Playtesting Concepts at the Dutch Utrecht Sustainability Game Jam – Day Three

The following article is the third feature in a series written during a visit to Utrecht, in The Netherlands. The piece assumes that you have already read the previous piece in the series, which can be read here.

Upon returning to Utrecht University of the Arts for day three of Utrecht Sustainability Game Jam, the most immediately visible change with all the teams in attendance was their level of confidence and excitement. With their games concepts properly agreed upon and pitched to their clients, as well as plenty of time spent talking through their concepts for viability, day three saw all the teams developing games start to properly create non digital prototypes for their projects, and find out via playtesting which aspects were working, and what still needed work.

One of the first teams to approach me during the morning, eager to playtest their game concept with the judges, was the team developing Dome, a title I discussed in yesterday’s game jam coverage about players living in a self sufficient dome. Players are tasked with completing objectives to keep their enclosed ecosystem thriving, before eventually moving out into the wider world to apply those same skills. The team’s prototype was far more elaborate and immersive than I had anticipated, with the team building a physical replica of their game world out of stacked chairs and props. I was blindfolded, left in a dark circular area with tasks to complete, before eventually being able to leave the mock dome, seeing the blinds open, flooding the room with bright sunlight.

The fact the prototype took place on a sunny day, a happy accident, really helped to sell the bright exciting nature of their planned move from the dome to the outside world as an impactful moment, and proved a really strong proof of concept for what the team is hoping to have players feel with the finished title. It had a solid escape room vibe, while sticking close to its themes of sustainable living.

Next up is Simfluencer, a really promising looking smartphone game about playing as someone with a decently large social media presence. The player is presented with situations, such as a company producing a bag to reduce microplastic waste getting into the water supply, or the recent Australian wildfires, and have to decide how to respond. Players are given options ranging from blatant conspiracy theory disinformation, to posts that are accurate but offer little hope or optimism, and are tasked with balancing their online credibility, with trying to grow their online social media presence.

Of all the prototypes I played today, this was probably the prototype that felt like it best exemplified what the final game would play life, and is likely at a stage where it could be used to pitch the game effectively to people outside of the game jam. While the prototype has not been coded in any way, it’s available to play as a series of 24 image files connected by hyperlinks. Players can select and click on their chosen social media response, being brought to a screen informing them of the impact their post had on themselves, and the world out their window, before continuing to face more moral dilemmas. The prototype certainly showed the potential of the project, and worked as a time efficient way of giving a pretty accurate feel for the finished product.

One of the only non digital games being created during the game jam, Off the Chart is a board game designed around facilitating debate over local city council sustainability issues, and seeing debates from different perspectives. Players are assigned a character with a couple of different priorities, such as being a member of the city council or member of the public, busy person or party animal etc. Players will be given a local proposal, such as replacing the university bar with a study area, and have to debate the issue from the perspective of their character.

While the voting system to see who won is still being developed, the concept is clear and easy to explain, and I’ve fallen in love with the art style of the character pieces. I can see how the concept succeeds in expressing varied opinions on city development topics, and I am excited to see where this game develops over the rest of the week.

One of the few games with a coded playable prototype ready on day three, temporarily titled Subway Service, is a game currently wrestling with how to separate itself mechanically from contemporary titles such as Papers, Please or Not Tonight. The game is set in a world where current discrimination factors such as race, gender, and disability are no longer discernibly present, and you play as a train ticket inspector trying to check large numbers of tickets very quickly.

The idea of the game seems to be to explore the fact that humanity tends to fall into traps of pattern recognition, leading to discrimination or false assumptions, whether or not they have clear cut factors to base those assumptions on. Without characters being disenable by any of the current factors that lead to discriminatory practices in public transport management today, players start spotting patterns instead in clothing colours or haircut parting sides instead, using those factors to help make their judgements about whose tickets to check and whose to skim over.

The team developing the game has some work to do with working out how to set it apart mechanically, but it’s an interesting concept, with an engaging demo, that I am excited to see developed with a few extra days time being made.

Lastly, I wanted to talk a little about Tnalp, another game that currently exists as essentially a powerpoint proof of concept. The game centres around transferring your consciousness among parts of a sustainable food ecosystem, making choices to try and keep your farm healthy and productive.

The writing on the prototype did a solid job of making all the people in the narrative, as well as the central pumpkin plant, endearing and relatable, and the branching narrative felt like it had decently high stakes to not making the right choices. As a game about trying to think about the struggles of a food ecosystem far from our own, it seems like a really promising proof of concept.

While other teams at the game jam had interesting looking projects in development, these are the games that jumped out to me today, that had playable prototypes ready to check out, where the teams developing the games were happy to show off where their games are at in production. I hope that by tomorrow more of the games will be in a position where their teams are happy to show off their progress, but these games in particular were showing real promise, and a likelihood to hit their deadline at the end of the week with a viable prototype.

Kudos for these student teams for proactively seeking feedback on their prototypes, and so excitedly showcasing where their projects were at. Their excitement and pride for their projects really helped to get me excited about what they were working towards.

Categories: Gaming

1 reply »