Stop & Breathe

Summary: Stop and Breathe is an educational puzzle platformer where you take on the role of an anxious teen trapped in their anxiety. Find the breathing circle to perform life breathing and solve the puzzle to finally escape your anxious mind

Role: Audio Designer, Programmer, Game Designer, SFX, UI programmer, UX design, Resident Unreal support. 

Tasks: Source, edit, implement and program audio. Programmed multiple game mechanics, e.g. box and button, fans, rotating platforms, tutorial scene, minor character controller improvements, and all UI except dialogue, Ensure good UX with all programmed systems

Responsibilities: Ensure audio clips have appropriate volume and function like intended. Ensure programmed mechanics are bug free. Help anyone with questions about Unreal.

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Development Blog (under construction🏗️

Pre-Production

Since we had an important message to send and only so much time to make a game. We wanted to adequately scope our game so we could deliver a full narrative experience with polished gameplay while making our message loud and clear. We also wanted to make sure that we created a gameplay loop that complimented the message. 

Many Organizational Tools were made in the meantime, including file structure diagrams, spreadsheets and setting project management tool, in this case ClickUp.

I believe that this methodical and organized pre-production set us up to have a smooth development time with little cutting down the line. The game ended up standing well on its own and featured the important elements we wanted since the beginning.

POC - Proof of concept

Tasks:  Particles effects, Audio, Breathing Blur. 

Takeaways:  The particles are a hit! The breathing mechanic is fine but lacks any input to differentiate inhaling and holding. Also, no UI or UX considerations were made at this time, and it was clear that we must improve for future iterations. We knew there was something here, we just needed to put in more work and make some changes


MVP - Minimal Viable Product

UI/UX

Tasks: Breathing UI, Interaction UI

Notable improvements: There's UI for breathing! Not perfect, but it got the job done.

Takeaways: With UI, the experience of breathing is much improved. While this stayed the same till the end, it could've been improved upon, but it worked well enough to the point that the vast majority of players eventually figured it out. The box UI was overwhelming, and the windmill UI was buggy and hard to see the inputs.


Gameplay Mechanics

Tasks: Creating the Book and Button mechanic. Creating the windmill mechanic while ensuring that it'll work seamlessly with future gameplay mechanics. 

Takeaways:  The way that I implemented the windmill by using blueprint interfaces made it really easy to add mechanics that can be controlled by the windmill. However, later down the line the way that I set up BAOs (Breathing Activated Objects) if I  made all of them part of a BAO class. It'll be easier to find them in the scene when clearing the anxiety. Also, they could've all had the same base anxiety removal functions.


Menus

Tasks:  Pause Menu, 

Takeaways: In this iteration, there aren't many menus, only a pause menu. At this point in the development. Focus was put on the gameplay and improving UX, so people could play it without the help of a developer.

Alpha 

UI/UX

Tasks: Tutorial, Improving Book and Bookshelf UX. 

Notable improvements: There's a tutorial! It might detail the most basic of gameplay mechanics, but some players may need this to succeed. 

For book and shelves, the book will snap into the shelf if it's close enough. Also, only the book that the player would pick up has the prompt appear above it. The paint on the shelf will light up, and the text will change from drop to place. Read more about this in blog. 

Takeaways:  These UX improvements were greatly appreciated, and the book mechanic seems to be one of the most intuitive mechanics in the game now. 

Gameplay Mechanics

Tasks: Improving windmill controls and UX, Rotating Platforms

Notable improvements:  In the past, you could make the windmill keep its state by leaving. This way was not clear to players, so to improve user experience for this mechanic, I added a UI element and tied the mechanic to a button press and displayed it if locked or not. Also, you don't need to interact with windmill to gain control. You only need to walk in the yellow circle, which appears once the player gets close enough.

The UI was further improved by showing which state the windmill is in by highlighting the corresponding input, also the UI stays on if it's locked regardless of the player's position so they can always easily see the state. 

Takeaways:  These improvements were massive and made the user experience much better. However, the locking mechanic could be taught just a little bit better.

Menus

Tasks:  Main menu, option menu, quit menu

Notable improvements: The game doesn't just start of launch! Since there is now a main menu, players may want to quit to the main menu, so a new menu was added to accommodate. 

Takeaways:  The added option menu was rushed. We had requirements for the alpha submission to have a simple option menu, so it didn't work properly in this build and caused the game to lag. Because it was so rushed and broken, I should've decided not to included it, as it ruined the experience more than anything else. 

Beta

UI/UX

Tasks: Help other programmer to set up save functionality. Add indicators on the doors. 

Notable improvements: Mostly under the hood, but there is now a save feature! And the play button on the main menu changes to reflect that. Door indicated how many shelves when connected and which ones are activated.  

Takeaways: At this point, after a few tests and a little showcase at the school, we figured that players were able to understand the game pretty well. So UX wasn't the number one priority, but with what I know now that was a mistake, and we could've continued to improve UX. Namely, on drawing the attention of the player to the books and windmills for the first times they encountered them, as some players did not know they were something that they could interact with. 

Gameplay Mechanics

Tasks: Animated rotating platforms, colour specific bookshelves.

Notable improvements: The level designers wanted more possibilities, and we already had the different book colour assets, so I made the shelves capable of only accepting the matching book colour.

Takeaways: I learned a lot about using code to animate objects, it's not the most complicated thing to animate but in game it's very fluid. 

Sometimes some mechanics come from the easiest of additions, and if you can add one, it's likely a good idea.

Menus

Tasks: Making the Option Menu actually work. 

Notable improvements: It works! I even added an option to disable lumen for players with an older system, while still keeping the option to make the game look absolutely beautiful. Audio options were also added and save your settings.

Takeaways: As the game progressed, we noticed that performance was getting worse, so, and we noticed that lumen was a big part of that. The game looked so good with lumen enabled that we decided to comprise by making lumen a setting in the options. 

Options Menus are one of the most underappreciated part of games, it takes a while to develop and makes the game so much more accessible. Whether it be graphics settings that allow the game to run better on more hardware configurations, or actual accessibility options like colour-blind modes and others.

Postmortem

The project is official done yet, since there are more conferences and awards to apply for, we need to continue improving upon this game. The majority of the game will stay the same as we don't have the same time to continue with everyone being busy working and finding work, but there is much to improve on. Throughout this development blog I mentioned a few things that we didn't update since it worked well enough, and we had to continue making more stuff and fixing things that were really broken. Now is the time, we plan to fix everything that we couldn't before and really polish this game.