One-in-three Americans doesn't believe in evolution. How do we fix this? Building a brighter future means tackling important topics as early as possible. The best way to tackle nationwide problems is to find the source and design a solution. With EVO, we are creating that solution.
Computational Media: Design and Development is an intensive video game development course offered at Wesleyan University. Taught by Bethesda founder Christopher S. Weaver, the course is a unique opportunity for students to go through a full game development cycle, culminating in a real product and sales presentation. We worked in teams of five and were tasked with teaching a STEM concept to kids at the local Macdonough Elementary School.
My group was composed of team leader Tong Kong, programmers Dylan Abramson and Vanessa “Toast” Tostado, and artist Isabela “Bela” Bucciarelli. I served as lead artist and level designer, taking charge of creating the game's look and graphic assets as well as all of our marketing materials.
We spent several weeks working out potential game concepts relating to evolution. Ultimately, we decided on a game that focused on demonstrating evolution over many generations, where genetic mutations might help a species evolve, survive, and eventually move out of the water onto land.
Through several field trips to Macdonough Elementary, we crucially discovered the inconsistency in students’ comfort with video games and familiarity with evolution. This led us to eschew complicated game mechanics in favor of simplified movement and puzzles, mainly revolving around navigating the environment, collecting items, and avoiding enemies while progressing through four phases of evolution. The game also includes “starfish” that give the player tips and fun facts when the player passed through them.
We developed the game in Unity. As lead artist and level designer, I was tasked with developing and arranging the 3D assets into the final overworld as seen below.
We wanted to keep the game’s full playtime short so that Macdonough students could take turns and get the full experience. I’ve recorded a full playthrough of the game including cutscenes (which I animated and sound designed!) that you can view below!
By limiting our game’s scope, we were able to achieve an unexpected level of success. In our final showcase, students were drawn to our game’s colorful graphics, low barrier to entry, and approachable STEM concept.
Following this showcase, we had to give a final presentation to game industry veterans for feedback and evaluation. I developed numerous promotional materials for this phase of the project, including several sizzle reels, a game trailer, a website, and a slide deck for our pitch.
EVO was an enormous undertaking. In creating the game, my team and I learned how to collaborate on a novel, technically challenging project as well as how to communicate said project to various audiences. And to a large degree, we were successful!
The most surprising part of the project for me was figuring out what kinds of designs and experiences elementary schools students liked, understood, or could relate to. In creating the art for EVO, I had to completely throw out any preconceptions I had about “good” game design or graphic design and create something that actually resonated with the appropriate audience.
I am so proud of what everyone on my team accomplished! Tong was an incredible leader, giving us ample time in the conceptual stages and contributing some iconic music to the game. Dylan proved to be our coding export, giving the game variety and depth. Toast brought the experience to a new level by integrating a fantastic user interface. And Bela was invaluable in the art department, collaborating with me on basically everything. Most fulfilling of all was seeing kids excited to play our game and hearing them talk about what they learned.