Aki

A narrative driven adventure game that tells the story of Aki, a dog lost in the woods.

Role: Mechanics, UX and Audio designer

Team size: 8

Tools used: Unity, GitHub, Adobe Illustrator and Audition

Aki showcase

Aki is a game myself and a team of 7 other people jammed together in three weeks as part of the Into Games professional project we were took part in, during our third year of university.

I presented the game at the SGDA game jam showcase where we won the 2021 SGDA Community Event. I also presented the game at the international student game festival Indiecade Horizons.

The game is a narrative driven adventure game inspired by Firewatch and Journey that tells the story of Aki, a dog lost in the woods.

On his journey through a stylized and beautiful Japanese forest, Aki finds objects that trigger memories of the life that led to him being lost. The short game demo ends with him finding a puppy that’s also lost, implying he has to put aside his troubled past to care for another.

My Roles

The team being made up of mostly artists meant I had to wear quite a few hats as a designer. My roles included:

  • Audio designer
  • UI and UX designer
  • Gameplay and system designer
  • Assistant programmer
  • Showcase video editor

Audio Design

The first pieces of audio I designed for Aki were 5 loops of environment sounds. All the sounds I made for this project were mixed in Adobe Audition. I implemented these in the Unity engine so different loops play depending on which area the player is in. Each loop is made up of around 8 creative commons audio clips that I mixed in order to fit the game’s theme of nostalgia and being lost.

Next I put together pieces of audio that play over the game’s memory cutscenes. These had to relay to the player what was happening as well as the feelings of each memory without using dialogue.

Here is a montage of the game’s cutscenes with the audio I mixed (all the dog noises are me – with a lot of pitch shift):

Aki cutscene and audio showcase

Finally using my experience with audio recording equipment I made some Foley sound effects for the game. Including using a cloth, some pasta and bag of onions to make Aki’s footsteps.

UI and UX

The UI I designed for Aki is one that aimed for simplicity and usability as to not distract form the work of the teams talented artists.

My design began by researching and eventually settling on a complementary set of fonts, as well as a single highlight colour to indicate interaction.

UI concept

After drawing up some test designs on top of the games concept art I settled on a single column design broken up with single line spacers. When it came to implementation I chose not to include the music and sound sliders due to time restraints, fortunately the design was easily adaptable.

Pause UI in game

I then implemented the design along with its functionality into the game.

Main Menu UI

Finally I implemented a simple main menu screen with a logo and tagline based on the pause screen.

Gameplay and System Design

A key system for the game is the triggered memory cutscenes about Aki’s past. I designed a system where all the information about all the cutscenes is stored in a .csv file and then interpreted by the game when a cutscene is triggered. This wasn’t strictly necessary for the size of game we made but it means if the game was ever expanded, a narrative designer could very easily make changes to a large number of cutscenes by simply editing this .csv file outside the game engine.

Outline of .csv reader mechanic

Assistant Programmer

Since our main programmer was focused on building the games character controller I set about working on the .csv reader cutscene manager. I worked backwards building the code from the UI (bottom of the flow chart) end. I successfully implemented the fading image UI and sound trigger.

I worked with our programmer to implement the .csv reader but due to time constraints the decision was made to leave this out, using instead a simplified system where images are assigned to each trigger.