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It Comes In Waves: Designing Oneself In or Out of a Game

This post is part 2 in a series of interviews with the developers of the game “It Comes In Waves” - a research creation game set to release in late spring 2021. The goal of these interviews is to discuss the thought and consideration that went into the game, acting as one method of archiving the process, thoughts and decisions that go into making social impact games. This post is a collection of thoughts gathered from interviews with the Production and Narrative Team: Courtney Blamey, Lyne Dwyer, and Michael Iantorno.


Previous posts in the series here: Part 1.

Designing any creative project should cause designers to think about their own position in relationship to the game. When creating It Comes in Waves the team needed to balance personal and collective writing, leading them to develop an approach that could do so. However, just because they wrote the game as a team does not mean that the designers do not see themselves in the game. Between characters and moments in the games, the designers came up with a method that gave them a chance to see themself in the game while making the characters feel like their own.


Process

The first thing the team did was come up with a process that could create consistency. According to Michael Iantorno there were two documents that aided this process.


MI: “First we had outlines. So an outline of what the different settings of the game were. An outline of who the different characters in the game were and what their attitudes were, and an outline of other smaller aspects of the game, like how does the character get to work. And the second document that was really important was just an overall style guide (FIGURE 1). So, like, am I talking in first person or second person. When do we use italics, when do we use the characters inner voice. So that helped a lot with consistency just day to day. We also decided to write the game linearly (in order). So we would write day one, and then the next person would read day one and then write day two.”


Following these steps for collaborative consistency the team still needed to break up the writing process. For Courtney Blamey this was about


CB: “Breaking down the story beats so we knew which day was going to have which story beats with our own personal flair in as we wish and then allocating those days between us. So there was always going to be inconsistencies in the writing in terms of voice but for the most part porting that into Twine has been quite easy”


But of course, the team still needed to consider what they were writing and draw from some space for inspiration. While this might be individual, it was also a group discussion to see what would work and what would not.


LD: “There were some situations where there was overlap between our personal lives and something made sense to bring in. We could all sit down and have these conversations together and be like ‘ugh, ya no, I know this feeling’ or ‘ that was a terrible tension in those first few weeks’ or whatever it might be. So there are some characters that are personally connected to us.”


Characters/Moments

But some characters are more closely connected to the team than others. Where personal experience and knowledge could be relied upon to write a character. For Lyne:


LD: “There was one character who lives with a chronic condition that I actually do have. It was sort of a way for Beattie to talk to someone who lives in one of these care facilities who we didn’t just have to speculate what that might be like. I could kind of sit there and talk about how have I felt when I lost my mobility, and how have I felt when I have been in pain and not been able to have people communicate to me when there is going to be some kind of relief or what I can do to make it better”


For Courtney , it was not so much a specific character, rather it was specific moments and aspects of the game. This difference primarily seems to be based on what initiatives people took as a team:


CB: “I wasn’t the one responsible for designing the NPCs, I was very much based around looking at the settings. So I do not think I have a specific character that I feel like ‘I really shaped this one’.”


So to highlight one of these settings:


CB: “We had initially written Beattie to not have a roommate so their evenings were very lonely. And I think that resonated when I was writing it. This idea of isolation and not being able to see people everyday. But I think the biggest part for me has been trying to convey the complexity of these roles and the emotional labour that goes into them as well. I thought it was really important for the story. A lot of the interactions between Beattie and the residents of the care home was really built into the story when I was writing it. It resonated with me in terms of the connection element”

Figure 2. Example of a mood board made by art lead Tamyres Lucas

The team worked with their artist to make moodboards to reflect the feelings that they wanted the art and story to resonate in the game. In relation to Courtney’s comment this one was for Sadness and isolation.


However, the setting itself resonated with Michael Iantorno since they could draw from personal work experience:


MI: “I worked in a nursing home during the SARS pandemic, which was the early 2000’s I believe, and it certainly did not have the scope and impact of COVID. But the early days were quite similar, where there was this grasping for truth, grasping for procedures — trying to figure out how long it would go on for and exactly how to navigate this sort of situation with vulnerable portions of the population. So that was something I recall, because I still have vivid memories of wearing a full gown, mask and gloves to work even though my position was just a kitchen assistant. A lot of the activities in the game I did not personally experience, but the overall situation does have a lot of parallels. So when I look at the game it does invoke memories of that time in my life”


Consistency is Queen

Of course while the team took steps to make it consistent but still find personal moments in the writing, there were times that inconsistencies were made. Most humorously were some minor differences in tone and phrasing which the group jokes about:


CB: “It has been kind of funny because it has brought all of the British phrasings I use and didn’t know about. So consistency edits have been done by one individual across the board - ‘de-britishizing’ my writing which is very helpful because I cannot pick up on it.”


This was clearly a point of humour for the team as Michael Iantorno also reflected on it with a smile saying,

MI: “Now it is not a perfect system, so we had to do consistency sweeps. I would often make fun of Courtney because she made the character more British than we would here in Canada. But this also caught slang words or different spelling that might come up.”


Of course, these concerns were minor and really acted as a point of social cohesion for the team more than anything else.


Yogi

Another instance of team cohesion towards the writing was around the creation and writing of Beattie’s cat Yogi. When asked about it, each of them had quite positive thoughts stating:.


CB: “The feed me part of Yogi has definitely been influenced by the two cats that I live with who are on the dot or an hour before be yelling around the house or hovering and it always makes me laugh.”


MI: “My thoughts on Yogi are that it is the best character in any videogame of all time. And he is also very cute”


LD: “I love Yogi. I love giving Yogi personality. He is all of your pets and all of our dogs”


In another post, I will further highlight the value that Yogi brought to the game and design, but either way the inclusion of a pet into the game was an enjoyable point of writing and relatability for the designers. Since each of them have strong affinities for their own cats in their lives, Yogi is a wonderful mix breed of all of them and their habits. For example, Michael emphasized that:


MI: “A lot of the interactions at the beginning of the day involve these monologues with Yogi which kinda mirrors my existence with two cats, which made it easy to write as well. And Yogi is definitely 50% Waffles [one of Michael’s two cats depicted in the slideshow below]”

Conclusion

It Comes in Waves touches on moments that resonated with each member of the project. The team developed a method for consistency in the game that still allowed for them to feel personally connected to parts of it. For the team, the game is relational in completely different ways. For Lyne, they can see themself in some of the characters and moments that happen between them. Courtney reflects more on specific events that resonated with personal experiences during the pandemic, while Michael relates past moments to the present, connecting with the game through memories of working in the spaces presented by the game. Clearly the designers feel a personal and team connection to the game that they hope is felt by the players when they play the game.

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