This project was a side-scrolling 2D pixel art and Makey Makey electronics game where guests play as a raccoon on a mission to help their pregnant wife to find a blanket to warm up with on Christmas. Unfortunately, when the raccoon goes into the town to look for the blanket, the raccoon is treated unkindly with an animal control catcher chasing the raccoon and people kicking the raccoon out of their home. In the end, the only kind and accepting person that the raccoon finds is a homeless man with a blanket at a bus stop. The homeless man mentions how he will be sadly spending Christmas alone and the homeless man and the raccoon bond over their treatment as outsiders in society. In the end, the homeless man and the raccoon decide to help each other. They go back to the raccoon's home together to find that the raccoon wife has given birth and they share the blanket and each other's company for Christmas!
To immerse themselves in the game, guests wear a raccoon ear headband, tail, and paws. To walk in the game, guests mimic the walking motion and alternate tapping their paws on paw prints on the table. Guests can walk slowly in the game by tapping their paws slowly, stop moving by stopping tapping their paws, or run by tapping their paws quickly. This was accomplished with Makey Makey technology where circuits are completed when the paw gloves touch the pawprints on the table and it is treated as the equivalent of a key press.
This project was created by me and four other teammates in only four weeks as a part of Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center Building Virtual Worlds course. This project was ultimately showcased with a fully themed environment in Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center Fall Festival in December 2022 for over 600 students, faculty, family, friends, alumni, and industry professionals. The Christmas Miracle was one of only 22 worlds featured at the Fall Festival out of 70 total worlds from throughout the semester and 51 worlds submitted for consideration. Also, out of 14 experiences created for that particular storytelling round of the course, The Christmas Miracle was one of only two experiences admitted into the festival.
I was an artist and Makey Makey/hardware engineer on the project and I also worked on the props and environment decoration for the Fall Festival. Most of my work was as a hardware engineer and prop manager, creating a sleek Makey Makey setup for guests, decorating and setting up our Fall Festival environment, and making a cardboard cutout of our raccoon character. I did work with 2D art in researching pixel art and side scrolling games, sourcing references for art style. I also drew one thought bubble of the pregnant raccoon in Procreate.
The overarching goal of this project was to create an estimated 3-5 minute interactive experience that would tell a good story.
Specific points of consideration included:
Clear story in which guests understand their role
Addressing story, we were able to create an experience that actually had no dialogue and no voice-over. Instead, we told almost the entire story with visuals. We had beginning and ending cut scenes that told the backstory of the freezing pregnant wife raccoon and the ending of everyone cuddling together under the blanket entirely with visuals. We had thought bubbles with images to hint at what the raccoon was thinking. The only text that we had in the experience was the conversation that I wrote between the raccoon and the homeless man. We viewed this as one of the most important aspects of our story so we strategically used text here to make sure that our main messages would land and resonate with the audience. Additionally, I worked hard on the experience to draw the guest into the role with the ear headband, tail, and paw raccoon accessories that the guests would wear. Finally, the guest would interact and walk in the world by tapping their paws like a raccoon would, drawing the guest further into their role.
Visuals draw the guest in
Presentation of the world should draw the guest in
Delivery should take advantage of the gift that the technology platform offers
Technology should be hidden or integrated seamlessly into telling the story
Addressing appeal, we created clear stakes in our story with our opening cutscene. If the guest did not find the blanket, the raccoon wife would freeze in the cold! We had various aspects of our experience that would draw a guest in including our 2D side-scrolling pixel art style and our interactive roleplaying as the raccoon with the raccoon ear headband, tail, and paw accessories. The Makey Makey technology and use of the paws that I developed was one of the strongest points of our experience. The paw gloves that guests would wear had conductive paw prints on the palm and the table in front of the guest would also have conductive paw prints. When the guest alternates tapping their paws on the paw prints on the table, a circuit is completed and it acts as a button press in the game. In this way, as the guest is physically walking with their paws, the virtual raccoon is walking, connecting them to their character in the game. With this method, we were able to make the technology hardly noticeable to guests, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the story and the character.
