In this post I will be telling about the idea phase of the game I am designing for the Collaborative Unit. Please make sure to read the first post on Collaborative Project before this one, which features the project brief.
After agreeing on the general scope and brief of the project, these were the stages that I have been through until starting the development phase:
- Initial ideas brainstorming
- Research on persuasive games
- First idea: Platformer
- Research on target audience
- Challenging the first idea
- In class demonstration of the experience
- Second idea: Unrolled cup fortune telling
Initial ideas brainstorming
Before thinking about the game profoundly, I started brainstorming for ideas. Beliz was also included to the brainstorming phase, and these were the first ideas that came to our mind:
1) Turkish delight game: A game focused on the shape of the delight which are small, colourful and jello-like cubes.
a) Match-3 game with colourful T-delight cubes.
b) Stacking T-delights and building things (Lego met with Tetris type of toy or puzzle game)
c) Strategy game - Colourful and unreal simulation of a T-delight production line
d) Platformer - Searching the nut inside a huge Turkish delight. Biting/chewing/digging your way inside the cube to open up new ways and reach the nut.
3) Educational Turkish coffee game: A game that features the preparation and consumption of the Turkish coffee, includes puzzles and informs the player about the culture.
4) A story-telling game with the coffee grounds Tasseography. (The remaining Turkish coffee at the bottom and sides of the cup are read for fortune-telling.)
5) Adventure game - There is a character, and she falls into the coffee cup, inside her own fortune. She has a mysterious journey, interacts with patterns and shapes and she manipulates the environment (coffee remains) to progress. She tries to complete the journey successfully and she finds some answers along the way about her life.
6) Micro-management game - There is a funny and tiny Sultan character who orders a cup of Turkish coffee, and the player needs to p repare him a delicious coffee and serve it properly with T-delights to make him contended. (Historically, the T-delight was first created because one of the Ottoman sultans wished for a dessert that would go well with his coffee.)
7) Logo as the character - A narrative focused adventure that is based on a fictional character - the girl on the logo of Özerlat brand. She steels Turkish delights and escapes or she is searching for the finest coffee...
I was thinking about making two separate mini-games on each product (one for the delight and another game for the coffee), but later, after my brainstorming meeting with Beliz, I learned that she preferred not to separate the two products from each other and present them in a single game, since they bundle them together in their marketing strategy.
Research on persuasive games
I did not want to make a advertisement game, but it also needed to feature the products and ideally promote them. It was a challenging situation. If the brief was "get inspired from a product and make a game" the task would be much easier. I came across the term "persuasive games". The term in general intends to demonstrate effective ways to make interesting games, which can communicate and/or teach certain topics to its players. The book Persuasive Games is written by Ian Bogost and there is also an existing business organisation that puts the theory to practice by making games for business, politics and learning. I played two of their games, and realised that even though they did not showcase the selected topic with a lot of detail, the games could transfer the core idea to the players. My learning was that games could be like a comic strip on a newspaper, which are very short, simple and do not take much space, but can pin point the essence of an issue to poke us. The challenge was considering all the aspects of the selected topic and eliminating almost every aspect until the essence remains, and designing a game delivers that essence to its players.
First idea: Platformer
After some consideration of all the initial ideas, I needed to decide on one and start developing on it. It was challenging to make a decision because there were many aspects to take into account, as such:
1- Game design: The game should be interesting so that people would be willing to play it in the first place.
2- Collaborator expectations: The game idea has to be in sync with the brief and serve the needs of the company and reflect its values.
4- Project due date: The idea should not be too ambitious, considering the limited time and resources.
3- Me: I must like the idea so that I can enjoy making it and work hard to finish it on time.
In order not to make an advertisement game, first I decided to put the long brief aside, and only select three major things from it: Turkish coffee, delight and awareness. I observed my thought process, I realised that was getting carried away with their marketing management issues, because of my background, but my ultimate goal was making a playable game which could bring some awareness to the two products. Consequently, I decided to take the theme of the 6th initial idea (the character is falling in to the coffee cup into her own fortune) and make a 2D platformer game adopting this theme. I thought I could feature the delights within the platformer as well, by making them collectables. As case study (an example game), I concentrated on the game Fez, because of these two reasons:
1- I fancied for an environment mechanic.
