Patchwork Odysseus: Reimagining Frankenstein as a Hyperlink Epic Poem

Coming into this project, I knew I wanted to create something that blended what I had learned as a New Media student and my passion as an English major. Of course, the two already went very well together, as this class was an English elective that focused heavily on narrative and rhetoric as much as it did new media culture and history.

Before this class, I had previously read both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and many of Homer’s epic poems. What I hadn’t yet experienced was Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, an immersive hypertext narrative experience which introduced me to an entirely new medium of literature.

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After reading Patchwork Girl and rereading Frankenstein for this class, I knew I had a great opportunity to attempt my own interpretation of (both) Shelley’s work. For my fresh new lens, I decided to reconstruct the story of Frankenstein as an epic poem. I decided on this lens because while rereading Frankenstein, I was struck by how many overt references there were to Greek mythology. The “Modern Prometheus,” the concept of hubris and likening oneself to a god, the commentary on femininity and wifehood.

This quickly proved to be incredibly labor intensive to start. The main body of my work would of course be my lexia, in the same medium as Shelley Jackson’s but in the writing style of Homer with content from Mary Shelley. In order to fully connect many of the aforementioned themes between works of Homer’s and Frankenstein, I basically had to reread both The Odyssey (my choice of inspiration) and Frankenstein another time. However, I’m very glad that I did this, as I think it not only made my final hyperlink narrative fully connected and fluid, but it helped me realize a new interpretation and appreciation for both works. In the end, the main four themes I connected between the texts became the four source links on the main page of my final project: Modern Prometheus, which is about Shelley and womanhood; journey, which is about travel and isolation; hubris, which is the desire to become godlike; and alive or dead, which is about the nature of humanity and companionship.

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To make my hypertext true to Shelley’s form, I had to create a website where I could begin creating and hyperlinking pages to one another. I chose WordPress, due to my existing familiarity with it thanks to this class! I struggled a lot initially with formatting the site so it felt similarly minimal and easy to navigate like Patchwork Girl. To achieve the minimalist and “stumbled upon” vibe, I had to leave all of my pages untitled, which made it very confusing when I had to construct my final map linking all the lexia to one another. There is probably a much easier way to do this somewhere out there, but it all worked eventually.

My favorite part in constructing my hypertext were the pages where multiple lexia were offered as an option. Here, my epic poem reconstruction became a sort of choose-your-own-adventure in the same way as Patchwork Girl, where there is not one linear way to read my text. An example of this is a page under “Modern Prometheus,” which gives you two choices: pity or admiration.

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If you choose pity, you are taken to another page with three possible different lexia to click on, each offering their own story. If you choose admiration, you are taken to one lexia on a long path of many others, which has a different tone than the above stories.

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In the end, this project taught me a lot about navigating WordPress and working through mazes of hypertext. It gave me new appreciation for Shelley Jackson, who wrote and linked hundreds of lexia to my fiftyish over two years. Even with my small number of poems, the maze I created was already quite complicated and hard to track. I can only imagine her storyboard looked like that of a deranged cop trying to solve a 40-year old serial killer cold case.

See mine for yourself! Link to my hypertext project: https://patchworkodysseus.wordpress.com/

Building Build-A-Frank

The design process – Joe

Going into the project, I was excited to make a board game because of the creative expression the medium allows. There has been an explosion of adult board games and card games in recent years, with games like Cards Against Humanity and Catan proving that there’s more to the genre than Monopoly. One of my favorite aspects of these new games in particular is their unique designs. Some games like Exploding Kittens feature whimsical artwork that contribute in a crucial way to the game’s overall atmosphere.

Beyond these games, my inspiration for the card designs came in large part from the advertisements I saw on the subway in New York City this past summer. The subway is supremely overwhelming: the heat, abject grossness, and frustration that I associated with these rides was often made slightly less bad by the surprisingly beautiful advertisements featured above the seats. The things I loved most about these advertisements were their bold, bright color schemes that made them pop. They were unique, handsome, and made me feel like the brand was professional. Knowing that I was after all an amateur gamemaker, I wanted the card design to mimic these advertisements to lend that air of legitimacy to the game.

I selected the font Baskerville for the text of the cards for several reasons. For one, its letters have serifs, which make it look professional. At the same time, I think the font is attractive enough that it doesn’t quite look like something you would write a research paper with. It makes sure the cards remain fun.

As for the images, I designed three versions of each body part to coincide with the three tiers of cards. For common cards, which are the worst ones to get, I drew the bones in Photoshop to look like a decomposed body part. I used average looking body parts as inspiration for the uncommon cards, and muscular parts for the legendary cards. I knew how to use Photoshop before the project due to my interest in graphic design, but I did pick up a few new skills.

Legendary headOne such skill was designing a custom pattern. I wanted polka dot backgrounds for the cards, because it was a lively pattern that still wouldn’t distract from the artwork. However, Photoshop doesn’t have a built in polka dot stamp. Using YouTube tutorials, I was able to create three versions of the polka dot pattern, one for each card class. I was inspired by the video game Fortnite in determining the colors for each tier of body part. In Fortnite, weapons come in five tiers, and are colored to correspond with their tier. Gray weapons are the worst, blue are very good, and gold are the best. As such, I used those colors in the three polka dot patterns for their corresponding three tiers of body parts.

For the back design of the cards, I wanted to continue with the polka dot motif while evoking Frankenstein, as the game was supposed to be about the story in some way. As such, I used the traditional Frankenstein color scheme of green on black. I found the font Runaway, which had a monstrous feathering on its edges that fit in perfectly with the game’s themes.

Lastly, I needed to make a logo. Since I loved the look of the legendary head card, which was a top-hat sporting gentleman, I re-used the head and added the game’s title in Runaway font.

Back design

Formulating rules – Kevis

Designing the game was a fun task, and I had three important factors that I wanted the game to follow. I wanted the game to be easy to understand and play, as the game would be presented to strangers who wouldn’t be willing to spend ten minutes on rules and mechanics. Second, I wanted the game to be complex enough to feel like there was real depth and strategy. Finally, I wanted the focus of the game to be progressive, with a discrete system of gains and progress.

One of the first themes I thought of when creating a board game was the deck-building card game, Dominion. It is a game that uses the building of a personal deck to win the game and I liked the aspect of collecting cards to progress. We used a similar theme for Frankenstein, as the monster was made up of cadavers of different people. As part of game development, we considered previous games that people have played before as a basis for the game. Primarily, using things such as dice can add randomness and forms of variance while being very easy to understand for most. By keeping core player actions tied to dice, it flattens the learning curve and makes it easy to play from the beginning.

Another game that I took inspiration from is Not Alone, by Ghislain Masson. The aspect of this game that I took was to have several different locations that players could visit in attempts to progress in the game. From this, we thought of the four zones, the university, the chapel, the black market, and the graveyard. These different locations add elements of strategy. Different locations should have accompanying advantages and disadvantages. Players should feel like they have personal efficacy in the outcome and progression of the game. This is an essential part of what makes a game enjoyable as a player. In our game, the choosing of locations serves as the primary form of independent selection within the game rules and structure.

The third consideration for the game was interaction between players and the interaction with the game. I thought that a turn-based game would be the best choice for our needs. A turn-based game requires less explanation and is conducive to a simpler setup. It also allows each player to see the actions of others for strategic planning. For our goals of an easy-to-play game with strategic elements, this option made sense. Finally, Joe had a great suggestion for a money system. After weighing some options, we decided it made sense to tie in money gain to turn progression. I also seriously considered creating another zone: one to earn money in. This way, players would have even more freedom in deciding to either spend more time to gain a consistent progression through money or using the graveyard zones. Ultimately, I decided that it would complicate the game and make it too complex for us, the game designers. Balancing the money path and the “digging” path would be too important for the game, and I did not want to bog planning down with something like that. Game balance image.

Uncommon head

We divided up the tasks for actual game creation. I wanted to add checkpoints as a proof of progression and as another interactive factor, and I created events to fill this. Events are additional actions that occur that affect all players and are a definite sign of the game progressing. This way, turns were divided into groups of 3 cycles of all players, after which events would occur. In addition, this allowed for a defined time limit for players to complete the game. After the first player reached the end goal, other players would have the remainder of that turn group to also complete the game. It was a nice balance that allowed others to catch up instead of one instant winner while not forcing the first player to finish to wait too long for the completion of the game and rewarding that player for finishing first. I used a software called Nandeck for creating the event cards. Joe created the decks involving the body parts and the bones, which led to an interesting challenge of integrating my work with his, as I used this software and he used Photoshop. I spent quite some time considering how I wanted the events to affect players and balancing giving player interactivity and not affecting game state too much. I decided to err on the side of less impactful events; however, if this were to be a published game, I would likely make events a core aspect of the game’s progression. A few of the events allowed for the players to directly interact with each other. Given more time, I think I would add more aspects of this into the game, as the iteration we presented kept inter-player gameplay to a minimum.

