Where the Heart Is is a first-person “house-packing simulator” about creating your home at the various stages of your life. We exhibited the game at Brass Razoo! to positive reception. I learn a number of things over the course of this project that fall into four distinct categories:
The most improved area over the course of Where the Heart Is is the project workflow. The way I make projects, particularly for this one, is too slow for me to be able to use my time effectively. Creating menu systems and useful options for players has taken far too much time that I should be using on improving the design. I will create a fully functional menu system with options for quality control and inverting Y axis (among other access ability and quality-of-life options) that I can turn into a Unity package. I will use the system in all projects that need it to save time doing it over and over again like in the past. Having controller support and accessibility baked right in will be important when testing, since previously testers haven’t been able to play my game without invert-Y enabled.
Furthermore, having each team member working on features inside of their own test scenes proved to be excellent for preventing scene conflicts and meant we could all work simultaneously on changes that would otherwise conflict. We should continue this practice in future, but go the extra mile by scheduling in time for merging changes, and making use of prefabs to save features between scenes more easily instead of putting them all into the scene individually.
Assisting the workflow is our project management. For this project, we made much greater use of Hack’n’Plan to organise our time. During class time, we added and updated tasks as started and completed, and used the task duration to properly organise our working sessions. We didn’t pay much attention to the dates attached to these tasks, because we had a number of outside factors that affected the expected completion of these elements. In future projects, however, task durations should be taken more seriously and used to organise our time.
Where the Heart Is suffered from many outside influences that made working challenging. From technical problems, sickness or other personal issues, we regularly lost members of our team. However, our organisation with Hack’n’Plan meant that we weren’t totally lost, and by self-directing we didn’t lose track of the project. The cost of it all, however, is that with less hands on desk we had to cull some features that would have improved the product, such as a packing mechanic, camera system, etc.
A key component in Where the Heart Is is its art. We enlisted several 3D modellers and graphic designers to create furniture, books, posters, and other small assets to adorn the scenes. Collaboration went very smoothly, we pitched early in development and got people interested, and we were able to be timely and communicative – every one of our animators and designers were able to submit work for the game, even though some submitted late. In future, we should be more forceful with the due dates of items, because in many cases we cannot afford to spend time putting in assets at the last minute without testing them first. Furthermore, the vast majority of assets from animators and online sources were not optimised for Unity’s dimensions. I need to look into how this process should work and share that knowledge with the animators in future. Nothing can be done with free online assets but ensuring that as many as possible require little to no work to optimise would be a better use of time.
Before the exhibition, Where the Heart Is underwent two play tests – a prototype and near-final playtest session. In both sessions, we extracted data using Unity’s Analytics Service for information such as playtime, use of items and item types, and breakdowns of what people do when they start the game. However, Unity’s analytics caused issues with hanging builds of the game, and the data itself is very difficult to view in the browser. As a result, we could not use analytics to gauge the behaviour of players in play testing sessions. In future, doing deeper testing and research of the analytics will hopefully uncover the right way to implement them and acquire more useful information next time.
Additionally, ensuring that we make up for any information gaps in our player training when testing will prevent issues where players don’t know the game’s controls, like in both play testing sessions.