Dane Wheaton

Aiku

My roles: Creative direction, level design, puzzle design, writing, gameplay scripting, asset and feature implementation.

Download it here.

During my senior year of college, I was the project lead on the school’s large team game capstone project. Aiku is a narrative-driven first-person puzzler set on a spaceship, whose central premise is based around the following philosophical question: If there is an emergency and you can’t save everyone, how do you choose who to save?

The team was composed of twelve designers, fourteen artists, thirteen programmers, four audio designers, and three producers (including the course’s two instructors). The game is split into four levels: a spaceship, and one level set within the unconscious mind of each of its three crewmembers. I worked primarily on the spaceship level, and on facilitating cohesion between all the levels.

I’m way in the back, in the too-tall section.

MY CONTRIBUTIONS

Here is a list of some things I did on this project:

  • creative direction/project lead (lots of stuff under this category, including everything from casting/directing voice actors to recording version control tutorials to setting up coding style conventions and asset pipelines to printing t-shirts)
  • spaceship: level design, lighting, opening/title sequence, the power transfer mechanic and all its associated puzzles, asset and feature implementation, UI, ending sequence
  • character controller
  • writing: character bios, spoken dialogue, UI text, concept, “vision doc” (a smaller, more agile version of a GDD)

This gif demonstrates the generator malfunction/explosion sequence I designed and implemented.

Because I was so deeply involved in the project’s design and mechanics, there are a lot of elements across the game that bear my fingerprints. But the aspects of Aiku I am proudest of are mostly small, unique moments of player experience which I arranged – for example, the blocking/lighting of the generator explosion and subsequent power failure is one I am particularly proud of. I designed all of the power puzzles, and though they are intended to be rather easy and accessible, I strove to communicate their rules clearly using environmental conveyances like placement and composition, rather than words. So while I spent a large amount of time scripting and grayboxing and so on, my true passion on this project was using such things as a vehicle for guiding the player’s progression of understanding, and for facilitating “magic moments” within the gameplay experience.

Since the game’s concept relies so heavily on fostering player investment in believable, relatable characters, I was obsessed with filling the ship with props that would help tell their story, like this whiteboard. Note that I tried to give all three characters very distinctive handwriting. Perhaps not the greatest example of visual hierarchy, however!

The in-game version found in the ship’s mess hall, recreated by one of our artists. Can you figure out which character wrote what?

You can download it here.

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