Found: Master’s Thesis

Exploring Player Agency in an Experimental Narrative

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Date: September 2016 – December 2016
Description: Found is the name of the game that was part of my Master’s Thesis at Drexel University. Found is an experimental interactive narrative that explores a method of giving a player a higher perception of agency. It takes place in an Indiana Jones inspired level complete with various boulders, traps, and golden idols. Players have to make choices that will lead them to a golden monkey idol and, if they’re smart, a successful escape from the cave.
Responsibilities: I was responsible for the majority of art and programming. Including creation of all 3D assets (except for the monkey idol, Suzanne from blender). I created a system to allow for rapidly prototyping different choices in the narrative. This included a camera and cinematic sequencer. For the art, I modeled the level in two stages. First as a graybox utilizing the Probuilder extension in Unity. I exported parts of the level to detail assets in Blender. I created textures in Substance Painter and Designer.

As part of my master’s thesis the project explored a method of affecting a player’s agency without actually providing the player with more options or choices. This involved the design and creation of an interface element that players could see at the top of the screen. This UI element would foreshadow future events to make choices feel more or less important over the course of the game.

Tech Stuff: Found was built in Unity3D using the plugin ProBuilder to assist in level creation.

The game was used to conduct a user study so I also implemented a remote server that the game communicated with to report player results and data from an in-game survey. This tool was developed in Node.js using Express and MongoDB.

One interesting tech tidbit from the project was the creation of an AI that would calculate every permuation of the game to bake data for use during the game. This was not actually used in the final version of the game to a change in the research goals of the project.