An open-world dance-adventure game prototype and design document.

Role: Narrative designer and producer

January 2014 – present


What I Changed?

Players explore the lakeside to find where a friend is hiding.

Garden is a personal project I began working on independently before my time at the Centre for Digital Media. Initially, it began as a story concept intentionally constructed with as little impact on game mechanics as possible, so as to be iterated upon later. In January 2014, I paired up with CDM classmate and game designer Alex Blanes to take the story concept and focus on identifying and testing its core mechanic.

This required a full shift of focus away from the game’s world and story in order to focus purely on its play. Initially, we focused on broader themes to identify the core idea in the game as a whole: movement. Through low-res visual prototyping and some life-level acting, we were able to identify some basic movement mechanics for a dance game and shift them to apply to an open-world, adventure concept. This became the working core of Garden.

Early playtests changed the core gameplay again, because testers wilfully broke game rules even under threat of punishment. They consistently valued the freedom of movement and exploration above any speed and technical challenges the game had set.

We found a way to include a proactive challenge flow with specific player movements that would affect the world around her, rather than constructing situations where the world limited or directed the player. This helped to shift the game’s focus away from linear gameplay and story and onto a more modular game and story structure focused on exploration, effect and improvisation.


What I Learned

The design portion of this project was completed for Dr. Kim Voll’s Foundations of Game Design course at the Centre for Digital Media, which focused on cognitive game design and testing. The early playtests mentioned above were helpful both in design and in teaching me about sample size, testing constraints, observation, and protocols, as well as the work and care required to set them up.

This project was the first time I’d ever fully collaborated on a game story idea with a designer and the first time I’d taken the initiative myself to focus on unifying gameplay and story. Previously, I’d approached it purely from the story side. Here, I was challenged to put story aside and focus on creating core gameplay that would serve as a foundation for everything. I learned to balance the demands of gameplay with the overall vision in my head, and create and iterate upon both until they eventually fit together. The clickable prototype, though very low-res, presents an open-ended level with sample story development embedded along the way. The story story goal for the project at this stage, aside from showing a sample for tone and content, was to create a space and effects within it that would challenge the player to continue interacting, exploring, and moving through the world to trigger the story.

Finally, Garden represented another exercise in scoping. With about three months to deliver a working prototype and design document and no programming or art skills on the team, it was crucial to identify realistic goals early and build towards articulation, rather than function. By limiting work to the conceptual level, rather than trying to create a working piece of the game world, we were able to articulate and hone the concept to a point where, going forward, more prototyping work can take place.



Garden remains in concept development, and the team hopes to continue prototyping specific parts of the game levels, core movement mechanic, and story. If you’re interested in contributing to it, or just want more information, please contact me at dy.matthias[AT]

Posted in Current Projects, Games, Key Projects and tagged , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.