Making it come to life – Leah

One of the coolest parts of my job was the game instructions. I emulated the format of the instructions sheet from some of my own favorite childhood games, such as Uno and Parcheesi. Additionally, I was able to create the logo for the game, which I made with the head and fonts Joe had made for the cards. I decided to use the head from the legendary skeleton because of the dapper top hat Joe had artfully included.

While the formatting was part of my assigned tasks, I really enjoyed the process of making the rules as it was the most collaborative part of the game making. We all took part in creating the rules; seeing which ideas worked, which didn’t, and which would be expanded upon to create a functional board game. The rules were changed and developed throughout nearly the entire process, evolving even through our first few game plays together as a group. As we made the final touches and tweaks to the rules in our playthroughs, it was truly exciting to see the game go from being a concept to being a reality. Granted, it was a lot of details, brainstorming and creativity from three different people, but it made for one cohesive, and pretty awesome, final product.

In addition to formatting the instructions, I was also in charge of finding and editing the images we would use for the board itself. The images I chose for game board were inspired by many of the Frankenstein media forms we explored in class, including both the 1931 and 1994 films. In keeping with the theme, I continued to choose black and white images to create a game board that looked as though they belonged together. I just made sure to add three little circles, using Joe’s font, on one image that would keep track of each round played.

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Game instructions

Although the digital work was manageable, I really thrived at the non-digital crafting of the game. Next to our group collaboration on the instructions, working hands on with tangible objects was my favorite part of the process. I spent a few solid, serene hours painting each individual wooden money token and a few game pieces. Each gold and silver wooden coin got three layers of paint while my fingers received a few hundred. In addition to purchasing the tokens, paint, brushes, board and game pieces, I was also in charge of the printing, laminating and cutting of the board images and each individual playing card. It was time consuming and a learning process, as I discovered three different lamination options and several more options for printing paper in regards to size, thickness, and quantity. However, with (four hours worth of ) patience, a tedious manual paper cutting machine, and a very helpful Office Depot employee, I succeeded in helping to create a final product I was proud to be a part of.

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The laboratory

We made a trailer for our game—check it out!

The Hunt – A Frankenstein-Inspired Asymmetric Card Game

Picture this: you’re being chased down by a superhuman abomination who’s out for blood. It’s stalking you, tracking your movements, trying to find the right time to strike. You must either arm yourself and prepare to defeat it, or you will die. There is no permanent escape. It will keep chasing.

Sounds stressful and scary, right? It’s what’s going on in the novel Frankenstein, and it’s the emotion and state of being that we were trying to capture in the form of a game. Obviously, a slow, turn-based card game with no stakes is a tough sell to accomplish that goal. Why not a horror video game? Why not a movie, where there’s more immersion? Because we like card games. It is a challenging medium, but an accessible, portable, shareable medium, and with enough creativity and work, a card game can become just as engaging as any of the more traditional forms of media.

So we had our idea. An asymmetric card game. One person would play as the monster, and everyone else would play as the villagers.

The main source of inspiration for the design of the gameplay came from Stronghold Games’ Not Alone, a tabletop game released in 2016. The game has a premise comparable to what we were aiming for in our Frankenstein game: there are survivors stranded on a hostile planet being hunted by an aggressive alien, and their goal is to elude the alien until help arrives. The game wonderfully captures the feeling of being pitted against the opponents at the table. It is stressful. It is nerve-wracking. It is not a good game for people dealing with anxiety. And that was what we wanted.

Of course, just copying another game and slapping new words and labels on everything was not our goal nor our aim. While we wanted to maintain that same stressful, tense feeling that Not Alone captures excellently, we also needed a game that felt more Frankenstein-y and tied in better with the original plot of the novel. So we kept a few things – the asymmetric structure, and a few types of cards from Not Alone which were given different names in our rendition: location cards (Place cards in NA), monster cards (Hunt cards), and villager cards (Survival cards). Everything else, including the names and even technical function of those cards, was changed. They only existed in the same capacity.

The first major decision we made was to divide the game up into two phases instead of just one. The first phase – meant to be a buildup to the action, an opportunity for new players to learn how the game worked with lower stakes, and a means of selecting who would be playing the monster – was to feature Dr. Frankenstein creating the monster. It was designed to be quick and straightforward, with the villagers trying and rarely succeeding in stopping the doctor from creating that which could not be controlled. Even the “simple” phase had its fair share of issues. Quick, easy, and lopsided were the goals, but it was very easy for those to blend into a pointless, time-wasting formality. We iterated on both the cards and the win conditions in the first phase more than any other portion of the game, but eventually arrived at a place where it felt fun. The interactive selection of who will perform the role of the monster is an enjoyable feature of the game, and though the doctor accomplishes their goal fourteen times out of fifteen, that fifteenth time is hilarious.

With the first phase out of the way, the bulk of the game came in the second phase. Meant to really be the meat of the game and the moment in which the suspense and anxiety is captured, the monster chases the villagers, who have a limited number of places to run. Getting caught by the monster once or twice can lead to a snowball effect where a villager runs out of options, and thus the monster can continue to predict their next few movements. When it happens, it really captures the futility of being up against a superhuman creation acting as a force of evil. There’s nothing you can do but sit there and feel bad for letting the rest of the village down. But the village can also get out to an early lead, gain access to new locations, and run the monster in circles. The monster can feel the chances of victory slipping away, but the game is never over until it is over – comeback mechanics (monster cards) and the streakiness of the gameplay can lead to some unpredictable results when it seems as if nothing can lead to a victory.

Then we had to test. The first edition of the game featured scraps of paper, a standard deck of playing cards, and a lot of trying to remember what cards had what effects. To our surprise, it was fun. It was supposed to be fun, but it was genuinely encouraging to have the initial draft of our card game be so enjoyable that our playtesters (roommates and hallmates) wanted to keep playing, even in its original, very rough, an-ace-means-you-pick-up-two-cards-and-a-four-means-you-pick-up-all-of-them form. One of the biggest strengths of the game, even in its original form, was that it was very easy to learn as the game went along. Those who knew how to play could teach those who didn’t in a simple, straightforward manner. The rules were detailed, but the details could just be brought up as they became relevant. It’s probably why the game worked.

But there were tweaks to be made. The monster wasn’t getting enough monster cards. Then the monster was getting too many monster cards. It was too hard for the monster to win.

A: “This is too hard!”
B: “No, you’re just bad at being the monster!”

A: “Ok, you play!”
B: “Ok, this is too hard.”

A: “I told you so!”

Then it was too easy for the monster to win. It was hard to make an asymmetric game feel fair, even if the end result was nearly 50/50. Some monster and villager cards felt worthless. Others felt way too powerful.

Game balance is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Even when you agree on the problem (which isn’t a given), there may not be an obvious solution. But we worked until we had a product that felt fun and fair to play. Point totals were changed, card effects were changed, locations were re-done, and it reached a point where nothing felt egregious, too strong, or too weak.

One trip to FedEx later, we had a game. A fun game. A game one of our roommates took home over Thanksgiving Break to play with family because it was just that good. Long after the project was finished, we were still tweaking and updating the game because we actually just kept playing it.


While the rules and cards are not the most exciting in digital form, you can find them here:

Rules

Location Cards

Doctor/Villager/Monster Cards

And last but not least, some actual gameplay:

  • Cole Bowden and Youjia Wang

A Reflection from the Frankenstein VR Team

Coming into this project, our group felt similar to that of an oil prospector, searching a goldmine under the ground that would take time and labor to extract. While this metaphor undoubtedly seems far-fetched, what it symbolized was the feeling within our group that we had by far the most interesting and coolest project as well as one of the most difficult projects to bring to life. Despite all of our background knowledge in computer science and coding, Virtual Reality (VR) was a whole new creature for all of us, as it is for most of the world, giving us all a new interesting challenge.

At first, the project seemed near impossible. After our initial meeting with one of the Wondry’s VR specialists, Vivian Li,  it became clear to us that the initial parameters of what we wanted to accomplish were appeared far out of reach. Creating a single object alone seemed intense, let alone an entire environment where everything worked together. Had the project been a VR environment for let’s say a futuristic environment, it may have been easier since modern aesthetics point to more simplistic, sleek designs. Since, however, all the objects are from Frankenstein, all the objects required great attention to detail in regards to both age and Victorian aesthetic. Luckily, with much support from Vivian Li, the project became much more palatable. Not only was she gracious enough to offer creating the VR environment for us, she also helped us transfer the blender files to actual Unity VR files, which ultimately left each of us with one duty: pick an appropriate object from Frankenstein and create it in Blender.

