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Hikikomori: Blog

Term 03 was completed successfully and it was time for the final and the important bit of the masters course as we were stepping into the term 04 which consists of the Final Major Project and the Thesis.

​For this term, I decided to go on with the blog as a story as I thought it would be conveyed better than breaking them down into weeks. So here it is,

The groundwork: Pre-production:​
As mentioned in the 03 term’s FMP proposal, the game design was going to be my FMP. It was essential for me to build a resume and keep it updated along with my website as I needed to collaborate with various artists around the world for my project.
The video games have revolutionized storytelling as a medium by making the viewer an active part of the story. By giving the player a way to control how the events unfold video games have even changed the way we even think about the stories and when we talk about the subject of experiencing the story, it’s inevitable that we browse the subject of one genre, puzzle. My inspiration for the game was from my days in architecture. I was living within a small 3m*3m room which was a bit detached from my actual house. The room had a grim set up as it was almost always dark. I sort of cut myself out of my social life for a couple of months during my bachelors thesis. When I tried to look this up, as in the term for a person to be asocial and lock oneself up in a room for a long time and that’s when I came across this Japanese term ‘HIKIKOMORI’. I was calling myself a hikikomori until I realized the depth of the term and found that it is a disorder that many teenagers face these days. This triggered me to take it up as my concept for the FMP’s game design.

What is hikikomori?
Hikikomori is a psychological condition that makes people shut themselves off from society, often staying in their rooms for months on end. There are at least half a million of them in Japan. It was once thought of as a young person’s condition, but sufferers are getting older and staying locked away for longer.

After reading this, I realized that I wasn’t a true hikikomori :p ​

My intention for the game was to help the teens who have turned into a hikikomori. When I thought this through, I was convinced that the concept of puzzles will be quite interesting for a person with this mindset. I also felt that puzzles will be a good reach to the general game playing teens to get educated and aware of the consequences and the ill effects of turning into one. Now that the core concept is ready, I was very determined to make this an interesting game rather than a normal puzzle game and that’s when I wondered why not try incorporating AI with the game as my thesis was based on AI and machine learning.

Without further delay, I started collecting books from the library to get myself thoroughly acquainted with the topic.
Here goes the list of books I referred,

1. 100 best video games that never existed by Nate Crowley
2. Writing for video games by Steve Ince
3. How video games impact players? By Ryan Rogers
4.10 things video games can teach us by Jordan Erica
5. Japanese visual culture by Frederic L. Schodt
6. Hikikomori; Adolescence without an end by Saito Tamaki

The cultural context of the game was from Japan which helped me progress with the game in a very culturally sounding way.
As I was fixated on the game design since the mid of term 03, I was trying to build a core team for the same and that’s when Luke introduced me to Herman Ho from the MA Games Design. He and I immediately bonded as we both had an architectural background and spoke more about his role in the game design. As he had his thesis and FMP too, he wanted to split the work, therefore added Akshay Jain to the team. So we decided that Herman would help in the development of the game and Akshay would be the programmer for the game.

To take the game to the next stage, I needed a level designer who will be able to add depth and life to the game. I chose one of my friends, Gokul Krishna from my bachelors as he is crazy about gaming and not only plays the game for entertainment but also sees it in an artistic way. I thought a person like him would be necessary in the team to understand the player’s POV.
After getting him on board, he came up with a basic arc of the story.

Now that we could get an idea of the start, mid and the end of the game, it was my responsibility to further design spice it up by using AI to develop an algorithm that tricks the player to stay longer than usual inside the game. So I took a week’s time to design the pattern of the game and I ended up with a complicated one which made it harder to even discuss it with my level designer. During our phone conversation, I was trying to explain my designed game pattern to him and his comments were that ‘this’ (my designed pattern) would get them anxious rather than keep them hooked to the game. So, keeping the initial pattern as the backbone, we were brainstorming our ideas over the phone and that’s when an idea sparked in me, which was pleasing and satisfying to both of us. Therefore, by the end of the call, we were able to freeze the game pattern to proceed further.

I started off by creating a Google drive to properly document the resources and files for the game. I prepared a spreadsheet with the possible items to be placed in the room and shared it across with the team. Now that I have the list ready (50 items), I needed to start to look for the 3D models in the internet as I definitely will not be able to model them on my own.

This is when I realized that I need to have an art director to help me out in placing the items inside the room in a more artistic way which reflects the cultural elements of Japan and alongside depicts the nature of the character (hikikomori).

As for the art director, I chose one of my friends from my bachelors who is extraordinary in art and architecture. He is Arun Prabhu who currently owns a brand, the BILLBOARDS COLLECTIVE, a research & design studio based in Bangalore, India. Here is his Instagram page, ​

https://www.instagram.com/the.billboards.collective/

I started admiring his artistic sense, even more, when I saw his Instagram page and immediately got him on board as the art director of the game. Arun also pitched in to look for 3d models that are to be placed into the room. Meanwhile, one of those days, when I was working in the university, Sam passed by and just gave a quick look at my progress with the game. We started chatting a bit afterward and I came up with the question of how many animations will I need to do as the player can pick the object in n number of angles and possibilities. After thinking on it for a while, we decided that I can animate for the preset angles such as 45,90,180,270 and 360 and make the movement of the closest angles blend with one of the above.

To confirm the above idea with the game developer, I had a quick meet up with Herman the following day. He seemed to think of it as a feasible idea so we stuck on to it. Arun came up with a rough draft of the plan with the items placed inside and that’s when we realized that just 50 items will not be sufficient and we needed to look for a lot more.

