Making living like gaming.
Level On - A Narrative of My Own Story
Sometimes people play games to escape reality, which is challenging at times. This project aims to present the gamification of one’s life to indicate that people could view their lives as playing games and keep trying to overcome struggles in reality.
Combining my passion for gaming and motion graphics design, I created Level On, an animation that aims to inspire the audience to overcome the challenges in their lives through gaming while living. This was the thesis project during my undergraduate study at Parsons School of Design majoring in Design and Technology in 2015.
Producer, Visual and Motion Designer, Animator
After Effect, Illustrator
Thesis project at Parsons challenges graduating students design a solution with the knowledge and skills they have learned over the years.
I wrote down everything about me and what I have done on post-it notes trying to see who I have become over the years. After self evaluation, I realized that gaming was a big part of my life, motion graphics design is my most developed skill. Thus, I decided to use these elements as my anchors as I move forward.
Making Living Better Through Gaming
After reading “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal, I have designed a gaming environment accordingly.
In games, designers and developers utilize the core elements such as rules, goals, reward system and voluntary participation to keep their games engaging and entertaining for their target audience. Throughout the journey, players would have different stages with different goals and challenges. By completing these challenges, those players could be rewarded with more resources and achievements.
Similar to games, experience in high schools, when many people would considered to be a difficult period of their lives, could be a stage with the goal of being able to graduate. Final exams, prom invitation, varsity baseball team tryout could all be instances when people struggle. Throughout the stages, people would spend resources like time, energy, money in order to overcome these challenges, which reward them with achievements such as getting straight A’s or being nominated as the president of the student-run government.
Even though there are challenges that are more difficult or sometimes impossible to achieve in reality, people would have more options than a one-way path. By imagine themselves as the protagonists of a games, people would be more relentless to overcome their obstacles in their lives.
Medium and Scope
The final delivery would be a video not only because I would have the control of my narrative but also because it would serve as a trailer for potential future development. If the responses from the audience were positive and wanted to be involved in the gaming world, an actual game or more immersive experience would be developed in the future
I have written all the milestones in different aspects of my life, including academic, professional, family, romantic relationships, and etc. In addition, I added attributes that had influenced my past like getting my first iPhone or moving to New York. By reviewing my past experience and deciding which of them are more valuable in terms of storytelling, I have broken down my own life and make it a linear narrative.
There were multiple timelines that represent the different aspect of life.
The timeline of the protagonist would only move only forward to suggest the characteristics of time. In addition, the timeline turns to different direction as the protagonist makes important life decisions. The idea of representing how close the relationships between each characters was implemented to some degree (family issue section), but it would be better if the timeline could be viewed from the bird’s eye view to see the entire relation map of the protagonist.
Stage and Goals
The stages were categorized by time: childhood, middle school, high school, college. Each stage was assigned with a goal, and the protagonist would enter another stage of his life once the goal of stage.
Challenges and rewards
The challenges in the animation were selected to be relatable (with the exception of studying abroad) and achievements were collected after the challenges were completed.
While adapting life events into the narrative, I started to convert the resources and energy difference between challenges. Quantifying my own efforts during each different stage of my life not only provide the consistent values throughout the animation but also allow me to closely examine my past.
Each character would be on his/she’s own timeline and interact with the main character. This is designed to show the direct impact of the people around my life.
In order for the audience to relate their own experience to my adaptation, the characters in the video are designed to be generic. However, I choose to keep characteristic like the hairstyle of myself and other characters to maintain the uniqueness of my life.
Only the main character was colored in navy blue to be distinguished from the others, who were colored according to the timeline at that particular moment to create a clear visual environment for the audience.
The interface design in the animation aims to provide sufficient information about the character’s journey while watching the main animation. Therefore, the most important information, stages, and challenges are located right above the protagonist, while the other information, resources, and achievements, are located at the bottom of both corners.
Music + Sound
The music was composed by Meng-Mei Kuo. The overall style was designed in 8-bit to enhance the gaming atmosphere. In addition, each different timeline was given its own theme.
After testing out multiple versions of UI, the visual elements were overwhelming in such short duration to the audience that they weren’t able to follow the narrative entirely. Thus, the digital announcing sound was added to reduce the amount of text on the screen and guide the audience throughout the narrative in a more organic fashion.
Prototype / Iteration
The story arch was converted into an animated storyboard as the prototype for the professor and my classmate to critique the elements of storytelling (sequence, timing, etc). Then, I would edit the storyboard accordingly.
Since the animations in this project are mostly character based, I learned to use an After Effects plugin, Duik, to facilitate the consistency of the animation. The style of animation was designed to be genuine and not only exaggerated to be relatable to the audience.
One of the success metrics of the project is the number of audiences. Though it would be impossible to count all the audience who have watched the animation, it is certain that many people have watched it at all the 16 shows and festivals that Level On was selected. In addition, Level On has been exposed to more people online with the Honorable Mention in the 2015 Adobe Design Achievement Award in Motion Graphics Category.
Another degree of success would be measured by the feedback from the audience. The responses I received from audiences were generally positive. Moreover, many audience members, especially children, would try to touch and swipe the monitor screen thinking that they would be able to play the game during exhibitions. Thus, the next step of this project would be developing it into a game or an online experience that allows users to create their own journeys.
Level On was not the thesis that I thought I would end up with, but it was the project that defines who I am.
Looking back, determining the project concept was the most difficult part. Once I passed that ideation, everything was relatively straight forward. However, I wish I would have more user testing on people besides professors and classmates to make the project even more persuasive. After all, I would like everyone to enjoy and to be inspired by Level On.
During the process of developing Level On, I had already planned to continue the project in the future. The short animation would serve not only as a narrative video but also a trailer for what the future development could be. The idea could be developed into an actual game that embodies people's life experience with the visual elements from Level On. Meanwhile, it could also be designed with more immersive interaction on mobile and wearable devices to simulate the gaming experience in real time. No matter what the future development might be, Level On will keep on going according to the responses from the audiences.