My character would manipulate the environment to progress by shaping the patterns of coffee remains. I knew that this mechanic could be very challenging to build, but I could give it up during development phase if it did not work out.
2-Fez is a peaceful game which does not rush the player, and this spirit matching with the Turkish coffee culture of relaxing and taking your time to enjoy the experience.
Since Beliz gave me the Disney cartoon with Turkish delights as a benchmark to refer to in this project, I was confident that Beliz would not have an issue with featuring the products within a fictional theme. I checked with Beliz and asked her feedback about the playformer idea. Even though she liked the idea, she said, she was worried that the experience might move away from the products. Her feedback was that I could keep building on this idea, but I was to think of ways of positioning the products as desirable within the gameplay.
Research on target audience
In a meeting with my mentor, when I told her about the project, informed her about the brief and my idea for a platformer, she told me that before making my choice of genre definite, I should determine a target audience and conduct a research to find out what kind of games my target enjoys and which platforms/hardware it prefers to play games. My chosen target audience was middle aged women living in London.
Challenging the first idea
During the mentor-student game jam, I had the chance to discuss the topic of my game project and the platformer idea with Rob of Playniac. He advised me on reevaluating the platformer idea. He said he was not sure if the experience and feelings I would like to deliver could come across via a platformer and maybe it was not the right choice of genre for this game or maybe it was... Since my topic was already authentic, maybe I did not need to add in as much to make the game interesting. He suggested me to look into Engare, a game about "the mathematical beauty of Islamic art" created by the Iranian game maker Mahdi Bahrami. Rob's feedback had been very constructive for my Kubrick game, plus after conducting the target audience research I was not convinced if platformer was the right genre, so I decided to challenge my first idea, and consider other types of games as well, for this project.
In class demonstration of the experience
I was in a point that I was confused and lost, because even though I knew the feeling I wanted to achieve with this game, I could not decide on the design idea of the game. I was suspecting that because I was too familiar with the culture of Turkish coffee, I was not able to simplify and focus on the core of the experience. I thought having some fresh views on this topic could clear the dark clouds, so I decided to make Turkish coffee in class, demonstrate the real, physical experience and get the inputs of my classmates who are not Turkish and not familiar with the culture.
I asked Beliz to borrow her coffee cups that she uses in tastings and also she gave me some tasting samples: boxes of Turkish delights and a package of their traditional Turkish coffee blend. In the tastings the company organises to promote their products, they cook the coffee in a pot on the stove or they use a more advanced coffee machine. I did not want to use the machine because I think it subtracts some of the spirit from the authentic experience, instead I used an electrical pot to cook the coffee in class, which is not totally traditional but much closer to the real experience.
Some of the students tasted the coffee accompanied by delights and then I taught them to flip the cup over to see the their fortune. It is a very daily habit in our culture and I think a unique way of connecting with people around you. The remains of the coffee create patterns in one's cup and when they open up the flipped cup, the one of a kind pattern is revealed. Another person can look at the pattern and interpret the meaning of the shapes they recognise within the pattern. It is a very game-like custom, and it is fun trying to recognise some shapes and assign them meanings. It can also be a warm and intimate activity, if you are having a coffee with a close friend or family member.
During the experience in class, majority of people told me to focus on the physical experience, either the preparation, the consumption or the fortune-telling part, and digitalise the experience in a way that everyone can access it. Additionally, I was advised to teach the player how to experience this culture via gaming.
The comments by my classmates and tutors were completely different from what I was about to do with my platformer idea, since I was afraid of making an advertorial, I was not planning neither to focus on digitalising the actual physical experience nor teaching the culture to the player. I was aiming for a cool fictional experience which happen to feature the products.
Second idea: Unrolled cup fortune telling
Gathering and considering all the input from the mentors, tutors, classmates and Beliz, I decided to drop my platformer idea and think about a new one which in corporates more aspects from the actual/physical Turkish coffee experience. Here is my second idea:
I wanted to create a Turkish coffee fortune telling simulation.
