“The Usual” — Postmortem

Stage 1 — Act 1: The One-pager

I began visualising the thought process behind this game with a simple one-pager. Establishing what the overarching themes and game feel I was searching for.

Another useful tool of the one-pager, is framing development systems. Primarily, Fungus within Unity would be used to control all the narrative elements.

This includes the choice based speech respones, that I wanted the player to be in control of. Allowing for the user to define what kind of player (emotionally), they wanted to play.

This design document also allowed for a demonstration of influences to be shown. Drawing from the “magical realism” and “surrealism” of Lynch and Murakami, the setting is to be eerie without becoming a horror experience.

As the game is also based around my experiences bartending — I needed to create fictional characters out of the tales I heard whilst on the job.

To estbalish the main characters of the narrative, I wanted to draw up some character sheets.

This would allow for the archetype for each person to be detailed. Including the themes and story beats that I wanted to explore via conversations.

Additonally, this sheet also keeps the writing stage focused. Not wanting to get off topic or mix the themes overlap between each person.

The more that I studied this sheet, the more I also realised how the game can be an exploration of the male gender in spaces where alcohol is prominent.

Outside the pub where I work

Originally, I wanted to create a fictional version of the pub which I already work at. Making for a surrealist twist with added elements to distort the environment into a lockdown scenario.

However, for the prototype I might be able to express the before/during lockdown scenario simply by colour-grading the photos. This will be especially effective for photos featuring customers that are in bright colours being contrasted with black and white empty scenes inside the pub.

Additionally, photos I have taken myself of memories within the venue can be used to add emotional weight. As long as these photos are relatable to the player (especially as they are playing an unnamed character).

Inspiration shot of the bar at my work
Script for the retired businessman

Writing the scene as a script, really helped me visualise the characters within the game space. Enabling a series of emotions to be displayed by the game characters with accompanying text. It also established a link to the player, and how they’ll react to the characters’ expressing themselves.

The scenes are set out with clear instructions for the characters to behave in, making them established figures within the environment. Allowing for player choice in their responses when given the choice.

For Benjamin, I really wanted to focus on his disconnect from society during the lockdown. How having an abundance of money, makes him feel immune to society’s problems that we’re having to face. This results in an optional confrontation at the end of this scene with Ben, where the player can confront the character.

Script for the elderly pensioner

In this scene for the elderly pensioner, I really started to develop some gameplay ideas into the mix. With little mini-games being added to make for more meaningful interactions with the characters.

I also really wanted to focus on the genuine conversations that feel meaningful with the protagonist, offering choices that could potentially end up affecting the credits post game completion.

Even with the age difference between the non-descript protagonist and the elderly man, the care shown between both of them is uplifting; instead of the sourness in the businessman character.

Script for the young worker

As the focus of this game is mostly for players of the same age as Tommy, I wanted to make him the most relatable character. Focusing on his struggle of having to work through the pandemic, especially in relation to his peers.

Another focus of this character is how escapism is used to distract himself from the pains of work. The player can interact with a different number of books that Tommy will react to as the scenes continue at later dates throughout the quarantine.

Lastly, I also wanted there to be different approaches to how the player interacts with Tommy. The Bartender can choose to be sympathetic to Tommy’s frustrations; or, attempt to snap him out of his frustrations by re-iterating his usefulness.

Main Menu Prototype

With the title screen of the game, I really wanted to give across the immediate feel of the game. Setting the tone of the lonely bartender in the empty bar with just one visual image.

The title screen also features functional buttons for starting the game. With the “Play” button (that flashes a different colour when selected) leading to the first scene of the game. Allowing for the user to enter/leave the game world via interaction with the prompts.

In relation to design within Unity: the buttons prompts are made using TextMesh Pro which is already embedded within the program. Allowing for external fonts to also be input for the rest of the game’s dialogue system.

Setting the mood of the title screen: “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” by Gerry Mulligan plays. The mellow natusre of the track establishes the tone of the game. An experience of everyday life working behind a bar.

The audio playback is achieved using Fungus via the Asset Store: this allows for music to be set upon entering a scene which can Loop via Fungus commands. This imported asset will allow for various systems to be designed in the following scenes.

Panel Design for the Introduction

Designing the panels of the introduction stage: I wanted to highlight the transition of the game space. With the flashbacks appearing in colour, when there is life within the pub. Signifying that people, and the lives they lead, bring meaning into the otherwise empty space.