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The finished scene to display our objects in

Choosing the Objects

With thousands of words and objects contained in the Frankenstein story, it was pertinent for the group to select the most signifying and important symbols of the book and Mary Shelley’s life without making the monster itself. Each of us decided on a different object, which, due to the abundance of symbols throughout all of the versions of Frankenstein, made it easy as all of us were not fighting over the locket or the jar or what have you. At the end of the day, we all realized that each object was probably going to be equally difficult to create. Also, while all the objects did not have a direct relation to the book itself, they still had enough Halloween aesthetic and importance to Shelley to be relevant. For example, even though gravestones are in no way a big part of the book, it is said that Mary Shelley had an almost unnatural obsession with the grave of her mother.

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This grave helps represent the Gothic theme

Not only is it claimed she would spend inordinate amounts of time at her mother’s gravestone, but it is also rumored that she lost her virginity on top of said gravestone. While this clearly has no relation to the novel, it does very much explain the Gothic nature of Shelley’s writing, which we felt made the gravestone important enough to add.

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The abnormal brain

The abnormal brain is a symbol from the 1931 film Frankenstein the Man Who Made a Monster. The brain stolen by Fritz (Frankenstein’s assistant in this movie) is portrayed to the audience as the reason why the monster acts different than Frankenstein expects (due to its abnormalities). Obviously, the movie takes some liberties from the novel, but these liberties display the different paths that Frankenstein could go down, and the multitude of ideas that have been inspired since its creation. Every movie based off the novel is going to be slightly different than its source material, so to see a physical explanation behind the creature’s behaviors goes a great way to further humanize it.

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This fire was the only object that are group created in Unity instead of Blender

The fire, to us, felt obvious to include as an object. After all, the entire work is the modern Prometheus story, just as its original title signifies (Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus). In the Prometheus story, he brings down fire from heaven to earth, which then allows the people of Earth to progress to new levels of society.  Today, scholars and historians can surmise that the world began to change once fire was discovered. However, Shelley’s relation of fire to the creature was a wonderful metaphor for how all of us learn to grow and adapt, something too important to leave out of our project.

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Katherine Frankenstein’s locket which later identifies William Frankenstein

The locket serves as a forward force in the plot since it informs the creature that William Frankenstein is a part of the Frankenstein family, leading to not only William’s death, but the first of multiple murders in the novel. Without this locket, there would be little connection to how the creature is able to initially reconnect and find Frankenstein’s loved ones.

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This journal educates Frankenstein on the human world as well as his creator

The journal is a symbol of learning not only for Victor, by being a log for all of his studies, but also as a tool for the creature, who studies this journal in order to become as much of a functioning human as possible. The creature learns the English language through Victor’s journal and is eventually able to find and communicate with Victor. Without this journal, the creature would have never been able to destroy Victor through the deaths of those close to him either.

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This table is where the creature is initially brought to life

In the 1931 film, one of the more memorable scenes is how the creature’s body, initially constrained to the table, is brought to life through a lightning storm. This table is where the story takes motion, as the life of the creature will bring the horror that lasts throughout the rest of the film.

Each of these objects, even though each seem meaningless on their own, have a special meaning and presence in the novel and films of Frankenstein.

 

The Process of Creating the Objects

At first, rendering software such as Blender often seemed near impossible to work with. With the ability to set frame rates, resolutions, vector sizes, origins, rendering, etc. it initially appeared that every object was going to take hours upon hours for the group to complete. For us however, we began to realize that only a small number of these tools were necessary in order to achieve our goals. In the world of Blender, if the entire program was a graduate degree, all we needed was a GED to know enough for what we needed to do. Using basic shapes and transformation manipulators (Vectors used to change the x, y, or z length of the object), it seemed that all of us were going to be able to achieve our desired object. For example, while our gravestone seems to be made of intricate and chiseled shapes, all it took was the resizing of 3 cubes and adjustments to the smooth texture.

Blender Cube
All Blender projects start out with this simple cube, which can then be taken out or modified into the projects that this group created

With that being said though, it did still take much research from the internet as well as help from Vivian Li in order for our projects to be done to the best of our ability.

The tombstone, for example, had multiple nuances, such as creating a stone-like texture.  Upon opening Blender, we were all faced with the default cube. Despite it appearing to be easy enough to resize or move something as simple as the default cube, it actually took a significant amount of time just getting use to the system of Blender itself and pick up these simple tasks. While these tasks were eventually solvable with simple solutions through the help of an experienced 3-D artist (whether from YouTube or Vivian herself), the amount of roadblocks that each of us ran into proved how daunting a task like this could really be. By doing something as easy as switching to transformation mode, it became easy to do something like resizing the cube into a tombstone head, first reducing size in the x to create a thin rectangle, and then expanding the z in the positive direction to give the tombstone some length. Simple tasks like this were what led to all of our projects looking the shape they currently are.

Once the general shape of each object was created, the next thing to do was to add textures to our objects. To do this, the first step was to change from object mode (the mode used to shape the object) to texture modifying methods such as edit or sculpt mode.

Locket Edit Mode
Through the use of texture modifiers given in something like the edit mode, objects were allowed to have more detail, such as the ‘F’ on Katherine Frankenstein’s locket

 

In modes such as the ones mentioned above, there are a myriad of options to change the texture of the object. For example, blob mode (found in the sculpt mode) creates bubbles at the top of the surface that almost resemble the bubbling of CO2 in soda. Within sculpt mode, we could adjust the size of the cursor (the amount of area affected at once), whether the sculpting changes were mirrored on both sides of the tombstones and various other settings. Perhaps the most crucial setting to determine when sculpting objects was relative detail or constant detail. Constant detail, the most simplistic mode, simply creates the same details no matter where you are, so if you run the cursor over an area that has already been sculpted, nothing will occur. Relative detail however does exactly what it sounds like, it creates even further texture on an object relative to the current texture of an object. So, if an already sculpted area is affected, it will become ever more rugged, sculpted and textured. For the gravestone, relative detail was used as every bit of rock will have slightly different edges and cracks as opposed to an almost uniform and unrealistic rugged look. All of these modes were utilized in different ways by members of the group in order to give the objects more of an authentic look.

Once each of us figured out these as well as other techniques, with additional help from Vivian and online resources, the challenge became less figuring out the program and more trial and error to create the perfect look for the project. For example, every time one tries to sculpt an object, the nuances of the surface will be different every time. Whether it be because of cursor size, constant v., relative detail or even the method used to create the texture (blob v. pinch v. draw etc.), it took each of us hours manipulating our objects to create the perfect look. This part of the project was probably the most important learning moment for all of us. Because at its core, VR and video game design is quite easy, but creating the perfect object becomes less about the technicality of it and more about the own artist’s inspirations and time spent on the object. So, while the base objects of every video game may have been easy to construct for the video game designers, what separates any game is the level of love and commitment given to the project. It would have been easy for any of us to shape rings, spheres and cubes to create a basic object, but for each of us to pour our heart into our objects took a lot more commitment. For example, again using the tombstone, while the actual outline of the tombstone was created in 10 minutes, hours of time was dedicated just to make sure that tombstone looks realistic. This gives an incredible further appreciation of the time and detail that all video game designers put into their work, probably working for weeks on a single project.

Luckily for us, the category of Frankenstein/Halloween became one of the most crucial part of the project. Had we taken a random category, the group would have required lots of planning and meeting to decide exactly what aesthetic we wanted to use, how the objects should be tied together etc. However, since all of us ultimately knew the novel we would be referencing in the project, it was much easier to consult the actual book rather than waiting on a group member to answer in Slack regarding direction. It gave us the perfect blend of both independence and dependence from one another. We could bounce ideas off one another, but at the end of the day it was our choice on what we felt was the best way to approach each object. And once all our objects were complete, the rest of the project essentially finished itself. For example, making our poster at the beginning of the assignment would have been near impossible since we had our idea, but had no screenshots, stories to tell etc. However, just like a real video game, once you have created the visuals the story can almost tell itself. Even now with this blog, the struggles we faced were so plentiful that there are even ones forgotten to be mentioned here. Even the most minute little nuanced difficulties on Blender became 45-minute learning experiences trying to figure how to effectively accomplish the small thing you wanted to do. Difficulties that may seem small on paper but were almost the make or break between an effective project.

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Overall, for all of us, this project was an exceptional exercise in taking what is visualized in one’s mind and making that a concrete reality. When any person reads Frankenstein, they are going to have a slightly different picture in their minds eye. Some may see the monster as the prototypical green, blocky monster depicted in the movies, while others may simply see an ugly man, stitched together from the parts of other humans. And just like Mary Shelley had to start her masterpiece with just one sentence, we all had to begin our projects with a simple block on blender. From there, it was up to us to create an entire Gothic world using an advanced computer program from 200 years in the future from when Frankenstein was placed. As corny as it sounds, this project almost felt as a modern Prometheus story just as Frankenstein itself. We small-minded students were shown the power of Blender and Unity, the fire behind many video games, and from that we were able to create our own thriving world of VR objects.

