Game with a Message Project (Collaboration w/ James Grey & Abhimanyu Chattopadhyay)
Set in a fictitious Britain, preceding the nation’s general elections, Corrections follows the daily life of a corrections officer employed by the government-run Ministry of Corrections. As newly elected THE PARTY come to power, the grain of society is direfully shifted as a product of their totalitarian intent. Players find themselves at the heart of this political despotism, torn between professionalism and civility.
Day-to-day, players will convict countless criminals by inspecting criminal RAP sheets, reading through internal emails, and keeping up to date with current news. While doing so, players must maintain a high-performance level in their work to prevent drawing suspicion from their superiors, raising the risk of jeopardising their career, or safety.
Corrections is a puzzle game, narratively drawing inspiration from the totalitarian worlds of V for Vendetta and George Orwell’s 1984. As for gameplay and game mechanics, Corrections is greatly influenced by Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please. This game is a collaborative effort by students of MA Game Design at ual: Game and Narrative Designer – Hisham Jarad, Game Developer – James Grey, and, Game Designer and Developer – Abhimanyu Chattopadhyay.
- To specialise in Game Design over Development, by actualising collaborative concepts via Narrative and UI Design. Thus, building upon my existing design proficiency
- To implement unconventional design methods into project tasks
- To create a game where all narrative elements (News, Emails, criminal RAP sheets) coalesce to satisfy the major plot
- To work under somebody, as part of a team – successfully complying with a colleague’s vision, limiting my own personal input, by fulfilling their project aims
Due to personal circumstances, my ability to attend university this semester has been heavily impacted by having to work full time, imposing restrictive time constraints on my studies. Therefore, I believed my skills would be best suited as part of a group project.
- I reached out to James and Abhimanyu, fellow MA Game Design students, to propose the notion of collaborating on a project, with the personal intention of solely designing, as both are very capable developers. They had already built a prototype for a game during the semester’s game jam sessions, thus briefing me on their political game concept: Corrections.
2. Via Discord, Abhimanyu informed me of my role for the project, designating me the position of UI and Narrative Designer. He made it clear that the major storyline should be difficult for players to decipher, proposing the idea of shrouding the storyline with various narrative elements they intend to include in the game, such as “News” and “Emails”.
3. I put forward the idea of implementing a shared online workspace with the purpose of organising online meetings and brainstorming ideas, concepts, and narrative features desired by the team. In the end, we decided to use Telegram for its team-friendly interface.
4. I explained to the team that I felt confident following their lead on the intended gameplay and feel. I wanted to take on the challenge of joining a team with a clear shared vision; working in this way would give me experience similar to that of joining a games studio and finding out how I can add my own value.
- Regarding UI Design, I intended to illustrate visual concepts for each of the following game elements: Criminal RAP sheets, News and Email interfaces. Concepts would be completed on a daily basis and fed back to the group to discuss thoughts and ideas.
2. I decided to create a Mood Board for each element; in-line with my aim to utilise personally unconventional design tools, via Milanote, a free online Mood Board tool. Mood Boards would aid in drawing inspiration and guidance when designing each concept.
3. Inspirations and references consisted of existing games, films and TV, and real-world documentation. With the inclusion of certain colour palettes, to produce a multitude of alternative designs when proposing each concept to the Development team.
4. A lasting debate during early development was to establish the time period the game would be set in. The general consensus agreed for a game set in the present-day or future, on account of this, I decided to design present-day and futuristic interpretations for certain UI concepts, to aid in the debate.
The UI concepts would later be scrapped due to the positive feedback received from play-testing regarding the prototype build of the game. As players felt the UI closely resembled a government website.
- James recommended I watch the film: V for Vendetta, and research George Orwell’s 1984 for inspiration on dystopian totalitarian states. Therefore, I took notes from my research, noting down quotes, events, and news headlines, that I would revert to for guidance when building the narrative.
