Results from Game Design Challenge: Photographic Interpretation #2

By staff [01.12.10]'s Game Design Challenge is an exercise in becoming a game developer, asking you to look at games in a new way -- from the perspective of a game creator, producer, marketer, businessperson, and so forth.

Our latest contest challenged readers to create a game design based on the photo "A Conversation with Phillis Wheatley", shown below.

Game Career Guide encouraged its readers to create an original scenario and world based on the depicted scene, and asked entrants to explain their own, original reasons for those circumstances.

What follows are the best and most original entries we received. Here are our top picks:

Best Entries

Nacho Pintos, Student at: UOC's post-degree program of Game Development, Hope (see page 2)
Hope puts the player in control of an anonymous Phillis Wheatley fan, who must ensure that her poetry readings proceed without interruption. The time management gameplay concepts here are realistic and attainable, and though its premise is unusual, the game has all the hallmarks of a casual hit.

Doreen Zheng, Level Designer trainee, Sandlot Games Corporation, Seek 'n Freeze (see page 3)
In this stealth-strategy title, players control a statue that must secretly clean up a house in the aftermath of a child's destructive playfulness. The gameplay here is very well defined, and represents a unique take on the traditionally action-driven stealth genre.

Vladimir Villanueva, Artist, Save Point Tactics: Reconnaissance Intelligence Force (see page 4)
Phillis Wheatley's statue stars in this genre-blending strategy game, and players must assume multiple supporting roles in order to guide a dull-witted group of warriors to victory. There's a great breadth of gameplay here, and enough variety to keep the experience compelling for a long period of time.

Honorable Mentions
Aaron Yip, student of Georgia Institute of Technology, Lost Memories (see page 5)
Dean Ray Johnson, There's An SUV In the Background (see page 6)
Ian Livingston, Graduate Student, University of Saskatchewan, Phillis's Muse (see page 7)

Photo attribution: By Flickr user *clairity* and originally found here. / Used under Creative Commons license BY-SA 2.0.

Nacho Pintos, Student at: UOC's post-degree program of Game Development, Hope

Hope: a game which combines memory, reflexes and poetry.

You must help a poor and talented black girl, called Phillis, become a universally acclaimed poet.

As an anonymous supporter of Phillis who attends all her readings, you must ensure that everyone in the audience is paying attention to her, getting rid of any distractions and noise that may happen. Interaction is through mouse-clicks (or pen-clicks on tactile devices). The challenge is knowing and remembering where (and when!) to click.

The game perspective is from the eyes of Phillis: in front of audience, looking at you.

The sequence of distractions is fixed for each stage: the same sequence of distractions will happen every time at the same moment of the poem.


- Someone coughing insistently -> click on his/her face to put mint in their mouth

- Loud snore -> click on person next to the snoring one, who'll nudge him.

- Baby crying -> click on big crystal lamp over child to distract him with light reflections

- Children playing -> click on old lady behind children, which calls their attention with a finger over her mouth

- Random Vendors -> click on janitor, which tip-toes to vendor and takes him away while covering vendor's mouth

- Someone doing the wave: click on hands when raised to tie them

- A prankster tickling her girlfriend -> click on handsome guy, which calls her attention posing his muscled arm. Prankster stops tickling, gets jealous and holds his girlfriend hand

Distractions should be conceptually and graphically hilarious. The player's job is to have fun while avoiding funny things from happening. Each stage will introduce new distractions, relevant to the reading context (place and audience), and reuse previous ones when possible.

When the poem is finished, the score will be calculated based on the loudness and length of the applause. Each level has an applause threshold to determine if Phillis can advance to the next one. If too many persons get distracted, or there's too much noise during the reading, people will either leave, clap briefly, not clap at all...or throw vegetables at her.

The first stage has a teenage Phillis reciting to a bunch of cats and children in front of the shack where she and her family live. Each stage will have increasingly demanding (and distracting) audiences. The final stage will have Phillis, now in her late fifties, reciting a poem as her acceptance speech for receiving the Literature Nobel Prize.

