Serious 2D Platformer Adventure
September 2016 ~ Present
Game Designer & Jr. Project Manager
In development (Request Build)
About the Project
Wind Tales is a serious game, aimed at improving lung therapy compliance for children with Cystic Fibrosis. People with this terrible disease have extreme difficulty with breathing, due to thick mucus accumulating in their lungs. They need to perform daily lung exercises in order to clear the mucus, but therapy compliance is incredibly low, especially with younger patients.
Controlling the character by breathing
Testing the game with the target audience
Workin' hard, or hardly workin' ?
Controlling the character by breathing
This is why we develop Wind Tales, where we offer a fun alternative to perform the prescribed lung exercises without the player even noticing them. The game is targeted to children between the ages of 5 to 13 in particular and specifically designed to teach them how to perform these life saving breathing techniques effectively.
The game itself contains enticing platforming action and challenging puzzles, spread across various levels and world themes, waiting to be unlocked by the player as they progress through the narrative.
Personal Interview (Subs Available & )
My Role and Responsibilities
I started working at Wind Tales as a design intern and worked my way up to my current full-time Game Designer and Jr. Project Manager position. The video to the left displays a personal interview of my current role at Wind Tales.
My most important responsibilities for the project include:
Game Concept Design
Wind Tales used to be more of a 'plain' 2D runner game, where the player's breathing input was only required to keep on 'running' across certain obstacles. The game offered very little space for creative player input. I initiated a drastic change in the game's core gameplay design and successfully turned it into a full-fledged 2D platformer game, where the player can freely use (breath related) mechanics to creatively solve puzzles and overcome challenges.
In addition to the iteration on the Core Gameplay, I designed a mini-game improve narrative cohesion and increase the replayability of the levels in a fun manner.
Game Mechanic and User Interface Design
Designing new game mechanics was a particularly interesting challenge, due to the (medical) constraints that we were given. I did a Competitive Research Analysis of other 2D platformers that I took inspiration from for the new mechanic proposals. Additionally challenging was designing game mechanics to teach and encourage players to perform accurate breathing exercises and receive proper (User Interface) feedback within a narratively logical setup.
With power comes responsibility, and giving the players the creative freedom to use the new game mechanics came with the interesting challenge of designing clever ways to contain this freedom within (medical) boundaries, without leaving the player feeling obstructed. The usability tests with actual CF patients proved that our audience was very pleased with the core gameplay.
Level and Puzzle Design
Clever level and puzzle design greatly influences the player's ability to stay in the state of 'flow', as mentioned in my personal interview. It is challenging to balance the difficulty level of any game to begin with, but the large differences in both cognitive abilities and player dexterity within our target audience made it a lot more interesting. We wanted to make the game just as enjoyable for both 15 year old 'gamers' and 5 year olds who might have never held a controller in their life.
The solution was to build the levels out of little 'puzzle pieces' and label those with according difficulty. We would then build the levels out of those puzzle pieces, so we could easily control the difficulty of the levels, while maintaining the quality and quantity of gameplay. Designing, creating, testing and iterating these level puzzle pieces was a large part of my responsibilities.
Quality Assurance and Playtesting Research
All my ideas, designs and feedback had to be formulated into feature requests or bug reports for the (partially outsourced) Tech department. As Quality Assurance manager, nothing would get into the game without my 'seal of approval'.
Bugs and Features had to be conveyed and prioritised through clear and concise documentation and/or video reports. In order to communicate between departments efficiently, I have learned to use Atlassian's JIRA software to create a Feature Request and Bug Tracking Database.
I have also created my own databases in Google Sheets, which we ended up using throughout the remainder of the project, along with GitHub Issue tracker.
During the Usability and Feasibility Playtests, I was in charge of analysing the results and iterate the game designs based on the test feedback.
Audio Recording and Quality Monitoring
I've had the pleasure of working with a professional voice actor to record in-game dialogue with.
It was my responsibility to keep the recordings for all dialogues consistent with the overall feel of the game, instruct or give directions to our voice actor and ensure overall quality of the (Dutch and English) recordings to the point where they were implemented in the main game.
Project and Team Management
A large part of my responsibilities were prioritising features, planning for deadlines and monitoring and improving the Product Production Pipeline wherever I saw opportunities for improvements. I would judge the severity of bugs or necessity of certain features before critical (test) deadlines. We would devise a planning and work with sprints and monitor the progression through regular SCRUM meetings.
I also supervised several interns we had at the company and provided them with feedback on their work and professionalism.
Through extensive and thorough scientific research, I discovered that the working efficiency of our local programmers would skyrocket if they arrived at the office to be welcomed with a warm cup of freshly made coffee. Making coffee was technically not listed on my job description. Regardless, I took on this major responsibility anyway.
Heroes are not born, they are made.
The Wind Tales narrative had to be interesting enough to entice our audience, yet easy enough to understand for our younger players. The narrative had to give players a reward for their progression or exploration through the game world and provide the main character with a valid motivation to go out on their adventure. I was responsible for writing the narrative and 'patching' the elements in the game together into a cohesive game world.