2. We organised a group meeting to discuss the narrative further, particularly: discussing what emails, breaking news and fluff news would consist of. Concluding that Breaking News would consist of major in-game events, essentially, portraying the narrative of Corrections.
3. James compiled a storyline; split into four chapters, for the major events that would occur throughout the course of the game. My job was to adapt each event into a news headline, along with a supporting description. The requirement I would have to follow was that the breaking news headlines were not to portray the elected totalitarian government in an evil manner, as said government would be “controlling the media”, as described by James.
4. All headlines were originally composed by myself, with loose inspiration taken from google searches of news headlines, including those noted from V for Vendetta, to aid with the tone when writing.
Below is a link to download the Narrative document used when producing the breaking news headlines.
5. My next task was to produce news headlines (without a supporting description) to obscure the significance of the breaking news, we termed this narrative element as “Fluff News”. Through a group discussion, we agreed that twenty headlines per chapter would be ideal, proposing the idea to split each twenty, into two halves. One half for chapter-related news that would potentially tie into the criminal RAP sheets players would receive in that specific chapter, and another half, for headlines deemed miscellaneous. For the latter, I intended to implement some original humour as I felt the game’s premise is quite morbid. This task concluded the Narrative Design for the News game element.
Below is a link to download the Narrative document used when producing the Fluff News headlines.
6. Both developers felt that the inclusion of emails within the game would provide a more human insight into Corrections ever-changing narrative. Abhimanyu suggested to base emails off of the breaking news headlines, however, he mentioned that each headline does not need a relative email, and that multiple emails can be used per headline. Each email contains a Sender Name, Subject Line and Body.
7. The Development team granted me creative freedom when designing the characters of Corrections. I felt three characters would suffice the narrative, these included: the player’s initial manager, Abby, a friendly colleague, Ethan, who would support players throughout the game via hints and advice, and lastly, an oppressive manager, Col. Ames, to replace Abby when the totalitarian government take control the player’s department. I loosely created a personality for each character, to dictate the tone of their emails when conversing with the player.
8. A concept for the emails was as the gameplay changes via story progression, these changes would be mentioned within these emails. For example, once a player has the authority to pass the death sentence, they would receive an email advising this was permitted to use. From this, I believed an initial tutorial email would be necessary, eventually including this when the emails script were sent to the Development team for implementation into the game.
Below is a link to download the Narrative document used when producing the emails.
9. Two further types of emails were proposed by James: “Mutator Emails” that would act as templates to present randomly generated in-game events, for example, players would be required to harshly punish anyone convicted over protesting, and, “Suspicion Emails” that would tie into the suspicion level system of Corrections.
10. In regards to Mutator Emails, a template was created for each chapter, four in total. Little guidance was necessary for this task, as long as each template varied in text and substance, promoting a more diverse narrative system.
Below is a link to download the Narrative document used when producing the Mutator Emails.
11. In regards to Suspicion Emails, five were necessary to correspond with the varying levels of the in-game suspicion system. I was instructed to use a family member to convey this email type, eventually choosing a fiancé choosing the name “Alex” to keep the gender ambiguous for both female and male players. The premise of the Suspicion Emails would be that as the player gains more suspicion, Alex would send an email detailing incremental suspicious activity.
Below is a link to download the Narrative document used when producing the Suspicion Emails.
12. In-line with the in-game Performance Level feature, I was tasked to create performance blurbs/comments for each performance level granted to the player. Upon group discussion, we agreed that grades A-F would be an ample scale, furthermore, two tones were necessary to reflect the pre and post-totalitarian periods of the game. Blurbs were inspired by researching worldwide grading systems, and, subsequently altering the tone where appropriate.
Below is a link to download the Narrative document used when producing the Performance Blurbs.
13. My final tasks were to research different crimes that were to be used as in-game criminal convictions, and produce a range of incremental punishments available upon chapter progression. A very straightforward task, as a complete list of punishable crime can be found on FindLaw.com, a highly acclaimed business who provide legal information for law firms. A few more impractical crimes were added to this list that would be introduced in-game by the totalitarian government. As for the punishments, a group discussion aided in deciding what punishments would be appropriate for each chapter.