The experience should vary over time
Clarity of success
Addressing engagement, we worked on our story and guest interactions to create several distinct moments: the opening scene where we learn our role as a raccoon with a pregnant wife that is cold and needs a blanket, exploring the town, running away from the animal control catcher, looking for the blanket in a house and causing trouble, returning home since the sun is rising, and the ending scene where the raccoon and the homeless man bond and spend Christmas together cuddled under the blanket. In terms of success, from the opening scene where we see and hear a shivering raccoon wife, we know what success looks like for us: it is crucial for us to find that blanket for her. In the end, the ending cutscene where the raccoon and the homeless man bond, we can walk away knowing that had a real impact on the world and that we succeeded in an even bigger mission than the one we originally set out to accomplish.
Trying something new
Using new technology or technique
Our experience really thrived in terms of originality. We used a side-scrolling 2D pixel art game style that had not really been done before in the course and was not being attempted by any other teams in the storytelling round. This was especially unique as we were using a style that is mostly used in platformer games to tell an emotional storytelling experience. We also were using Makey Makey platform which was also not being used by any other team and using it to draw our guests even further into our experience by having them physically move (walk, stop, or run) like their virtual raccoon character.
Developing our story was one of the most challenging aspects of this project. Our team had struggles finding the story that we wanted to tell. Finding the best story was especially important since the main goal of this project was to tell a good story.
I wanted to do a game about a raccoon because they are my favorite animal and I thought that it would make a unique character. I pitched it to my group and they loved the raccoon theme! Our first story idea was a story about a raccoon thief. In this story, the raccoon would dig through trash every day until one day, he heard rumors about a great treasure in the city. The raccoon goes to look for this treasure, finding keys and unlocking doors to ultimately find a huge trash treasure. This was a fun concept, but we didn't love it because it felt quite shallow and more like an adventure game than an emotional story. Another note was how the keys and doors did not really fit in with the raccoon character or help to sell the guest's role as a raccoon. We wanted to pivot to focus on things that were more aligned with raccoons.
To address this, I performed research into raccoons and raccoon behavior that we could lean more into. We ultimately settled on a few key ideas like sneaking and running, causing trouble, and exploring at night and returning home during the day. This solved one issue of tying the events in with the raccoon character, but we still needed a deeper story. Our team continued working on the story, meeting with several professors and taking advice from lectures and analysis videos of how to create a good story. Taking this advice, we focused on a story that had deep values that would resonate with our audience including belonging, togetherness, selflessness, community, and family all under the theme of Christmastime. This led us to our story of a raccoon and his family which we all felt much better about. We settled on this idea that a raccoon would go on a mission to help find a blanket for his pregnant wife at Christmastime, but everyone in the town refuses to help except for a homeless man. Ultimately, we still ended up having trouble with this idea, specifically in determining what to do for the ending. We considered a few different possible endings between the raccoon and the homeless man. The homeless man could just give the raccoon his blanket, but when we tested this idea, our playtesters felt conflicted about this ending since it meant the homeless man lost his blanket and would be cold instead. We also considered possibly having the raccoon and the homeless man share a meal. Maybe the raccoon would bring food from his home or find food along the journey of looking for the blanket. We just were not satisfied with these solutions. Ultimately, we decided that the raccoon and homeless man would bond over feeling like outsiders in society. Each character had their own struggle: the raccoon needed a blanket and the homeless man needed someone to spend Christmas with. In the ending, the raccoon and the homeless man shared the blanket and spent Christmas together, creating a truly happy, heartwarming ending where everyone wins.
Makey Makey Electronics Platform
A large initial challenge of our experience was deciding on the platform that we wanted to use. Our game idea didn't really fit with any of the options for platforms for that round of our Building Virtual Worlds course. We considered doing the experience with an eye tracker, but it felt off and disconnected. We also proposed mouse and keyboard, but we didn't love that either as it didn't feel very immersive for the guest. Therefore, we worked with our teaching staff and we were able to get permission to use Makey Makey technology as it was the best fit and most immersive technology for our experience.
