Integrated design in Finding my Heart

[ If you havent, I suggest you first read « Integrated Design for Games » before reading this article. ]

When I did Finding my Heart, I had an objective of creating a game with as few words as possible. The story is told with animations and icons and I wanted it to be as self-explainable as possible. However, when I started doing tests with players it became obvious that some sort of tutorial was required as the « no-word » interface was not easily understood by at least half the players. Some players managed easily but others felt completely lost. I still wanted to keep the word count as low as possible and I certainly didnt want a big block of text to tell the player what the game was about. It would have ruined a good part of the game's mood for the player. I finally came out with a pleasing solution that actually gives even more mood to the game.

As an integrated solution, I've placed two short pieces of text in the game to give useful hints to the player. One is placed as an advertisement tacked on a tree and the other is a lost loved letter placed on the grass near the protagonist's appartment. While not perfect, they work fairly well in giving subtle but useful hints to the player and, most of all, they get right down to setting the romantic mood of the game.

The lost loved letter.

This one “explains” to the player that he can press the X button to leave a conversation with a character. By starting with “My dear”, this piece of paper is clearly introduced as a letter sent to someone. I needed to tell the player that he can quit a conversation so what would I say in the letter? I introduced the idea of “leaving” and reinforced it with the part “I just didnt want to talk to you anymore”. So it sounds like the person who wrote the letter wants to break up with is loved one. In itself, it makes sense. It has it's own narrative value : “Some mysterious person wrote a letter to break up with the loved one.” We don't know who it is and who's the loved one, which kind of create a mystery for the player (though it is unresolved in the game).

The letter continues : “I decided to press the X and leave.” This is the necessary informative part, the actual message I want to give to the player about the underlying mechanic. I could not avoid mentioning the X, even though it wouldnt be written like that in a romantic letter, but the whole point of the letter was to show that particular piece of information and so it's as integrated as it could. The letter ends letter with a simple “I'm sorry... xxx”, confirming the presence of emotions in the letter and so reinforcing it's integrated value. And, to finish, I've illustrated the letter to look like paper, with a fold in the middle and a hand-written font.

It requires a little more thoughts from the player than if I would have just written a clear « how-to » (ex: « when talking to someone, press the X in your inventory to walk away. »). However, the clearly written solution, while very informative, would have had the opposite of temporarily breaking the game's mood and the player's efforts, instead of focusing on « getting » the hint (which is intellectually satisfying), would have been focused on getting back into the mood (which is distracting). Not good.

The ad on the tree.

This one I'm most proud of. It is really short and I managed to make it look just like real and lively in regard to the game world. I went as far as making the small pieces of paper with phone numbers that you can rip-off and made most of them gone, as if they have been taken by other people. Again, the piece has it's own narrative value: someone is offering services (we don't know exactly what but it seems related to emotional support and personal growth) and several people were attracted enough to pick up the pieces of paper. A passing of time is suggested from the moment when someone tacked the ad to the tree and the moment the player encounters it. This suggests that the player is not alone in this world, that other people walk around, interact together, have their own emotions and problems. It gives life to the world.

As for the text, it all plays the dual role of setting the ad's own narrative value and giving information to the player. The big “Confused?” (supported by the few extra « ? » of the middle illustration) introducing the ad suggests there is hints about the game. Followed with “Looking for emotions??” (which is the whole point of the game) the subject of the hint is quickly introduced. And then to the hint itself : “Everyone you meet in life can teach you something.” The six non-player characters of the game each teach one skill to the player. If the player doesnt know that, he might uselessly try to learn more from the same character or dismiss another one entirely if he can't find the correct thing to do. The text ends with “Learn the way of the earth and find true love!!” which relates to the global objective of the game (return to your girlfriend and charm her back) but is mostly used to nicely close the advertisment and again set the romantic mood.

This piece of information is particularly interesting because it is fully integrated. There is no technical terms and is narratively coherent. It does not distract one second from the game world. Quite the opposite, it brings the player to think ABOUT the game world, which contributes to immerse him more deeply into it.

Even though these two parts are useful to as much setting the mood as giving out useful informations to the player, those solutions were not perfect and I still received feedbacks about the game being unobvious. I decided to add an help button that brings up a short text explaining the setting and the player's objective more clearly. Unfortunately, this part is not integrated to the design at all but I still tried to keep it unobstrusive (small button on a corner of the screen, never pops-up by itself, only one screen of text, you can close it with a simple click anywhere on the screen). It was important to me to keep the player as close to the game as possible and don't bother him with reading or learning how to play. I wanted him to discover the game by experiencing it. I believe it works and I'm glad I got some player feedback. If I had not learned that players had difficulties, I might have passed on the opportunity of adding integrated informations to the game that actually make it even richer.


Anonymous said...

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Nishant said...

if not too offensive, would like to ask u a question - how much did this game made? coz i loved the game..

Je suis pas d'accord. said...

How much it made?
Not much. Somewhere around $2000 USD including all licenses sold (primary and non-exclusives) and advertisement money (Kongregate and CPMStar).