 

The Monster: An Abstract Film

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For our collaborative New Media project, we created an abstract film, completed with original music composed by Ben Kessler, that represents our take on the story of the monster in Frankenstein. We believe the monster’s journey, from coming into this Earth to his tragic end, is largely misunderstood. Rather than fear or despise the monster, he deserves the audience’s sympathy. In order to capture this, we looked at ways we could draw an audience into the journey to viscerally feel what the monster must have. Heavy visuals, emotionally evocative music, and the critical matching of the two creates this ideal captivation. In this way, the viewer can feel organic empathy for the monster as they go through the creature’s splendid birth, become victimized by confusion and prejudice, and ultimately reach an untimely end as life is extinguished.

The start of our film revolves around the concept of new life and birth. Scenes of youth and purity such as a sunrise and plants growing show the innocence that the Monster had when he came into the world. The aggressive monster that everybody thinks of when they hear “Frankenstein” was a product of his environment. He came into the world like every other human (except different means) with the expectation of being treated like a human. The soft, lighthearted beginning of the movie emphasizes that we do not believe that the monster is inherently evil. He was just looking to be accepted and loved by the world he came into. Our recurring image of a rose appears first here. New life beings as the rose blooms.  

In order to draw the audience into the confusing mid-life section of the monster’s journey, it was important to create the essence of pain and prejudice. An important picture needed to be painted in order to have the sympathetic outcome so viewers feel for the monster. The composition of the music to match this picture happened at the same time that we were selecting our imagery. Through discussions with our group, we realized that as the music began to transition, from the hopeful light-hearted birth section to this painful confusion, we needed to have a similar transition of visuals. We set the scene with a series of music-timed lightning strikes that led into the synthesized bass underlay. This underlay was intended to match the tempo of a beating heart and we then included that visual to allot the grotesque and gritty nature of the rest of our film. An important inclusion also was the bouquet of roses. We wanted to keep the red flower, the essential icon of beauty and life, as a constant symbol throughout the film. In this phase, the flower is darker, dying, and lying on the floor instead of blooming. The importance of the storm matches the theme of brewing confusion and pain. Coming up with this idea as a group was very important for our project. We believed that storms would provide most clear thematic alignment with what we were trying to illustrate regarding the difficulties of the monster’s life. All of the visuals with the tesla coils, electricity, storms brewing, and the car crash test dummies all make the viewer feel like there is a build-up for a climax. This build-up, combined crucially with the music that will be discussed later, leads perfectly into the disastrous tragedy at the end of the monster’s life and our film.

From the beginning, we knew that we needed to match the intensity of the rising action with a cathartic, abrupt end. We decided to input the key elements of the creature’s tragedy: the self-actualizing moment where he confronted his own monstrosity and his unintentional murder of the farmer’s young daughter. His psychotic confusion and remorse was intercut with the scene of the daughter offering him a flower, representing the only time someone treated him with genuine kindness. This not only provided emotional depth to the monster, but also juxtaposed his violent brutality with his inherent innocence. We returned to the motif of the beautiful red rose, but now engulfed in flames. This symbol of beauty and life now became consumed by the flame of society’s bigotry towards the monster’s repulsive appearance. What was something so harmless and pure was unceremoniously incinerated and poisoned by prejudice. The extinguishing flame from the candle interlaced with the wind chimes symbolized the monster’s tragic, yet futile demise. Even though the monster’s story had marred the existence of those around him, it will all prove to be futile. Soon, no one will remember what drove him to become this monstrosity, and for this reason none will learn from his tragedy. They will continue to carry the same prejudice and bigotry against wicked creatures as they had done before. The monster’s tragedy is just another candle in the wind.

We composed the music to match the emotion of the visuals. The track begins with a number of voices from various old films. As the track develops, these voices become increasingly critical. The laughter is drowned out in reverb and delay effects to accompany this increase in intensity. These critical voices are intended to imitate those that haunt Frankenstein, for they are ultimately what compel Frankenstein to act in the way that he does. Including these voices at the outset of the video orients viewers; they are compelled to assume Frankenstein’s perspective. This suggests a sort of empathy between the viewer and Frankenstein which persists throughout the whole video. The next section contrasts sharply with the chilling introduction. The acoustic guitar in combination with the light synthesizer produces a joyful, innocent quality. This is intended to capture the simplicity of the beautiful emotions associated with birth. The subsequent section begins with a mysterious voice presumed to be in Frankenstein’s own head: “there has to be an answer.” This line encapsulates the intense frustration and desperation that Frankenstein experiences. The visual of the beating heart is matched with a deep beating drum. This entire section is a single crescendo–a single, continuous increase in intensity. Each time the chords repeat themselves, there is an additional instrument to make the sound bigger. This is the climax of the soundtrack and the film. The space between the final hits features a number of the same voices that haunted Frankenstein at the beginning of his life. As such, this suggests his fate was determined at his birth. This evokes a strong feeling of pity for Frankenstein. The song’s slow fade out mimics this emotion.

Cassidy, Ben Root, Ben Kessler, Ethan

Making an Unofficial Movie Trailer

So I chose to make a movie trailer. Image result for tatiana choices gif

Initially, I thought, “piece of cake,” because of that project before where we had to make a YouTube video from start to finish and deal with copyright claims if they should arise. And then it’s Patchwork Girl. It’s a relatively obscure piece of literature over twenty years old with no linear story, so no beginning, no end… (Plot? We don’t know her.) … and every time you go through the story it’s different.

I thought I had it all figured out… 45 seconds to a minute worth of content set to “Death on Two Legs” by Queen, whatever, boom, boom, boom…a pretty decent trailer. It started off with something insufferable, that Clip from the 1931 Frankenstein “It’s Alive™️” and that floating head from the intro of the Patchwork Girl of Oz movie (truly terrifying). It was set to the crescendo build from an instrumental version of “Death on Two Legs” then  moves to the cinematic elements: “Eastgate Presents…” yada-yada. I had timed the title page to appear right at the downbeat of the piano (very sexy) and the rest of it was just a video clip of someone showing the mechanics of how the software worked to navigate the story. I thought I was Spielberg. I was very proud of myself.

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Anyway, I was wrong.

I showed to my mom, who in so many words, told me she hated it. But really it was that she couldn’t get a good grasp as to what the story was about. And taking a step back…she was right.

So now I’m revamping the whole thing. Like, I’m trimming clips, finding new music, making hyper-specific Google searches and turning up empty-handed, using obscure media, scouring the depths of YouTube for symbolism, and then I’ve finally got it: the original Frankenstein clip, the floating head, a clip from the 2004 movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera, a picture of Mary Shelley, a video of Shelley Jackson, and a montage of clips I spliced and edited together from a two minute trailer of the Mary Shelley movie that came out last year.

The editing process was grueling: the clips I used were, at normal speed, between four and twenty seconds, so I’m having to speed up and slow down certain clips, while avoiding it being too fast or too slow. Then there’s the issue with the text: I had already found pivotal quotes, general enough to make a linear story out of a non-linear one, geez, but the text. I never could really time it right so that the text appeared at a normal speed; I had looked at it enough that I could read a line in less than a second (one of my shortest clips was around 0.7 seconds) but that was one sacrifice I made for the sake of the aesthetic®️.

Then there was the question of the music. 

d3b70b06da1ecfb99525fb90cf0bbe6bbd24f9d7_encoded.gif“Death on Two Legs” was clearly not the right choice for the video, and I’m frantic. I’m on Spotify trying to figure out what music would fit the gravity of the trailer. It’s kind of serious now, and although “Death on Two Legs” is operatic masterpiece, it was just too jarring and didn’t match cinematically with the new clips I’d picked out. My first direction was moving to video game soundtracks, because the intent is to make you focus on the gameplay, and my main choice was Mass Effect 3: I loved the game, loved the soundtrack, what could go wrong? And I was listening and it didn’t fit–I’m at my wit’s end. What music am I going to use for this trailer?

Then I’m thinking, “Okay! Why not use the soundtrack from the Mary Shelley movie?” I’m a genius.Image result for tammie brown i'm acting gif So I listen to every one, and every song sounded like some spectral Celtic woman with red hair sighing woefully in a mist-filled forest (perfect) and they all fit. So I just had to pick one. I believe the song was called “Mary’s Decision” so I put it in iMovie, trimmed the song and added a fade. It’s gorgeous. I’ve done it. Queue video.

After the whole fiasco with the first YouTube video I made receiving a worldwide copyright claim from Viacom within seconds of it being uploaded, I was still worried about copyright claims when I uploaded this one to YouTube (thankfully, I never got a strike/claim, although I think I used copyrighted material)

Then I made the poster. Pretty easy, I had a solid image in my head of what I wanted it to be: a woman with a skull over her face. Color scheme: black, white, and red. Patchwork Poster.jpg

I made some edits in PowerPoint of all places, downloaded some new fonts (for the poster and the video), and I’m satisfied with it. It’s minimalistic but I think pulls the point across nicely.

And I guess as a nice bonus, the people who watched it at the event asked if I considered a career in film editing so…

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–Ishah Blasio

 

From Gamers to Gamemakers

Sunny Chennupati

I’m a lifelong gamer. From aggressively driving my way to become ranked 12th in the world in Burnout Paradise to carrying my teams to victory at Vanderbilt’s semesterly Vandy_LAN League of Legends tournaments, I’ve played and excelled at a slew of video games. Needless to say, video gaming is a core passion of mine and I don’t see myself stopping this pursuit any time soon.

Wanting to involve myself in this hobby more, I thought it would be an interesting idea to code a game. I’ve spent years on one end of the coder-gamer interaction, so why not make my final project about the other side of the entire interaction? Playing a complex video is a breathtaking experience, but behind every Skyrim, every Witcher, and every Fortnite, lies a team of dedicated developers who work tirelessly to ensure that the players are fully invested in their games. They are the architects of the out-of-body experience that is core to gaming: the moments where players “leave” their body outside the computer and become fully immersed in the virtual experience. I didn’t have such lofty ambitions as to attempt to emulate one of these developers, but I certainly wanted to get a taste for game-making, both in order to develop a new skill and also to foster an increased appreciation for the art of game development.

The first step to making a game was deciding what to make it about. Having read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, we were enthralled by the final fight scene at Castle Anorak, not particularly due to the compelling nature of the writing or the exhilaration of the action (neither of which was any more impressive than the rest of the book), but because of how many different genres and references were jam-packed in there. Ultraman fighting Godzilla is a pipe dream for many people who grew up as fans of both franchises, and I can only imagine that having it visualized must be an immeasurable joy. The David and Goliath theme persistent throughout the entire battle, the big-robots-fighting-big-monsters battles that have become such a staple of modern Hollywood blockbusters, the DeLorean DMC-12 as a loving throwback to Back to the Future (think about that wording for a second), all of these make for a wonderfully cacophonous amalgamation of popular media. There was no way we could pass up making our game about this battle.

The second step in the process was thinking about what kind of game to make. I regularly game, and while I play multiple multiplayer games at once (Fortnite, League of Legends, Rocket League, etc.), I generally commit myself to playing one single player game at once. I believe single-player games offer an unparalleled and highly personal storyline experience that cannot even come close to being emulated by most multiplayer games, and thus deserve dedicated time towards their completion. Currently, the game I am playing is Nier:Automata. Nier is a highly acclaimed action role-playing game featuring Androids, a post-apocalyptic Earth, and humanity’s desperate struggle to reclaim this Earth. One key aspect of Nier that caught my eye was how it switched the mechanics of gameplay without batting an eye. More specifically, the game constantly switches perspective, flowing seamlessly between a Dark Souls-style 3D hack-and-slasher to a side-scrolling shoot-em-up à la Megaman, a bullet-hell space shooter like the Touhou series, and other modes of gameplay.

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From left to right: Dark Souls, Megaman, and Touhou.

It’s easily argued that this could make for a cluttered gaming experience, but the style and ease with which Nier carries these transitions out (VERY minimal usage of loading screens, for example) makes for a compelling and dynamic experience. Moving forward from Nier, I wanted to emulate the changing of mechanics, which interestingly is a mechanic in and of itself.

A demonstration of the switching of perspectives in Nier:Automata

The final step, naturally, was constructing the game. Kyle and I tested multiple game-making softwares, including Stencyl, Scratch, Unity, and Gamemaker. Stencyl and Scratch were both drag-and-drop softwares. While this would be nice for one who knew nothing about coding, Kyle and I have both extensively studied computer science, so why not use our knowledge to make a game instead of taking the easy way out? After trying Unity out, we immediately decided against it. Unity is very powerful, too much so for our purposes of making a simple game for this class’s final project. Trying to make a simple object in the engine took upwards of an hour, and we knew it would be a cumbersome task to try to code anything functional in this engine. So we settled on Gamemaker. Gamemaker is an intuitive software that makes it very manageable to create functional and varied games, so we were excited to begin learning this.

Initially, the plan was to make a game consisting of 5 distinct “phases,” each with its own mechanics and control scheme. The first phase would be a topdown arena shooter, similar to the Boxhead flash games. After a time interval or a certain number of killed enemies, the game would move on to the next phase.

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One of the Boxhead games

The second phase would be a side-scrolling fight versus a massive boss, akin to a game like the recently released critically-acclaimed Cuphead.

A boss fight in Cuphead

The third phase would be a turn-based Final Fantasy-esque game between Parzival’s party and Sorrento.

A fight in one of the Final Fantasy games

The fourth phase would be the escape, where the player rides a car to the end of the game, dodging bullets, debris, and enemies, similar to the Flash game “The Flood Runner.”

One of the Flood Runner flash games

Kyle will talk more about the development of the game, so I’ll quickly brush over my process so as not to make this post too long. Ultimately, we decided on two levels for the game, as making each game with new mechanics would be an incredibly long-winded process. I made the side-scrolling shoot-em-up portion while Kyle created the car driving portion.

The first step in my game development was creating the menu, a seemingly simple task that took hours due to the steep learning curve of Gamemaker.

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My initial menu

The next steps were making the basic platforms, coding the game mechanics, drawing the background and creating the special effects, and finally creating the completed game product.

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The basic platforms

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The physics and tilesets are added

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The background and special effects are complete

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The finished product with the Godzilla boss

Kyle will now discuss the actual game development process in greater detail, but if you want to try out my game, attached below is the link to download the Zip file containing the game.

http://www.mediafire.com/file/ames3badu0z1aak/RPOSunnyChennupati.zip

Kyle Tran

“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” (Inception, 2010)

At some point during my childhood, spent among some of the classic video games like Counter Strike 1.6, Age of Empires: Rise of Rome and The Sims, a little ‘idea’ had taken root in my mind: to make some kind of video games that I could be proud of, no matter how small or simple it is. Then, after such a long time had passed and that idea had seemingly fallen into the darkest depths of my mind, about two years ago, I found that it was still firmly rooted right there in my head, and finally took the first step on my game-developing journey on a blazing summer day. After several weeks tinkering with the engine Stencyl, I managed to create something that look like this: (it’s available on Newgrounds: https://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/678131)

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It was a very simple game where you control a red circle that avoids swarms of small, white circles while firing blue circles at your enemies in order to survive for the longest time. Everything was done quite easily by using the drag-n-drop features available in Stencyl and watching a bunch of helpful Youtube tutorials. Embarrassing as it is to admit, it took me weeks to just copy what those experts on Youtube do in their videos and implement my own features. Although it’s really primitive, it was an exciting task for the high school junior me. I got a chance to experience just how easy it was to start making a game as well as how hard it was to actually finish one.

Two years later, here I am with a chance to revisit that same experience, as I fumble with Game Maker Studio while working on the final project with Sunny. After brainstorming together for a while we eventually decided to make a game about the final battle in Ready Player One. This time, the challenge was on a whole different level – we decided to use the Game Maker Language, which entailed actual coding; I drew my own sprites instead of importing from online resources (then even animated them!) After that there was still more stuff to do – implementing multiple types of enemies and bullets, figuring out game logic, modifying numbers to balance the game and all that jazz – it felt like playing New Game Plus on a harder difficulty.

My journey started out with the setting. Remember how, in the movies, Parzival broadcast his call to arms on the barren Planet Doom, in front of Castle Anorak?

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What I had in mind was that, the reason why there was no sign of Sixers on the planet surface (except for in Castle Anorak itself) was that Parzival and his pals had already cleared out any Sixer forces and defenses on the outer perimeter. I decided that my game was basically going to be about that first strike. Playing as Parzival, riding in his DeLorean DMC-12, you have to defeat swarms of Sixers and destroy their fortifications, which consist of layers of towers and a portal from which Sixers are continuously spawned (Sorrento configured the portal so that it can teleport Sixers from anywhere in the Oasis to Planet Doom!) As soon as you shoot down the Portal, you win.

31143947_1798043013549815_9039754600038531072_n(Yes, the portal is that thing in the bottom-right corner. The other blue thing is the tower)

But what comes next was the hard part. Being one with barely any artistic talent, I struggled quite a lot with the sprites. My first idea was to check out the Game Maker Store, but Free users are not allowed to download or purchase anything. Dejected, I figured the only thing I could do was to create my own sprites. On my quest to search how to make video game art, I stumbled upon Piskel.

It was really beginner-friendly – even as someone who has zero (pixel) art experience, I was able to make my first character somewhat look like Parzival’s DeLorean DMC-12 (hopefully…)

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The enemies were a bit easier to draw – the sprites for basic melee soldiers and ranged gunners were quite straightforward:

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By the time I got to the walker I was on fire. I even went so far as to animate them in a simplistic way just to make them more lively. Eventually the walkers had a walking animation, a charging animation for their attacks, and a death animation.

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I also made some death animations for the soldiers (they implodes with a sound of coins splashing on the ground like in the movie) and for when the player took damage (the car flashes with electricity leaking out) Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough space in Game Maker to animate the towers crumbling, which I was initially actually really excited to do.

Speaking of towers, I initially drew these four types.

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What I had in mind at first was to place Parzival in the middle of the map, and then put each type of tower in a corner so that the player has to defeat all 4 elements in a Avatar-esque manner first before fighting the boss in the middle. But unfortunately, the Trial version of Game Maker only allowed users to create 15 objects (which, by the way, includes players, bullets, animations, so by the time I finished with dynamic objects there were already 13 or so) and therefore I resorted to having only one type of tower (the water one).

Next up is the bullets, which were the most easy sprites to draw because they’re mostly straight lines and a few curves with minimal shading.

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In addition to that is the tileset, which were basically the terrain that the player and enemies walked on. It was really plain at first, so I tried to decorate it a bit with little cracks in the ice – when the tile blocks are put together, you can see them (kind of) connecting to each other.

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Lastly, the most tiring process of all – coding and balancing the game. Learning the Game Maker Language was quite a pain because it differed from most programming languages I’ve picked up. It took a while to get the hang of it, and even by then it was still a headache to figure out the logic and interaction between characters in the game. Handling enemy behaviors like shooting, moving was already hard (not to mention each enemy type has different attack patterns with different codes!) but to account for in-game “events” like collision with bullets or triggering invincibility upon taking damage and all that stuff was even more complicated than I expected. Then I had to dive into the game myself and try to see if what I currently have is too hard or too easy, then change player and enemy stats accordingly – HP, movement speed, attack speed, damage,… everything needs to be tweaked to the tiniest details. When all is said and done, what’s left is implementing menu screens, and voila, here’s the final product.

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It has definitely been a really fun experience to put this all together, and after this project I found that small ambition from my childhood again. Once more, I was able to create my own little video game, and although it’s still quite primitive, it has been such a huge improvement from the first one I made. I can only wish that from this, it willgo on to become even more of a video game one day.

Here is the game for anyone interested!

http://www.mediafire.com/file/3uwg447e7oja7l5/RPOKyleTran.zip

Till we meet again,

Kyle and Sunny.

Inside Aech’s Basement: A VR Group Project

Our group project was to create various objects using Blender to incorporate into the VR room that is Aech’s Basement from Ernest Cline’s novel, Ready Player One. Each group member brought their complementary individuality which added unique insight, helpful suggestions, and overall, great team camaraderie.

Below, each member of the group highlights their creation process and touches on how important intermediary group projects are to boosting confidence, gaining experience, and pushing academic boundaries.

But first, please enjoy this Game Trailer created by the invaluable, Vincent H.:

https://youtu.be/StVIVT0FUZM

Cheers!

 

ENGL 3726-01 Final Group Project

Janelle O.

The Stages of Using Blender as a Tech Novice

 

Stage 1: Fear

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I’ll admit, I let my insecurities get the best of me.

Make a virtual reality object? Me? Someone who’s never worked on anything STEM related before? In a software that has millions of buttons to press and things to mess up?

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I watched countless YouTube tutorials and felt like the hosts were speaking in a foreign language. It was so difficult for me to believe that I could comprehend, and eventually implement, what they were telling me. The self-inflicted intimidation inevitably led to…

 

Stage 2: Frustration

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No commentary necessary.

But, if you were wondering how many times someone can restart a project on Blender and come thiiiiiiiiiiis close to throwing a computer across a room…

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On the brink of a complete meltdown, I took a step back and realized that I may have been giving Blender too much power. Were the tutorial gurus really speaking in a different language? Was is truly as difficult as I believed it to be? Absolutely not…and once I accepted that, it was smooth sailing toward…

 

Stage 3: Success

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Ultimately, completing my object brought me relief; relief that I would never have to use Blender again! Kidding…kinda.

I felt a wave of satisfaction and pride knowing that I proved myself wrong. I was able to use software I had never used before to make an object in a world I had never visited prior to this semester. This project allowed me to fine tune a skill I didn’t know I possessed in a field that intimidated me beyond belief.

Am I switching my major to Computer Science? Absolutely not.

Did I gain experience and insight in an important field? Yes.

Most importantly, did I learn and grow in ways I never could have imagined? Yes.

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Vincent H.

Skee-Ball Machine and Game Trailer

 

With limited experience with MATLAB and none in computer graphics, I cautiously approached this project that proved to be an interesting venture into the world of 3D modeling.

Our task: supplement an existing virtual reality model of Aech’s basement based on Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Since many of the objects explicitly named in the book had already been created, I needed to immerse myself into Cline’s world and extrapolate other plausible objects. I was inspired by his line: “Most of them were gathered around the row of old arcade games against the wall.” Though not quite old enough to be an 80’s kid, waves of nostalgia still swept over me as I recalled running through a labyrinth of arcade games in Chuck E. Cheese’s as a child. Each corner was filled with vibrant lights that tempted me with the opportunity to win tickets. Stopping in front of a Skee-Ball machine, the objective seemed simple. Whichever prize I earned would be a manifestation of my skill and not chance.

This childhood memory compelled me to create a Skee-Ball machine, and so I did.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.45.21 AM.pngPerspective view of Skee-Ball machine in Blender

I started by searching for various makes and models of Skee-Ball machines to provide a historically accurate model; in doing so, I also learned more about the rich history of the game. Skee-Ball was invented in 1908. Aggressive marketing campaigns created an exciting buzz around the game, eventually being featured in various media outlets, with one of those being a game called Superball on The Price is Right.

After finding the ideal model to recreate, I began in Blender by creating a scaffold of rectangular blocks to create a vague table-like structure. Blender has a variety of tools for detail work, so after creating the basic shape, I began adjusting the edges, gradually working towards the sleek and tapered model. After using bevel to create curved surfaces, knife to stencil point values on the backboard, and subdivide to generate the metal mesh, my Skee-Ball machine came to fruition and fits well in the room.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.46.07 AM.pngClockwise from top left: (1) Model of vintage 1980s Skee-Ball machine for design accuracy, (2) Wireframe view of final object created in Blender, (3) Rendered view of Skee-Ball machine and ball in Blender, (4) Rendered view of Skee-Ball machine and ball in room environment created with Unity

The object at the end of this meticulous process was similar to the wireframe structure shown above, except for one important feature: it was colorless. I spent the next few days experimenting with different shaders in Blender to generate the matte texture and metallic luster of the machine’s frame. Upon completion of the frame, I was stumped by the deceptively intricate and random texture of the felt for the machine’s surface. Luckily, a trove of insightful guidance and templates were available on the internet, so I found a relevant node map and adapted it for my use.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.46.42 AM.pngNode map of blending shaders to create colors and textures

After a few finishing touches, I exported the object and passed it to Vivian for the final step: uploading to Unity. This project gave me a profound appreciation for the computer graphics all around us, increasingly seen in movies. Although the true experts with years of experience are capable of creating models nigh indistinguishable from real-life objects, anyone with the dedication to learn can become proficient within a month. As a STEM major, I truly valued this rare opportunity to exhibit artistic creativity and learn cross-disciplinary skills in an epic quest to remediate Ready Player One.

 

Robert W.

The Music

 

My responsibilities differed a little from the other group members. My time was pretty evenly split between the softwares Blender, Finale, and Cubase. I wanted to add a little aural spice to the otherwise silent basement. Since a large portion of Aech’s and Parzival’s time is spent playing video games, I thought video game music would make the most sense as an incidental soundtrack. One of the only games the author mentions explicitly as a favorite of Aech and Parzival (which also has a decent soundtrack) is Golden Axe.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.47.33 AM.pngMy 3D model of the Golden Axe Genesis cartridge

I turned to that soundtrack as a source material for my synth work. I arranged a piece of music from the game, which took several hours of transcription and input in the notation software Finale (the only piece of software I was already familiar with).

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.47.43 AM.pngThe Finale file of my arrangement

From there, I exported the midi file into the digital audio workstation Cubase. Cubase is where I got to transform my generic midi file into a slightly more interesting electronic piece.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.47.50 AM.pngRaw import of my Finale file in the Cubase DAW

I wanted my percussive sounds to emulate those of a sega genesis system, so I worked with the virtual instrument VOPM, a digital synth designed specifically to emulate a sega genesis sound chip. My work with this synth proved a unique challenge. You must describe a sound in your head in terms of attack time, attack delay, reverb, detune, modular shape, etc. in order to create the instrument sound you desire.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.48.01 AM.pngVOPM interface

In order to add a unique, slightly more palatable character to my arrangement, I used some virtual instruments created in the Spector digital synth, which is a more modern and practical plugin than VOPM.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.48.15 AM.pngSpector synth. Fun fact, the total cost of the software I used for this project exceeds $1000. Thankfully Blair owns all the software so I didn’t have to foot that bill

Even though music is the focus of my degree, my engagement with Cubase and electronic music in general has been limited. Nearly every step of this project (outside of arranging the original track) was a new and valuable experience for me.

 

Wooseong C.

Modeling and UV Mapping  

 

I came into this project without even knowing what Blender was. When I opened the software for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the number of different tools and view modes the software offers.  I mainly learned from Youtube videos that showed the step-by-step process for making a 3D object. During the process of learning to use this software, I learned two Blender fundamentals – modeling and UV mapping.

Modeling simply refers to crafting the shape of your object to match that of the real-world version. This often requires you to have a second window with a picture of the real world object you can refer to:

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.51.37 AM.pngModeling an open magazine – I chose to create comic books to add to our VR version of Aech’s basement. I wanted to have a comic book that was open to add to the “realistic” aspect

Having a reference is really helpful, as it allows you to be more detailed and accurate. The process of making an open comic book entailed making a plane, extruding edges to make the folded part and curvature indicated by the red arrows (above), and adding the subdivision surface and solidify modifier:

Another blender skill I learned was UV mapping. This step allows the user to map an image acquired online onto his/her object. This allowed us to map images onto our posters and comic books:

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For the Astrosmash cartridge, additional steps were needed during UV mapping. Because I needed to add different images to the different surfaces of the object, I had to incorporate the use of Photoshop. The steps entailed unwrapping the 3D object into a 2D map, exporting this UV map to Photoshop, adding the online pictures to the photoshop, and importing the new UV map back to Blender

Overall, learning to use Blender to add objects to our VR representation of Aech’s basement was a very valuable experience. Although the initial learning stage was difficult, I can now use Blender at the beginner level. I now appreciate the vast amount of options and tools that overwhelmed me in the beginning, because it reflects the infinite amount of possibilities one has to create characters and objects. I am very glad that I took this course during my last semester at Vanderbilt. This course was different from all the other courses I have taken, going beyond the traditional essays and lectures, ultimately creating a more hands on learning experience. This final project really gave me appreciation and the confidence to continue using programs like Blender and photoshop in the future.

 

Vivian L.

Uniting All Elements in UnityScreen Shot 2018-04-24 at 10.40.01 PM.png

My role in the Aech’s Basement project group was to take each of my other group members’ separate Blender 3D objects and any other creations they worked on and implement them into the Unity Scene, ensuring everything looked as it was intended and worked properly. Another portion of my job was to raise the almost non-existent level of interactivity in the room. Prior to this semester’s final project, the player was not allowed to move within the room at all, and there was no way to touch or pick up objects, and I desperately wanted to change this.

At the beginning of this project, while all of my other group members worked on creating their assets, I researched and tested different ways to allow camera and body movement in VR. I looked into Unity Oculus Rift support pages, watched many Youtube video explanations on how to track the headset, and what the sensor controllers were called when used in the Scene. My initial thought process was to create a system in which there was a camera affixed to a Capsule 3D object that represented the player. The capsule would then rotate and translate itself according to the detected player headset movements and the Oculus Rift controller joystick input. To create the hands, I wanted to move two Sphere Colliders anywhere that the touch controllers were sensed. Lastly, to simulate the ability of picking up objects, when the player moved their hand Sphere Colliders to hit any other object that was meant to be moved, had a collider on it, and the grip trigger on that hand was being held down, the object would follow the Sphere Collider’s movement.

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Sounds fairly simple, right? I had initially thought so too.

However, I soon realized that although I had the thought process down, I had no idea how to physically code them into the room. I had scarcely any experience with writing C# code, which is the primary language in Unity, as well as using any of their numerous class libraries. I was also still piecing together how the controller input was read in Unity, and was largely unsure of how to read physical headset location. Another difficulty was the inability to test my code outside of the VR space in the Wond’ry.

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After another week or so struggling to write my own interactive player in VR, I decided to ask for Dr. Molvig’s help on the issue, since he was my professor last semester in the class Virtual Reality for Interdisciplinary Applications. He showed me many helpful websites and more videos on VR player bodies, especially Unity’s own player model. Following tutorials, I was able to put the model into the scene, but it didn’t quite work as expected.

#1 tip for all things Comp Sci: It never works like you expected

In fact, it crashed the game many times, and even when I got the Scene to play, my attempts in creating the hands painstakingly exact to a video I was recommended were ruined by the fact that it seemed as if the controllers were not being tracked in the scene at all! I believed that it was partially due to last semester’s attempts to create a teleportation system that was quite ineffective, and the tampering of the Scene files.

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This led to another large difficulty in my project. Since Unity does not allow the copying of Scene objects with their existing properties into another separate project, I would have to choose between spending more time trying to fix the existing scene, or create an entirely new Scene and copy all of the objects into it by hand. Given all of the time already spent trying to bugfix whatever was going on in the original scene, I decided that starting over may be my only choice if I wanted the movement and object interactivity to be a part of the room. I spent many days re-importing and organizing every detail of the room, testing it along the way to make sure that body and hand movement still worked.

Once I had finally recreated the original room, I held my breath when hitting the “Play” button one more time. It worked! The camera moved, my hands moved, and my body moved! I was filled with relief, but this was only the first step.

It was time to put the efforts of my teammates into the Scene. Altogether, we had quite a few assets created to put into the room; comic books, a skeeball machine, posters, a VCR player, game cartridges, and more. (I’m sure my teammates could tell you a lot more than I can about the specifics of their objects!) I also added a few Coke cans, mainly for hand and object collision testing.

A few things happened when I trying moving the objects into the Scene.

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  1. Objects were completely devoid of color.
  2. They were ginormous.

I knew I had to fix the color issue, but the size was not a problem. I could scale it to my will, but adding the correct materials was a separate hurdle. I researched what each of the little options on the objects did, and realized that clicking a button labelled “Lightmap Static” allowed many options, one of which was to assign materials to certain surfaces of the object. This meant that I would first need a material to assign, though. My teammates largely used pictures online to properly wrap around their objects, so I looked up how to create Unity materials from images. Once I figured out how to do that, I realized that objects that were supposed to have separated images on each face, like the Betamax VCR player, had only one surface on which to put the material. Without a proper UV map, I went around this issue by creating the object out of 6 quads, each representing a side. Then, I assigned a separate material for each of them. This worked nicely for neat geometrical objects, but I worried what would happen with more complex ones.

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 10.52.23 PM.pngThankfully, my teammates supplied me with UV maps that worked like magic for some of the other objects. For others, I simply looked up images online and utilized those. Sizing was done as realistically as possible

Eventually, every asset created was put into the Scene with the correct coloring and sizing. I was very happy with the results and seeing everyone’s work in the space, in VR, amazed me. Lastly, I was to put Robert’s Golden Axe music into the scene. I decided to create a Audio Source centered at the TV. I attached the Golden Axe audio clip to it, and changed the radii to reflect the distance at which the volume plays normally, and the distance at which it completely fades out.

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This marked the end of incorporating each team member’s object (and music) into the final room. Aech’s Basement is far from complete, but progress is progress, and each team member had our own learning experiences completing their parts.

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Seveneves: The Role-Playing Game!

 

[featured image taken from https://www.nealstephenson.com/news/2015/05/26/seveneves-site/%5D

When you were a kid, did you ever play those games where you would look up to the sky and imagine the clouds as bunnies, dragons, or anything in between? Did you ever play the ever-popular “the floor is lava” game? If so, fantastic, because as a kid you’re sort of expected to have an active imagination. But why does this expectation fade over time? What about “growing up” means that you have to lose your creativity? Well, we believe there is absolutely no reason for that imagination to wane, and in this blog post we’d like to suggest a fun way to keep your inner kid alive and well.

It’s called a role-playing game (RPG for short), and you may have heard about more popular ones, like Dungeons & Dragons, as there has been a resurgence of interest following the use of this particular RPG in popular culture (think Stranger Things). We made an RPG that was a combination of Dungeons & Dragons, Stars Without Number (a sci-fi RPG), and Seveneves (a science fiction book by Neal Stephenson). Ours may not be the best RPG out there, but if anything we hope this blog post shows you how, without enough time and thinking, anybody can have a great time making and playing an RPG.

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The idea of the RPG is one that has been solely rooted in the fantasy genre, and by association, the wider genre of romance, something that we have discussed at length in this class. The RPG brings together a group of people, often with varying skills and interests that offset each other, with a shared goal. There is usually some form of quest, self-redemption, or self-revelation that occurs, and because RPGs are more focused on player character development than most other forms of interactive media that we discussed, we thought it best to use to remediate a science fiction novel. Additionally, we both have years of experience playing role-playing games such as D&D and Pathfinder, and have planned our own campaigns before as well as played personal characters in others. All of those campaigns were solely in the fantasy genre, however, so if we were going to make a science fiction RPG, we would have to do a little research.

