuable tools that will aid me on my journey to becoming a successful Game Designer. I naturally fell into the role of Director for this project, and the project’s success has given me confidence that my game concepts and ideas are strong. I am particularly proud of my ability to lead a team, identifying the strengths in each of my colleagues and bringing out the best in everyone to work together on a shared vision. I took particular care in creating a clear ethos for the game and ensuring we’re all aligned on this. Credit to Mesha, who as Producer, took the lead in organising and recording our meetings – no easy feat with a remote team.
Player feedback was a vital part in the game design process – it reaffirmed the appeal of the vibrant and atmospheric, yet minimalistic world I set-out to create. This feedback also gave insight into areas of improvement:
In response to feedback, I intend to implement a feature that temporarily boosts player movement speed, addressing concerns regarding the sluggish movement. Possible ideas for a trigger include: a boost to speed in pollinated areas of the game, when carrying pollen or adding a consumable in the form of nectar.
In my initial concept of To Bee, I included a player scaling up mechanic when collecting pollen; similar to mushroom consumption in Super Mario, as I believed this feedback upon each interaction would add a further layer of engagement with the environment. However, this deemed difficult for the animators to produce. Fortunately, we were able to sustain this layer of engagement with audio feedback and found that it worked work well enough for the scaling mechanic to be excluded from the final build. In future iterations, I may revisit this mechanic once I sharpen my development skills further.
Another mechanic up for consideration is an independent input for camera movement that would enhance the feel and polish of the game, as players could explore the world with more freedom. While we attempted to implement this, we were not able to develop the mechanic to a polished level and excluded it for the time being.
During playtesting, there were a few interesting ideas that we considered. One of which was using the existing wind zones as navigational tools to access inaccessible areas of the game, adding more challenge and strategy to the exploration element of the game – this remains a mechanic worth investing in down the line.
There was an ongoing discussion amongst the team regarding implementing enemies to the game. As game designers, Sophia and I considered this, but concluded it would not be feasible to design and build the components of a fleshed-out opposition such as health systems, AI, battle mechanics (projectiles or melee) within our timeframe.
Given our limited turnaround time, we were unable to fully address a small number of in-game technical faults. These issues included music muting in certain sections, specifically during the ending credits, as well as some minor camera issues. We implemented two soundtracks with juxtaposing emotions that would play in different areas of the world – we encountered an issue with transitioning between the two soundtracks and were unable to make this as seamless as we’d envisioned. Finally, I intend to conduct extensive research into how to optimise the game to boost performance, in particular eliminating framerate drops and reducing loading times.