Game Up Africa which is the first of its kind on the continent aims to prepare young people for career success in the global gaming market and will run virtually from August to December 2021. Participants will learn to create mobile games for the Google Play store with mentoring support provided by Maliyo Games.
Story and Narrative
Michelle E Umar
3rd Place (Best Game)
Best Cell Lead
August – December 2021
Poster Designed by Oluwafemi Adewunmi
What to Expect
I will walk you through the entire game process – from idea to finished work. You will get to understand my role, process, and what influenced my choices. Prior to this Bootcamp, I had never made a game in Unity nor created game art.
Pause: Background Story
The Game up Africa was a 5-month game Bootcamp. I got my onboarding email on the 16th of August 2021. We had three levels, level one was more of a learning phase while level two + three involved working with mentors and developing your game idea.
To complete level one, you had to finish all the courses, assignments, quiz on the LMS (learning management platform) and submit your game pitch by 27th October. We submitted our game pitches as individuals but had the option of working alone or as a team.
After coming up with the game idea and submitting the pitch document, I wore multiple hats: Story, narrative, level design, game art design, and game developer.
In addition, I was assigned to cell one as their lead (a cell is made up of 8 – 10 people). My job: manage the cell, schedule meetings with mentors, and communicate with the Gameup Africa team.
What is the Imposter
I have always been fascinated by games that have a great story behind them. I understand the power of storytelling and I decided to be vulnerable and share a bit of myself. The game is about my struggle with Imposter Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome (also known as Impostorism, Impostor Phenomenon and Fraud Syndrome) is the overwhelming feeling that you don’t deserve your success. You become convinced that you’re not as intelligent, creative or talented as you may seem. And you suspect that your achievements are down to luck, good timing, or just being “in the right place at the right time.”
For the game, I came up with the idea of ‘chapters’. I wanted the story to build up with every chapter. Starting with stepping out of your comfort zone to being free. When I worked on the game pitch (see images below), I knew I wanted it to have a dark color scheme – to signify depression.
Research: Level Design
Level design was a challenge. I could imagine the game and the story but the levels? I could not. I read a couple of articles on level design but I still struggled. One thing that helped me break the creative block was watching gameplay videos on YouTube – specifically platformer games. I looked at titles like Mario, Jazz Jack Rabbit, Contra, Hollow Knight, Limbo, Toby, Light fall, Gris, and Celeste.
NB: I had never seen or heard about Celeste before. It was cool to see a game that had already explored the idea I wanted to create.
In addition to watching gameplay videos, I downloaded and played games like Dere Evil Exe, Obsolete, Nameless Cat, Mimpi Dreams, Badland, and Bubble tale. Observing the levels, obstacles, and how the player interacts with the environment gave me a better understanding of level design.
Once I was done and more confident, I drew the levels on paper.
From Paper to Figma
Leveraging on my skills as a UI (user interface) designer, I recreated the levels I had drawn on paper in Figma. I also worked on the game flow – from the start screen to the credits scene.
As I recreated the levels, I noticed some issues with the design. For example, with the image below, the towers are meant to break once the player steps on them. Placing three in a row with patrolling enemies in between, did not seem fair. I decided to mix them up – giving the player enough time to plan their next jump.
Next, I looked through the design and picked out common objects. I wanted to make sure I stay on track and build everything. As we progress, I will explain this process better.
As I worked on the game, I put all my ideas down and refined them as I made progress. There are two important processes that I adapted for this project:
- Work top to bottom and repeat – with each iteration, test, modify/remove, and then polish.
- Build-in components – rather than design everything at the same time, make a list and work through it. This will reduce confusion and the chances of having unfinished pieces in the game. With this, multitasking is not an option (you will lose focus).
The rule is simple: Work on one component at a time. When you are done, strike it off the list. If you face challenges, do two things: take a break or move to the next component. You can always come back. If it feels complicated to implement given the time frame, it’s okay to remove it from the game.
Using my list as a guide, I worked on the components one after the other. From player control to enemy patrol. After playtesting, I assembled the levels and then implemented the game flow I had created in Figma.
I used geometric shapes for the initial prototype and a free 2D character from Bayat Games.
