An Environmental PC Platforming Game about Reviving the Heart of the World
Dawn is a PC game that served as my capstone project at SMU Guildhall. The player takes on the role of Ash, a mysterious druid-like creature that uses magical wind powers to grow plant life and direct sunlight forward to open paths. The game features a distinct fantasy art style, and atmospheric storytelling techniques. The player's overall goal is to revive he tree at the center of the world and restore balance to the world.
- Team size: Eighteen (6 Level Designers, 5 Artists, 5 Programmers, 2 Producers)
- Project Duration: Six months
- Work Hours: 20 hours per developer per week
- Engine: Unreal Engine 4
- Platform: PC
What I Learned Working as a Game Designer to Become a Better Producer: I learned a lot about working with game designers by being one on my last project. Selected as a featured post by the editors of Gamasutra.com.
Game Design Document Excerpt: This is a selection from the final version of our Game Design Document, where I documented key game systems prior to their implementation.
My Responsibilities (Game Designer, Sound Designer)
- Lead design meetings and work with the team to establish game design
- Collaborate with department leads to ensure consistency of design throughout the project
- Create/maintain design documentation on Confluence Wiki
- Represent the team in all major presentations
- Created and/or sourced all sound effects and music
Touchstones & Sunlight
Throughout Dawn, the player travels through the world to revive a dead tree at the center. To revive the tree, the player must activate crystal "touchstones" that shoot concentrated sunlight out, connecting magical rings that open the path and guide the player forward.
- The player needs smaller objectives to improve pacing of the game
- The player needs to know where to go
- There needs to be some kind of motivation to how the player revives the tree
- The touchstones serve as smaller objectives that the players see within given puzzle areas. When the player uses the interact ability to activate it, it flashes and reassembles the nearby rings, one after the other.
- The sunlight that comes out of the rings serves as a guideline that the player can use to guide themselves forward
- The sunlight energy builds up with each touchstone that the player activates, and the ultimate release of energy motivates the revival of the tree
The system also provided me with great opportunities to work with my level design team in the planning and execution of how the rings and sunlight complemented the player experince. Most importantly with this system, I worked with our Particle Designer Justin Peterson and our Unreal Sequencer specialist, Frank Xu, to choreograph the cinematic moments of each touchstone activation, and the ultimate revival of the tree at the end of the game.
The music in Dawn is light and whimsical, capturing the natural magic and wonder that I want the player to feel as they explore the environment. As the player navigates through the game, it also builds on itself in response to the player's progress to become thicker and more dramatic, before switching to a separate climactic track as the player reaches the final area of the game.
- The music must build on itself with multiple layers to mirror the player's emotional journey through the game
- Each piece of the music must loop without the player noticing
- The layering of the music must be adaptive--we don't want it building too early or late
- I worked closely with our composer, Joseph Schefer, to create a set of six looping tracks that all complement and build on one another
- I created several different cues in Wwise to being playing the tracks and raise or lower them in response to certain events the player triggers
- I collaborated with our audio programmer, Anthony Cloudy, to implement special trigger volumes in the game that fire Wwise events when the player triggers them, ensuring that the flow of the music fits what Joseph and I intended
What Went Right
- The producer and game designer worked well together
- The team set clear priorities for QA and Usability testing
- The game designer gave consistent constructive feedback, and wasn't afraid to draw hard lines
- The team handled cuts and reworking of ideas well
- The producer and game designer helped everyone feel motivated and supported
What Went Wrong
- The team needed to identify unsuccessful designs sooner
- Preproduction needed more structure
- The team didn't take actions against large technical challenges quickly enough
- It took a long time for the team to find the game; we approved ideas before they were fully articulated
- There were some transparency issues between stakeholders/leads and the rest of the development team
What We Learned
- It's important for the team to have a safe space to voice concerns
- Project leaders need to be aware of their needs in preproduction, and the producer should add structure as needed
- The game designer and the producer must have a healthy working relationship for a project to succeed
- Be weary of hype in the design phase of a game--but keep an open mind as well
- Leaders on a large team need to take extra precautions to keep their developers informed