Hello, hello! We are Bear With Me, a three-person game studio based out of California and Brazil. Our members include the ordinary Wyatt Sanders, the dashing Tarcísio Costa, and the prodigal Mukul Tamsekar. In the past, we have separately made mobile games, small console games, worked on space stuff, and started a kazoo band (Jk. We wish). Currently, we are interested in creating interactive experiences that evoke creative and emotional expression. Ping is our first attempt at such an experience.
The three of us met during an extremely romantic student game developer blind date sort of shindig at our university. We repeatedly interviewed boring strangers during fast-paced rounds of fumbled words and empty conversations. But then… something magical happened. We finally laid eyes on each other and that’s when we knew… Oh how we knew! We knew at once that this was love at first sight and it was our fate, nay our destiny, to band together and create games!
Ok. That's not what really happened. What actually happened was our professor put together teams based on who she thought would work well together when creating our final projects. But yeah… We like our version of the story more because of its romantic elements. :) And that’s how Bear With Me began! Yay!
I am now going to stop speaking as Bear With Me and now use the ordinary voice of ordinary Wyatt.
Hi. I’m Wyatt.
These final projects began as three-week prototypes and everyone in the class had to make one. My prototype was an echolocation technical demo inspired by them Batman movies; you know… the part where Fox uses an amalgamation of Batman’s phone and sonar technology to create a digital image of the physical world and then Batman abuses that technology to find The Joker. Yeah, that one. Like this:
So I used that as a reference for the look I was going for and this is what my prototype looked like:
Sounds would generate these waves if they were loud enough and you’d just walk around in this environment. Originally, this was intended for a completely separate game idea from Ping but such is the nature of game development (And any creative process for that matter).
It was basically a tech demo, but when we showed it to our advisory board, it was well received and they greenlit Ping as our final project. We were told there was something poetic about it and that we had to find “it”.
Ok. Back to the sultry voice of Bear With Me.
(We couldn't find a gif of a bear batting their eyelashes or else it would have been here. Sorry)
So, after finding out that the prototype was greenlit, we started freaking out because we had no idea what the game could or should be. It wasn’t something we had ever really done before; just about every game we had made before Ping had some sort of “formula” to follow. With Ping we were starting with a design that had too many possibilities with no initial design direction and, because of this, we had way too much freedom. This made trying to find a design a lot like being lost in the game itself - stumbling around in the dark, hands outstretched, grabbing onto anything we could find. We were stuck.
We tried out many, many different ideas, prototyping everything we could think of; we even worked in VR support (Which was awesome, by the way). One of the things that really helped us was that Tarcísio was extremely adamant on making physical prototypes. It was between our Core/Proof of Concept and Alpha milestones that Tarcísio made one particular physical prototype that helped us get a grasp on what we were making.
It may not look like much but this particular prototype expanded on a previous idea that involved the absorption of sound, a variation of which is extremely important in the current design of Ping. Although this wasn’t the first time we visited this mechanic, it was, however, the first time we felt we could make a game out of it. In the case of this prototype, let’s say the player absorbed a sound, they could then move it to another location and that sound would do something in the new area that was key to progression. In this example, the player had to absorb the sound of water and move it through the level. Once they got to the end, the water would flow through the area, it would begin to rain, and the world would come to life as trees and plants grew around the player.
This was a platform we could work off of but, even with this revelation, making the game wasn’t going to be an easy task. A large part of this was due to the fact that we still had so much freedom with the design. We continued to struggle with it through each stage of its development but we at least had a glimpse of the type of experience we wanted to make.
For a long time our progress involved iterations on the art style with simple game-like actions tossed into the mix as we experimented with gameplay. Here is how Ping evolved from milestone to milestone (As you may be able to tell, a lot of the changes involved toying with the look of the game. Also that we were really bad at recording videos):
3rd Person Test:
From Graphics to Mechanics
Much of the design for Ping has been based on or born from the visual style of the game. We had to figure out compelling ways to utilize the graphics. We created emitters, sources of life and energy, for these waves that would “light up” the game world. These worked well and they looked great but this made things feel too linear and didn’t promote the amount of exploration we had wanted in the game. We needed to give the player a way to create their own waves, something that would encourage the player to venture into the darkness. We first gave the player the ability to create waves around them. While this made it easier for the player, the visible portion of the world remained small and confined to the player’s immediate surroundings. That’s when we decided the player needed a way to see things that were further away from them, a way to probe the darkness. That’s when we gave them the ability to shoot energy in front of them. Where this energy landed, a wave was created. From that point we had our mechanics and from there we started designing the dynamics - the generation of different forms of life and their functions in the game world.
Creating an Auditory Sandbox
Since the visuals revolve around darkness and the creation of waves, we need an engaging audio landscape to supplement the visual landscape. This means we need an interesting audio background, one with audio cues and ambience that will make up for the lack of visibility and give the impression that the world is more alive than the visuals let on, that there is more to explore, in order to encourage the player to continue the experience. Because this is a sandbox of sorts, we also wanted to make an interesting audio foreground, something the player directly influences and creates. So, when the player makes life, it also feels like they are making music (We are still doing some experiments). This is just another way we allow the player to express themselves in the world of Ping, another way to make it theirs.
We’ve taken a great deal of inspiration from nature - Yosemite National Park and the Amazon Rain Forest, in particular; both are forests near our homes. From Yosemite, we’ve learned a lot about the cycle of life, where forest fires are natural occurrences and are key to the livelihood of the forest, where the death of a world doesn’t necessarily mean its end. We’ve used what is happening in the Amazon as a basis for our discussion about nature and technology that takes place within Ping.
In addition to nature, we take inspiration from other games. To help us with our design, our advisors recommended we play games like Flower, Journey, and The Unfinished Swan. These were games which we had (To our embarrassment) never heard of or never played before (And boy, were we missing out). Throughout development, these games have been major influences to us; you may be able to identify the similarities with The Unfinished Swan, something we feel is good but we also want Ping to be its own unique experience.
We have recently been selected as one of 16 finalists for Dare to be Digital 2016 and we will spend three - six weeks working on the game at Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland. We will be receiving feedback from professionals and showing the game at Dare Protoplay. This will be a huge opportunity for us (Like massive-grizzly-bear-size of an opportunity). It will also be the first time the team will be together in the same country after almost an year (We missed each other dearly). From there we want to have a build of Ping that we can use to launch our search for funding (Yay munnies!).