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About the Game

Plot-A-Plant is an idle-style game for budding horticulturists. Our challenge for this project was to create a serious game that attempts to solve a real-world problem. The purpose of the game is to provide both a guide and a teaching experience for users--helping them care for their real houseplants by tending virtual ones.

Plot-A-Plant was made by a team of 5 using Unity. The team also consulted the indoor plant specialists at J&J Nursery. This game is a prototype created as part of the Master of Entertainment Arts and Engineering program at U of U.

(Plot-A-Plant is designed to be an idle-game. The gameplay shown in the video here is sped up for demonstration purposes.)

My Role

My main role on this team was gameplay designer. My responsibility in this role was to design and implement gameplay mechanics to help teach a user to care for their houseplants.

  • Design: After discussion with experts, we boiled down the day-to-day care of real houseplants into a set of core tasks. These tasks are balancing acts, such as making sure the plant has enough water, but not so much that it becomes waterlogged. Balancing water, sunlight, temperature, and the pH level of the soil are all essential to keeping a plant healthy.
    My design for gamifying these tasks was to create an idle-style game where the level of different meters would change overtime corresponding to given inputs. I picked two factors--water and sunlight--to implement in this prototype as a proof of concept for the idea. The player would be given a watering can and a light control slider to interact with the in-game plant. Left alone, the water meter would decrease overtime, while the sunlight meter would change to reflect the amount of light let into the scene. It is up to the player to check up on their plant and keep these meters balanced, adding water and changing the lighting of the scene as needed.
    To accomplish the goal of teaching the player to care for real houseplants, the game would tune the update speed of the meters to match as closely as possible the real-life needs of the specific plant owned by the user. The game would notify players about the needs of their in-game plant, and this in turn would also serve as a reminder to care for their real plants.

  • Implementation: After the initial design work was done, it was straightforward to implement these meters into a game project. For each meter (water and sunlight in this prototype), a progress bar would indicate the status of that meter, and there would be a player action mapped to each one. A draggable watering can with a particle spawner was used to interact with the water meter, and a slider bar that controls the scene lighting was used to interact with the sunlight meter. When both these meters were balanced, the plant would be in a healthy state, represented by full colors and lively animations. When one or more meters were out of balance, the plant would reflect this in the artwork.

Other responsibilities:

  • I worked with our team’s game engineer to construct the gameplay in Unity. Using temporary assets, we built out the meter functionality as well as the player actions (watering can and light controls)

  • I worked with the game artists on our team to get their assets (background art and spine animations) working correctly in the game. This required me to learn the basics of Unity’s Animators and the spine animation package.

Learning Outcomes

In the process of developing this game I had experiences reaching out to external experts, asking them questions, and incorporating their feedback into our game. I learned to pay attention to how different groups have different priorities. My team and I came into each external discussion with the goal of building a video game. We were concerned with things like mechanics, art assets, and animations. The experts we consulted were more concerned with proper plant care and communicating this to the general public. By understanding their priorities and trying our best to communicate our concerns and capabilities (what we could actually produce in two weeks) we were able to produce something that all parties could be proud of.

Before this project, I had never worked on a game intended for mobile. This fact alone forced me to consider many aspects of game development that I hadn’t previously thought about. Basic things like player inputs became part of our initial design discussions, and decisions like the watering can and light controls were the result. Another part of designing for mobile was deciding how long play sessions would be. Many mobile games my team and I had played involved short play sessions that could be completed in just a few minutes. The decision to make our game an idle-game came out of these considerations.

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