Project Lead, Solo Developer
Time Talker is a project featuring William and Justine who live roughly 500 years apart from each other. Through Williams latest invention they are able to communicate and to learn more about each other's environment in order ensure that the future looks less grim and more green.
This project was made for UNEP in 8 weeks time by a team of 6.
CONCEPT AND GOAL
For this project we were tasked by my university to create a serious applied game for a client. Our client was UNEP, an organization that focuses on nature and sustainability. They gave us the primal target audience of people aged between 15 and 24. They wanted us to be wild and creative. Create something fun for the target audience and potentially something that allows them to think about the current situation with biodiversity and the future.
The first week was a design sprint week. This week was a very intense week where the focus was to work as efficient as possible to have a prototype by the end of the week. The brain storm session above is the summary of the entire week.
During this week we had a facilitator and a decider. I was the decider my team mate Carien (a teacher at the University Utrecht) was the facilitator. Her role was to keep the team healthy and in high spirits. My role was to ensure that by the end of the day progression was made, that there were no loose ends and that we could continue to the next step.
Since I find it very important that everyone's voice is heard, whether we can do something with it or not, we decided on a system where we could vote on ideas, suggestions etc. We also discussed the most popular ones or merged ideas where possible to create something fresh.
Quite early on I suggested a mechanic based on Prince of Persia (Warrior Within). This mechanic is that the prince has to travel between the past and the future. During this transaction you can see the nature grow, buildings collapse etc. This are in place for certain puzzles that can be solved in either the past or the future in order to make some progression.
After a long week we had a very nice prototype with plenty of play tests. We settled on the idea of Time Talker. A game featuring 2 individuals that live about 500 years apart. William is a scientist from the past that has invented a device named the Time Talker. With this you can communicate with someone from the future that has the exact same device, which in this case is Justine.
Justine lives 500 years in the future. In her timeline the earth has become a desert that is very scarce on resources. As a scavenger she tries to find canned food and bottles of water. Eventually she finds the Time Talker and gets in touch with William.
Together they have to solve puzzles in order to ensure that the future will be a much brighter and greener place.
The amazing thing about this concept is that we wanted to show an immediate exaggerated effect when you plant for example a tree to clear future pollution. In 500 years time a little seed can grow into a massive tree or maybe a small forest. And the puzzles required William to leave items behind which will rust over time, but will be up for grabs for Justine in the future.
Justine know what happened and can help William to make the right decisions. With the second puzzle she can find and decipher codes and routes for William to use in the past in order to prevent a village from cutting all trees in their surroundings.
Our goal was to create a game where 2 people sit next to each and have to play together in a story driven game. Since they experience the game from both perspectives they will talk with each other. Seeing the immediate effect of nature makes them more aware about how much of an impact something small can have. It also encapsulates why it is important to go for sustainable methods. All of these combined should ideally change the way someone thinks and acts for the better of the future biodiversity.
All formalities aside, as a solo developer I was in for quite a wild ride. I had to ensure that we went for a MVP (Minimum Viable Product). I also had to ensure that the focus points were on the things that would achieve our goals the fastest.
Since I was also responsible for the planning I suggested to use convenient methods for everyone that are not complex but give a lot of insights such as Trello, Discord and Excel sheets.
After having made a priority list based on MoSCoW I had to implement various mechanics. Each mechanic will be explained briefly.
The dialogue system was one of the most important features since it was a story driven game. I created a tool for it through scriptable objects. In this tool you can choose who says what and the line. Then you can drag a dialogue object to any other game object in the scene. If it is an item or interactable it will automatically trigger the dialogue. It can be triggered only once or multiple times if you desire so. The system shows the dialogue for an x amount of seconds based on the average character reading speed.
Both players could collect and inspect items for lore, puzzles, and progression. The inspection part however was dropped due to lack of time. The inventory was a dynamic bottomless inventory with in mind that players could choose to rearrange it if they wanted. This was due to us having plans for quick slots in the UI. However this feature was also dropped due to lack of time. The backend however is fully prepared for such an expansion.
Items could be collected and dropped. Some items however when dropped could be picked up by the player in the future. But if the player in the past picks up the item then it should be removed from the inventory from the player in the future as the "drop" never happened. I wanted the items to be easy to add, so I gave options per item such as name, description, type etc. Some items unlock things whole others don't. Due to this the item system became quite big.
This was a broad term for anything that couldn't be picked up. For example mentioning the ventilation shaft, trying to unlock a door etc.
Interactables could also unlock other things for sequential progression. Anything that was linked to it that derives from the unlockable interface would be unlocked after interaction. Interactables would also teleport players for example from the world to the bunker. The entire game is made in 1 scene, this is to avoid loading times.
One of the most important aspects in the game was the world progression, for example when you plant a plant seed in the past that it would show in the future at the same location with maybe a little offset depending on the height of the future terrain. It would also show some grass and less pollution. We also wanted to add insects and animals if we had more time for it. But we had to make everything apart from the animations by ourselves. For a team of 6 we were very busy with the tasks at hand that were more important. There is also a plantable zones system in place. This means that plants can only be planted at certain places for a massive effect. These places would be marked in the future as places with minimal nature.
New Input System.
In order to have Cinemachine work properly with the controller and keyboard and mouse we had to use the new input system. I had only worked with it once, so it was a challenge to get it up and running. I had to fine tune a lot of things and eventually create some work around methods to fix some issues which introduced other issues. Inverted controls, motion sensitivity etc. Most were eventually fixed though.
There were some more smaller sub systems in place such as multiplayer (local split screen), event system, sequential puzzles, unlocks, and triggers.
Storyboard made by Xander
Time Talker takes place in the year 2000 and 2503. William lives in the past as a geeky scientist that has invented the Time Talker, a device that allows communication through time. Justine is a scavenger that lives in the future in a very hostile environment where survival is the only thing on her mind.
Both will discover what had happened throughout the years and together they want to restore the future to what it should be so that mankind won't be on the verge of extinction.
By solving puzzles together they will stop deforestation's from happening. In their first encounter William helps Justine to escape from a bunker where she has been trapped.
Later on Justine will help William (and herself) to plant nature at the right places for a massive positive effect on the environment.
We wanted to make sure that our game left the correct impression behind and of course that people would be willing to talk to each other and to work together in order to tackle the puzzles.
We did a lot of play tests to test features, mechanics, game feel, and some more aspects. We unfortunately didn't have a game designer in the team so we had to go with what we believed to be the correct thing.
With most of the play tests I was the host. I observed what they were doing, if they were communicating and if the prototype was behaving properly. I also gave them a little welcome, an introduction, and of course a thankful goodbye. We also had 3 recordings: in game, a camera for expressions focused on player 1, and a camera for player with that also focused on expressions. Were also recording audio in case we needed to hear the conversations for future research purposes.
Each play test was finalized with a questionnaire. This focused on the psychological aspect of the game. We wanted to be sure that it had the impact that we hoped it would have.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
After 8 weeks we finally had a beautiful product that we all could be proud of.
We managed to implement all the core systems with our own characters and environments. Everything was handcrafted. The only things not made by us were the skyboxes and animations. For the animations we made use of Mixamo.
We unfortunately were not able to fully implement the second puzzle, so we just implemented the mechanics of planting nature and collecting keycards. When William tries to open the door it will fire a dialogue while thanking the player for playing the demo.
This project was made by a team of 6:
Ravi Bechoe (Developer)
Rebecca Ruper (Game Artist)
Nathalie Verduin (Interaction Designer)
Jort Thijssen (Game Artist)
Carien MoossDorff (Teacher at University Utrecht)
Xander Stuivenberg (Game Artist)