Makey Makey was a great platform as it allowed for great creativity in how the guest would interact with the world. Guests just somehow needed to complete a circuit and this would act as the equivalent of a key press in the game. After searching through the available props and resources of our class, we found a pair of black animal paw gloves and it was immediately clear to me that this would be perfect for the Makey Makey interaction! The guest could wear the gloves and act physically like the raccoon. It would be the perfect way to immerse the guest into the world, story, and character.
I quickly prototyped our first Makey Makey paw glove and paw print setup to test it out. I covered the paw of the glove with aluminum foil tape and created another set of paw prints on a piece of cardboard. After wiring the gloves and paw prints up to the Makey Makey, I put the gloves on and alternated tapping the gloves on the paw prints using a test Makey Makey piano program. The gloves were successfully making connection and playing notes on the piano test program and it was very comfortable and fun to interact with! I playtested this concept extensively with classmates and people really liked it. They felt that it was a unique, immersive interaction that was intuitive! I knew that we were onto something and continued to iterate and make it even better! We also found a tail and ear headband that guests could wear during the experience. With the paw gloves, tail, and ear headband, we wanted to allow the guests to get fully immersed in the experience.
Original paw glove vs paw glove with aluminum foil tape which could be wired and connected to Makey Makey
First test of the Makey Makey with paw gloves! The piano playing notes on the test software indicated that the guest tapping the gloves was successfully making an electrical connection and all was working as expected! This test was very promising and encouraged me to further explore, iterate, and improve upon this idea!
Me with our full raccoon guest outfit including paw gloves, tail, and ear headband
We also considered making the Makey Makey interaction even more extensive, with guests having the ability to climb the chimney into the house or knock trash cans over inside of the house. I prototyped this with Makey Makey by adding a second pair of paw prints above the first pair. The bottom paw prints would still be for walking and running and the top paw prints would be for interactions.
Makey Makey with added interaction paw prints.
Testing the climb interaction. It worked well but the positioning was slightly uncomfortable. At this angle, people had difficulty making the electrical connection as their fingertips would touch the paw prints, but only the palm was electrically connected due to the design of the paw print. If we continued with the climb interaction, I wanted to continue iterating for guest comfort by changing the angle of the top paw prints or by having guests trigger the interaction with the same set of paw prints as the walking and running. I also wanted to change the shape of the paw print so that the toes were connected to the palm shape and so the entire shape would be electrically connected for extra assurance.
I also tested combining these climb/knock over/special interactions with the same paw prints as used for walking and running. To walk, guests would alternate tapping paws. To run, guests would alternate tapping paws faster. To perform a special interaction, guests would tap their paws together at the same time.
Single pair of paw prints that guests could use to walk/run and perform special interactions. This test featured instructions on the side that told the guest how to interact in the experience
Ultimately, either way, the special interactions were posing difficulties in playtesting. It was difficult to explain the different paw prints or the different guest interactions without pretty explicit instruction and our goal for this project was to immerse the guest with as little text or explicit direction as possible. Further, even when we had explicit instructions (as shown above), playtesters did not pay attention to the instructions. Additionally, having more than one set of paw prints or a set of paw prints that could do different things with different interactions took guests out of the experience. They had to look down at the paw prints and pay more attention to the Makey Makey setup and as proud as I was with my work on the Makey Makey, I didn't want it to be the focus of the experience. I wanted guests to get lost in the story and forget about the technology. Finally, in our original plan for the experience, we had ideas for a lot more interactions that the guest could do. We had a plan for a whole level full of interactions inside of the house where the raccoon would climb the cabinets and knock over trash cans looking for a blanket. Ultimately, this was cut for scope. It was a great idea and would have been fun, but it was too much for the little amount of time that we had and it also did not serve to advance the story. After cutting the house level, the only special interaction besides walking and running that remained was climbing the chimney into the house. It was too much to expect guests to learn a whole new interaction just for one short portion of the experience. Therefore, for all of these reasons, I kept it as just one simple interaction, alternating tapping their paws on the paw prints, that people could easily learn without instruction but that still gave people meaningful interaction and autonomy in their speed. When the guests reached the chimney and needed to climb up, they could still use the alternating tapping interaction and the raccoon would just automatically switch directions and climb.
