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  • Lessons In Making A Serious Game During A Crisis

    [06.30.20]
    - Kim Kupiainen
  • "Although there are known, effective treatments for mental disorders, between 76% and 85% of people in low- and middle- income countries receive no treatment for their disorder. This is the problem we are trying to tackle. And we want to make games that matter"

    This is the line I had in our first pitch. It was a make it or break it deal. Normally the teachers have set boundaries on how big the project team can be. The limit this time was 6, and our team had 12 people in it, and I was responsible to nail the pitch. I had to convince the teachers that we can do this. Luckily, I came prepared.

    Before the project had even started, I started contacting psychotherapists, in the hopes of finding a person that could help us with this project. I found A cognitive psychotherapist who was interested in the project. This was valuable for our team and my interests in serious gaming too. 

    I had already build our project management pipelines, URLs to important folders and files like GDD, TDD etc. I had also given leads their positions and negotiated with everyone about this project: What are our roles and what are we aiming for. The only question we didn't answer at the time was: "How."

    The teachers wanted me to make an organization chart because we were so huge compared to the rest of the group. This was extra work, but it was justifiable because we were a group of 12, where the smallest group was a group of 3.

    I did the organizational chart, went to the pitch shaking, and did my best. There were some really good questions from the other students, such as: "What's your estimated playtime", where my only answer at that point would be: "Quality over quantity. We do not know."

    In the end, we got the permission to go on.. All except one teacher gave us the green light. And when asked why not to give green, he said that he "did it for the memes."

    I had played this war of mine, that dragon cancer and bunch of other serious games, and wanted to dip my feet into making a serious game too. The last project was a mobile game we made with a really obscure engine called Urho 3D, this time we got to work with unity.

    On behalf of the technical side I was interested in experimenting with realistic graphics, building emergent gameplay together with the community and making solid sound design. The team agreed. We started building a game with the aim to give tools through gameplay, for people suffering from depression. Our design pillars were:

    1. Not to gamify depression, but instead give support through gameplay experiences.
    2. Make a puzzle game with aesthetic environment.
    3. Learn more about serious gaming
    4. Be truthful about the scope of the game and the amount of work it takes.

    With the first Vlog of our project, I made a personal record of gaining around 1000 views on the very first 24 hours for a game I'm involved in making. However the hype slowed down after a week or two, as we were onboarding a new marketing person to take some weight off of my shoulders so I could focus on applying for grants and doing production. This person became busy with other things in his life. He was active during 2 days of our development. Rest of the days he was missing.

    In the meantime our Discord community grew to around 54 persons with the first Vlog and some marketing I did on Reddit. I did my best to make the new members feel welcome and created channels for anything I could think about. Be it info about the project or #animals or #music -channels. In the end they seemed happy with the Discord we'd build them. I started applying grants for our project.

    We started the grind. Learning GLTF 2.0 related asset pipelines, building prototypes of the puzzles fit to the game, networking pieces, subtitle systems, saving system, shaders, etc.  Our Designer worked closely with our prototyping department and our Art Lead. I took care of the daily standup, retrospectives, making sure that everyone knows what they are doing and that they don't have problems, and of course making sure that they are feeling well. one-on-ones were in the beginning weekly, and after preproduction bi-weekly.

    Among that work I was organizing play tests for our community. In duration of 3,5 months we tested the game with our community twice. We could've tested more, but thought that this will suffice.

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