Sunday, November 7, 2010

Progression and Pre-Production

The last month has seen some very good news for us in terms of development and production. The NHS has finally come through, and we now have a full validated IQ test for our game. This development has seen the start of our puzzle design come together and as a team we have been able to push through several parts of our pre-production concepts. Although this is an ongoing process, the morale of the team seems to have been boosted with the combined efforts and success of our research, allowing us to continue with added vigour.

We were also granted permission to use the Cambridge University's CAST system, which helps determine If a child could have Asperger's Syndrome. With both the CAST system and the IQ test secured, we feel that our research has provided us with the best possible chance of creating a valid game that could help with diagnosis.

With our research nailed down we have been able to concentrate on the game and its aesthetic design. This is still in progress at the moment, as we try to determine what fits well within the game and what can realistically be implemented into our flash programming.

As the game is being designed for a very specific audience, we have been incredibly lucky to have received help from a local family who is dealing with AS Syndrome. The boy who fits our targeted age, has been advising us on the impact of our concept designs, who himself is diagnosed with AS. It has been interesting to view how the information on screen is received by someone like himself against someone who didn't have AS. It has forced us to re-examine a whole list of concepts, which has set us back in terms of progression, but has ultimately pushed us forward knowing that what we have done and checked off, will be hopefully well received by our target audience.

As we have decided to make some realistic choices surrounding what we want to achieve by the end of the year, we have decided that we would concentrate on building the two sections of our game, concentrating on the IQ & the CAST test system as these were the heavily researched sections.

Below is an image which details the level layout of the 'Hold'

Monday, October 4, 2010

A month of 'What if's?' ...

Almost a month has passed since my last blog, within in which as my title suggests, alot of what if? has been asked. Concepts have been changed and then changed again, in every aspect to accommodate the reality of what we as a team are trying to accomplish. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and in terms of game design, it is essential to have a well thought out and best foot forward approach to the pre-production method. However I find myself relieved to be in the knowledge that 'most' of the broader details in terms of base story and concept playthrough are now past the 'what if' stage, and that we are swiftly moving onto rough level and puzzle layouts.

Unfortunatly the main 'what if's' are still rapped up in medical research. We are still waiting on an official NHS child IQ test as well as obtaining permission from the University of Cambridge to use and adapt a study - The Cast Test, for a section of our game. These are the 'What if's' that are currently in the forefront of my mind, mainly because the NHS is slow, how much time will we have to spend chasing an IQ test before we can start puzzle design? And what if the University of Cambridge turns us down? We can still look to use another registered system, but it does mean we will be set back, and ultimatly we will have to revisit our original ideas of diagnosis. Im trying to remain positive!

On a more positive note, the team has started putting a Concept Document together. We felt it was time to start structuring our ideas, which has had a positive impact. Its a great feeling when everyone is on the same wave length and ideas flow naturally. We are now starting to look into possible character designs, level layouts and storyboards, as we try to keep the process flowing.

Currently, as I am working on level design, I've been researching 17th century ships. Playing with certain rooms, and seeing how in terms of story they could all flow together nicely and what would give an aesthetic quality to characters/items made for that room etc. Some concept images will be posted once finalised.

On a side note - I never did hear back from the NHS!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The saga entitled 'Frustrations of the NHS'

After a long, much needed break, the anticipation of settling back into work brought about feelings of hope, creative longing and dare I say it, an element of fun. Of course all of this was before the saga of the NHS. Particularly naming the Royal Gwent for showing its complete lack of competence, it even seemed knowing which department deals with diagnosing the Autistic spectrum in children was too much of a challenge. So after much passing from one department to another, I finally end up on the phone with the pediatrics department, with a secretary who actually knew nothing of the information I was after. Now normally I'd smile and nod and put it down to, well lets face it - the NHS, but something else struck me whilst having a very nice but pointless chat with this woman on the other end.
Going through the rigour of details, and what we were trying to do, up cropped I was a student, of course why wouldn't it, but when she asked me what course this was in aid of, my response that it was Computer games design caused what can only be described as the black hole of pause response from her end. Not only from that point in the conversation did I feel that I slightly bemused this person, but the question shortly following, well how would this help a game? Left me with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. Exasperated, I gave the rest of what I viewed necessary details, and with a promise that she would speak to someone about 'my project', I hung up the phone.
Now a week on and with no surprise that I haven't been contacted, Im left wondering at what point the conversation took a sudden dive, was it the fact it was a game that we were trying to develop? I'm In no disillusion that a game is not seen as a valid academical project in many circles, but the quick disregard of a possible new technology, to make children's/adults and even the therapists life that little bit easier, has had me thinking just how to get around this stigma that all games are no doubt bad for you and make you go blind.

Whilst I ponder this I think its time to ring the Royal Gwent again, maybe I'll get the same receptionist, ah the joys of game development.

Monday, August 9, 2010

External Validity of Screening

One of the main problems that we face building a game to diagnose AS Syndrome is how much validity that this form of screening will carry. With so many ways to screen and the different debates about the best possible methods to use, where do you even start to look if you don't have a medical PHD for answers?

Of course we have a good sound base of information about the problematic areas we should be looking into, such as qualitative impairment in social interaction, delays and repetition is language and motor clumsiness. These are all a given, if you search for the right information, but how to implement these areas into puzzles to diagnose AS, well this is something new entirely.

Many games have been made to help these areas of neurological disorders, but nothing I have found as of yet deals with diagnosis in this way. Maybe this is a good thing, we can go on without any restrictions or the treading on of toes so to speak, either way we face this looming point of validity. Can this actually work as a diagnostic tool? Time to figure out those puzzles I think.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Start of Something..

Impossibly ambitious, but nevertheless a serious look into how games can change lives for the better.

This is the blog which will document the dramas, the frustrations and hopefully the successes of developing a game designed to help diagnose Asperger's Syndrome in children.

Since we as a team have been heavily digging into research surrounding AS, we've established that we are looking at a 4:1 ration of boys to girls, and that we are roughly looking between 8 - 11 years as a core audience.

So far the discussion has been mainly involving the concept of story, one which although it is classed as a serious game, we don't want to take away from a rich story line/style. Because of the intelligence that AS children show, we need a compelling game to keep the attention.

My personal idea centres around the use of a carnival esk game world, surrounded in Venetian masks (a possible play with the inability that AS symptoms show to read emotions well). I also like the idea of theatre involved someway in this world, which could be integrated into the puzzles. A team member had a good suggestion of developing the world as a play of split personalities and the struggle to control the emotions, which seems a really nice concept.

Whilst the concept of story is still being worked out, I have a good idea of the sort of style I would prefer, a sub-mixture of Brian Froud/Terry Gilliam/Henry Selick/Del Torro and the updated Monkey Island. How to merge those styles in another matter completely, but generally picking out aspects like the colour scheme from Henry Selicks 'Coraline', I personally would make for an interesting art style for the game, concentrating on lighting and colour to give a fully creative experience for the child.

A quick concept to give a colour palette -