Da vinci's workshop
Technologies: Unreal Engine 4, HTC Vive
Team Size: 8-22 people
Project Duration: Ongoing (September 2016 - Present)
A VR escape room experience
As part of the educational program, Da Vinci's Workshop is a collaborative project between NHTV University for Applied Sciences and Ubisoft for in-house experimentation with virtual reality, in the form of an escape room using the Assassin's Creed intellectual property. The players are tasked to cooperatively solve numerous puzzles inside Leonardo's workshop to recover a Piece of Eden.
There is no plan for a commercial release, this is a student only project. As part of the learning experience the staff from Ubisoft have given the team valuable feedback from their field of expertise.
I am a Puzzle Designer on this project, personally responsible for one of the three puzzle sequences. This role also included prototyping of the puzzle concepts, extensive research into virtual reality interactions, and scripting some game assets using Epic's Unreal Engine 4's Blueprints visual scripting tool.
Over the course of this project I was a puzzle and gameplay designer. My contributions to the project were the following:
- Create a complete puzzle sequence from start to finish
- Interactive prop design
- Quality assurance and bug fixing on scripted elements
- Audio implementation in scripted items
My main task required me to design a puzzle sequence from start to finish, starting with a concept, create a paper prototype, iterate on the prototype design, create a digital prototype, iterate, create the sequence using node based scripting (Unreal Blueprints).
Near the end of production, the puzzle sequences were nearing completion and the game needed some interesting Virtual Reality interactions. I quickly researched some Da Vinci inventions we had not yet used in the game. I scripted a scaled down version of the Da Vinci helicopter concept to descend slowly and spinning, a prop behaving as a Chinese wish lantern in the shape of Da Vinci's parachute concept and a balloon to move perpetually, with a logic system preventing it from getting stuck.
In the final weeks of development, the design team got moved to QA tasks to fix bugs in their respective puzzles and scripted objects. Using professional bug tracking software, I improved and repaired all scripted assets I was assigned to.
- Having no prior advanced scripting experience, I learned how to script complex interactive objects in a virtual reality setting within five weeks using node based scripting (Unreal Blueprints)
- Improved work to AAA industry standards set by the client, with regular reports
- Improved skills in feature teams collaboration and improve team communications to deliver a high quality game
- Learned to create high quality content in a virtual reality environment
- Due to team communication at the start of the project, my designs were scrapped without prior warning and without reason twice, causing my workload to increase drastically to catch up with the other sequences
- The team suffered from several members with a toxic attitude complicating progress in development. Dealing with these members professionally was challenging but I successfully kept the atmosphere positive when dealing with issues
- Further increase my technical skills in game development, including but not limited to: C++, visual scripting, and technical designs
- Get more AAA working experience to strengthen my position within the industry
When starting as a puzzle designer on the project, I started the design with research regarding Da Vinci's inventions, interests, and specialisations. From there I picked some themes and created a paper prototype to meet the design constraints, such as the time limit per puzzle of five minutes. The paper prototype was tested extensively, unfortunately the concept was scrapped without prior warning and without a reason.
The second concept came from a more specifically chosen theme, astronomy. The concept revolved around a model of the solar system, which I wanted to focus on the unique properties of virtual reality and use shadows. Once again I created a paper prototype, this time more complex and playtested it extensively, recording data and iterate on the design. Once the concept was proven, I started a low-fidelity in-engine prototype. Upper management scrapped the concept at the last minute, with as reason that it would not be technologically achievable, even though the programming team informed me it could.
For the third attempt, the entire design team got together and brainstormed for various gameplay mechanics we could use with virtual reality. After an approval process with upper management, we distributed the remaining mechanics in logical groups, and design for three puzzle sequences started. This iteration I focused more on the provided Intellectual Property and researched the existing content. I once again paper prototyped the concept extensively, proved the concept, and proceeded to create a higher fidelity in-engine prototype. I kept iterating and improving my visual scripting skills to create the final version now available in the game. The final design was a great success, positively acclaimed by the lecturers and team members alike, and really demonstrating the strength of virtual reality.
Tim van Kan
Jelle van de Gulik
Lars den Herder
Dirk van de Rijt
Jordi van Hees
Danny de Bruijne
Steven Lee Dias Morais