From the story draft, I knew I needed a "cast" of villagers/characters to be able to fulfil the narrative. I took some time to draw conceptual sketches of ideas for personalities and roles of these characters. Although it probably isn't extremely important that minor characters have strong designs, I think it's important that they convey a somewhat realistic, natural warmth - and an overall sense of community and life.
I noticed in my research that slice of life/simulation games often reached an audience with more impact when the characters were down to earth and portrayed as genuine unique individuals that could connect with the player. It is the importance of a character feeling 'real'. A character that has a life, thoughts, and feelings of their own - is one that can be meaningful and believable. Things to consider in designing and writing the characters beyond conceptual sketches are the elements of:
I also generated some further concepts for introducing more game related ideas to the interactive comic, such as the inclusion of profile cards, skill levels, titles, moods, ranks, and having a visible inventory. Not all of these ideas will be necessary but they are heavily inspired by current simulation games. Levelling up skills, gaining new titles, upgrading a tool, improving a friendship - these are achievements in a game that can mirror real life. A player can find themself basking in the virtual sense of progression and can also practise transferable skills and obtain transferable knowledge. They may learn the consequences of their choices and interactions, how to express themself (customisation), a sense of belonging and purpose, or perhaps they just love working towards achieveable goals and self betterment. Negative experiences can teach valuable lessons, and positive simulated experiences can influence perspectives on real life achievements and progression too. It is for this reason that these seemingly cosmetic features have much purpose. (Image 9 on the slideshow)
Elio is an important character in the story. He owns and runs the local shop, takes care of the gardens in the village, and mentors Atlas. Drawing Elio with thinner lines, and a more varied palette than Altas' initial artwork, made me realise I prefer this. I chose earthy colours for him, as he is a grounded individual.
Although Atlas is a much more sombre character than Elio - who is cool and chilled out, I felt the need to rework his design a little. I changed his palette from being somewhat 'muddy', to having more contrast. This will help him to stand out more against the sky, since the setting of the story is mostly outdoors.
Recently I had a meeting with the programmer about if the more refined decisions would still be compatible for the project being made in this game engine - things like knowing a general page count (12), and that it will have animations. It's still possible, but in discussion we talked about how the animation and interactivity could be linked in ways that more took advange of what a game engine can do.
While making the comic into a fully fledged game had been previously considered and rejected, for it would likely distract from the point of the comic and be an unrealistic amount of work, we thought of a simple mechanic that could bring a lot of subtle charm to it. Originally, the interactivity is in controlling the character with arrow keys or WASD and as a corner is touched, the page "turns" in its respective direction. There is a whole platform to work with here, so how can it be utilised to give more character to the comic, but in a way that is still a realistic amount of work for the deadline?
The solution we thought of was if there were things on the platform that the character could interact with on it's way across the page, it could do a little animation upon touching it. It could correlate to something happening on the story page. E.g. If a character was watering flowers on the comic page, while moving the sprite across the bottom, they could come across some little flowers, and do a water animation. This type of interaction is very simple to do on this game engine, so it would only be as much work as me designing an extra couple frames of animation. Logan can program the animation to play when in contact with another object.
Another idea is that triggering the plant watering animation on the platform (for example), could also trigger the respective animation to start on the actual comic page. It is a direct link and would give even purpose to movement other than needing to turn the page. There are 2 ways this could work. 1. The corresponding animation only plays when you stay within close proximity to the interaction object/while doing the sprite animation. 2. Although the sprite animation still stops when you leave the interaction object, the animation stays on. This could reset if you turn the page and then go back again.
It is like playing with the concept of an on/off switch.
I think both ideas are good opportunities for making use of the game engine to improve the user's engagement and the storytelling. The visual impact of the second concept is changed the most: if animations rely on the user moving the sprite, the animations will not be on until triggered, and may be seen for less time. It also means every animation would be expected to have an interactive object to trigger the animation (or it would be confusingly inconsistent), and this could become very cluttered on the platform. However, having this mechanic encourages the reader to use the sprite to engage with the comic more, whereas in idea one, it is still quite seperate from the comic technically. But simple is sometimes best, and idea one would still cause the reader to make connections between the sprite animation and the content in the story. It is less of a forced engagement and would still be very charming.
I conclude that I think idea one is the best fit for this project.
Sketches while having the meeting:
Development compilation for Pixel Plasters.