The concept of the game is to let the player out of the reclusion by entering the right passcode on the number padlock. The player needs to find the passcode to enter it and get out of the room. The game mainly evolves in this process where the player has to find the passcode. The idea was to hide the passcode in any one of the objects. When we decided to add lot more objects to the room, I was concerned about the complications which will arise when the passcode is hidden in one of them as AI is going to play a vital role with the passcodes as it will be programmed to jump from one object to another to keep the game going on for a while. To sort this problem out, we segregated the items into two categories, STATIC & DYNAMIC. The static objects are the ones that will not have the codes in them like the bed or the piano as the player will not be able to lift it and look for the code whereas the dynamic ones will be items such as a lampshade or a book.

The dynamic objects are the ones that can be interacted by the players whereas the static ones cannot engage with the players. To get a better understanding of this process and to explain it across to my teammates, I developed a state machine flow chart explaining the same in detail. I came up with various possibilities that the player will come across while playing the game.

One more important aspect of the game will be the concept of introducing distractions for the player. I decided that the dynamic objects will be limited to 50 items in total as I didn’t want to complicate the AI process further by adding more objects. These 50 objects were spilt into 5 sets with 10 objects in each group. The main concept of the game is that the passcode will be hidden in one of these 50 objects. For instance, if the player comes across the passcode from one of the objects in any of the initial sets, the player will be distracted by an event that will force him to ‘not to look at the passcode’ and move on with the game. Finally, when the player had interacted with almost all the dynamic objects, he will come across a physical key to a petty box where he will find the hikikomori’s personal diary. The first line of the diary would be a hint for the player to go back to the object which he stopped exploring when an event i.e., distraction took place. The AI in the game will have a major role in steering the game a bit longer by jumping from one object to the other and by introducing distractions till the player reaches the desired point in the game programmed for him.

I went on to explain this to my narrative designer, Gokul with the help of the flow charts. To freeze the concept, I thought I will meet up with Akshay and Herman as they are going to be actively involved in the AI process. During the meetup, Herman quickly got his proctor, David King to help us brainstorm the idea further. David was a very questioning person which helped me fine-tune the algorithm in the best way possible. This was quite fun as we did it over a couple of beers! :p

Meanwhile Gokul managed to complete the entire script,

I could see the game taking a good shape. I was in a lookout for a storyboard artist and contacted Lakshmanan Palani, an interaction designer at Zeta India, Bangalore. Now that the production team started to grow in size, I thought it would be great to have a formal invite into the game’s Google drive with a role description sheets explaining the responsibilities of each one’s task in the game.
Lakshmanan was on board with the team and I shared a few mood boards with him as references for the storyboard. I also suggested him to be creative on his own to develop an intriguing style for the storyboard.

Production:

I am super glad that the pre-production of the game went on smoothly without any major hassle. It was time to step into the production part of the game. To start off with, Arun came up a very basic mockup 3d model of the room and soon after that I was in a lookout for a 3d artist for model the old Japanese room in the most realistic way possible. For this, I approached Saravanaa from the previous firm (Lucid Dream) I was working in, to be the 3d artist for the game as he is quite talented and has a knack for 3d modeling. He was quite happy to be a part of the team after our phone conversation and later I shared the essentials with him to start his work. I had given him reference images of a Japanese room that I had in mind for the game!

By now you must have guessed that the next person I will be looking to approach would the Foley sound designer. I found Kalle Jurvanen through a social media platform called The Dots. He is a music composer and a sound designer from Finland. We met over a cup of coffee at Pret and I shared the game specs and his role as a foley sound designer. Soon after the meetup, he became part of the team too! 🙂

Check out Kalle’s website:
https://www.kallejurvanen.co.uk/

Gokul created a profile for the character. He developed his looks, appearance, hobbies and a story for him.

Meanwhile, as a great game will need to have a great experience, I was in a lookout for a UI/UX designer as not everyone will be able to get that feeling out of the game. I was quite lucky as my flatmate, George DCruz is an UI/UX designer who is a masters student at LCC too. His sole responsibilities are to design the title, unique font for the game, icons and user experience chart for the game.

At this stage, Saravanaa came back with a basic model without much detailing. There were a few comments from my side regarding the model and it was soon addressed by him.

Initially, he was responsible for the texturing part too but due to other work constraints, he couldn’t do the textures. As for a texturing artist, I found Alexandre Martin through Insta and loved his work. He is put up in Paris and we connected through emails regarding the project.

In the meantime, I decided on how the code should look.

It was time for me to start my ANIMATION *drumroll*

I had the main traits of the character in the back of mind while I was looking for a rig online. But to my dismay, they were either dumb ones or the super expensive ones. The main reason behind me not able to find the apt rig was because I was looking for an Asian ethnicity rig to match the context of the game.

I then realized that it doesn’t matter as the game is going to be from the player’s POV therefore just the hand controls would do. I decided that I will use the rig provided by Luke in the previous terms but it lacked rig controls in its fingers. I approached Luke to ask if he would be able to help me out by fixing the finger controls and fortunately he did fix it for me in a couple of days’ time.

Now that the model with the rigs was ready, I checked with Herman if I should go ahead with the animations of the objects. He asked me to do a mock animation of the model to check it’s movements in the unity and for this, I animated the model lifting a sphere and sent it over to Herman. He checked the model in unity with a code prepared by him and soon he gave me a heads up as it worked just fine!

George was ready with the new font and title for the game! Though it was very good, I was in a dilemma if I should go ahead with it as the design expressed a lot of the Japanese culture in it and I thought it would be great if it reflected the character’s personality too.

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