Run With US! is a mobile exercise game built around an obstacle course platformer with level building and sharing
- Brentt Kasmiskie: Game Designer
- Kirsten Rispin: Sound Designer
- Shantanu Das: Programmer
- Ankit Patel: Programmer
- Eric VonFischer: Producer, 3D Artist
- Kai-chi Huh: 2D Artist
On this project I was lead designer. I spent much of my time exploring player motivations, trying to create an experience with a balance of exercise and fun such that players were compelled to play without getting overly exhausted. Once motivation was cracked, I moved onto level design, tutorials, and user experience. By using the same tool we ask players to use to make levels, I was able to create levels quickly while also streamlining the tool for player use. The tutorials were particularly tricky since getting players to understand the required physical actions to play was required to meet our ultimate goal of physical exercise through play.
Run With US! is a mobile exercise game currently in development at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. We are working with the USA Track and Field Foundation to create a mobile game which promotes exercise and track and field. The primary goal is to get players exercising through gameplay. Our client wants this to work for both players participating in live events they put on at schools across the country and for single players.
As you can imagine getting players to exercise is not easy. After meeting with our client and hearing their needs for the first time I started thinking of existing exercise games. The usual, Zombies Run!, and the not so usual, a horrible fishing game on a rowing machine in the school gym. Zombies Run! was, of course, the best with motivational factors outside of personal improvement.
After more consideration and focusing more on the track angle for our clients we settled on a race, combining Mario Kart, and hurdles. Where players join a lobby and run against each other head to head. Along the way picking up power ups and attacks. Players had to jog in place to move and jump to jump over obstacles. We enjoyed it as a team, but there were some serious problems with it.
Direct competition was the only motivation, which lead to players running themselves out of energy, causing a poor player loop when players were too tired to play the game again. This all stemmed from two points. 1. poor player motivation, and2. designing the experience for live events and active multiplayer. Not only did players get too tired to play again, but there is no reason for them to play again if they have no one to play with. We needed the game to be built on a more complex motivational system and for single player play.
After re-examining our experience it was clear that we needed a more complex motivational system. After some work we created a complex system of motivations which all feed into one another in the areas of social, creative, and achievement (or, if you prefer Bartle’s, social explorer, achiever).
By switching to asynchronous multiplayer we creates a system where players could retain some form of competition through building tracks and challenging their friends to beat their level. This switch allowed us to correct the play pattern by not requiring players to be dependent on other players to play. It also makes the game less intense as players aren’t driven to run themselves out due to not having direct head-to-head competition.
To appeal to those who are attracted by more creative and exploratory motivations, we created a level editor. This editor allows players to create their own levels, which feeds into social motivation by allowing players to challenge their friends. The editor also gives players the chance to explore all of the available components and unique interactions between them and players. User Generated content also covers for us, by allowing the game to exist beyond the small number of levels we were able to make.
By adding varying levels of achievement to the game we are able to encourage player behaviors which might not normally come about. There are three layers of achievement motivation, each level has bronze, silver, and gold completion rankings. These completion rankings feed experience points into the player's level. Which in turn unlocks more components for the creative level building side of the experience. Finally there are achievements to encourage certain behaviors in play and level building. These achievements feed experience points to the player level too.
Using these motivations and creating systems which encourage and often require overlap between systems and motivations, a satisfying player loop was created.
By participating in the experience, beating levels and earning achievements, the player earns experience points. These increase the player's level, which in turn unlocks new components that can be used in the level builder. This encourages players to explore and create new exciting tracks. Combining these new tracks and the ability to play anyone's (but especially your friend's levels) encourages players to continue playing and returning to the experience. The player level increases at such a rate that to unlock all of the components the player needs to play more than the number of designer built levels. Thus forcing them to engage in the achievement and multiplayer aspects of the game.
During development, it was my responsibility to communicate design decisions to my teammates and my clients. When working on interdisciplinary and multicultural teams, it can sometimes be difficult to communicate effectively. This goes for client communication as well. To work around these challenges, I like to make my documentation as visual as possible, often in the form of presentations. This makes it easier for everyone to understand and has the added benefit of being easy to pitch to the team and clients. These presentations also serve as a great goal for how the UI should function.
These first two images which are part of the first mock up for the level builder are part of a much longer presentation that went over a complete experience walk through. In the original design, players would be able to slide their finger left and right to change position in the builder itself. The parts were to be dragged out of the bottom menu and would snap to pieces already on the field.
In the final version we had to add the left and right arrows because players were scrolling too far. These arrows slow the scrolling and make level building easier to manage. The pieces snapping and the level building works very similarly to the original design.
Player Movement: What to do with thumbs?
The player needed to be able to move both forwards and backwards. We needed them to jog in place to move forwards, so the question became: what does the player do to move backwards? There were three options for player input.
The player could touch the right side of the screen to enable them to move forwards and the left side if the screen to move backwards. This meant that the player would need to hold the device with both hands. Which is what most players were doing to begin with, but some held it only in one hand. Despite this, it was the simpler option. We ultimately went with this system.
The second option was used in a similar obstacle course platformer. It involves touching the screen and sliding forward to move forwards, and sliding backward to move backwards. This proved too complicated for us, especially when combined with running and jumping.
The third was a simplification on the second. The player touches and holds the screen to be able to move forwards and slides their finger backwards to move backwards. Once again, too complicated when combined with running and jumping at the same time.