The shots of the real-time, in which the game is played: are signified by black and white colour spaces. Allowing for the player to easily distinguish that they are in the quarantine/lock down. This is where the conversations will happen at the empty bar, with the few locals that still attend.

Editing in engine for the dialogue and character names has taken place in the empty panel. This is then used in the command system of Fungus to input over the background panels.

In-game Screenshot: Showcasing the bar before the quarantine.

The texts fills the speech backgrounds, as the story progesses with user clicks.

Addding to the text bubbles, sound effects play depending on the speech as well as the ambient music in the background when in coloured panels.

In game design when conversing with Benjamin (the business man).

To frame the conversations properly for each character, a lot of effort went into the sound design of each person. Making each character unique for the player when conversing with them.

Choices were also input for the user to make up when replying to questions from the characters. Allowing for replayability in the game, as the dialogue choices can only be made once: this was also an attempt to emulate real world dialogue.

Accompanied with each character was also a unique set of music. Reflecting the tone of each character, especially with how each conversation varies in subject matter depending on the age and wealth of said person.

Finally, modernist paintings were chosen to show the characters in person. This made for a much easier time for the user to engage with each characrter, especially with no 3D game-world to interact with.

Fungus flowchart designed within Unity.

As the design process of the game finally came to a close. The structure of the game became quite apparent. Enabling easy demonstration, hopefully as a tool that can be used to demonstrate the development for new users.

Tags were used to demonstrate different player options when interacting with characters.
Allowing for the choices to always sequence back into the main narrative.

Fungus was incredibly useful in the design process. Making for an easily readable structure, both for the designer and player.

In-game screenshot: player having a conversation with the Old Man character.

1 Lack of voice acting:
Sadly this was a part of the design process that couldn’t be helped. With the current circumstances at hand, the necessary audio quality for voice recordings couldn’t be achieved. Especially due to the collaborative process between the director and actors.

2 Lack of minigames/interactivity:
Another part of the game which I hoped would be more fulfilled.
This was mostly came down to my lack of coding ability within Unity, many attempts were taken to try and integrate this feature. Although conversation choices were implemented, I believe that minigames focused on maintaining the bar would have taken the game to the next level.

3 Resorting to 2D rather than 3D:
The lack of a 3D game world to explore also sadly hamstrung the interactive elements that I wanted to achieve. This was due to a combination of problems with Unity: a lack of coding knowledge and lack of time to design the space. With more development time and working with others, I think that the world that I wanted to achieve could be taken to the next level of design.

In-game screenshot: player having a conversation with the Young Man character.

1 Character and world audio design:
To make up for the lack of voice acting that I wanted to implement, a lot of work went into defining the characters via accompaniments in each conversation. Ambiance sounds become a core component to try and make the conversations a lot more lively. I believe that this made the world and each conversation far more unique than just being simple 2D panels. Giving hints to the player about what each character generally sounds like, before letting their imagination do the rest. Allowing players to associate these characters with people they already know.

2 Narrative structure and content:
Truly, this had to be the strongest component of the game as a whole. If the dialogue was lacking, then it would be really hard to keep the player engaged. With my script: I think that I’ve managed to enage the user with each character and “chapter” of the story. Allowing for thought to be put behind each dialogue response they give. Balancing the tone of the story really was the greatest challenge, and hopefully I’ve managed to achieve this via the sequence of the characters.

3 Maximising the game world in 2D:
From the outset, I knew that a fully realised 3D space was going to be a tough ask. To make up for this, I really wanted to maximise the visual elements of being in the pub. A lot of this resorted to colour design, choosing to compliment the literally colourful characters with a black and white back drop. This reiterated the core message of the game, that even though the world has lost its colour, the people that inhabit it haven’t faded.

Additionally, a lot of work went into the soundscape of each scene. My score for each chapter reflected the tone of each character, as well as the mood within the game-world.

Final store page for the game.
Final title page for the game.

Overall I’m really happy with how the final game turned out.
It allowed me to really hone my writing ability, especially when developing a fictional story for this medium (this being my first attempt).
A lot of this development was spent applying techniques learnt from the class.

Hopefully, this will enable me to start translating these 2D stories into 3D spaces for the future.

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