The end sequence shows Phillis back in her 'shackhood', reciting poems to cats and children.

The game will feature classic English poems (one per stage) from the public domain, read aloud by several voice actresses, to reflect Phillis growth (teenage, young, middle-age). Reading speed will determine the pace at which distractions happen, and will be increased in each stage. Besides, the text of each verse will fade in and out at the lower part of the screen as it is spoken.

Doreen Zheng, Level Designer trainee, Sandlot Games Corporation, Seek 'n Freeze

Photo Interpretation
The boy looks very mischievous and the statue looks stern. So I'm going along with the idea that the boy is a troublemaker and the statue is a savior.


Setting: A Rich man's house with lots of rooms
You will play as Phillis Wheatley statue owned by a rich man who can come to life as you like, though you'd prefer to hide this fact. The mischievous little boy is visiting your house and starts to create a big mess by toppling things down.

As the honorable resident of the house, you feel that you have to correct this mess before the owner found out. Else, the boy is going to get into trouble!


There is a timer for every level indicating the time left for the statue to clear the mess before the owner of the house or parents of the boy found him(game over cut scene).

The statue must freeze when the boy turned around(always 180 degree) or in line with the boy's line of sight. That is in front of the boy when there's no object in between the boy and statue. If not, the boy will burst into tears(game over).

The boy will stop(can be indicated by flashing blue. Refer to UI) before turning so player can be prepared to freeze in time.

Walk: Use keys to move near items to pick them up
Freeze: No action required from player(boy's line of sight will change if the boy turns)


Figure 1.1: Overall view

Figure 1.2: Top screen

Figure 1.3: Bottom screen


As player levels up:
- The boy's speed of damage increases(more things to pick up)
- The room(s) is bigger(longer distance to travel)
- Shorter time(need to pick up faster)
- Prioritize/Order the picking.
Some things are linked. Player needs to pick up one before another. For example: A mug and a book. The original arrangement is the mug on top of the book. Therefore, player need to pick up the book first before the mug. Priorities can be indicted by color of symbol(Refer to UI)
- Pick up bonus items such as invisible potion which allow statue to move freely for a short time(10-30sec)

Mini games:

- Jigsaw puzzle of broken items
Some items can be broken after toppled. You have to put them together again.
- Find the boy by evidences
Player can play the role of the rich man, spot evidence(e.g foot print or boy's belongings) to find the boy.
- Find the boy by racing
Play can play the role of the boy's mum, catch the boy as he's running around the house.

Vladimir Villanueva, Artist, Save Point Tactics: Reconnaissance Intelligence Force

The four strangers hired by the king to save the world are failing! Empire Evil is gaining popularity! In desperation, the king has dispatched a disreputable spy to save his popularity: “Phillis Wheatley,” the Mobilized Save Point.

“Save Point Tactics: Reconnaissance Intelligence Force” is a top-down espionage adventure for the Nintendo DS. As “Phillis,” players are charged with secretly guiding four would-be warriors while battling the greatest evil known as Empire Evil. Failure, and the king is doomed.

Players use the directional pad to move “Phillis” around the touch screen while a map is displayed on the top screen highlighting the locations of the spy and the warriors. Outfitted with a multipurpose suit guised as a save point statue, players can change into four specialized modes by holding down the left shoulder button and pressing a direction on the directional pad.

For hasty information gathering, players can press left to activate “Recon Mode.” Armed with a prehensile grappling vacuum, “Phillis” will automatically inhale all small objects nearby, from ornamental weaponry to incriminating documents. Geared for mobility, holding the stylus over distant cliffs or rooftops will direct “Phillis” to grapple and zip towards the touched location. Primarily an evasive mode, tapping the stylus on pursuing enemies will command “Phillis” to trip and temporarily immobilize targets.

