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Delta Valley

Delta Valley

by LouArth, Naevrah, Noukie, Ortwin, and RoxanaM on 1 Jun 2022 for Rookie Awards 2022

Delta Valley is a world full of magic and fantasy, where you battle an evil wizard together with your little blobby friends, the Deltas!

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Delta Valley is a world full of magic and fantasy, where you battle an evil wizard together with your little blobby friends, the Deltas!

Developed in collaboration with the local hospital, AZ Delta, the game was created to reduce anxiety and stress in children in the pre-anaesthesia process by making the procedure fun and exciting. 

The game was developed as part of the Group Projects course at Howest University of Applied Sciences - Digital Arts and Entertainment. Our team consisted of 2 programmers and 3 artists, specifically 2 artists working mainly on concept art, environments and lighting and one artist working mainly on characters and RFX.

The process of putting a child under anaesthesia can be stressful, scary and even traumatising, for both the children and the parents. The main issue lies with the gas mask since small children usually are put under anaesthesia using a gas that they have to breathe in instead of using an intervenous line. The mask is new and scary and the gas has an unpleasant smell, so most children will not be keen on cooperating during this process. Studies have shown that reduced stress during the pre-anaesthesia process will lead to reduced pain after the medical procedure, so it meant a lot to us to have the opportunity to help improve the experience for everyone involved.

One of the first challenges of this project, and perhaps the biggest one, was creating a game that is easy enough to be understood and played by small children and meets the requirements of the situation it is played in. One key feature we wanted to include was using breathing as a gameplay mechanic since we wanted to encourage the child to inhale and exhale deeply for the gas to make them fall asleep faster. One big problem we had, though, was that we would not be able to detect any breathing or blowing while the child is wearing the mask. Another issue was that the child was also slowly falling asleep during this process, so for their safety, they should not be holding the tablet or even have to provide any input. So, how do we create a game without any player input?

The secret was to perfect the gameplay during the waiting area. While the child waits to be brought to the operation room and is being prepared, he can already start playing the game and get used to the mechanics. The goal was to get the child so interested in the game and story and get him used to the mechanics that he will later do them automatically, without realising whether his input really affects the game or not. 

We also wanted the child to be able to customize his character, in order to feel more connected to the story.

Another big issue to tackle was optimisation. We knew that we had to go as low poly as possible, so instead to try to hide it, we made the low poly models look intentional and used it as a stylistic choice. We then decided to add details to the models by using painterly looking textures. 

To make the characters stand out from the environment, we allowed ourselves to use a slightly higher poly count for them, to have a more smooth look. We also used a toon shader to make them look more like cartoon characters and add even more contrast.

The main mechanic of the game is blowing clouds away to clear the path, save your Delta friends and defeat the evil wizard. By blowing, strongly, the child will have to also inhale strongly, therefore, while wearing the mask, the gas will take effect quickly. We had to be careful to not add to many events during the waiting area, to not make the child dizzy while playing. 

The first mechanic we had to tackle was blowing detection, for which we use the microphone of the tablet. We also have a calibration option in the menu of the game, in case a different device will be used.

Perhaps the biggest optimisation problem was the clouds. We made new iterations every week in order to make them look cohesive with the style of the game, but also not be too expensive. For the final version, we decided on mostly opaque, pink clouds, using a spreadsheet for the disintegration effect. The style inspiration for them was the VFX used for the Netflix series Arcane. 

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