Leaving my Comfort Zone
From day one, I knew there was no way I could handle the game art. I focused on my strengths but we had a deadline and I had to step in to ease the workload on my teammate. I wanted him to have more time to work on the character, enemy, and game UI.
I decided to keep things simple and go with a 2D flat vector style – mainly because I had experimented with it in the past.
I had to find a temporary character for the game as I did not like the jump animation for the one I used in the prototype. I also had two more reasons:
Reason one: I wanted us to have a backup in case things did not go as planned.
Reason two: I needed to have a character on hand as I designed the game art. This is to ensure the colors blend and I use its proportion (size) to design other game objects. I did not want a situation where the character is 2x the size of a house.
Finding ‘free’ enemy sprites that match the theme of the game was hard. I did not want to complicate things or waste the little time we had left. The best option was to modify the main character sprite by adjusting the image highlight (for the imposter) and saturation (for patrolling and static enemies).
Inspiration and Design
At this stage, I did not have a plan – I relied on my gut to guide me. I made another list of all game objects in the prototype. I knew we had 4 chapters with their theme:
- Chapter 1 – introduction to the game. It should have bright colors and a calm environment. When the player least expects, they fall.
- Chapter 2 and 3 – should have dark colors. To show depression and anxiety. At this stage, you meet negative thoughts and the imposter.
- Chapter 4, should be a combination of dark and light. After confronting their fears, the player returns back to the surface.
Going by the theme and level design, I drew inspiration from real-life objects.
With the game art, I applied the same technique I used to build the prototype – design each component then assemble the levels. When I started, I spent over 30mins looking for the perfect background color. I knew this would be a problem as I could not fuss over colors and design at the same time. I made a decision to create the components in grey. This allowed me to stay focused.
I gathered different color palettes and grouped them. To be honest, I worked on autopilot – I let my gut guide me. If the color did not feel right, I would remove it and try something else.
Figma made my job super easy. I created components for each piece. They all had different color variants.
Working on the game art made me realize some pieces would not work in the final game – I had to come up with new ideas. As I looked at windmill designs online, it dawned on me this idea won’t fly. I sat back and thought about the entire game story and idea, then it hit me – turn the windmill to a clock to signify time.
I made the same design changes to the floating platform. Since our level had silt huts, it made more sense to have boats rather than a floating platform.
I searched online for (female) African names and I settled with these:
Sura: a multicultural name meaning brave princess traveling by night.
Izara: part of a tree
Esi: because she’s God’s gift
The name I wanted to go with was – Sura. After reading the translation over and over, I thought it would be the best fit for another game. Our character is gifted but they struggle with imposter syndrome. This influenced my decision to pick Esi.
Initially, when I pitched the game, the narrative was not clear. I asked myself, how do I get players to understand what the story is about? I knew the player should have a guide but how do I put everything together? I thought about calling the guide a ‘Chi’ (Chi = personal spirit of a person).
The Chi could be a ball of light following the player and giving it messages. The deadline snapped me back to reality, I pushed that idea aside.
We already had signs in the initial level design – I figured it would make sense to continue with this idea and just polish things. The whole point of the game is overcoming your fear and to do this, you have to trust yourself and the voice within. I wanted the player to feel like there’s a voice guiding Esi and in chapter 4, they see there’s no one else but her – the voice is her instinct.
Chapter one is an introduction to the game hence you have colors that are bright and friendly. The falling platform at the end of the chapter signifies life and its uncertainties. With the design, I wanted chapter one to look like a fishing village with silt huts. I knew if I included water at the bottom, I would have to animate it. Since I do not know how to do this, I opted for clouds.
Chapters two and three had a dark theme to them. I wanted to signify the character falling and trying to find their way out. The idea was to have it look like a cave.
In chapter four, I combined dark and light. The hot air balloon signifies rising.
NB: The snow section in chapter four was added a day to the final deadline. I felt the game ended abruptly. Since players were familiar with the first two color schemes, introducing a new one would be the perfect way to end the game.
Feedback and Polishing
Feedback from the Gameup Africa team pushed me out of my comfort zone (again). The things I thought I could not implement turned out to be easy.
