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  • Student Postmortem: ETC's The Winds of Orbis

    - Seth Sivak

  •  Nintendo created something amazing with the Wiimote. Gamers and non-gamers alike have found remote both intuitive and fun. We wanted to use it to our full advantage, but not the point of having the game feel gimmicky, which is a complaint about some of the games for the Wii. We decided to use the handheld controller sparingly and to attempt to make the motions feel as intuitive as possible.

    In the end, we all agreed that the controls were the main reason The Winds of Orbis is so easy to pick up, helping the young players feel comfortable immediately. During our play test sessions, we were constantly surprised by how quickly the children mastered the more complex moves and how easily they remembered the actions they need to do. We never once had anyone complain that they were exercising, and to us that is the ultimate success.

    3. Iterations focused on one aspect. Throughout the project, the team remained open to experimentation. Because we were essentially doing research on the feasibility of Active-Adventures, it would be important to try as many different gameplay mechanics as possible -- but we really didn't have the time to do it all.

    We knew early on that in order to create a fun gameplay experience, it would be important to select only a few design ideas and follow them through really well.

    The core dynamic was going to be a combat system, which would give us the best chance of creating active movements that would appeal directly to our core audience. During the first third of the semester, we focused only on combat and making it as fun as possible; then we continued to refine it until the end.

    Focusing on just combat really helped the team to prioritize and share a common goal. We spent countless hours developing combat mechanics. We tried several different ways of inputting the combat moves, as well as combo-style systems. The final implementation is a very intuitive and fun mechanic. It's built around three simple punches, though players love to explore different ways of using them and enjoyed the variety of the different interactions.

    Taking time to focus on a single part of the gameplay can seriously benefit the overall experience.

    4. Ten play test sessions, new blood each time. As soon as we entered production, we had numerous play tests scheduled -- one before we even had anything playable! The schedule motivated us to get a prototype up and running quickly.

    The first demo lacked any art but did a terrific job of giving us (and our earliest play testers) a feel for the concept. This was crucial: Because the Wiimote and dance pad had not been combined in an Active-Adventure before, we needed to see if we could design a user interface that had the potential to be fun.

    Throughout the three-month development cycle, we conducted approximately 10 play tests with more than 300 kids. For each session, preliminary data was gathered (age, sex, game preferences) and a post-play interview was conducted. We compiled all the feedback and made changes to the prototype as necessary. Using new testers for each build was important to ensure that each tester was new to the experience.

    Play testing early and often kept the blinders off of our team. We discovered things we never would have seen on our own. It was also one of the most rewarding times for the team because it gave us a chance to see the children laughing and smiling while playing our game, which further motivated us to make a great game.

    5. World of feedback. The world of Orbis, where the game takes place, was built around the idea of the player making an impact on the environment. To encourage the sort of active play and athletic movements required to effectively play the game, we adopted a philosophy of "juicy feedback." The idea of juicy feedback is to have the player do something relatively small in the real world, but have that action make a large impact in the game world. For example, when the player punches in the real world it does not take much force, but the in game character can knockdown entire walls with a single blow.

    The art style and the general feel of the game draw the player into the experience. We worked very hard to create characters and a story that made sense, given the active nature of the game. Children loved the animalistic nature of the main characters and the cartoon-style animations, enhanced by our bouncy physics system.

    One of the biggest problems that people, children especially, have with exercise is that they receive little to no feedback. It's difficult to gauge the impact of a workout (unless you're on a high tech exercise machine), and often people feel that they are not seeing the results they want for the effort they put in. We worked hard to give feedback to the player so that Orbis is a fun and rewarding place to be active in.


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