Dawn of Exile

Summary

I worked on a 2-people team on developing a survival game prototype for Oculus Rift as a part of my engineering thesis. The purpose was to help technology teachers in Polish elementary schools.*

My role

UX research
interaction design
gameplay design

*The project is still ongoing.

CHALLENGE: to design a multifunctional tool that will replace a workshop

Nowadays, technical workshops disappeared completely from polish schools, most often replaced by modern computer labs. My idea was to take advantage of such a situation and use VR to teach technology.

I thought about making a survival game because I believe this genre is the most suitable for the technology classes. Imagine all those tools you can craft in VR, and it’s safe even for younger kids – that’s what crossed my mind.

Research methods

CATWOE analysis

In-depth interviews

Desk research

Task-based usability tests

Focus group interview

Research methods

CATWOE analysis

In-depth interviews

Desk research

Task-based usability tests

Focus group interview

Preparation

At the very beginning, we gathered potential issues, solutions, and the overall background in a CATWOE analysis. All the assumptions are based on our memories and experience from school times (we were 22 at the time of developing so they were still fresh 😉).

in-depth interviews

To check the adequacy of CATWOE’s assumptions, learn the end users’ needs, and gather some basic survival knowledge*, we have prepared the 10-questions sets for students,  teachers, and survival camps participants, and conducted 14 interviews (6 students + 5 teachers + 3 campers).

During the talk, one of us was making notes while the other one led the conversation and adjusted prepared questions. We changed the roles each time.

*We also checked a few popular survival TV shows and books before talking with the campers.

Our assumptions from CATWOE were correct. We summarized the conclusion in value proposition canvas:

Click and zoom

Students

Teachers

IDIs have assured us that the app is badly needed and using VR is the right choice. It was time to create accurate content. We started by analyzing the 5, most popular survival games* to get an overview of the common mechanics and, first and foremost, their pros and cons. We were looking for a way to improve and adjust them for both VR and edu purposes.

*According to SteamSpy statistics from 2019, the most popular survivals were: The Forest, Ark: Survival Evolved, Subnautica, Don’t Starve (+ DS Together), and Minecraft.

must have elements

Based on our research I distinguished 4 key components:

Instructions

It’s a base of any learning process: explain how → do.
Especially in an educational game, some kind of explanation is necessary to avoid mislearning and relearning. Moreover, students must have unlimited access to theoretical knowledge during hands-on activities.

Inventory

Necessary in any game with crafting, right? Besides, each lesson lasts for about 45 minutes, so time is very precious. I wanted to speed up the whole process by letting the kids keep all resources in a backpack.

The Forest way of crafting

Check here what I mean.

My idea was to use this method for crafting smaller tools while keeping the building mechanic as realistic as we could.

Many various resources

Survival games are based on 3 pillars: explore, gather, craft. The more different items you can get and craft, the longer you play (usually). We agreed to create a small set of assets for the prototype stage and keep adding more after the thesis defence.

Based on IDIs and desk research, we have created a GDD for our game and started a development process.

Implementation

We started the process without any previous experience in game dev, and we had about 3 months to prepare a playable prototype (working 2 days weekly). That is why we have chosen a Unity Engine and Blender as basic tools – due to active and helpful communities and a lot of tutorials.

As a first step, I have created a set of placeholders necessary to implement the basic mechanics…

…and prepared the map in Unity. The first version looked like this from a player’s perspective:

At this point, we were finally ready to start building the game. As we were short on time, I have decided to implement a simple scenario of building a wooden cabin:

  1. Craft an axe.
  2. Cut trees.
  3.  Build 4 walls + roof and connect them.

Here you can see how the tool crafting mechanic works:

Once the axe was ready, the players had to cut down enough trees to build a shelter. Each cut tree can be further divided into logs and the logs into planks:

I wanted to stick to the realistic way of building what happened to be a huge mistake – the process took long and was so repetitive that players abandoned it to play with the environment.

We didn’t know it before the initial testing though.

Testing

The event was prepared in a way that should imitate a proper lesson. I started with 5 mins of a theoretical explanation, then the kids were playing for half an hour. As a verification task, students built a wooden mockup of shelter from the game, and we have summed everything up during a focus group interview.

For the first testing session, I invited only a few participants (9 students + teacher) to roughly check the idea of using VR in polish schools. The number of participants will be much greater for every following event.

My “test goals” were to check:

  • if this form of learning is engaging
  • how quickly kids learn using a VR set
  • how the mechanics work
  • how kids interact with the environment in VR
  • if the gameplay and navigation feels natural

Results and conclusions

USEFULNESS

9+/10

CONTROLS

9/10

MECHANICS

8/10

GRAPHICS

7/10

TECHNICAL ASPECTS

5/10

a render of a 3D axe model

The crafting mechanic was something that students knew well, as most of them have played The Forest. It works great at the prototype stage.

Cutting trees was my biggest success – the kids liked it so much that they insisted on adding an achievement for cutting all trees on the map 🏆

a render of a palm 3D model

On the other hand, I failed to create a building mechanic. I concentrated too much on sticking to realism, which broke the gameplay flow (it simply takes too much time to build the shelter).

The VR set has its pros and cons. The lesson was definitely interesting and engaging, students learned the whole prepared material and no additional explanation was needed. Most importantly, they had a lot of fun! Many of them came up with their mini-games such as playing golf with cut-down trees. They were very excited about the idea of using VR in school and proposed a lot of options on how to apply it to various subjects.

Some technical problems also occurred. Kids were often standing backward the motion detectors that disconnected their controllers, and the cable connecting headset and computer forced us to constantly watch over the moving players.

Changes and further improvement

Students gave loads of amazing ideas during the FGI, so many that implementing all of them might take years 😀 I will start with redesigning the building mechanic as it is crucial for a survival game. Then, I would like to add inventory, a proper tutorial, and maaany other things. A new map with greatly improved level design is already created:

as well as a new set of assets.

I am proud to say that our game is not only needed but can make a real change in the current educational system. It was a great challenge to create a solution for the long-lasting problems and make it possible to implement with available resources.

Thank you for reading until the very end! ❤

If I caught your intetrest, how about checking my other  project, or taking a look at my personal website: