Links

Engine: Unity

Programming Tools: MS Visual Studio

Shader Tools: Shader Graph, VFX Graph, Shuriken Particle System

Sound Design Tools: AIVA

Language: C#

Role: Designer & Programmer

Team size: 1

Development Time: 8.5 months

Genres: Mental Health, Atmospheric, Story-driven, Adventure

Synopsis:

"The Light Within" is my dissertation piece completed for my MA Game Development (Design) course with Kingston University. The focus is on how video games can be designed to alleviate symptoms of mental health illnesses, specifically depression and anxiety, as well as educating people on techniques for supporting sufferers.

Dissertation Components:

  • Design Focus:

    • Game Design [Mental Health / Human Psychology / Shape & Colour Association]

    • Level Design

    • Technical Art / Design

    • Sound Design

  • In-Game Objective:

    • Reunite the main character's conscious mind with their unconscious mind so that they can start the path to recovering from their clinical severe depression and anxiety.

  • Project Objective:

    • Investigate how video games could be designed to impart real-world coping techniques for those who are either suffering from or know of someone suffering from mental health illnesses.

Design Breakdown:

Game Design

The core principles of the designs focus on ways to gamify real-world coping mechanisms so that players who either know someone suffering from, or are suffering themselves from, a mental health illness can make use of what they do in the game and apply it to real scenarios.

Since mental illness is a massive topic, depression and anxiety were chosen as the illnesses to focus in on since these are the most prevalent ones globally. Within these, symptoms that are considered to be more "common" were then examined to see what coping techniques could be converted into in-game mechanics.

Final designs made use of 3 types of gamified techniques:

  1. Gamified Psychological / Psychiatric Therapies

  2. Supporting others who struggle to support themselves

  3. Supporting yourself by adapting to problems

In addition, players are provided with a degree of personalisation options prior to the main game starting. This currently exists as a kind of personality quiz in which answers to shape and colour associations alter the appearance of NPCs and their 'soul orbs'. Soul orbs are a reflection of that NPC's most prevalent emotional state, which is based off of the Kubler-Ross 5 Stage of Grief model.

More details can be found within the GDD under the "Links" section.

Level Design

The game contains 2 scenes - one for the opening quiz segment and one for the main game. The quiz segment is designed to evoke sensations that the main character is falling asleep, which helps lead into the main game that takes place in a dream world.

With the opening quiz scene, this makes use of several effects to sell the notion that the main character is falling asleep:

  • A vignette on the camera to create an eye-like shape

  • White particles around the vignette edge for sleep dust

  • Dark colours which are synonymous with the night (dark blue, black)

  • The playable character's eyes are closed, with starry particles emitting from them as they hover gently

Additionally, the antagonist slowly becomes visible in the background throughout this segment - enough to represent how mental illness is always present even when we might be having good days.

Level Design Quiz Scene

Level Design Quiz Scene

Play Video

Once the questions have been answered, the transition into the main game begins. The initial landscape is introduced via a cutscene and consists of 4 main areas:

  1. Enchanted woods

  2. The coastal path

  3. The farmstead

  4. The swamp

 

Due to time constraints, these areas were shrunk into more condensed versions of what they would have been in the original scope. Below is a clip showing these areas in the game and a top-down view of the entire explorable region.