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Frosty Goes to Hell

James F McMahon VIII

A 3D game using physics constraints and impulses, along with the Wii-mote and a physical balancing beam setup, to control the actions of a snowman balancing over a volcano.

Classes Thesis

The project is a 3D game wherein the goal is to get Frosty, the titular character, to balance and eventually cross a beam over an active volcano. It attempts to merge the actions of a player on a physical beam, while using a pole for balance, directly to the virtual gameplay to create an immersive, free-form movement experience and virtual-reality simulation. The project uses the physics package of Virtools to control and constrain physics impulses, torques, and other forces that are fundamental for the game mechanic of balance. The Wii-mote will be attached to a physical pole that players will use, and will allow the translation of physical movement to virtual movement. Intro and outro animated sequences will add background and depth to the overall experience and story.

Most of my research for this project came in the form of understanding and practicing the programming aspects for the fundamental gameplay, and applying what I've learned concerning object-oriented hand coding in Java (using Processing), Second Life's LSL script, and C++. I've used this coding experience to help me wrap my mind around how to use the Wii-mote to translate physical position and orientation into 3D space, and how the Wii-mote works with Mac and PC wireless ports (Bluetooth vs. IR), and I've done alot of research for previous iterations in effective methods of storytelling and experimental narrative. Taking my basic skills in writing and illustration and applying them to digital media (AfterEffects/Flash) to help create more depth to the experience, while the player experiences the physical demands for the game has been the ultimate goal and crux of the research.

As the game is centered on the journey of a beloved children's character's descent to Hell, I expect a general rating (to be safe) around 13+, though with the general state of desensitization in our nation's game-playing youth, I expect younger kids would enjoy the game as well. There is no bad use of language in the game, other than the "place" of Hell in the title and some comically-violent illustrations of Frosty snapping and going on a rampage at an ice-cream store. Hopefully, a certain sense of heroism might develop in those who wish to save Frosty from eternal torment. The game is meant to be fully enjoyed by older players, who might appreciate the black humor a bit more, and all other ages who enjoy physical activity in their gaming as a result of using the Wii-mote and the physical balancing game for virtual balance control. Those who enjoy an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek game of epic tragedy and consequence are the ultimate target group, though anyone looking for an enjoyable, active gaming experience with some back story will do nicely.

User Scenario
Ideally, the user reads the default instruction screen on display before he or she picks up a balancing pole with the Wii-mote attached and facing toward the screen, walks onto the balancing beam area, presses start, and begins the game by traversing the physical beam and attempting to keep Frosty, by extension, from falling to his spiritual death. It will open with an animated story of how Frosty got to Hell in the first place, and will then shift to the actual gameplay. The user hopefully will feel a precarious sense of balance, intricately tied to their own movement and the motion of the Wii-mote, and will become progressively more physically involved as they move forward along the balance beam and deal with disorientation of both the camera and the central character's motion. Throughout the game, options for music control will be allowed (as I realize not everyone is as enamored with the sweet velvet sounds of Cradle of Filth as myself), as well as the option to re-start, though I think I'll give the user an unlimited amount of lives, as the game is meant to be challenging and operating at a higher difficulty level than most (though not too hard - this is where endless hours of tweaking parameters comes in). After the user experiences all this, ideally he or she will tell me this was a fun experience, it was challenging and rewarding, and that I, as creator, kick ass. Of course, then we start blurring the line between ideal scenarios and outright daydreaming...

To implement this game, I have to make sure that all other aesthetic and progression concerns are secondary to a fundamentally playable game using physics programming of models imported from Maya. After the gameplay and my grasp of programmable physics is improved and modestly understood, I will then work on visually fleshing out the gameplay visuals and playable space. I will explore how to effectively use the Wii-mote to transfer physical motion to virtual movement, and I will create the opening and closing sequences of the game using material I will write, illustrate, and animate. I will also attempt to add new levels. Hopefully, a reasonably complete, fairly polished and enjoyable game of physical balance and virtual consequence will emerge from the chaos.

While reconciling my creative aims with cruel, cold reality, I noticed that my previous Thesis aspirations were set too high for what I had orginally envisioned an emotionally complex and tragic interactive narrative exploring themes of loss and madness (which most likely would have required a team of animators, programmers, and a lot of time that I didn't have). I then took the advice of multiple people and drastically narrowed my focus, and while doing so, I remembered a game I had developed in one of my first classes at ITP and that I had been working independently since in trying to become a decently-finished product. Also, I learned of some very exciting game development possibilities that came with what seemed a natural, physical extension of the project. I suppose I learned that figuring out what I wish to do, in a major way, is very hard at this point in my life; my inclinations to use as many of my abilities as possible in a sort of "fireworks" display was a sinister tendency that kept creeping into my Thesis considerations, and the project I "fell back" on was actually representative of what I enjoyed learning about, experimenting with, and pushing myself to make original in a focused manner. I also learned that I'm not the only person who thinks a horrified snowman balancing for his (after)life over the crater of an active volcano is funny.