When enemies must be questioned, players can activate “Interrogator Mode” by pressing the down direction. Taking the guise of a local monster, touching enemies with the stylus will initiate touching conversations. While players are free to question and respond with a number of statements, being too inquisitive or annoying may cause enemies to shockingly turn hostile.

Why wait for enemies to fire first? By pressing right, players will instantly activate “Kill Mode,” allowing “Phillis” to fire an endless stream of attacks at targets that the stylus is held over. The type of attack varies depending on the distance “Phillis” is from the target, from slowly firing powerful cannonball shots from afar, to unloading a volley of fireballs when the target is in mid range.

When the warriors moan for direction, players can activate “Save Point Mode” by pressing up and guide from a distance. Transforming into a stationary statue, touching “Phillis” in this mode will drop the map down onto the touch screen, allowing the spy to radio the route the strangers should take, from invading popular territory to distract the enemy, to taking safer detours.

Acting as a save point, touching the warriors with the stylus will cure their wounds and reveal their status screen, allowing players to re-equip each stranger. Uninformed of the spy's presence, the warriors will take “Phillis” for an enemy unless they find the spy in the room already transformed as a save point.

Fighting from the shadows, “Phillis” must understand that the only way to defeat Empire Evil is to shun personal glory and give it to fighters that greater need the publics' esteem.

Aaron Yip, student of Georgia Institute of Technology, Lost Memories

In the year 2013, a terrorist attempt to detonate a radioactive weapon in New York City was foiled. The weapon prematurely detonated on route, in a small city named Huntington. The cost in human lives was over 40,000 and included all family members of Charlie Link. The nation renewed their conflicts against international terrorism, and the area surrounding Huntington was barricaded off as being too radiotoxic to support human life. However, human life did exist inside the quarantine, and it existed in mutated forms.

Ten years have passed since the quarantine. Charlie Link, now a teenage survivor, develops the ability of time travel when he is asleep. He can return to his body exactly ten years ago and affect the current day; items that he buried then can be retrieved now, and messages can travel through time. Using this newly found ability, Charlie Link decides to stop the explosion by following the footsteps of the detectives on the case in 2013 and preventing their mistakes.

There is a catch: in 2013, he was 4 years old and did not know how to read.


As toddler Charlie, the game plays as a platform/puzzler. Each level takes place during a day in young Charlie's life, where he must escape his parents, navigate through the city, leave messages and notes for his future self, and return back to his parents before they get suspicious.

Unfortunately, Charlie cannot simply wander around the city unsupervised. Law enforcement and caring ladies will raise eyebrows and seek to return Charlie home. Moreover, commonplace things like traffic and dogs suddenly become deadly obstacles to a small, waddling toddler.

Thus, you must use creativity, taking advantage of Charlie's tiny stature and adorableness to accomplish your goals. When your parents lock the doors, you must abuse other small openings like air vents or doggy doors. Pretend to be walking with a couple when police look at you suspiciously. Climb onto the backs of electric wheelchairs to cross traffic intersections. Escape to people when canines chase. In other words, you must think like a toddler in this platform/puzzler!

More challenging levels will require advanced tactics, introduce the element of timers to events, and involve new dangers--after escaping the dog, the people may suddenly want to turn you in.

At the end of the day, your goal is to ultimately leave the clues you found at accessible landmarks for your future self to uncover and translate. These landmarks must be easy to recognize and resilient enough to survive the detonation--like a bronze statue of a pondering woman.

Dean Ray Johnson, There's An SUV In the Background

The bronze people. We had known about them for a century, but skepticism about their power still surrounded them. But there was one thing that we didn't know - the bronze could no longer regenerate. The end of their race was nigh. And so, they needed new blood, fortified with iron. They needed children.

That's where he comes in - Mark Stanley, SUV owner.

For years, he has studied the playgrounds of this city from behind my tinted windows, and he has seen the bronze appear where there used to be statues and sculptures. Now, he is the last hope for this city's children.

