Jitter Critters

Project Brief

A month long project made by a team of 5 for the Game-Off Jam 2021, using Unity and GitLab repositories. You can find and play the original submission entry for the jam right here.

Role: Generalist Game Designer (Level / Narrative / UI/UX)

Responsible for design, planning, production and implementation of the level.
Responsible for naming and implementation of bugs.
Responsible for planning and designing UI elements.

the level design process

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll find that I love to start with my really quick map drawings. I find this helps me focus and put down all the elements needed and very quickly play around with area, size shape, terrain and the like without needing to fiddle for too long. 

One of the quickest ways in which I share ideas with my teammates, which I usually make into more concise and clear drawings. For this jam, one of my team mates, Matthew drew the finalized map that we used as reference, and Jake made the grey box for said level.

The focus & pain points

Two of the major pain points during this project were the placement of the bugs and the texturing of the map. 

The placement of the bugs was tedious, but the texturing of the ground was a major concern as the model was created using pro-builder. As the model wasn’t created in Maya/Blender, the prime question was how we could texture the map as designed.

Pro-builder came to the rescue nonetheless as I was able to export the model. After replacing the temporary assets with finished assets and organizing the map, I added cliffs, and textured it using the texture maps we had created for the ground texture in Blender.

After replacing it within Unity, I quickly moved the assets around, added the water texture and then worked on populating the scene with enough bugs for players to run after and discover.

Having triumphed over Unity, the focus was on creating small magical pockets to wow the player – while ensuring too many bugs weren’t crowding an area.

By using the dirt path as a division of the map, and focusing on smaller patches, I was able to create areas that could be run through, but also had a certain charm to them. The environment was designed to be soothing, aesthetic and comforting for those looking around to catch cute bugs.

The bugs or ‘critters’

As we discussed the project and the setting, we made a decision towards creating unique bugs. These unique critters inspired by bugs seen in the world needed to have their own special names of course.

Two types of bugs were to be implemented in the level, the critters players currently see in the level, as well as interactive bugs. Interactive bugs were meant to pop out of bushes or trees when players tapped on them, startling the bugs into awareness and causing them to dart away. Unfortunately due to time constraints (mostly on my end), the interactive bugs didn’t make it in. One of the reasons why going forward I’m going to bring back my ‘lists’, where I keep track of various design related tasks specifically!

My first task towards these bugs besides understanding their habitats, speeds, likes and dislikes was to come up with a naming convention for them.

My second task besides their naming and entries in the journal was to ensure they were in the build where they belonged. This meant after our programmer created the base prefab for the bugs, to experiment and throw in the necessary art assets while checking their size, speed, and reactions.

One item on the list that would’ve been a good add, was the respawn time for the bugs. At the moment the bugs don’t respawn at all, meaning that once players have hunted down all the bugs in the game area (which would take some time), they don’t have much to do. Having bugs respawn after 1~3min of the bug being caught and players leaving that dome / area, would allow for players to engage with the game for longer.

Naming convention – The thought process

I thought of the various bugs and imagined how a child might name them on the basis of their qualities. For each bug I then came up with various names.

Eventually, as I continued with my silly exercise, I went with the default where one part of the bug name had to do with their movement while the other was a relatively unique quality of the bug.

Dragonflies started off with various names keeping in mind their speed, behaviors and features –

  • Zoom-zoom critter 
  • zoomy-flitty critter 
  • zoomy-woomy critter
  • zoomy-worm critter

As you can imagine, names with critter at the end weren’t appealing, and so I reorganized some of the words, and ended up with the name ‘flitty-zoom‘. Rinse and repeat this process for all the other bugs and we had our critters named!

The journal

Arguably one of the most important elements in the game, the journal was developed keeping in mind the vision of a child. The conceptual idea was to imagine the journal as a place where the child jotted down their observations of the critters they caught with childlike enthusiasm.

As a player pointed out, there were no counters or quests that were using the journal in a more practical manner with regards to the player. While I agree with the line of thought, I did spend some time to rethink how it should be adapted to suit our game which had a more zen focus.

  • Instead of a counter for bugs, to have the journal constantly evolve to include more information of the critters and act as an encyclopedia
  • As players catch the different varieties amongst the various critters, the journal could grow more to include the various varieties in critters and talk of their features.
  • The journal could be a more traditional page turning asset with an index as it stands currently so that players can easily jump to a specific section or thumb through the journal.

The most critical flaw in why the journal didn’t work however, was the lack of information on catching the boss bugs (the snail & giant moth-like critters). By having some default information on each of the bugs, players could guess on how to approach the catching of various bugs. 

quick look at ui/ux design

Excuse the terrible mock-ups, as no artists were involved (including my artistic side) and I as a designer simply needed the thought to be conveyed, beyond my brief drawings.

The game was meant to be visually stimulating and therefore the primary aim was to make sure the UI was as minimal as possible.

As someone who hasn’t had a UI focus before, I fell back on various apps and games I had seen and interacted with, along with my teammates constructive criticism. On that basis, I created brief drawings of what the screens might therefore look like.

I then made very brief mockups for the various UI screens beyond my drawings to be able to communicate the intention with my teammates. 

I spent some time in engine during this jam very quickly applying the UI assets and changing fonts, sizes, and placement of the various UI elements. 

In-game screen

The in-game screen was designed to be as minimal as possible. The focus was the game environment that the players were traipsing through. 

One of the immediate takeaways on reflection of the journal asset and aspects, would be to have the UI for the journal have an added flicker / shine / loading circle behind in the same way the bug catching UI does.

To further iterate on it –

If the journal made use of a loading circle, when the player catches a bug, the loading circle UI by default shows the bug type the player is catching and shows through the loading circle the estimated completion to unlock the next entry for said bug.

The options menu

Simple and effective, one always needs a place where players can increase / decrease their sound mixes, whilst also looking at basic controls!

final Thoughts on the project

Certainly my first takeaway after working with the UI was that there’s a lot of room for improvement. Not just from a layout perspective, but so also for how much information the UI itself can convey if a little more thought and work was given to it.

Secondly, I can definitely work a little bit more on breaking down and identifying design concepts to be worked on further. By making use of lists and breaking down the timeframe, it’ll give me a birds eye view into what possible and realistic improvements can be made to the game, and where.