In close cooperation with our visual UI artist, I was responsible for both designing, iterating and assuring the quality of all the game user interface. Keeping a focus on clear and concise communication, feedback and feedforward throughout intuitive menu layouts, while keeping localisation and menu consistency in mind.
Disclaimer: Not actual footage of my coffee
Key Lessons Learned
This is easily the most extensive project and professional work environment I have had the pleasure of experiencing so far in my game development career. Working on the same project for 40 (or more) hours a week, for over 2 and a half years really demands a certain level of focus and discipline. I have become somewhat of a living encyclopedia with regards to any kind of project related information, which can be quite demanding as you become the person most colleagues and interns come to rely on. It's stressful at times, but has also given me a great sense of purpose and responsibility, as I try to use this knowledge to guide others, have them learn from my mistakes and prevent them from making (too many of) their own ones whenever possible.
Looking back, I realise how much experience I have gained from working on this game. One of the most valuable lessons I have had to learn was how to communicate my designs towards (in house, and) outsourced programmers efficiently. I would have to admit it was tricky for me to find a balance between creating clear and concise designs, while keeping my own production time and effort to a minimum. This was especially challenging when working with outsourced programmers, as the design documents and Skype meetings would be their only guidance in developing features or fixing issues. Language barriers and cultural differences sometimes formed major obstacles here. Miscommunication or even a little too much room for 'creative interpretation' would potentially result in disastrous results or financial setbacks for the company.
My responsibilities in this regard stimulated me to hone my project management skills. I think my experience in this field has made me a valuable member of the development team.
After having graduated Cum Laude, with a 10/10 grade for my internship efforts and personal development, I was especially excited to start my first 'real job' here as Jr. Project Manager. Since then, continuous challenges of designing and improving gameplay for our unusual target audience have kept me motivated to create the best solutions within the many (medical and technical) restrictions or limitations that constrained us.
I have always enjoyed a good challenge. Working with new or experimental hardware like the Tobii Eye trackers or HTC Vive back in my DreamPunks days were an absolute delight. Working with an entirely new (breath-controlled) prototype device and exploring new possibilities, even within a tight set of (extremely strict medical) constraints. was the cherry on the cake for me. Pioneering in this field of gameplay, there have been so many new challenges we had to face, only to find new unforeseen challenges awaiting us afterwards. It has been an amazing adventure.
There is so much more that I have learned from my experiences here. I've gained experience in writing narrative scripts and communicating cinematographic designs to various esteemed visual artists. It's truly amazing to see a story come to life and to guide its process along the way. I have been able to grow as both a team player and team builder as I've have had the pleasure of working with a continuously evolving development team and several 'batches' of fresh minded interns. It's been incredibly fulfilling to guide them on their way to professional developers and teach them both professional and personal skills and work ethics. I have been able to conduct gameplay tests with actual patients and worked together with hospital physicians and external database software developers to create a truly amazing product.
It's been a life-changing experience for me to be able to create the games I used to love most and apply them to improve the life quality of young patients around the world. From my own experience, I had learned of the power of games as a medium from a young age. The lessons I have learned about the game design throughout my studies only confirmed this and empowered me to contribute to its creation. However, perhaps the most important lesson I have learned so far is how incredibly rewarding it can be to use games as a tool to educate or help people to live healthy lives.
My grandmother always wanted me to become a doctor when I was young. It's an honourable job contributing to mankind and society. As a teacher, my father wished for nothing more but for me to follow in his footsteps and help people to unlock their own potential.
I used to think I had failed both of them by choosing the path of a game designer instead, but looking back, I think I might have made both of them proud after all.
The Wind Tales Development Team
Awards and Nominations
Wind Tales Links:
Throughout its development, Wind Tales has already received various subsidies, nominations and awards:
❖ 2016 Stimuleringsfonds voor de creatieve industrie - Applied Gaming
❖ 2016 Stimulus - MIT Haalbaarheid (Asthma)
❖ 2015 Rijksdienst voor Ondernemers - Vroege Fase Financiering
Awards & Nominations
❖ 2019 International Serious Play Awards - Serious Play Conference - Winner
❖ 2017 InnovAward - Provincie Limburg - Finalist
❖ 2016 Herman Wijffels Prijs - Rabobank - Selected best 10 of 300
❖ 2016 Dutch Game Awards - Best Serious Game - Nominee
❖ 2016 Dutch Game Awards - Best Applied Game Design - Nominee
❖ 2016 Dutch Game Awards - Best Art Direction - Nominee
❖ 2014 Sustainable Healthcare Challenge - De Friesland Verzekeringen - Winner
❖ 2014 Mobiles for Good - Vodafone Netherlands - Winner
❖ 2014 Ureka Mega Challenge - UMC Utrecht - Winner
❖ 2014 Accenture Innovation Awards - Accenture - Semi finalist
❖ 2014 New Venture Round 2 - New Venture - Finalist
❖ 2014 New Venture Round 1 - New Venture - Winner