At this point, I also began experimenting with the aesthetics of the interactions, including painting the cardboard, painting the paw prints, and decorating the cardboard with fake snow.
I painted the paw prints brown on both the paw gloves and the cardboard to give them a better look and to create more immersion. If guests saw that the paw prints were brown instead of the shiny aluminum color, I thought that they would feel more like a real raccoon. I did test pieces of aluminum with thin layers of paint and it appeared to still be conducting electricity in the Makey Makey and working. Although it did technically work, having layers of paint on both the glove paw prints and the cardboard paw prints proved to be inconvenient as you had to press harder and sometimes the electricity would not conduct properly. Ultimately, I chose to just keep the paw prints the original aluminum foil to assure the best performance for the guest. Additionally, since the guest spends the entirety of the experience connecting the paw prints together, the only time they would even notice the color of the prints would be at the beginning or the end when they are getting into and out of the experience. Therefore, it was not a huge loss that I could not paint the paw prints with the paint and materials available to me from the course.
I also painted and decorated the cardboard to match the blue snow in the digital art of the experience. I had minimal access to materials from the course for this project, so I only could make the base board out of cardboard. I wanted to paint the cardboard for better immersion into the experience and a more finished look. However, painting the cardboard led to issues of the cardboard curling which meant that it would be slightly unstable and move around as guests played. To address this, I reduced the length of the cardboard and made it compact. I also added a blankte and fake snow for friction on the table of our final experience at the Entertainment Technology Center Fall Festival 2022.
Blue snow background of digital art
Painting the cardboard blue to match the blue snow background of the digital art
Working on painting for the Makey Makey on Halloween while dressed as Rapunzel!
Cardboard painted blue with paw prints of aluminum foil tape painted brown
Paw gloves with aluminum foil painted brown
Brown painted paw prints with instructions for climb interaction on the left (which would be removed for simplicity of interaction)
Experimenting with decorating the paw print cardboard with cotton balls as fake snow to match the blue snow background of the digital art
Experimenting with decorating the paw print cardboard with cotton fluff as fake snow to match the blue snow background of the digital art. This was the style of fake snow decoration that I ultimately chose for the final product
A recurring note that I had with the Makey Makey paws was the shape of the paw prints. Originally, the paw prints had separate toes and palms. This meant that the toes could not be used to complete the electrical connection for the Makey Makey and so were there mostly for decoration. This was not a major issue as the Makey Makey worked reliably either way since people almost always made a solid connection with their palms. However, just for extra assurance of a connection, I worked to connect the toes and palms into one solid, connected shape.
Paw print gloves and paw print cardboard base featuring new and improved paw shape
Paw print gloves and paw print cardboard base with Makey Makey attached
At this point, the Makey Makey was completed for the first complete version of the experience.
Our experience, The Christmas Miracle, was accepted into the Entertainment Technology Center Fall Festival 2022 for over 600 students, faculty, family, friends, alumni, and industry professionals. The Christmas Miracle was one of only 22 worlds featured at the Fall Festival out of 70 total worlds from throughout the semester and 51 worlds submitted for consideration. Also, out of 14 experiences created for that particular storytelling round of the course, The Christmas Miracle was one of only two experiences admitted into the festival.
The only concern that the jury of faculty members had for our experience was reliability for the festival, so I worked to continue to improve the Makey Makey!
I removed the alligator clips from the original Makey Makey setup and repalced them with strong single wires. This improved the guest experience as now the alligator clips could not accidentally come undone during the game since they were not extremely secure. Additionally, this meant that the clunky alligator clip ends would not get in the guests way and take them out of the experience. I mounted the wires for the paw prints on the board beneath the board so they were totally out of the way and invisible except for where they come off of the table to be mounted to Makey Makey (but that also was mostly obscured by fake snow at the Fall Festival). The wires are so small and not noticeable that the technology seems like magic! I connected the other wires directly to the sides of the paw gloves out of the guest's way. At the Fall Festival, I wired the Makey Makey setup on the table so that all of the wires except the ones connected to the gloves were totally out of the guest's way for guest convenience and comfort and so that guests can not accidentally pull on the wires and break the setup. Even if the guests did pull on the wires, I made everything extra secure by soldering the wires for secure attachment, strain relieving the wires, and attaching the Makey Makey to a wood base so nothing could be pulled out during the Festival.
