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Game Design Case Study

The Challenge

I wanted to do a personal project that brought together my cartooning and my passion for game design. In March of the Moon Devils, users play as a spacefaring Lieutenant stranded on a hostile moon. The story unfolds as an interactive comic, which the user navigates by exploring the moon, managing resources, making allies, and taking risks. But sometimes a grim, depressing ending can be just as satisfying.

The main characters of the game

Building the Story

I wanted to tell a cohesive and satisfying story, but also create a game that was fun to play over and over. To that end, I mapped out a system of story events and outcomes that are determined by the user’s choices and random choice. It is virtually impossible to play the same game twice, or explore the entire moon within one game.

I have stacks of these

Exploratory Play Testing

With my first paper prototype finished, I reached out to volunteers to help me test the game. I would visit my play testers with my notebook in hand, narrate story events, and ask them to make choices. Early on, it was a real hot mess. Play testers would dwell on insignificant details, pursue ineffective strategies, or become depressed at their lack of progress. The density of the narrative was obscuring the rules of the game.

My high tech testing lab

Refining the Gameplay

To make things more clear, I changed the gameplay by grouping supporting characters with locations and probable outcomes. In the narrative, the characters themselves would explain their own game strategies and the benefits they hoped to reap. Using the characters as mouthpieces, I was able to provide advice on how to play the game, and help the testers speculate on probable outcomes. This lead to more confident and earnest gameplay.

Mapping characters to outcomes

Creating the Game

The game is written almost entirely in front end code, utilizing user input, randomized functions and stored variables to determine what sequences will appear next. Each sequence in rendered in a custom-built responsive grid to allow for gameplay on multiple screens.

Tablet view

Mobile View

Creating the Artwork

It would be insane to draw all the possible scenarios in the game, so I developed a system of sprites and backgrounds, assembled using CSS classes. This way I could use the same drawings in multiples sequences and locations. I realized I could also use variables to alter the look of the moon depending on the time of day.

The same images can be reused in different locations

The same sequence can happen in the morning or at dusk

Testing and Launch

The game is now in final testing for last minute bugs before it will be ported for IOS and Android. It’s been a fun ride, but I’m glad it’s almost over!