MFA thesis project to be released in May 2024, created fully independently from the concept to art assets and scripting Unity C#. My challenge was to make a fun gameplay loop, improve my game balance/economy skills, and write an engaging short narrative conveying a serious mental health concept.
Doppel Diner is a 2D cooking and management simulator about a diner that orbits the open space. Based on the planet rotations, the inside environment changes, creating three different gameplay challenges that metaphorically correspond with the emotional states of Bipolar Disorder.
Build (Fall 2023): Cooking Loop
I highly recommend playing in full screen to see all comments!
In Doppel Diner, I wanted to connect an issue I deeply care about with the medium in which persuasive power I believe in. When creating a project for people who have a mental illness it is really easy to slip into the role of an "educator" nagging about the importance of taking meds. So instead, my main goal was to make a project with a community and create an experience that fosters empathy and confronts stigma and media bias.
When I was asking "How does it feel to have bipolar disorder?" I never received a response explaining it in medical language. Instead, I received heart-wrenching stories and authentic metaphors. Bipolar disorder was compared to riding a rollercoaster while feeling sick to your stomach but unable to get off or seeing a tsunami wave coming and desperately trying to hold a breath. I decided to create my own metaphor in a game where managing your emotional states is like managing a diner influenced by outside weather conditions.
I made a core gameplay (shown above) based on the mechanics of receiving orders, cooking, and improving the diner, which stays the same on all levels but differs in implementation. Progression of time, customer emotions, the complexity of orders, speed of cooking, and other details change every 3 levels from euthymia to mania and depression.
Rightmost: Proof of concept build (Aug 2022)
In 2022, in order to make players care and relate to non-playable characters more, I changed their design from aliens to anthropomorphic animals based on the constellations. I also reduced the amount of red to make its use very intentional.
Through 2023, I conducted a lot of user tests and improved UX design by rearranging ingredients so that cooking is happening in a natural order from left to right, grouping pots, raw ingredients, and add-on categories to reduce a learning curve, and finalizing characters. Later I made a decision to split mechanics into two screens to enhance the game loop.
Awards and Extras
BostonFig, Showcase Participant (2022)
JoyArt Boston, Finalist in Environment Concept Art (2023)
Made In MA at PAX East 2023 Party, Showcase Participant (2023)
RPI GameFest 2023, Showcase Participant (2023)
BostonFig Talks & Learns, "Play for Purpose: Designing a Game for Mental Health" presenter (2023)
Summer Research Institute at the Jerome Library on the campus of BGSU, Participant and Travel Grant Recipient with a proposal "Visual Perception of the future in the 1950s" (2023)