Converting Makey Makey setup from alligator clips to more secure and more reliable wires
Final board with wires mounted beneath. The paw print is slightly peeled up on the bottom right of the right paw print, revealing how this magic was achieved! I poked a hole in the cardboard, tied the wire around a bow tie of aluminum foil, and placed that underneath the aluminum foil of the paw print, allowing the electronics setup to be basically invisible to guests! (This photo was taken after festival. You can see how well loved the experience was from the slight wear and tear!)
Final Makey Makey setup for Festival!
Final Makey Makey setup for Festival!
Makey Makey with wod base board and strain relieved wires
Our experience was very unique. It was a heartwarming story of a raccoon, his family, and a homeless man at Christmas told with 2D side scrolling pixel art. A big challenge of our development was in how to make the guest buy into the story. We were using an art and digital experience style that is traditionally used for platformer games to tell a deeper story. How were we doing to use this art style to tell a story and not just feel like a game? How were we going to make people relate to a raccoon, an animal that is not typically beloved? We worked hard as a team to develop a deep sense of guest immersion in our experience throughout our design and development processes including incorporating cinematic camera angles, music, Makey Makey, and deep storylines. Our experience had a lot of risks, but ultimately it paid off well.
Throughout the design and development of our experience, we playtested regularly with fellow classmates, TAs, and faculty. This was an important part of our process as it helped us to understand where the weak points of our experience were and how we could improve it.
Our teammate testing the first version of our final experience
Playtesting with our professor!
After a development process of playtesting, interim, TA playtesting and soft openings, we had a first draft of a final experience. At this point, our experience was considered by a jury of faculty members for admission into the Entertainment Technology Center Fall Festival 2022. The jury playtest had very positive feedback. They understood the entire experience, they loved the story, art, and Makey Makey, and they left feeling happy and smiling. Additionally, it was a great experience for spectators since it was a storytelling experience. It also had a great Christmas theme for a Festival which was taking place in December! Ultimately, our experience was accepted into the Festival!
At this point, we were working on preparing everything for Festival! After finishing all necessary improvements for our Makey Makey setup, I worked as prop manager and environment decorator for our experience. Decorating was a challenge as everything had to be able to withstand potential cold or weather from being outside in a tent. We also were not allowed to hang anything from the ceiling or on walls.
I wanted to do simple decorations that would fit the restrictions and enhance the experience and environment, but not distract from the story. Ultimately, I set up red blankets, fake snow, Christmas lights, a Christmas tree, and I made a cardboard cutout of our raccoon character that sat on the side of the room and looked up at guests as they played.
I also arranged the seats in the room like a theater. Our experience is primarily focused on story as that was the goal of the project. Therefore, by design, many guests at a time can get a lot of enjoyment just from watching someone else play.
In the end, our experience was a great success, with one guest at the Festival even saying that the ending was a "tear jerker." I am very proud of my team and how our experience turned out!
Me making a cardboard cutout of our raccoon character by hand (and on a budget)! I printed out our raccoon character on several letter sized sheets of paper, cut out the picture, reassembled the raccoon image, glued the raccoon onto cardboard, and cut out the whole thing! (It was so much work cutting out every individual pixel on the outer edge with a box cutter but it turned out so nice!)
Final raccoon cardboard cutout
Guest playing our experience at Festival!
Sign showing all of the experiences in the tents at the Fall Festival, including The Christmas Miracle in tent 4!
Top view of our table at Fall Festival, including Makey Makey setup, red blanket, fake snow, raccoon gloves and ears, and a small stuffed raccoon!
Our final environment setup for Fall Festival