1) There is a quick cut scene or a clicker part where the player prepares a coffee and then they serve it, drink it and flip the cup over when finished.
2) When they are waiting for the cup to cool down, before opening the cup to see their fortune, they choose and eat 3 delights from a 21 piece delight box. When they click on the delights that they choose to have, a magical core (nut) shines in the middle of the delight and flies followed by a shinny trail on to the coffee cup and disappear. The delights the player choose determine what they will see in their fortune (or the fortune is completely random, but the player is deceived and given the impression that their choice matters).
3) When the player click opens the cup, it unrolls. At first the unrolled strip is white and empty, and when they roll the coffee filled, black circular bottom, the coffee pours on the strip and a unique pattern is revealed along with 3 obvious shapes. After the shapes are revealed, a note pops-up and the player can read their fortune from this note. The note includes the meanings of the shapes seen within the pattern.
In my weekly meeting with Beliz, I updated her and told her about the inputs I received from everyone and that I decided to drop the first idea I presented to her. I presented her the new idea, showed her the concept are and asked for her opinion. She preferred that we proceeded with the second idea since the product and culture were more present. She was a little bit concerned with unrolled shape of the cup and warned me that people might not understand where this was coming from since they were not familiar with the actual experience. On the other hand, she liked the rolling coffee mechanic to reveal the pattern and shapes. Plus, she liked that delights and coffee were connected in the design, and the delights had a magical role in the fortune telling part.
In my original idea (before I presented it to Beliz), I was not planning to offer the player an output: the fortune note which appears at the end. I was only planning to reveal the shapes and encourage the player to work their imagination to draw meanings out of shapes they see, but Beliz asked me to put a prize at the end, which could serve as a reason to play. I thought it was an excellent feedback from a non-gamemaker. She said, "Why would I play it once again, if I am not gaining anything out of it...". We decided to add in the fortune note, so that the player could leave the game with something unique and personal to share with others.
Mentor comments :
In the same day, I had a meeting with my mentor, Tara. I also showed her the concept art and explained her the game idea. She really liked it, and commented that this one seemed like a better fit for the ultimate goal, which was introducing the Turkish coffee culture to my target audience via an interactive experience. She advised me on writing down my 3 pillars of design, an X statement and prepare a basic design document and a flow-chart, before starting the development phase so that I can always go back and refer to these, if I ever feel lost. She also recommended looking into the hidden object games and trying to paper prototype it, if I could.
Since I thought I had the vision and I knew exactly what I wanted to make, I was eager to start developing this idea and possibly, simplify things along the way. I consulted the idea to both of the tutors, and asked them about their opinions and how I could start with development.
I was advised on making a 3D modelled version of the open cup, instead of a 2D unrolled one, because they had the same concern with Beliz; they were thinking that people would not understand where the unrolled cup represented if I did not have a nice unrolling animation. Since this was the second time that I was receiving a feedback on the unrolled cup, I decided not to be stubborn and start the development by trying out making the scene in 3D.
The tutors had different opinions on connecting the delight eating to the shapes within the coffee patterns. David thought that delight magic effect (the choice of delights supposedly effecting the fortune) was remote from the actual experience, and Alan thought that giving an illusion of choice to the player could add on to the gaming experience. At this point, I decided to keep the magic effect of delights.
I was planning to give a holistic fortune note; meaning instead of telling the player the meanings of the shapes, I wanted to write short paragraph just like the daily horoscopes which incorporates the meanings of the three shapes that the player revealed. When I calculated the permutation of the fortune notes, I realised that I would have to prepare a huge number of fortune notes: 7980, considering I would let the player choose 3 out of 21, which was an impossible task. If the appearing order of shapes would not matter then there would be 1330 combinations and so fortune notes. Since the numbers were too high, Alan advised me to generate the notes procedurally. I decided to think about this issue in a later part of the project, since it was not a priority and I could simplify this mechanic by only showing the meaning of shapes instead of writing an holistic paragraph.