Below is a link to download the Narrative document used when producing the Crimes and Penalties lists.
Play-testing & Feedback
- Players did not accustom well to the action of scrolling down through criminal RAP sheets, as some players did not ever realise that they had to scroll, resulting in soft locking. However, this feature was initially implemented to increase stress when trying to complete cases quickly, as feedback shows this was accomplished, but is more detrimental to gameplay than intended.
- The scroll down feature was later removed to accommodate player feedback.
- Players felt more feedback was necessary when sentencing criminals to make it feel more rewarding, and less bland.
- A “SENTENCED” graphic stamp was implemented, with complimentary sound effects to produce a more tactile feel to the game, along with a short fade transition between cases for emphasis.
- Some players thought the wording in certain emails was misleading, alluding to absent mechanics.
- Therefore, I took it upon myself to rectify each specific email. Any changes were easy to implement due to the designer friendly nature of the game’s systems.
- The lack of audio in Corrections made the game less engaging and felt one dimensional.
- In response to this, audio was added via audible reinforcement to actions, such as scrolling, notifications and sentencing. A further audio addition included progressive music throughout each chapter, to create an increasingly oppressive atmosphere throughout the game.
- A number of players did not easily grasp the interactions available in the game, despite the existing tutorial email.
- To resolve this, a UI-orientated tutorial was implemented explaining how players should navigate the game.
- Every play-tester voiced that the pacing was too slow, as playthroughs took too long and felt tedious. Players were not compelled to stick through to the end of the game.
- Gameplay was sped up by reducing the time between introducing each narrative element, and shortening the days between each chapter, along with the game’s internal clock.
Overall, I am honestly proud of my input in designing and producing a compelling narrative for Corrections. I take pride in exploring new elements of design with each project undertaken during my time studying MA Game Design. I have never felt confident in compiling scripts and producing narratives for my concepts in the past, which is why I felt this assignment would challenge me to leave my comfort zone and truly test the limits of my design capacity. Having balanced a full-time job while working on Corrections over the past months, I have had to preserve my mental wellbeing while managing the stress that time constraints have on my academic work. However, I believe I have become a better game designer for it, prioritising project tasks and retaining a form of originality in my work.
Over the course of the year, I have been experimenting with different aspects of game design and development and have lately realised that design is an avenue I wish to further explore with the intention to eventually break into the games industry. This is why I reached out to both James and Abhimanyu, with the intention of designing Corrections, and I am grateful to them for the opportunity to immerse myself in this specific field.
As a result of recently researching Game Design theory, I feel that my utilisation of Mood Boards, is a first step in exploiting innovative design methods. To help build a mental picture of a concept prior to putting pen to paper, these Mood Boards allowed me to carefully plan my ideas, resulting in my most commendable work to date, shown by the praise received from friends and family upon presenting the News and Email narrative elements.
However, I wish to implement alternative design methods, such as a Rip-O-Matic, in my future projects, to push the boundaries of my design skill set.
Feedback from play-testing has proved the narrative elements of Corrections to be exemplary, as hardly any negative comments were voiced, however, not perfect, as players felt my work was misleading at times. I strive to resolve faults like this in the future earlier on in the design process.
In terms of narrative advancements, I believe giving players more interactions would improve engagement. An example being, the ability to respond to emails and develop immersive conversations between characters and the player, subsequently, imposing emotions onto players regarding characters driven by interaction and further character development.
I proposed to the Development team that implementing more distinct transitions between chapters would help emphasise the change in tone of the narrative during story progression. However, a core aim for the team was for the major narrative to remain as concealed as possible. After conversing with the team, as we finished building Corrections, they complimented me for my efforts in sticking with their vision for the game, and not greatly diverting from their original concept. This leads me to believe that I would succeed in working under a structured team, as my previous project To Bee, had been the polar opposite, as I was the Director.