We did not have interact-able signs at the very start. I thought it would be hard to implement and I was worried about adding an extra button for interaction. After playtesting, I noticed the text wasn’t legible even after I had increased the font size. We got feedback about the same issue.
To fix this, I had to create new components – the signs and exclamation marks.
I animated the exclamation mark by increasing and decreasing its size. Then I created a trigger box – once the player steps in, the interaction button becomes visible and they can interact with the sign.
After creating the game art, my super talented teammate added the foreground elements and UI. It made our game beautiful.
To bring the snow to life, I utilized Unity’s Particle System.
Under the Hood
I implemented waypoints for boats, elevators, and patrolling enemies.
The hot air balloon activates once the player steps into the trigger box.
For the clock (timepiece), initially, I created different images with the hour hand at different positions.
Back in Unity, I created an animation for the clock by changing images but there was an issue – it altered the clocks’ position. My mistake – rotating the entire clock and not the hour hand.
To solve this issue, I created 8 copies of the clock hour hand and rotated them at different angles. Then I deactivated all but one (the hour hand at 0 degrees). For the animation, I activated each hour hand at different frames deactivating the one before it.
Being new to Unity and game development means I have to learn and build at the same time. I’m glad I created a process of building in components. It enabled me to find a tutorial to match whatever I was developing at that point.
My laptop gave me a tough time. I remember going to sleep while it froze. I did not want to ‘force restart’ because it had crashed in the past and I lost all my files. I learned how to be patient with it. It can be frustrating when you have an idea you need to implement ASAP and your laptop decides it needs a nap.
Battling Imposter Syndrome was hard. I doubted myself many times but I just kept going. I did not want to live with regret or what if’s. Plus I promised myself to finish what I started – no matter what.
I learned to trust myself and to just do it.
I got a first-hand view of how knowledge can be transferred from one field to another. The first time I attempted motion graphics in UI, I struggled. After creating animations in Unity, everything started to make sense.
There’s no such thing as over-communication. My teammate and I did communicate constantly but (maybe) I could have done better. His initial concepts were amazing and I was sad he thought I did not like them when we had to pivot due to time constraints. On my end, I saw we were way behind schedule – we hadn’t finished our game UI or main character design. We had chapter one design and there was a lot to do. Bootcamp aside, we both had jobs so I understood the workload. My goal was to ensure we beat the deadline and submit a finished game. After I had worked on the game art and he polished it with the foreground elements, we both agreed this would have been the best approach from day one. When you design in components and stages, it allows you to keep iterating until you get what you want. This helps to remove complexities and confusion. You’re not forcing the entire meal down your throat, you’re chewing in bits. For the record, I do think he is super talented and if we had more time, his concepts would be perfect for the idea.
I did not plan to be the cell lead but life has its ways I guess.
I had the best cell – they made things super easy and I’m glad I got the chance to lead and work with them. They also made amazing games.
P.S. my cell made 4 games (more than other cells). Out of 13 submissions, we were responsible for 4.
Bolaji Alabi: PuzMania
Esther Epelle: HalTown
Sydney Ochieng and Bolaji Js: Simuflight
Notable games (from other cells): KnowAfrika and Polymate
View and Download all Games from the Bootcamp
We made 4 games and won 4 awards.
Best Cell lead (yours truly)
1st Place – Best Game (SimuFlight)
3rd Place – Best Game (The Imposter)
I enjoyed designing levels and the game art reminded me of my love for drawing. For now, I plan on focusing more on 2D games, level design, and improving my skills as a game developer. I will continue to learn and build games.
Resources and Extra Help
Pandemonium Games – Platformer Tutorial
CodeInFlow – 2D Platformer Game Tutorial
Jimmy Vegas – Trigger Cutscene Tutorial
StupidaZZle – Add an Intro Cutscene to your Game
BlackThornProd – Screen Shake Tutorial
Coco Code – Unity and Github Tutorial
Devmag – 11 Tips for Making a Fun Platformer
Devmag – How to Design Levels for a Platformer
GameDeveloper – How to Build a Bad Guy Workshop
Thank you for reading. Have a great day 🙂