I began to study Albatrosses, I wanted to know as much as possible so I can make a fun and educational experience that not only taught the player about flight but also taught them about Albatrosses and the ecosystem they come from.
The game didn't have a tutorial when I first started working on it. The game just had you taking control of an albatross and steering it's wings with little context as to why or how. There wasn't a story and the game just drops the player behind the controls of the albatross. The first thing I did was write a simple story of a curious albatross that decides to leave it's nest in search of a bigger world. Along his travels he will learn about his people and the other inhabitants of his world. The story was simple and I wanted it to be very atmospheric. Something that would instantly get people engrossed in the world. The more people were invested in the world the more they would be open to listening to the educational lessons this game had to offer.
When I began working on the tutorial I looked at real life albatrosses for inspiration. I researched how an albatross begins to take flight. I researched how they take off, how they land, how they use air currents to travel long distances. I began to translate the everyday life of an albatross into a game. What better way to teach the player than through gameplay?
"What better way to teach the player than through gameplay?"
"We needed to teach the player that flapping was not how they were supposed to fly."
The way albatrosses use air currents is by slope and dynamic soaring. Slope soaring is when the albatross flies near the surface of something such as the waves or cliffs to catch the wind currents that rush over them. This allows the albatross to glide along the current without having to flap it's wings.
Aero:Tutorial Specific Notes - 11/22/2011
- Aero is sitting in his nest.
- A blue prompt appears over his head.The prompt flashes over his head slowly, urging the player to touch it.
In white slightly opaque font it the words "Get up" / "Stand Up" / "Rise" / "Stand"
- Once Aero stands up two blue prompts appear over him. Once again with the opaque font the word Walk can be seen in both of the blue circles.
- The letters and the circle flash lightly
- Arrows also radiate from the circle. They pulsate out from all directions to tell the player that the bird can walk forward, right, left and back.
- The player will utilize both thumbs to make Aero walk. Aero is operated like a tank when he is on ground. He needs both thumb pads/prompts to be moved forward in order to walk forward. If the player were to have the right thumb pad moving forward the the left pad down/back Aero will begin to turn right.
- To teach the player how to walk we have a very simple and clear path for the player to take. We have the player walk down a simple path leading from the nest to an open runway.
- Once the player reaches the runway a prompt will appear over head that reads "initiate take off" , "Fly" , "Take off"
- Once the player activates the take off they are told to move the thumb pads up and down in order to get Aero to flap his wings and run down the runway.
- The thumb pads on the bird have the words "FLAP!" inside of them during this sequence.
- Once the player takes off they will be introduced to the flight mechanic. Just like with walking, if the player were to move one wing forward and one wing down it will shift the direction/altitude of Aero.
- Once the player is in the air they will need to fly through different sets of rings that will test the players aptitude for flight.
Set one : Very basic. The player needs to fly in a straight line.
Set two: the player needs to fly straight, than make a right and left turn
Set three: The player needs to fly up, down, left right, and do a u-turn to complete this set.
- Once all these sets are done the player has completed the main tutorial.
- The goal of the tutorial is to ensure the player understands the basics of flight.
Below is a gallery of slides I made for a presentation on new game mechanics and ideas for Aero. My first week at GameDesk had me researching and studying the game and the albatross. I was to present an hour long presentation on my new ideas for Aero and Geoscience.
From sketches to Game Elements
Heads Up Display
I kept the altimeter on the left side of the screen but I made it a bit simpler. Instead of an arrow to tell us where the wind was blowing I added a windsock in it's place. This would function in the exact same way but now we are being guided but something instantly recognizable instead of an abstract object. Finally I added a compass below Aero so the player knows what direction they're headed.
When I first played Aero I was lost. All there was in the game was open sky and ocean. I did have an objective, I was supposed to fly toward a ring in the sky.
This felt like an impossible task when I first started playing. I flew for what felt like a full minute before I even reached the ring and by the time I turned around to see what was going on I was all turned around.
The quick solution to this was to add islands and locations in the world that would make recognizable landmarks. These landmarks would help the player establish distance and where they are on the map.
- Making the in game world into a living and breathing habitat.
- Making slope and dynamic soaring a larger part of game play.
- Allowing Aero to take off and land on any of the islands in the game world.
- Adding an element of exploration. Players find collectibles that teach them facts about albatrosses and their habitat.
- Allowing players to land on the water to rest and regain energy.
- Allowing travel to other areas such as New Zealand and the Prince Edward Islands.
- Objectives that encourage flight, education and exploration. Example: Your nest is destroyed so you must travel to nearby islands to obtain materials for your nest. In this mission we encourage players to fly, explore the environment and learn what albatross nests are made of and located.
- Possibly avoiding predators such as the Skua and Petrel.
- Each level would have a Pipit bird. When the player locates it the bird will sing a song to the player.
- Adding distinct landmarks.
- Simplifying the Heads Up Display.
- Changing the wind direction indicator from an arrow to a windsock.
- Aero would make noise depending on the situation.
- If the player does an impressive aerial maneuver, completes a mission, etc he will cry out in joy.
- If Aero is getting tired he will cry out in pain so the player knows that they need to rest.
- Adding texts to the thumb pads so the player has a clearer understanding of what they do.
- Make air currents more visible and clear to the player.
The game would give players objectives such as gathering materials to build a new nest. This mission teaches the player about what materials go into an albatross nest and it has the player flying around the game world exploring nearby islands. Another mission I came up with was to help a hungry penguin by flying out to sea and catching some fish for him to eat. This mission introduces the game mechanic of fishing and teaches players what fish penguins eat.
If the controls and atmosphere were right the player wouldn't even realize they were playing an educational game. They would not think about it simply as an "educational" game but as an experience.
"They would not think about it simply as an "educational" game but as an experience"
Updated: November 28th, 2012
Overall I felt that my time on Aero was well spent. The game has a unique vibe and I think the goal of teaching through game play is awesome. I am glad that I was a part of it and I hope my feedback and input have a noticeable and positive impact in the game.
- Danny Q