WIth your custom-built Ford Escape (in-game advertising opportunity!), you must defeat the bronze before they manage to snatch away the city's youth. While immobile, the bronze are just like statues - durable and difficult to stop. But when they move to catch their prey, their joints are exposed. This is the only opportunity to have to run them over with your SUV.

You must circle the city, watching as the children get out of school and go to the playgrounds to admire the statues. When the statues start to move, drive through them before they can catch a child - but be careful not to hit the child in the process! Luckily, the bronze do not have a good sense of hearing, so your horn can be used to drive children away without frightening the statues.

Later, you'll be able to use your meager office worker salary to update your SUV's grill with stronger yet still discrete materials for smashing into the menace. But be careful as the bronze will soon move on from replacing statues of elderly poets from the last century to replacing statues of military generals on horseback, sculptures of sharp and pointy abstract art, and soon, entire plazas of warp metal alien invasions!

Ian Livingston, Graduate Student, University of Saskatchewan, Phillis's Muse


Jack, the little boy in the picture, discovers the statue of Phillis Wheatley while visiting Boston with his mother. Curious about Phillis, Jack climbs up on the table, faces Phillis, and stares intensely at her. In the blink of an eye the statue comes to life; the real Phillis Wheatley!

Startled, Jack looks about for his mother but does not see her; rather he sees dusty streets, horses, and citizens of 18th century Boston. Phillis is equally startled. After a brief introduction Phillis tells Jack that she is suffering from writers block and is distressed because skeptics of her work are pursuing her with claims of fraud. Jack promises to do whatever he can to help her.

Immediately Phillis asks Jack to help her find new inspiration for her work. As Phillis is asking Jack for help, Phillis's pursuers burst onto the scene forcing her to flee. At the last moment she thrusts a map of Boston into Jacks hands with different locations marked on the map.


This game is designed for the iPhone and takes advantage of the GPS capabilities offered on this platform. The game is made up of two unique elements. The first has Jack travelling around the city of Boston in a race against time. The second has Phillis and Jack confronting skeptics in a War of Words.


GamePlay Element 1: Hunting for Inspiration

This element requires the player to move Jack around the map collecting enough inspiration so Phillis can finish her poetry. This creates a race against time. Jake needs to avoid roaming skeptics, collect inspiration, and return to Phillis before her skeptics catch her. If a skeptic catches Jack a War of Words is initiated costing Jack valuable time, and inspiration if he loses.

In a unique twist, movement is controlled using the GPS provided by the iPhone; movement in real life corresponds to Jack's movement in game. The direction that Jack moves is still controlled by the player; however, the player needs to walk in real life to move Jack around Boston.

GamePlay Element 2: War of Words

The War of Words is a simulated argument where the player must shift the burden of proof to the skeptic by moving the iPhone in sequences of taps, tilts, and shakes. To win the War of Words, the player must completely shift the burden of proof onto the skeptic before the skeptic can shift it onto the player.

The game presents progressively longer sequences of movement combinations that the player must then duplicate. Each correctly completed sequence (called a valid argument) increases the cohesiveness of the argument and the length of the next sequence of movements; each mistake in the sequence decreases the cohesiveness of the argument. If the player has the more cohesive argument the burden of proof is shifted to the skeptic and vice versa. Collected inspiration may also be spent for a boost to the cohesion of an argument providing a bonus.

When a player, or skeptic, fails to complete a sequence the opponent has a chance to identify a ‘logical fallacy' in the argument. To do so, the other player must successfully complete the same sequence and successfully hit the points previously missed. Success will reduces the cohesion of the opponent's argument.

If Jack loses the War of Words he also loses some inspiration that may need to be recollected if Jack doesn't have enough for Phillis to finish her poems.

If Jack wins the War of Words he gains additional Inspiration.

Winning the game:

To win the game Jack must return to Phillis with enough inspiration to help her finish one of her poems. With the help of Jack, Phillis will need to defend her work against a skeptic in a final War of Words. If Jack successfully helps Phillis complete all her poems, he will be transported back to the present, winning the game.

Return to the web version of this article
Copyright © UBM TechWeb