HUM is a 2D poetic musical experience with a focus on exploration, joy, and discovery.
HUM is a 2D abstract poetic experience with a focus on musical interactions and explanation. Under the direction of myself and Technical Lead Nick Cascio, Squid Inc completed HUM in Spring of 2016. While Nick and I focused on gameplay programing, HUM would have been impossible without the production direction and artistic talent of Matty Lanouette, who is responsible for virtually all the art in the game. Jade Kelly fantastically helpful in her contributions to development of the narrative as well as her work with Mechanim, the Unity engine’s animator. Mitch Regan helped provide additional development of gameplay mechanics and the contribution that makes the game most sparkle is the work of Carsten Ronshaugen, our sound designer.
HUM is a game centered around simple actions that sound satisfying. The player flies around an abstract space steering and accelerating the “Spark” with the left stick. The Spark has just enough rotational and directional drag to make the speed the player builds up feel significant and satisfying. Whenever the player collects a companion, they can use them by pressing a button on an XBOX controller and pointing the right stick in a direction. This activates the companions primary fire, and releasing the right stick activates the secondary fire. The companion’s elements, usable objects, and regions are color coded to the buttons on the XBOX controller: Fire Red, Water Blue, Wind Yellow. With this relatively simple control pattern, we aimed to decrease friction in learning, allowing us to keep text and UI as minimal as possible.
The player’s overall progression through the game is to find miniature companion avatars of 3 great titans, and use those companion avatars to re-awaken the titans they originally belonged to. Though the titans are only vaguely humanoid, we wanted them to feel alive and as though they existed in the space. Though rare, occasionally the player will encounter a titan they have awakened passing by in the foreground or background of the game. The titans also gain aesthetic elements as the player creates more of their challenges. To help the players recognize the progress they are making, the final event with each companion is returning them to the titan they came from to finally power up that titan.
In a super abstract simplification of narrative structure, the spark begins in a place of white light and abundant music we called “The Universal Song” when the spark leaves the song, the light and music collapse, leaving a universe that feels cold and empty. Establishing the world that was lost and our inciting incident happen within seconds, but the sense of loss and understimulation help heighten ambiance and visual interest of the “Temples” surrounding each titan.
In attempting to make each avatar companion as engaging to use as possible, we tried to make using their abilities have as much visual and auditory flair as possible. The fire companion shines a light and creates a spark with the string instruments consistent to the fire motif representing the sound of the light. When the fire companion uses this light to find a fire object, that object lights up, begins moving, and makes a string plucking sound. As this happens to more fire objects, a sort of rhythm is formed by the fire objects strings plucking looping. It makes the area, which has a low growling ambiance, start to feel more light and alive. Water meanwhile, used a bell and chime motif. The water avatar’s ability involved pointing the right stick in a direction not to shoot water, but to adjust the wings of water that come off of the Spark. When the player disengages the right stick, water droplets begin to fall all around, represented by a droplet effect and the sound of chimes. Instead of being used to light up an area, the water companion serves to clean up the water area, scrubbing clean water objects that activate with movement and sound of their own. The wind companion is a little different, the areas around wind objects are full of, well, wind. It blows the player around making it difficult to exert any but the slightest control. Deploying the right stick with the wind companion makes the wind companion serve a sail, allowing the player to control their direction and acceleration through the wind zone, and releasing it gives the player a burst of speed, allowing them to pass through a set of gates quickly. The primary objects in wind zones are large stopped windmills, that when sailed through, reanimate and begin to turn.
Of these abilities, I think the wind/sailing mechanic was the weakest. We found it was difficult for players to succeed at, and since our game lacked the ability to completely skip certain challenges, could be a real sticking point for players. Given more time, I might decrease the difficulty of the challenges, or reevaluate the mechanic altogether.
The fire mechanic works well, though the use of 3d lighting with 2d sprites was a less than optimal technique. Finding objects in the dark is simple, and very satisfying. There is some confusion around what the spark given off when the right stick is released is for. Simply put, there are chains of fire objects in the world that can be ignited by this spark. The light explosion from these will jump to other fire objects within range. Each set of ignitable objects has an object that can ignight the entire set if found. Unfortunately, this is never clearly explained to the player. We had planned to have each companion avatar demonstrate it’s abilities when the player met them, but then simply ran out of development time.
The water mechanic is a favorite, of mine, of players, and of our evaluating professors. While I had a hand in each of the abilities, the work I did on using velocity and right stick direction to assemble an arc of glowy water trail generators is one of the things I’m most proud of in the game. Not only does it look good, but it has a cool and dynamic feel. It was arrived at through basic iteration and testing cycles, with a couple huge leaps. Those leaps typically came from me trying that seemed out of reach and finding them oddly achievable. There was hard work involved, but luck and ambition were almost as important.
HUM was the 6th game concept Squid Inc worked on during our year long development cycle and the result of 4+ gameplay prototypes and false starts. At the time, each change in direction felt like a failure, but looking back, I can see the exponential growth our team developed with each refactor. Lessons and skills developed during with each gameplay prototype and in each brainstorming meeting carried forward, letting build HUM in a little under a semester after our final refactor.
Ultimately, though we were proud of what we built, Squid Inc dissolved and each of us went a new direction with the skills we’d found building HUM.