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The first order of business was understanding the book in which we were basing our RPG. Internet synopses can tell you more than we can here, but this is the gist: the moon was destroyed by an unknown “Agent,” and in the two years before the moon rocks crash to Earth and destroy everything, humanity stashes itself in space to return thousands of years later as collection of seven races, stemming from the seven fertile women who survived in space. You can see more contextual information later in the post and in our notes, or if you’re really invested you can even read the book. The point is this book was perfect for creating a sci-fi RPG.

Furthermore, we scoured the Internet for tips and resources on how to make a sci-fi RPG. From Googling those exact words to thumbing through Reddit threads, we took a few days to amass as many ideas as possible. We settled on the system Stars Without Number, as this RPG system was freely available and seemed to be quite well developed for our purposes. Specifically, this system did a great job at reframing D&D classes into various jobs and skills that were more suitable for life in space, rather than a fantasy world, and the system itself was flexible enough to modify.

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Why would we need to modify the system? Well, our goal for this project was to develop a “one-shot” game, or an RPG that is meant to be played in a single session rather than in a multiple-session campaign. With this in mind, our primary concern was providing the players enough time to explore the world we were creating. We easily adjusted the mechanics for making skill checks to be less based on players stats and more based on intent and narration. In more practical terms, players could essentially do whatever they wished without all the role-playing and messing about that takes time, so the Game Master (GM) could provide more narration about the environment. It worked out pretty well, as you can see in the videos we’ve placed here and throughout the post.

There are many other mechanical considerations you have to make when planning an RPG. Where is the game set? What is the history of this setting? What is society like? What maps do you need to make? Who might the players encounter, and what will that encounter look like? Is there a point system? Since we based our game on the world of Seveneves, we had a lot of the contextual questions taken care of already. We answered the RPG-specific questions, and you can see our notes in the Google document link in this post later on. The doc can speak for itself, but we’d like to briefly elaborate on the point system, which we developed from the ground up. Normally “points” in the RPG world are experience points that accumulate to level up the player. However, we used “assets” as a way of measuring how well the players were forming bonds with the species on Old Earth, and so whichever team (Red or Blue) had the most assets by identifying and succeeding in more opportunities by the end of the session won.

We gathered up some of our friends to play a short one-shot on a Monday. In RPG terms, a “one-shot” is usually a game or storyline that takes one or two sessions to finish (as opposed to usual longer story arcs in regular play). We planned on filming the session to use in our presentation, so we wanted to have every possible race represented. Our friend Penn played an Ivyn engineer, Jacob played a Camite priest, Nick played a Julian aspiring politician, Jamz played a Moiran biologist, Ethan played a Teklan transport specialist, Jordan played a Dinan astronavigator, or “astrogator,” and Matthew played an Aïdan technician. Torie acted as the “GM,” or the Game Master, who essentially narrates the campaign and prompts the players to make various “checks” in order to see if they successfully complete the actions they wish to perform.

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The plot itself was simple: each of the player characters had been gathered as part of a co-racial mission from an orbiting space station around the Earth to explore a newly terraformed surface and investigate for human life. You can read more about it here. You can also see the racial traits and backgrounds we provided for our player characters to choose from. In our game, which lasted about three hours (typical for a standard RPG session, at least for us), our group encountered a race of humans that had adapted to living underwater for over 5,000 years that the orbiting population nicknamed the “Pingers,” after the sonar-esque transmissions they intercepted from their society. While at first a little hostile, our group managed to curtail the growing violence and managed to establish good terms with a group of Pingers. (Here is a video of their “first contact”). They shared technological knowledge and made some vague promises at treaties with military leaders, and were pointed to the underground race of humans (“Diggers”) to assist them in repairing their broken communications device.  

As a player character, or PC, I found the sci-fi context fascinating. Personally, I’ve always loved engaging with any media from this genre; though everything is scientific and futuristic, it’s still all imagined and possible, so it makes me feel optimistically youthful. For this game, we had a mix of rambunctious and withdrawn players, so that made the three hours we played pass with much entertainment. I was in the unusual position of being a quasi-GM, meaning that I was privy to everything that might happen in the game, but I still had to engage as a player who did not know these things. Thus, I found myself motivating the players to pursue various paths that I knew would keep the action in the game flowing. I wish we had had more time to thoroughly explore the world that we had created, but that’s just the nature of a one-shot game.

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As a GM, Torie found that there was a lot of the story that she did not prepare for. Unfortunately, only one member of the group besides us had actually read Seveneves ( a couple of them did read it after the session, though!), and this proved to be a bit of a problem when Torie ended up killing a lot of game time explaining background situations and mechanics of the players’ society and objects to them. Both of us (Torie and Matthew) have been Game Masters for our own games before, and while Torie had over twenty pages of GM notes, we both knew that planning a successful campaign and story took a much longer amount of time than a single month. Even with the most careful planning, though, the fun of RPGs is that the players make their own decisions, which means that there is always something happening that the GM has zero plans for. Torie expected this, and because of it, was able to work mostly successfully with the players’ wishes as they went. We were hoping to have contact with both the Diggers and the Pingers in this, but, after three hours, the group had only made it to the Pingers, and we decided to call it a night. (This is common with our experience as GMs and players, stories always take a little longer to tell/roleplay than you think they will). 

In conclusion, we loved the opportunity to take something we both love to do as a hobby and integrating it with the themes that we have learned in ENGL 3726 with Professor Clayton at Vanderbilt. We have both grown up with these “new” forms of media that we have discussed in class, and have been fans of the fantasy and sci-fi genres since childhood. Being able to put those together in this new creation was a really satisfying culmination of these themes for us, and we know that our friends enjoyed playing through the story with us as well.

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A Song of Gunpowder: An Adaptation of Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

My goal in using Twine to create a text adventure game based on Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came was to put a creative spin on an intentionally ambiguous story, remediating a poem that I thoroughly enjoyed in the context of a game with original art. I wanted to capture the romantic themes and narrative of fate and the eeriness of the ominous dark tower while at the same time applying elements of more conventional storytelling in the form of dialogue, an antagonist, and definitiveness to the threat at hand. I also wanted to incorporate some of my own fantasy creations, and utilize anachronisms in order to both facilitate more robust world building as well as exacerbate the dangers faced by the player protagonist. The concept art I created was intended to increases the sense of immersion and further the mood of peril and prophetic theme. Some of the inspirations for my original creations and story line (excluding Childe Roland) included Game of Thrones (in some of the place names and sigil) and the Metro 2033 book series (with the design of the Stalkers).

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Originally, my goal was to have 5 or 6 distinct story lines and endings, but that immediately proved to be an overwhelming task as soon as I started writing. In the end, I shaped my narrative to that which I wanted the player to experience, leaving choice mainly in the goal of escaping death and furthering the mission (until the final choice). I felt this was more in keeping with the general premise of the poem, as the journey is a fated and unavoidable one, the only difference being the perfectly ambiguous ending. In my game, because I made the threat of the Tower definitive the endings are more clear and based on my interpretation of the text and how best to remediate it. The second to last stanza reads “Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it toll’d/ Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears/Of all the lost adventurers my peers,/How such a one was strong, and such was bold, And such was fortunate, yet each of old/Lost, lost! one moment knell’d the woe of years.” To me, this meant that Childe Roland was fated to the same end that his peers met, but he was happy to have completed his quest. This sentiment is reflected by one of the final choices in my interpretation.

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In terms of using Twine as a program, for the most part I enjoyed it immensely. The passage creation is intuitive, it is completely free and there is a very helpful and welcoming community of other Twine users with extensive experience (both in Twine and in CSS and Java). I was able to implement most of the storytelling tools I wanted to, as well as cosmetic and aesthetic alterations. However, the glaring problem that exists with Twine as a program is that of music and image imports. In order to incorporate original content in either of those categories, you are forced to use an html converter or create a website and upload the pictures, using the link as part of the code. Both of those options proved horrendously buggy (the images refused to be re-sized properly and fit to the contours of the game and youtube links don’t work for incorporating music) and I was forced to abandon my plans for music as well as relegate the art I created to concept material. If I were to start the project again, I would spend time figuring out more robust options for image incorporation and aesthetic manipulation to make the game more unique and more suited to my individual intentions. There were also many interesting prospects for game creation that I had to overlook due to the time limit factor that I would definitely be interested in adding if I make another game (including health, inventory, weapons, etc.). Overall though, I found this final project workshop to be a fantastic opportunity not only for my personal development in learning how to code and use Twine, being creative, and incorporating elements of other media into a video game setting, but also in better understanding the possibilities for remediation of the romance narrative.

 

Here is the link to download the game. You can play it right in your browser.

http://www.mediafire.com/file/j02ucfxsesc6hts/Childe+Roland+to+the+Dark+Tower+Came-+A+Song+of+Gunpowder.html

Andrew Hoffmeister